Thursday, August 25, 2016

Back in the Saddle!!

Hitting the Trails! 

I am a happy horseback rider!  I wrote a bit ago about my horse's struggle with lameness here:
I am thrilled to write he has been sound and happy for a little while now and we are really hitting a happy place with our riding.  He's happy- I am happy!!  And the weather is cooperating.  The super humid weather is gone, it has been slightly cooler, less buggy and very nice to ride.  We even got rain and our pastures are starting to green up again!  I am not digging into my winter hay at a fast clip any longer!  

 Yellow brown grass no more! 

 Happy & Sound makes me happy!!

 I have also been having a great time completing custom stall sign ordershorse and pet portrait commissions and trying out new artsy things like these horse wire sculptures and horse charms and pendants. I even played around with broken glass mosaics.  You can see more at my etsy shop.   If you'd like info on pet portraits please check out my website at 

Happy Trails! 

Sue Steiner

Friday, July 29, 2016

Intermittent Lameness aka On Again, Off Again Lameness

Are you in an 'on again, off again' relationship with your horse?  

You know what I'm talking about.  Those times your horse is just 'off', showing signs of vague lameness that comes and goes?  You watch and think you can isolate the area of concern but it is not always so obvious.  You study his movement and have your friends study his movement.  Your horse is not '3 legged lame', which is a phrase describing a horse that will not bare weight on one leg, and therefore, walks on 3 legs rather than four.   Your horse is showing less obvious signs.  You may only see a slight head nod at the trot (but what if your horse is gaited and nods his head naturally?  Or you may only see it in the smaller riding ring going in one direction, but not in a larger arena or straightaway.  Or he's 'ouchy' on gravel....or just a teeny bit short-strided.  He just is not moving freely but it is subtle.  You don't ride because you don't want to aggravate whatever it is that is bothering him.... so you turn him out and he gallops off like a mad man.  Hmmmm... couldn't be too sore!!  Grumble, grumble.

Or you do ride and he 'works' out of it, you think.  You ride and he feels tight and it his teeth?  His tack?  The footing? A bad day?

You study him in the pasture.  Why did he not gallop off like he usually does?  The right answer can change for a multitude of reasons.  Again, you analyze and fret.

If you've been here before with your horse then you have probably;
1. had your vet out
2. had your farrier out
3. have tried to 'fix' it on your own

And the results probably were:
1. You spent a ton of money
2. You are no closer to figuring out what was going on with your horse.
3. The lameness comes and goes

So you;
1. Get a second (or third) opinion.
2. Try a different farrier (or two)
3. Try new DIY fix-it methods.

And you are probably;
1. poorer
2. nowhere closer to figuring it out
3. Have conflicting information/diagnosis/treatment plans from all the professionals you have consulted that all take time, money and resources but lead in different directions. You still have no clear plan.
4. confused and frustrated

I don't mean to be a pessimistic person.  I am not usually but on again, off again lameness can feel like a slow, steady drain of your time, energy, and resources.  If you are like most horse owner's, seeing any discomfort in your horse is pretty agonizing for you- not to mention the horse!  I gain pleasure by seeing my animals healthy and happy.  Granted we can't control every illness or injury but vague types of lameness sort of feel like it is something we did-- poor saddle fit, trained or rode wrong/too hard/poorly and caused some sort of strain etc.  We feel guilty.  Because it comes and goes, we analyze every movement with our horse.  We plot ways to avoid whatever we think caused it until the lameness pops up regardless.  What sort of insidious, chronic illness is trying to take hold of my equine?

Plus, all of this it interrupts your riding time, which is a stress reliever for most people and something my horse enjoys too.  If the horse is just vaguely sore... will he ride out of it?  Would riding/exercise/turnout help or hurt?  I know I feel more sore some days than others and need my human equivalent to bute.... life goes on, right?  What to do?  What to do??  Is it me?  How can I stop this??

If you came here for answers, I am sorry.  All I can do is offer sympathy.  I would offer advice but you probably have more advice than you know what to do with.  And I know you have compulsively researched every possible ailment, supplement, and treatment.  Our barns are all full of various cures, tack, and possible solutions.

I had a spring with on again, off again lameness in my horse.  He is sound as of today and I breathe a huge sigh of relief.  I still can't pin point exactly what caused his lameness.  I wrote of another horse that I struggled to save here:  I had flashbacks to my days with Splash this spring.  And, pray tell, WHY does this happen to the best horses?   It is always the best horses!

If you are in a similar spot I am offering my sincere sympathy.  I hope the correct treatment is made clear for you and the right professionals are put in your path.  I hope for you and your horse many comfortable, sound days ahead.

Happy Trails!
Sue Steiner

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Want a Guaranteed Health Plan for Your Horse?

If you could find a way to ensure your horse would receive the very best care and attention in the event you could not provide for him, would you?  I am sure most of you are saying- Yes!!

