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When I was a little girl, I had a herd of imaginary horses and rode them by turns. There was a golden palomino, with lots of chrome, and a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. A coal black stallion with white stockings on all four legs and a broad star on his forehead galloped beside a buckskin with a stripe down his back and dark tips on his ears. I pictured them all in full color, and their invented personalities developed from the vibrant visions dancing in my head. Their coat color was more important than their size or breed—for a horse-crazy kid in the suburbs, that’s where the magic began.

But the horse color spectrum in real life is just as enchanting. So striking are the variations of bay, gray, chestnut, black, solid, and spotted that many people breed for specific combinations. This has led to a marked increase in international interest in the study of horse color genetics, and an active online community that shares and discusses the history, qualities, and names of tones, types, shades, and markings—as well as, of course, the science behind it all.

Horsewoman and genetics specialist Vera Kurskaya grew up with that same fascination with horses and all the many colors they could be, and she has spent much of the past decade researching and writing about the topic. Her new book HORSE COLOR EXPLORED provides a guide that aims to not only outline basic information about horse color appropriate for a general audience, but also explore the specifics of inheritance and recent color genetics research. Plus, she’s sourced over 160 color photographs from around the world, highlighting unusual breeds and lesser known examples of coat colors and characteristics many aficionados may yet know little about.

HORSE COLOR EXPLORED is available now from the Trafalgar Square Books online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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Karen Robertson on Carlos at the Rose City Opener National Hunter Derby, Bend, Oregon (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

TSB author Karen Robertson mulls over her upcoming date with The One and Only.

I started considered riding in a George Morris clinic in recent years. I know, I know… most of you are probably wondering why on earth I’d throw myself into the fire like that. And you’re right – I’m kind of freaking out about it. I’ve been freaking out for months! I haven’t ridden without stirrups enough and I’m not someone who rides five horses a day with a perfect position. George is sure to tell me my stirrup isn’t the correct angle on the ball of my foot, my leg isn’t strong enough, my hand isn’t educated enough, and that I sit “like a soup sandwich.” If I’m really lucky, he might even run behind me with a longe whip while I struggle to jump the water.

All that makes my heart race. Over the past five months I haven’t gone a day without thinking about the clinic. It truly scares me to put myself on a horse in front of George. He has laid eyes on every great hunter or jumper rider in the world for over six decades…and now he’s going to lay eyes on me.

Gulp.

I’m doing this for two reasons: My riding has in the last decade or so (I’m 39) begun resembling correct fundamentals to the extent that I think I can hold my own in this particular clinic that has a 1.00 meter group. And secondly, I helped George pen UNRELENTING, his no-holds-barred autobiography published last year. Working on UNRELENTING with George was like getting a whole new education on my best-loved sport. Just by being in George’s orbit, my ambition caught fire to work harder, be bolder, and take more risks. I’ve watched a dozen clinics first-hand over the past five years, and I know what he expects from riders. Now it’s my turn. And in one week, my friend and I will drive seven hours north with our horses to Potcreek Meadow Farm in Washington to ride with George.

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Karen and George working on UNRELENTING in September 2015 (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

Hang on, I had to put my head between my knees and breath deeply for a second there. Whew. Okay. I’m back.

What will it be like for me to ride with George? To feel those eyes that have an unmatched ability to instantly size up a rider and horse and then, in every pair’s case, fit a specific but well-worn key of wisdom into the right lock to help them reach their potential? What will it feel like to hear his deep, satisfied cry of “Thaaaaat’s it!” if I deliver what he commands?

I can only imagine how it will feel, but I hope that I have enough calm in my mind that I can absorb and enjoy the experience. No matter how well I ride each clinic day or what mistakes I ride through, the bottom line is that I will be riding with him: the timid boy too afraid to be off the lead line who became The Godfather of Hunt Seat Equitation and Chef d’Equipe of the Olympic Show Jumping Team; the reproach-impervious master who walks the fiery line between motivator and intimidator; the same coach who fifty years ago inspired a wily crew of American women to reach beyond their wildest dreams on the international show jumping stage and end the decades-long reign of European men.

