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Continuing education: how do you continue to learn about horses?


Jack BrainardWhen I was a kid I loved to read anything to do with horses. We subscribed to an equine magazine but received most of our ‘training’ information from other people that we rode with. At one point my mom and I took lessons at a dressage barn but with limited success as our horses were so drastically different from the lesson horses we rode. There was no YouTube, no internet, and VHS videos were not even common. There were no clinics in my area until I was in high school.

Boy have things changed.

Now there are so many ways to access information now that difficulty might be more in deciding what you like rather than what is available. I’m sitting in the parking lot at the Kentucky Horse Park where the Road to the Horse just finished up. Horse Expos…another great place to learn. Aside from studying your horse, do you make an effort to gather outside information?  If I had to pick my top three ways to learn they would probably be:

1) riding my own horse with someone

2) a book

3) video

I had an awesome thing happen to me this weekend. I was telling Jack Brainard that I wanted to learn more about western dressage and he invited me to come ride with him. I warned him that I would show up if he was serious…and he said he was! I’m so excited.

What are your top three picks for ways to learn? How often do you seek out new information?

Judging the Road to the Horse


Judging any event is a big job. The success of events falls largely on the shoulders of the judges. The way that a competition is judged results in the winner. Future competitors, and spectators, watch what was rewarded and what was not and then decide if they will support the event. This is true not only in the horse world but in any judged competition.

At the Road to the Horse the judges have a big job. The judges must look at each horse in each round pen as an individual and watch each clinician as they train the horse. The judge then must evaluate how difficult the horse is naturally and then they need to determine if the competitor used the best approach possible for that horse.

This year’s competition is even a bit more difficult because each of the competitors is starting two horses. When I first heard this I wasn’t sure what the point was but after watching today I think I can see it. Starting the first colt was interesting to watch…but watching how each clinician modified their technique to better fit the second horse was even more interesting. Especially because this all happened back to back.

Exhausting for the competitors…and the judges. Very interesting to watch!

P.S.- Sorry for the confusion. After this post people thought that I was one of the judges. I can see how it looked that way. This was a photo of me visiting with the judges but I was not/am not one of the judges. Maybe the lack of sleep played a part in my lack of catching this sooner!

Back row L-R: Cody Lambert, Dr. Jim Heird, Sam Rose, Mike Kevil. Front row: Jack Brainard & Stacy Westfall

Back row L-R: Cody Lambert, Dr. Jim Heird, Sam Rose, Mike Kevil. Front row: Jack Brainard & Stacy Westfall


Wild Card Competitors at The Road to the Horse


wild cardsA year of working….a short time to show what you have done…an announcement of the winner and then straight into the round pen to compete for $100,000.00!

That is what will happen to one of this years ‘Wild Card’ competitors at the Road to the Horse.

I had the chance to visit with several of the competitors yesterday and learn more about the process. I knew that last years Wild Card, Jim Anderson, not only won the Wild Card but also turned around and won the Road to the Horse. As impressive as that sounded to read (I wasn’t there to see it either) imagine what it must have been like to live it. Both emotionally and physically this would be a challenge. They have to come in prepared with the horse they have been training for the last year and a plan on how best to show him, then they also must be prepared to step straight into the second part of the competition. Imagine the planning that has gone into packing and preparing without knowing for sure if they will be moving on.

This years competitors are: Trevor CarterJames CoolerDan KeenMary KitzmillerBobby KnightSean Patrick. Check out their websites and their Facebook pages. They have been documenting the training of their Wild Card horses as well as much more.

BREAKING NEWS: Road to the Horse 2015 is thrilled to be joining the RFD-TV line up! Don’t miss the action starting April 1st, 2015 @ 9:00pm ET/8:00pm CT. (DirectTV 345/ Dish 231)



Are horses usually easy or hard to get started in mounted shooting?


Western Horse and Gun CoverI took up mounted shooting as my hobby and like most hobbies, I wish I had more time to dedicate to it. The sport is a combination of speed, control and finesse which are also traits that I look for in my reining horses. In the past two blog posts I have shown videos of Newt as he was introduced to mounted shooting (I will include them below also). Newt was pretty quiet about the shooting but that wasn’t the case with Popcorn, my main shooting partner.

