Tack sellers are going to hate me…

Sellers of tack, which can sometimes break the bank, are going to hate me for telling you what I realized yesterday… but I don’t care.  Horse people have to stick together after all!

I needed a set of slobber straps for my Avila bridle and new mecate reins.  However, our local feedstore’s slobber straps were not only too large, too stiff, and the wrong color – but also too expensive for so many negatives.  While I was shopping around I realized I could have a nice set of slobber straps with a very tiny amount of effort for under ten dollars.  So can you!

First, buy a pair of inexpensive spur straps.  The spur straps should have the following characteristics:

  • Leather that you can cut with a hole punch of knife.  (Don’t buy a set that has rawhide around the button holes.)
  • A buckle on each strap.
  • Equally-sized ends.  In other words, if you put both ends together – they match up.
  • Thick enough end pieces to give them good weight.  In other words, don’t buy ones that are completely straight; opt for ones that flare larger at the button ends.
  • Relatively straight – no curves.

For mine, I chose a spur strap quite like this: 

Let’s face it – if you want fancier, then just spend the money on the fancy slobber straps.  I just wanted something to use for training that still looked nice.

When you get home, enlarge the holes in the ends of the strap (where the buttons of the spur enter) with a knife or hole punch to accomodate the width of your mecate rein rope.  Most of them have slits, such as the ones have above, to help accomodate the smaller knot on the popper end of the mecate – so just think width of the rope.

Then you simply fold the spur straps in half, place the end furthest from the buckle through your bit, and thread your mecate rein – popper end first – through the spur straps as you would any set of slobber straps.

The beauty of these is that they are not only supple and a great weight, you can move them from one bridle to another as you need to by simply unbuckling them.  How awesome is that?  With these, you don’t even have to worry about the wide ends of the slobber strap not fitting through your bit!  The thinner middle straps which go through the buckle go through most training bits.

Here is how my $8 spur straps looked when finished:


Practical, portable, affordable, easily available.

I hope this tip helps you more readily enjoy this wonderful set up for reins without flinching at the price (plus shipping) for slobber straps!




Desensitization with a Buddy.

After a brief bonding session with Pony Sue rather than a lesson, and a really good lesson with Kat today (which will show up this week as a post), I decided to push my luck and also work on Dante’s ground manners.  He’s a sensitive horse, a bit flighty and headshy, but generally wants to have peace and understanding.  (Don’t we all?)

I grabbed up Dante, my training stick, the halter and long lead and went out into the pasture for some relaxing assessment of his status.  First I decided to do some desensitization with the training stick aka carrot stick because I wanted to make sure that when I unfurled it, that he wasn’t going to climb up me like a cat climbs up a tree.

I went ahead and started to desensitize him, but Kat – the mare – had such a good lesson that I suppose she wanted yet another.  So she came over and stood beside him while I was working.  Fair enough.

As I was tossing the stick’s string over him, it kept hitting her.  That is when I realized what a great opportunity this was.  Kat was modeling how NON-monsterous the training stick was for Dante!  I was so tickled that I went ahead and made this video.  Forgive its quality – I made it on my phone which I keep now for safety when out working horses alone.  I think you can see that the horses were easily desensitized.  🙂


Just a little ride

I love watching this video because I love watching the ears of a horse who is relaxed, alert, happy with what he’s doing, and behaving well.  I’m silly, and some parts of the video where I point out equipment, etc, are muffled – but it was just fun to make the video for my friend Jon who is from Canada and loves horses but doesn’t get to ride.  Enjoy the saddle squeaks!


Product review: Bob Avila Double Ring Snaffle with Headstall

The product: The Bob Avila double ring snaffle with headstall.  Available either in double or single buckle.

Where I got mine: Ebay from seller The Tack Room Equine Unlimited

Suggested retail:  Approximately $80

How much I paid:  $64.99

Recommended supplier:  Jeffers Equine, $69.99 (for headstall and bit)

The lowdown:  I picked up this bit because I’m a big believer in using as light a bit possible for my horses.  I have a couple of really nice O-ring type bits and a very nice full-cheek snaffle.  But – let’s face it – I’m a tack addict.   That being said, I am a true believer that you cannot have enough true-snaffle bits with good ol’ harness leather headstalls in the tack room.  They are the workhorse of any cowboy or cowgirl.