George is also my dear friend. When I first met him in 2013, it took only hours for us to form a kinship that transcended the book and the horse world. With a kind of glee, we recognized in each other the same kind of professional ambition flanked by a sometimes reckless need for letting ourselves go and being wild. We grew close over the three years, and he listened kindly and gave me advice when I had hardship in my life. George shared his thoughts and feelings with me unreservedly, and I had the honor to hear hundreds of hours of stories from his life…only some of which made the book but which all fit together to help me understand how he wanted to tell his story. I was struck with awe and amusement in the moments I looked in at myself – sitting across from him at lunch or next to him as he drove the car or by his bedside interviewing him – when I wondered, “How did I get here? How is this my life? This is absolutely unbelievable that I get to be here.” It made me want to cry and laugh and collapse in wonder.

Riding with George will be a whole new relationship paradigm for us, and I will ride onto that grass field with no expectations for special treatment. I know he will measure me in a new way: as a rider and horsewoman rather than a writer and a friend. I’m a little afraid that he might lose respect for me if I’m not a sharp enough rider, but I hope so completely that this experience will bring us even closer.

This is scary, to take this risk. But sometimes you say yes to scary and the rewards are better than any ordinary day ever could be.

When I asked my childhood show jumping heroes during interviews for UNRELENTING what it was like to have George take them to the ring when the stakes were high, they all said that their trust in George and his belief that they could win made them feel like they could jump anything – A house! The moon! Besides the incredible learning opportunities, and taking to heart the critical comments (of which there are bound to be many), what I really want to feel in the clinic is just one moment where his voice lifts me up and I feel invincible.

 

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Karen and Carlos at HITS Coachella Desert Circuit, January 2016 (photo by Jose Ruiz).

Karen Robertson will return with a follow-up post after her clinic with George Morris.

 

UNRELENTING by George Morris with Karen Robertson, is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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The definition of “recycle” is to convert waste into reusable material. But when it comes to the idea of “recycling,” few of us think of something we waste on a regular basis around the world: perfectly good horses. Just consider how many thousands of horses every year are born and are NOT the fastest, most beautiful, most athletic, or most colorful. They are just horses, in need of a home and a chance to shine in their own individual ways.

Earth Day 2017 is Saturday, April 22, and there will be a lot of much needed talk and action when it comes to trying to make our world a cleaner, healthier place for humans and animals to inhabit. But as we pile up the returnables and separate the plastics, this is also a time to remember that there are many four-legged creatures in need of a new home and a second chance. There are dogs, cats, and indeed horses, that need to be given an opportunity to be something different for someone new. Adopting one is perhaps the ultimate act of recycling.

One example of this is the off-the-track Thoroughbred. According to the Jockey Club, an estimated 22,500 Thoroughbred foals were born in North America in 2016. A fraction of these will go on to careers on the track or as breeding stock. The rest have an uncertain fate. Luckily, the past decade has seen an uptick in the number of OTTB retraining and rehoming facilities, as well as an increase in public awareness through the efforts of organizations such as the Retired Racehorse Project and its popular Thoroughbred Makeover event. This is good news for ex-racehorses, as many of them now find new roles as trail horses, competitive partners, or even just pasture companions.

In her Brookmeade Young Rider Series, TSB author Linda Snow McLoon tells the story of a young girl that is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to “recycle” a failed racehorse and turn him into an eventing superstar. Here’s an excerpt from the first book in the series, Crown Prince:

Crown Prince_250Sarah stood quietly, watching the horse. There was no movement as he stood facing the far corner, ignoring her. She clucked softly, but there was no response. Her hand dug deep in her pocket in hopes of finding one more carrot, but it was empty. Nothing was left, except perhaps…yes, in her other pocket she felt a peppermint candy, which she withdrew and slowly unwrapped. In response to the crinkling of the cellophane, a slim finely chiseled head turned her way, his ears pricked forward. He wore a halter, but was too far away for her to read the nameplate. She placed her outstretched hand with the peppermint over the stall door and spoke softly. “Prince—come, Prince.”