Ideally, we all probably want our horses to stay with us forever.  How many rescues and ads ask for 'forever homes' but are asking for what they aren't able or willing to provide themselves.  (Rescues, you are excused because that is your purpose - to rehome hard to place horses.)  The reality is that as much as we all may want to provide a forever home we may not be able to at some point in time. Horses are expensive and life happens.  So how can you ensure your horse has the best possible chances of going on to a good, loving home if you weren't able to provide one any longer?

I can tell you the answer in one word:  training.

I am part of a horse training group on facebook.  Members share their successes and struggles of working with their horses.  A woman shared this morning how she has been working with her young, green horse and has now progressed with him enough he is calmly and obediently carrying around a young rider who until recently clutched the horn in fear at a walk.  This little girl is now confidently trotting around the riding ring with this woman's horse.  What a happy start for both of them!

I read her post and thought immediately how that horse's future life just got SO much brighter!!  A horse that possesses good manners, good training, and a happy disposition is always in demand.  Even slightly lame or arthritic senior horses who are good with kids and/or grandmas for short trail rides, pony rides are not hard to place.  They often are the most loved ones of all!

With the exception of poor health, which will at some point, be out of the owner's hands, providing training for your horse, good ground manners, and experience under saddle is what will ultimately make or break whether a horse has a fighting chance at a good home.

Horses that are hard to place have:

Poor ground manners
Poor horse social skills
Not good with farrier
Horses that buck, shy, bolt, charge and or any other equine behavior that makes life around them dangerous and unpredictable.
green broke
broke at one time but left unridden for an extended period

So, to give your beloved horse a brighter future you can follow these simple steps:

  • Work with your horse on the ground and in the saddle.  You don't have to be a super duper rider- just ride and keep your horse ridable.  Green broke horses or horses that haven't been ridden for an extended period of time have limited options for homes.  Don't start your babies too young or ride them too hard - keep a mind toward future soundness but ride those horses!!   If your horse is now semi-retired, an ex-show horse, for example, work on new skills such as trails and obstacles.  If your trail horse is bored with putzing around the farm, challenge them with new activities and disciplines.  Horses have preferences for different activities.  Where are they most engaged and interested?   
  • Handle their feet and work on them to stand for the farrier.  It's not fair to the farrier to have to wrestle with your horse.  A sure way to sore feet and a bad life is to have a horse that won't allow his feet to be trimmed.  
  • Insist on good ground manners each time you handle your horse.  Teach them to stand quietly and respect your personal space.  This goes a very long way to keeping the horse's mind in a good place and a pleasure to be around.  
  • Find the 'holes' in their training and fix them.  Most horses have some kind of hole or challenging area in regards to training.  I am doing that right now with my broke horses and am learning a lot. 

Another thing to consider.  Keep up with their dental work, vet visits, vaccinations, worming etc.  Prevention goes a long way.  Vet bills rack up and emergency vet calls are notoriously expensive.  Geld your colts- that should go without saying but saying anyways. 

Finally, one more bit of advice.  It is in my opinion that horses that are allowed to live like horses are happier and healthier.   Don't load 'em up on sweet feed.  Feed free choice grass hay when at all possible.  Give them lots of turn out with horse company.  Your horse will thank you!  Long live our horses and long live their niche in the horse market ~~ for this ensures a good home better than anything else!

Happy Trails!

Sue Steiner

visit my: 
Etsy Shop with equine and animal art

Monday, April 4, 2016

Am I Digging the Divide Deeper

Am I Digging the Divide Deeper ? 

I think one of the things horses have taught me is in order to function as part of any 'system', community or herd, I must learn the correct social behavior.  Are my social interactions isolating, dividing or driving others away?  Or is my behavior such that promotes cohesion, cooperation, and communication?

Some things to consider to enhance communication.

  • Am I reading the social cues correctly?  
  • Am I speaking clearly and coherently? 
  • Is my body language and tone of voice congruent with my intended message? 
  • Am I being sensitive to cultural differences? 
  • Am I using slang or language that can have negative connotations? 
Some things to consider to enhance cooperation.
  • Am I being respectful?  
  • Am I aware of my own bias or hidden agenda?  How does that affect cooperation?
  • Am I working toward an agreed-upon common goal that is beneficial to my 'herd'?  
  • Is there a power imbalance that is destructive to the group dynamics?  
Some things to consider for cohesion. 
  • Finding common goals or benefits for all.  
  • Giving credit and dignity to all 'parts' of the group.  
  • Allow some freedom for each to find their role and fit within the group.  Allow some diversity- in thought, action and otherwise.  Be open to the process of growth that comes from listening and learning from others. 
  • Nurture growth in the whole and in each individual.  
I have long been interested in conflict resolution.  In today's political climate and the changing ways in which people communicate, it is increasingly challenging to find or feel community or cohesion which hinders cooperation to work toward resolution of issues.  And we do have some issues that need work.  We can all agree on that!  

I have to ask myself, am I digging the divide deeper?   Do I challenge myself to be open to new ways of understanding and growth?   Am I looking for a common ground?  Am I showing empathy to someone else's struggle?  How can I effect change in MY circle of influence?  Am I a positive role model?   What behaviors, beliefs, actions do I have that might undermine the health and well-being of others in my community?  