I had been using the full cheek snaffle on my cow horse, Jo, but he just didn’t seem to be comfortable with it.  He would fidget with it, try to bite the cheeks, and generally just didn’t seem to think as much of the bit as I did.  I’ve been working on  headset, lateral work, flexing, and lightness – so I really wanted to step him back into a true snaffle.  This bit really caught my eye.

Bob Avila is a well-respected reined cowhorse trainer who has a good eye for equipment.  He is generally good about telling you exactly how to use his equipment and, if you don’t know, his website offers help choosing the right equipment for your horse.  He apparently has teamed up with Professional Choice for a line of bits, this one included.  He is a bit picky about quality and balance, so I expected a lot from this bridle set and I was not disappointed.

What I loved about this product:

The first thing that keeps amazing me about this headstall and bit combo is the price.  Too often in the horse world you get what you pay for with cheap equipment.  In this case, you get a lot more than that for which you pay.  The headstall itself is an extremely supple, well conditioned, thick harness leather.  The buckles and hardware are all brass.  The connections are all very nice latigo that is of proper length to STAY tied, unlike cheap equipment.  Even the little spot between the cheek piece and the throatlatch for the headband had a nice tied latigo piece, not the little cheap metal rectangle most tack has.  This is a very attractive headstall.

Furthermore, this headstall seems to fit a wide range of horses.  The headstall is available either in a single or double buckle version. My double-buckle headstall had beautiful and well-placed buckles on each cheek.  A single-buckle version would be just as adjustable.

The bit itself was beautifully made.  Sometimes these economy or starter bits aren’t well-finished or have a bad balance.  Not all bits are the same, even if they look to be outwardly.  The balance and design of this bit are exceptional.  This traditional snaffle has a well-made mouthpiece that fits cleanly into the cheekpieces.  What makes this bit unique is that it has a second cheek ring within the outer ring.  This snaffle  not only works for directional work but also lateral work. While most O-ring bits will not only pull the mouth to cue the horse to move their head, but will also have a little action on the side of the lips from the O-ring itself. This bit, however, has the added inner ring which sits against the horse’s lips and gently pushes as the rein is pulled laterally to give great clarity of cue so that your horse knows exactly what you are asking.  It’s tremendous!

My gelding, Jo, really liked this bit.  He apparently found it not only comfortable to pack, but tasty enough for him to fidgeting or having a dry mouth.  I felt a real connection with every cue, an immediate improvement from our last workout.

What I didn’t love about this product: Absolutely everything was perfect – NO complaints, other than a wish that they would include the right reins so that this product gets used properly by those who  might buy it.

In Summary:

This bit is one that every horse needs.  It’s well made, very well balanced, exceptionally designed, and just so cheap that you should go ahead and buy two!  The set includes the bit and the headstall but no reins.  To make proper use of this set, use heavy reins with either a slobber strap end directly attached or water-loop ends.  No snaps, please.

I give this a four hooves up!



Day Two – Sometimes you take 2 steps back before taking 3 steps forward….

This was one of those days that makes people quit training their horses.  That being said, it’s exactly the type of day that people who work with their horses need to know that they’re NOT alone and bad days do NOT mean that you’ve failed. Bad days are like conditioning days for your patience.

Think of patience as a muscle; you have to exercise and sometimes strain that muscle a bit in order for it to get stronger.

Today, the lesson with the horses was just as much a lesson for ME as it was for them; some days are just like that.  Despite how it sounds (or felt), these are probably the best days you’ll ever have, the ones richest with rewards and experience in the end.

The issue wasn’t with Pony Sue – it was with a mare I was going to ride before Pony Sue.  In fact, I never even swung a leg over before the work began.  I simply wanted this mare to walk up to the back of a trailer to be tied.  Pretty simple.  Only, in her mind she had decided that I was leading her to the very precipice of the earth right smack-dab on the edge of the pit to Hades.

She balked about 5 feet away from where I wanted her to stop.  So instead of sitting there and playing tug-o-war with her, a losing proposition with 1200 pounds of hormonal paint mare, I went to her hip and made her move forward, around me, and back towards the trailer…

…where she balked again.  (Sigh.)