Slowly the horse turned from the rear wall and cautiously moved toward her. As he got closer, she felt delicate nostrils blow gently on her hand and then the slender muzzle lifted the peppermint away. He studied her as he chewed the candy slowly and deliberately.

He was big. Except for the enormous draft horses she had seen in pulling competitions at the state fair, this horse was larger than any Sarah had ever seen, including Chancellor. The only horse who might possibly match his size was Donegal Lad. But this horse possessed such refinement that his size wasn’t readily evident until he was close. In the dimly lit stall his dark bay coat looked almost black, and his only marking was a small white star in the center of his forehead. The deep straw bedding hid any possible white markings on his legs.

For several moments Sarah and the horse stood looking at each other. Then she lifted the stall door’s latch and let herself inside. As Crown Prince retreated to the corner, she reached back over the door to lower the latch back into position. Slowly she approached the horse, all the while talking softly. “Good boy, good Prince,” she repeated. Once by his side, she reached to touch his long neck and stroked it gently. His coat felt like sleek satin. He turned his head toward her, seeming to know she meant him no harm.

Now she was close enough to make out his halter plate. Sarah read the name in large block letters: CROWN PRINCE. Below it in smaller print his sire and dam were listed: Emperor’s Gold—Northern Princess. Yes! This definitely was the horse with the reputation of an untrainable rogue.

“You beautiful Prince,” she murmured. As Sarah stroked his neck and continued to speak in hushed tones, she felt the horse become more relaxed. His head dropped down to her and gradually his eyes softened, as he clearly enjoyed her touch and gentle voice. He offered no resistance as she gently pulled his head closer and rested her cheek on his muzzle. It was so soft. With his head lowered, she caressed his forehead, tracing the white star, and gently tugged on his ears. She felt as if she had known this horse forever.

Sarah had no idea how long she had been in the stall with Crown Prince when she became aware of a presence outside.

“Sarah, what are you doing? We’ve been looking all over for you.” It was her father’s voice. She turned to see him looking in at her, along with Jack, Sam, and Rudy Dominic. Worry and concern were written all over their faces.

“I’m fine, Dad. Don’t worry. This is Crown Prince. And he’s the horse I want.”

Her father’s jaw tightened as his eyes met Jack’s before he turned back to Sarah and the dark bay horse standing beside her. Crown Prince surveyed them all curiously, the picture of refinement and nobility. Mr. Wagner observed the horse’s beautifully shaped head, which tapered from small ears to large intelligent eyes down to a refined muzzle. His white star contrasted sharply with his deep mahogany coat. Sarah’s father shook his head, acknowledging the horse’s beauty, but anxious for his daughter’s safety.

Rudy Dominic pointed to the horse. “Isn’t he just like I said?”

Jack was too absorbed to answer. He opened the stall door and joined Sarah to get a closer look. He had seen some impressive horseflesh in his life, but this one ranked up there with the best of them. His eyes traveled from the powerful hindquarters to the pleasing topline and nicely sloping shoulder.

“Have you got a shank right there, Rudy?” Jack asked. “I want to get a better look at this fellow outside the stall.”

Rudy nodded to Sam, who left, returning in a few minutes with a lead shank, and let himself into the horse’s stall. “Come on, big horse. Let’s show off for these folks.” As he started to attach the lead to Crown Prince’s halter, the horse playfully grabbed the brass shank with his teeth. “Oh, no you don’t,” Sam said, as he pulled it away. He ran the chain through the halter’s side ring, over the horse’s nose, and attached it to the other side. Turning to Sarah, he said, “If he decided to put his head to the sky, as a short guy I’d be in trouble. But he knows me. He’s not a bad horse around the barn. It’s only when you sit on him he gets rank. I’ll bring him out so you can have a look-see at a real horse.”