When I took Popcorn to the mounted shooting shows (Step #1 in both videos) he was very reactive. He didn’t do anything dangerous but he would flinch each time a gun went off….all day long. He would start with a worried look too. The look would go away but the flinching stayed. I stayed persistent for several months and although Popcorn never did anything wrong he also didn’t relax. I considered giving up on him and even gave him the winter completely off. In the spring I was at an expo and talked with a pro who said that if I really wanted to do it I should keep trying. She advised me that she had seen horses eventually relax and become top competitors. Popcorn will be with me forever so I figured I would keep playing around with it. I am glad I did. After taking my time with him for two years we eventually moved from Level 1 to Level 4 (there are 6 levels) together while bringing home several belt buckles as well as being the Midwest Regional Express Cowgirl in 2013.

Not all horses are as easy as Newt was in these videos but many are. I wish I had thought to make videos of Popcorn and his journey but I didn’t. I do have a video of one of our runs once we got going. Mounted shooting clubs offer numerous divisions and levels making it a great sport to get started in to both improve your horsemanship and make some new friends along the way. I have enjoyed it as a hobby…maybe you will too.

P.S.- Tomorrow I participate in a Mounted Shooting Clinic with the MSA at the Road to the Horse!

4 Steps for Training a Horse for Mounted Shooting


This video shows the second time that Newt was around mounted shooting. The first time was shown in the video “3 Steps for Introducing a Horse to Mounted Shooting.” If I had one tip for someone who wanted to get started in the sport it would be to find a local club or a local professional who you can ride with. You can also see from this video that both of us are wearing earplugs.

Step #1- How Does He Handle the Environment

The first thing I do with a new horse is to watch how they react to other people shooting. You can see in this video that Newt is surprised at the first shot but then quicky turns to interested. If your horse is nervous, agitated or shows others signs of being unsure I would recommend staying in this step. I forgot to video tape it but I kept riding out to replace the balloons. Often at club meets you can bring your horse and simply set balloons. This way your horse is exposed to the environment without a lot of pressure.

Step #2-Dry Run

I like to practice dry runs and dry-firing. This is a great way to prove that you have control of your horse while riding one handed. You will also find that it takes coordination to handle the gun and the horse. It is important to be smooth with both and dry practicing is great. It also saves money because you don’t need ammo and balloons. If you have an interest in the sport but don’t have guns yet you could even do this step with a child’s cap gun.

Step #3- Follow an Experienced Horse

I showed this step in my last video but this time it is slightly modified. I am closer to the experienced horse and Newt is able to see more of the smoke and what I like to call the ‘disappearing balloon act’ which is surprising. Remember that in the first video the shooting has only been done behind Newt’s saddle so this is the first time it is in front and more visible. You can see he is a bit surprised at first.

Step #4-Shoot with a Seasoned Horse

In this step the seasoned horse is still riding along beside us but we have changed places.It should be noted that we are using blanks, there is no projectile. The black powder is enough to pop a balloon but also burns out after a short distance which is why this is a safe spectator sport. I am also using ‘light loads’ which means that there is less powder than what would be used in competition. This also means that it makes less noise, less smoke and has less reach. I like using the light loads for awhile with my horses.
Training the rider is a big part of this process. You can hear me correct myself by saying, “Don’t look down!” because when I went to switch my guns I looked at my holster. At this speed and during training this isn’t a big deal…but I need to train myself for when I will be running fast.
Mounted Shooting has been a great hobby for me and it has been a fun training tool. If I see one common mistake with new shooters it is not taking enough time when training their horses. The horses MUST be easy to control, one handed, at the speed you want to run the pattern WITHOUT shooting. If you can’t run the pattern smooth while dry-firing there is no reason to think it will get better when you add ammo.

Follow Up Tip:

I did take my own advice and I have ridden with other pros including both my club, The Northern Ohio Outlaws, and other pros. Thanks to Outlaw Annie aka Annie Bianco-Ellett for her time and coaching during this video.