This is the point in my training where I know, had anyone been watching, they would have seen me look longingly back at the house – and the comfort of my couch – and the lovely icy drink sitting waiting for me – wishing I had stayed there, or could quit.  And it’s exactly the point at which if you quit, the horse knows that they can push you around. So it was time to work.


Directing your horse to move:  horses don’t have E.S.P., thank heavens or Kat (the mare) would have read some pretty ugly thoughts in my head this afternoon.  In order to expect clear actions from them that we want, we have to give them clear instructions.  After all it’s not fair to tell them to “go right” when our whole body is saying “go backwards”.

Any motion > no motion.  There are times when ANY motion beats no motion.  If a horse balks, sometimes getting them to go in the another direction is useful in that it unfreezes their feet and mind.

Helmets are useful for groundwork.  Sometimes when a horse might be dangerous, or is really excited, go ahead and put that helmet on.  Your head is important – protect it.


In this case, to get the mare to walk to a spot of my choice in a civilized manner.


One traditional halter, which in this case was the wrong tool.  A rope halter with two knots on the nose would have been a best choice.

One 14 foot long very heavy lead rope with a popper on the end.

One “carrot stick” with the string detached then attached.

Tool I should have had: one helmet.

The lesson:

So – at the point where Kat balked, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  The goal was to make her circle away from and towards the trailer.  Once at the trailer after a few circles, I was going to have her stop at the trailer so that point would be her point of rest.  That way she would be more likely to want to be AT the trailer rather than away from it – because “trailer = rest”.

Unfortunately, we had problems with circling because I have not been training this mare yet.  That changes today – she has unwittingly been placed on the training schedule.

When I wanted her to go towards the trailer, she would balk when even turned towards it.

Helpful hint: think out of the box.  Sometimes what you think is the cause of misbehavior is not the true cause.  Rule out all possible causes before settling on one.  You might be surprised.

Most people would have thought that the mare did not want to go to the trailer because of the trailer itself.  At first, I suspected as much.  However, I then realized that she didn’t want to go towards the trailer because that meant going away from her buddies.

To test my theory (and give myself more room to work), I took Kat to do circles in a larger area near where I was already.  Sure enough, any movement going away from her buddies was slow, if it happened at all.  Going in a circle BACK towards her buddies resulted in her nearly running me over.

Sometimes uncovering one problem means you end up uncovering two – or more.  Stick with one lesson at a time so you don’t overwhelm your horse – and yourself.

So – I had opened up the proverbial Pandora’s Box of horse issues.  Yay me!!  (note:  that last cheer is meant to be said with all the sarcasm I can muster.)  But in the mean time, the real issue was one:  disrespect.  By running over her, she was disrespecting my personal space and endangering me. By not moving away from her buddies, she was showing me disrespect as well.

Knowing that she was going to start to slow down when going away from her buddies, I readied myself but didn’t correct her before she made her mistake.  I’d let her start to slow, and the instant she did I cued her to move forward.  This worked a couple of times, and of course JUST as I was getting ready to stop her for her release of pressure – she decides to try to run off.

Sometimes,a horse’s seemingly different issues can be labeled as general disrespect.  That being said – we should make sure that the issue is not our own leadership.

Now we have a horse who is:

  • Disrespecting me by not moving where I want  despite clear signals previously obeyed.
  • Disrespecting me by crowding me in favor of her buddies.
  • Disrespecting me by trying to run off.

I need to lose weight, but I am not 1200 pounds – so I could not overpower this mare.  I was able to stop her, but it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t correct.  I did get her turned towards me.  The problem is that I haven’t been training this mare, so I didn’t have the luxury of being able to start from the beginning.  Today’s work was to just get out of the situation on a good note that favored me and relaxed her.

After training, look back at your session and constructively consider where you can improve your skills.

Ideally – I think I should have stopped once I got ANY good behavior and gone totally back to square one and started the real lesson of manners with her; however, I am human, and I didn’t.  Learn from my  mistakes.  That being said, I did end up on a good note as you will soon see.

But there were some BAD notes before – the type of notes that I think it is important to hear and learn from for all of us.

In trying to get the mare to move forward, she took a swipe at my head with her hoof – very knowingly having looked right at me, ear pointed toward me, kicked at my head.  So I did what all good cowgirls did:

Freaked out, got distracted, and dropped the rope.