Jack opened the stall door, and Sam led the horse to the open area between the barns. The backstretch was quieter now, since most grooms had finished caring for their horses and were having a late breakfast in the track kitchen. Crown Prince walked with a stately dignity and halted when asked, his coat gleaming in the sun’s rays.

Jack moved around him, thinking out loud. “Strong hindquarters, nice length of back, pronounced withers, good bone, and a lovely long neck.” He moved to stand directly in front of the horse before speaking to Rudy. “His conformation is quite correct. No toeing in or out, good width of chest, nice head. They don’t come any better than this. But I’d like to see him move.”

Rudy motioned to Sam. “Walk away and then jog him back, Sam. But be careful. He hasn’t been to the track to gallop in a while, so keep a tight hold on him.” Rudy turned to Sarah and her father. “I’m always surprised at how well behaved he is except when there’s a rider up. Then he becomes a lunatic.”

Jack positioned himself to get a good view before Sam led the horse away from him. Coming back, Prince trotted agreeably beside Sam and stopped when they reached Jack. “He’s a good mover, too—well balanced,” said Jack, “and his ground manners can’t be faulted.”

Sarah’s father was standing back but listening carefully. “He is a beautiful animal. It’s too bad his reputation takes him out of the running for being a horse for Sarah,” he said firmly.

Sarah, who up to now hadn’t taken her eyes off the horse, swung to face her father. “Dad—I don’t believe he can be as bad as Rudy says! He deserves a chance to be a different horse when he gets away from the racetrack and comes to Brookmeade Farm. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be a racehorse, but I think he will be a wonderful horse for me. I just know it!”

Mr. Wagner was quick to respond. “Sarah, this is a large and powerful animal. Above all else, I won’t let you be in harm’s way. From what I’ve heard today, this horse is dangerous. We mustn’t be so taken with his splendid appearance that we lose sight of the big picture. I can’t have you getting hurt by a horse.”

Sarah could see her father was totally serious. He was thinking only of potential disaster. She had to change his mind.

“We can start working with him on a longe line, Dad, until he knows what’s expected of him. I can turn him out in the big pasture where he can run off some energy. He’ll come to trust me. I promise I won’t even think about riding him until Jack gives the okay. You can see he’s well behaved. He’s a special horse, Dad, and he should have another chance.”

“But what about the handsome chestnut horse you like so much?” her father asked, motioning toward the other end of the shed row. “Don’t you think Code of Honor will be the perfect horse for you? And don’t you want a horse you can ride? Who knows how long it will be before you can get on this horse, if ever.”

Sarah looked at her father, her dark eyes pleading. “Dad, I know you want what’s best for me. But this is supposed to be my decision. Please don’t stand in the way. You’ve got to trust me. I want to take Crown Prince back to Brookmeade Farm more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my entire life. I know he’s the right horse for me. He’s the one I’ve been waiting for.”

Jack, who had been quietly studying Crown Prince, turned to them. “’Tis for sure we have a grand animal here. Who knows the heights he and Sarah might reach if we can turn him around? Sometimes Thoroughbreds are completely different when they get away from the racetrack.” Jack walked over and placed a hand on Crown Prince’s shoulder. He stroked the horse, deep in thought.

After a few moments he turned back to Sarah’s father. “I tell you what, Martin. Perhaps we can give this horse a trial run. If we could arrange to take him for a month, I’ll pledge to be deeply involved in his handling, and I mean every part of his care and schooling, to make sure Sarah is safe. I won’t allow her to get on him until I’ve tested those waters myself. I’ll know in thirty days if he will be a suitable mount for her. If by then we’ve made no headway and I decide he’s not the right horse, we’ll notify Hank Bolton and return him to you, Rudy,” Jack added, looking at the trainer. “If this trial scenario is acceptable to you and Hank Bolton, let’s give it a shot.” He paused and looked intently at Sarah’s father. “Martin, I’m willing to make this commitment to ensure your daughter’s safety.”

