To help guide you to a deeper relationship with your horse.


The importance of individualized training

A life-long relationship with a horse is a precious gift and the foundation must be built carefully. We must be willing to put aside pre-conceived goals and time-lines and adjust to each horse’s individual needs. The story of Junior, a lovely chestnut half-Arab, half American Saddle-bred who was retired from the rigors of international saddle-seat competition, is a case in point.

The first rule of dressage is relaxation and Junior was anything but relaxed.

His previous owner hoped Junior would enjoy the tranquility of our horse facility where the pace is quite different from his show-ready life. We were looking forward to using the dressage training scale to transform Junior into an all-around pleasure horse who could tackle low-level jumps and the adventures of trail-riding.

Junior was accustomed to living alone in his stall and paddock. His contact with other horses was seldom unobstructed by fences or rails. At our place, Iron Horse Park, horses spend their days together in groups, although, older horses, because of individual dietary requirements, eat their meals and spend nights in individual stalls. This change in life-style proved to be a major adjustment for Junior.

When Junior arrived in early June he spent the first week in a stall and paddock where he could introduce himself to the four other horses who visited him over the paddock fence, or return to the solitude of his stall if he chose. On the eighth day I opened the stall door and walked Junior to the pasture to spend time with his new horse friends, Jack and Chief, two old and very kind equines. He stood patiently as they curiously nosed him from head to toe. Finally they strolled away and Junior began browsing through the grass. It appeared that Junior’s transition to group living was uneventful.

However, three days later, Junior was covered in hives. We returned him temporarily to the confinement in his stall and paddock and got his rash under control with the help of our veterinarian. Junior’s previous owner confirmed that this has been a life-long occurrence and prior blood panels revealed no known allergens. After much discussion we concluded that Junior’s hives may be caused by anxiety.

The first rule of dressage is relaxation and Junior was anything but relaxed. We have become keenly aware of his hair-trigger startle reflex. He spooks at every unexpected movement or noise such as dogs barking, geese flying overhead, or the arena sprinklers turning on. But his recovery time is quick and his intelligence and eagerness to please is ever present. Our immediate goal is to make sure that Junior learns that he has nothing to fear.

Using lots of positive reinforcement, we are focusing on relieving Junior of his nervousness. We praise him when he keeps his ears forward rather than laying them flat when we walk toward him. We reward him for not rushing frantically to the safety of the far corners of his paddock when we clean his stall and for staying near-by rather than running away when we put food in his feeder. We spend a lot of time talking to, petting, grooming, and walking with him.

More than anything, Junior was afraid of other horses, so we gradually re-introduced him to turn-out with his pasture mates. We always invite Junior to join us in the arena when we play with Chief and Jack. Sometimes he participates, at other times, he plays the spectator. We don’t force him to do anything.

Among other activities, one of Junior’s favorites is when we form a human-horse chorus line by standing shoulder-to-shoulder and, while attempting to match feet, we walk in circles, over cavalettis and make figure eights together. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and laugh, applaud, and reward ourselves for our silly routines. Junior enjoys it tremendously and is learning to move in unison with his pasture mates. He keeps pace when we are moving in a straight line, steps almost in place when he is on the inside of the circle, and extends his stride when he is on the outside.

He is spending all day in the pasture with his equine buddies and no longer sees them as a threat. He grazes with them nose-to-nose and follows them around the pasture. He runs up to the fence to greet us whenever we are in his view.

These days we measure progress by Junior’s bumps. They have nearly disappeared, but, lurk barely under the surface of his skin ready to pop out whenever he feels threatened. Still, he is learning to interact with the other horses and looks to them, and us, for companionship. I do not know how Junior’s story will unfold but we will take our time, as every moment spent with this beautiful horse is a delight.


Bitless horse-rider teams practice ground & flat work, trail-riding, and traversing obstacles. An action-packed two-day experience!.

  • August 8 - 9 (Sat-Sun) Orangevale, CA
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NEW! An optional third day of group practice with a half-hour private session will be offered at the end of each clinic. Space is limited! Auditors: $50 Riders: $200

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