OK that’s not what they do – but I did it.  It happens. It was painful because she yanked my arm, I wasn’t concentrating, and it happens.

When things don’t happen the way they should, remember – you are human and so are all the fancy clinicians.  Dust off your britches and don’t beat yourself up.  Try again.

I asked Chris to get Kat who had run merrily off to her buddies…. Kat 1, Nat 0.  While he did, I walked to get more equipment and rethink things.

First, I got a halter that had more pressure on pressure points – particularly that of the nose and poll.  Second, I put the string on the carrot stick (to give me some distance from those back feet).  Third, I needed to take a breath and put back on my shield and armor of NBD (No Big Deal) so that when she tried it again – and having not corrected her I *knew* she was going to try it again and worse – I could do the three-second-rule in full force.  I didn’t fret about it ahead of time, just readied myself for the inevitable and put on my big-girl-britches so that when it happened again I’d act, not REact, correctly.

I caught up with Chris and Kat, put on the new equipment, and walked purposefully back to the work area.  Once again I showed Kat where to go – making a HUGE point to make it as obvious as a 10-foot-tall neon sign – to show her I wanted her to walk forward.  I asked her, she obliged, until it was time to move away from her buddies.  So I gave her a tiny cue, a larger cue, and then a big cue – and she gave me a big kick at my head.

THIS time, I was armed for the three second rule and I instituted it.  I did not hit her face, I didn’t injure her, and I did not let myself get really angry inside lest I lose control.  But I did go after her like a mountain lion and made her move move move and MOVE away from me and she did not like it one little bit.

Funny how that works.

My method was to use the string on the stick to pop her, not lash and slash her, definitely hard enough to where she got the message, while wiggling the rope side to side aggressively enough to where it put pressure on her nose so that she had to move away from it.  The stick energy towards her hind end moved her hind end away from me to prevent kicking and tell the hind end that I don’t accept kicking.  The wiggling and action to get the front end away from me, for her, was to keep her off of me so she didn’t crowd me and to make the impression that I was going to kill her.  My body energy was all forward, all tiger, all  predator about to pounce, and all directed right towards her.

I went for four seconds.  This was a big offense.  When i was done, I simply stopped in my tracks and she looked at me like I was a different person.  Because I was upset – yes this is an upsetting occurrence – I talked to her and told her “You will never kick at me again – you will never go *there* again.” Really it made me feel better – less apt to lose control.  She knew I was serious, but I was done attacking.

After the three-second-rule, remember to go back to NBD – for the horse and for yourself.

After my break – oh yeah, HER break I mean – I turned around and stood with a leg cocked and reached back to her outstretched nose and brushed it gently when she sniffed me.

Then we walked off.

I asked her to walk up – away from her buddies – and stopped her after four steps and told her how good she was.  Then six steps.  From that point on, she walked up on a slack lead, a pleasant (but attentive this time) attitude.  No more sullen expression.  We walked around, did some turns, did a serpentine, a few stops, and then stopped.

Next, I used the stick with the string on in a desensitizing way (because I had done this with her before successfully) by popping the ground, and throwing the string of the stick towards her casually allowing it to land on her back, legs, etc.  She didn’t move, so I patted her.

Helpful hint: always end with something the horse previously knew how to do and did well or – better yet – with something new done well.  Always end on a good note

Then she got a good rubdown of the neck and I took her halter off.

Do you want to guess what happened next?

She followed me around.

I walked around.  For about five more minutes Kat followed me voluntarily with absolutely no lead rope or halter, away from her buddies, ears up, a relaxed neck, and a pleasant eye.  She knew she was off the lead.  I petted her and finally released her completely.  She spent the rest of the afternoon walking up to me and closing her eyes.

This stuff works.  Just remember – it’s not always easy, and not always where we want to be at any given time.  But I knew if I put in the time while the issue was hot, at the end I’d have a horse that “got it” and was happy again to be around me.  Big lesson ending in a lot more respect than it started.

The moral:  remember what I said about not thinking about obstacles as bad, but as opportunities?  I didn’t choose to work this mare today, but her issue became a lesson that deepened our relationship – for good.