Sarah stood quietly, her gaze never leaving her father. He was solemn, as he stood deep in thought. She knew he was worried—that above all else, he didn’t want her hurt. Mr. Wagner looked hard at Jack for a few moments before speaking. “Without your encouragement, I would never even consider letting Sarah take a horse with the shady past this one has. But if you can assure me you’ll stay on top of things and manage everything that’s done with him, I’ll go along with your proposal. But remember, this is a trial. At some point in the next month I will look to you, Jack, for an answer. If Sarah is at risk at any time, the horse must go.”

Sarah threw her arms around her father. “Dad, you’re the greatest! I’ll always remember this, that you gave Crown Prince a chance.”

 

CROWN PRINCE and its sequel CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Plus, in honor of Earth Day 2017, you can download a digital copy of ECO-HORSEKEEPING for only $1.99! CLICK HERE to get hundreds of tips for going green affordably, in the barn and in the rest of your horse life!

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Raymond is one of the 10 horses that star in Yvonne Barteau’s THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

If horses could talk, what would they say about the exercises we ask them to do and the movements we have them perform? Grand Prix dressage rider and popular equestrian performer Yvonne Barteau has wondered this throughout her lifelong career with horses, and so she has tried very hard over the years to learn to see and understand things from the equine perspective.

In her incredibly fun-to-read book THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, Barteau guides us through the dressage levels from the horse’s point of view. Her humor and well-honed sense of how the equine mind works provides a valuable and very different look at what it means to train and ride a dressage horse.

Here is an exercise from one of the 10 real-life horse stars of Barteau’s book: Raymond is a worrier-type, seven years old, and only showing Training and First Level, although he knows and practices all kinds of FEI movements. He likes to work and this is one Second Level lesson in counter-canter that is a particular favorite.

Raymond says:

Counter-canter, counter-flexion teaches us to balance and stay true to our lead, rather than associating a change in flexion with a change in lead. This exercise is designed to both gymnasticize us, and make us totally obedient to your aids by counter-cantering, and then changing the flexion away from the lead we are on. For example: left lead, traveling right, but flexed to the right, and right lead, traveling left, flexed to the left.

How to Do It
1 In counter-canter going to the right (you are on the left lead, traveling on the right rein) start with your right leg in its slightly back position to add sideways pressure until you start to get into a sort of renvers (haunches-out) positioning.

2 Keeping a “conversational” and pulsing kind of leg aid with that same right leg, allow us to connect to the left rein more as an outside rein (rather than as an inside flexion rein), and begin to flex us bit by bit to the right with your right (suppling) fingers (counter-flexion).

3 Be careful to keep the impulsion and “jump” in the canter with that same right leg while not doing too much with your left leg (which should still be up by the girth). If things go really well, you will feel almost as if you are in counter-canter, counter-shoulder-in with your horse’s weight more over his outside limbs (in this case, the left) and less over his inside (in this case, the right). Your horse needs to get comfortable and balanced in this positioning on either lead, and be able to go back and forth from counter-canter, true-flexion to counter-canter, counter-flexion in preparation for the lead changes to come.

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It will feel SO good when you and your horse get this exercise right! Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

When It Goes Wrong
It takes time to get good at this exercise—it challenges both horse and rider—and if you or your horse starts getting confused or frustrated, just back off and review something easier. Don’t come back to this exercise until you are both relaxed and in harmony again.

 

Get more guidance straight from the horse’s mouth in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Yvonne Barteau is judging the all-women edition of Road to the Horse, which starts tomorrow! You can watch the live broadcast here.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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For over 30 years, a small group of horse people based on a farm in rural Vermont has produced books and DVDs on all things horse. An enterprise that began with Sally Swift’s now classic CENTERED RIDING—one of the bestselling equestrian books of all time—soon included titles spanning all breeds and disciplines. Today, Trafalgar Square Books is proud to continue to strive to publish quality instructional books and DVDs, for every horse person, and always “for the good of the horse.”

With the launch of our new website and online bookstore at www.horseandriderbooks.com, TSB aims to not only share our newest titles with the public, but also provide news and information related to our stable of talented authors: the top riders, trainers, and equine bodywork and horse care professionals in the industry. Visitors will find:

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CLICK TO SAVE 20% WHEN YOU ORDER TODAY!

• Tips, exercises, and interviews on our blog (this one!)

Video trailers that provide engaging tours of our newest books and DVDs

• Sales, contests, and special giveaways

• A calendar announcing upcoming author events

• Easy, mobile-friendly access to our bookstore, where you receive free shipping in the United States

In addition, TSB offers free downloads of sample chapters from our newest titles and great deals on money-saving sets from your favorite authors or your chosen discipline! Resellers can scan our inventory of over 600 books and DVDs, get updates on important upcoming release dates, and download press releases for reference and promotion.

Come visit TSB at www.horseandriderbooks.com. We’re excited to share our books, DVDs, and incredible equestrian authors with you!

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HorseandRiderBooks

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TSBbooks

Hang with us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/horseandriderbooks/

 

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When you truly love someone, it isn’t just about holding on. It is also about letting go. This Valentine’s Day remember those who are no longer part of your life, as well as those who now fill it. Be thankful for the time you’ve had with every human, horse, dog, cat, or other being that was special to you in some way.

In BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER: YOU AND YOUR HORSE, Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado, the original stars of Cavalia, focus on the evolution of the relationship you can have with your horse. As thrilling as the beginning can be, there is still, most always, an eventual end. For Pignon, his most heartbreaking loss was that of his beloved Templado, the gorgeous and rebellious stallion who many around the world witnessed as the soul of the original Cavalia show, his white mane so long it touched the ground, his eyes never leaving his human partner as his hooves danced across the stage.

Here is the letter Pignon wrote to Templado in BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER…a love letter that said goodbye:

It was the evening we got back from Spain after two months of Cavalia shows. As always, you were waiting for us and I spent an hour with you, telling you how great it was that you were still holding on even though your health had been deteriorating steadily for some time. But on that evening, you did not appear to be too bad and you were clearly glad to see us. I felt anxious despite your good humor so I followed my instincts as always and went back after dinner to spend more time with you. Next morning I gave you a good wash down; I don’t know why but I felt you had to be clean. You let me do it with patience even though you had long since gotten bored with showers. I called Magali to come and see how long your mane was now: it touched the ground. I let you out into the back yard to graze and then visit your friends whom you enjoyed irritating a little. It made me smile, but underneath I knew…. The sun was climbing into the sky: it was going to be a hot July day. At midday a friend came to see me. It was as if I were waiting for a bus: was it coming or not? Doubtless he could feel my anxiety.

Sipping coffee in the house I had one eye on you as you grazed in the garden. Suddenly, you lay down. I knew the bus had come. I ran outside to get you up: it was not good for you to be lying down in that merciless sun. You obliged and followed me to your stall where you lay down again. A sense of panic continued to rise in my throat. I knew the moment I dreaded had now arrived. I admit that for a second or two I wished I were miles away but your calm restored my reason and I knew you needed me to be there. We had to live this moment together: you to leave, and me to accept your going.

I came near you. I felt your warmth as you began to breathe deeply. I laid my hand on your head as a mother would on her child’s. You were perspiring and growing frailer by the minute. You tried to get up a few times perhaps to look out at the meadow where we had run and played together so often. You seemed to accept that it was time to leave and that there would be no returning. At the end you looked like a foal who had just been born and I was trying to tell myself that this was but life’s cycle: the coming and the going. Your strength was failing. You made a little movement of your head and then you lay still.

I understood at a profound level that life goes on: this last page had turned and the great book of your life had shut. I felt that nothing would be the same again for me. We had drunk the nectar of life from the same cup. You taught me so much and now being with you at your death the experience had helped me to understand life at its most intense.

Templado, I feel your energy around me; it radiates from the walls, the ground, and the longeing ring where we lived so many intimate moments together. I think of how sometimes a little white butterfly would circle about our heads. Chiefly, I think of you, my beautiful white horse, I picture your mane flying in the wind, and I smile….

 

We are all so lucky to have horses in our lives. Today, hug your horse, thank him for being there for you–a constant friend, companion, and inspiration.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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“A common problem with lateral flexion is that even when done correctly…it is simply practiced too much,” writes renowned horseman Mark Rashid in his new book FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES. “Now I realize there are folks that teach who say that lateral flexion can never be done too much. Others will tell us to practice lateral flexion for hours at a time, and still others will tell us that we should never even think about riding our horse without first making sure the horse flexes laterally at least 25 or 30 times in each direction.

“Even though there are some who will tell us that flexion can never be done too much, the truth is, horses often say something different. Over the years, I have run into hundreds, if not thousands of horses that show obvious signs of being overflexed,” says Rashid.

The signs he highlights in FINDING THE MISSED PATH include:

  • the inability of a horse to walk a straight line while being ridden.
  • the inability to follow his own nose in a turn.
  • the inability to stop when asked.
  • and even being unable to stand quietly with a rider on his back without feeling like he needs to mindlessly turn his head from side to side, even though he isn’t being asked to do so.

“Many overflexed horses will simply stand with their head turned and their nose all the way around to the rider’s boot,” Rashid goes on. “When the rider asks the horse to straighten his head, he often just turns and puts his nose on the other boot. In cases like these, lateral flexion has been done to the point where the action itself has become little more than a default movement for the horse. In other words, the horse will laterally flex himself regardless of the situation or circumstances, and whether or not he is even being asked.

“Another thing that happens when the horse is overflexed like this is the joint at C1 actually becomes what we might refer to as ‘hyper-mobile,'” he adds. “When this happens, the horse literally loses the connection between his head and the rest of his body while being ridden. There are a number of serious issues with a horse losing this connection—for both rider and horse—not the least of which is a total loss of overall control. But even more concerning is that losing this control can, and usually is, quite difficult and very time consuming to correct.”

 

 

So should we no longer practice lateral flexion in the way that so many trainers have advocated over the last decade or so? Rashid says not to be hasty—there are still benefits to be had from conscientious use of the exercise.

“Understanding proper lateral flexion is an important part of a horse’s education, whether we’re talking about a young horse that’s just starting out, or an older horse whose education has somehow gotten off track,” Rashid explains. “I prefer to practice things like this with a sort of ‘as we go’ attitude or mentality: Rather than getting on my horse and saying to myself, ‘Okay, now we’re going to do some lateral flexion,’ I’m more likely to spend time on it while I’m going about whatever business I’m doing with my horse on that particular day. If I’m doing clinics, for instance, I might ask him to flex laterally while I’m turning him as we get ready to move from one place to another. If I’m on the ground and we go through a gate, I might send my horse past me through the gate then ask him to flex when I bring him back to me as I close the gate. For me, putting a purpose behind the exercise eliminates the drilling aspect of it, which, in turn, allows the horse to stay mentally and emotionally engaged in the process.

“I understand there are folks that feel differently about this, people who feel that the road to perfection is through lengthy, nearly non-stop repetition of exercises like lateral flexion. And for them, perhaps that is the key to perfect behavior and flawless responses from a horse. After all, there is no question that many horses, when given no other option, will most certainly repeat behavior that has been relentlessly drilled into them. But there is always a cost for a quest of perfection through mechanical repetition. Usually, the cost is that we end up losing the essence and personality of the horse. And, at least for me, that is a cost that seems a bit too high to pay.”

FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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