I work in the mental health field (my day job) where conflict, pain, and feelings of isolation surround me.  One would imagine my work days to be depressing, tense and high intensity but that is not the overriding emotions of my work.  I practice (and practice!!) being a calm, supportive, empathetic person in the moment with someone who is quite possibly having the worst day of their life.  This feels like an honor on many levels to me.  I know the mental health field isn't for everyone but it can be so rewarding to just show kindness and care to someone in need.   This is SO powerful.  Don't ever underestimate the power of your non-judgemental presence, kindness and genuine care for another.  

Thanks for reading and sharing.  :)  Let's break new ground! 

Sue Steiner at Free Rein Art Studio

Monday, November 16, 2015

Does Your Horse Pay You Compliments?

Do They Even Like you??  

We can't ever be sure of what a horse is thinking since we aren't inside their minds... but the more time we spend with them the more we can guess!  Horse people LOVE guessing what their horse is thinking. (Me included!!)  Sometimes it veers toward the misbehaving side (common in parenting styles as well).  This is when someone views behavior and makes an assumption that the behavior is negative.  It could be a look, or a gesture or body posture or a response.  What I find interesting is how many times a negative emotion or intent is put on it.  The pendulum can swing the other way too.  A person can see no wrong in spite of what others may see as pretty blatant misbehavior or bad intent.    

As always the goal is to find a balance in what we see and the assumption we put on it.  I don't have any special mind reading skills so I am sorry I can't convey what your horse really is thinking... but the other day I ~~~ think~~~ my horse gave me a compliment.  :)  Yes, I am pretty sure he did.  

This is a gelding I got almost a year ago.  He came to me well trained, well manner and healthy.  But I was new to him and he was new to me.  We needed some time.  My horse is in his teens so conceivably he may have changed hands multiple times by now.  The last few years were tough years for horses since the economy and horse markets took some big hits.  Many people had to downsize. Horses require a lot of upkeep added to high hay and feed costs meant more than just a little shuffling around of horses.  Anyways he is mine now and I really like him.  I have sensed a reserve in him....not an all out shutting down that sometimes happens to horses that are used hard and have a temperament that leans toward the horse developing a 'thick skin' (so un-natural for a horse IMO), and have learned to tolerate human demands and interaction by being outwardly obedient and inwardly withdrawn.  They do what is asked of them, but there is a dullness about it.  Okay- I may be making some of my own assumptions and interpretations of horse behavior but since this is my blog I can.  Now back to the 'compliment'.  

(I hope this isn't anti-climatic with all this build-up!!)   My big lug of a gelding walked up to me..... lowered his head....and let out a big sigh.  :)  Yup... that was the compliment!    :)  My heart did a little pitter patter because I felt like I received some concrete evidence that this big ol' guy was actually starting to like me- and not just tolerate me.  

Agree?  Or am I putting my own wishes on him?  
Has your horse complimented you?  Tell me in the comments how.  I would love to hear.  

Happy trails!  

Sue Steiner

I have some new art up for sale!

You can see more of my equine and animal art at Free Rein Art Studio, Horse Art Online
or my etsy shop.   Free Rein Art Studio on Etsy

Sunday, November 8, 2015

De-escalating, Fear and Horses

De-escalating, Fear & Horses

Horses and humans are emotional, reactive beings.  The challenge in riding is to bring out the best in each other. 

 So how is this done?  I admit I am not an expert.  I am just a horse owner and have enjoyed horses and riding my whole life.  I find my time with them to be rewarding and healthy.  It keeps me active, refreshed and grounds me in a way that nothing else does.  I am not a competitive rider, nor have I ever wanted to be.  I like riding for relaxation and exercise. 
I am becoming somewhat of an ‘expert’ on de-escalating highly charged situations due to my line of work and interest in conflict-resolution.  Anyone who spends time around horses either eventually develops this skill or gets hurt.  You can develop the skill and STILL get hurt.  Getting hurt and horses are pretty much a given.  Which brings in the fear factor. 
 I have never been a dare-devil person.  I do not crave an adrenaline rush.  I am middle-aged and riding is the most athletic thing I do.  Statistically speaking, I probably engage in ‘risky’ behavior just by riding at my age.  I do find less and less people my age who still ride.  I know I am not ready to give it up, which takes me back to the idea of de-escalating. 

What does it mean to de-escalate a situation?  The definition of de-escalate is ‘to decrease in intensity, magnitude, etc.’ example: to de-escalate a war.
It seems fitting to apply de-escalating techniques to highly reactive horses…and people.  So how is that done? 

  • First and probably most important is for you to be in control of your behavior and attitude.  I know, that is sometimes very hard.  But you can’t think clearly or help another calm down if you can’t do that for yourself.  It takes practice and will get easier as you develop that skill.   Learning to self-regulate is a skill that will carry over into so many other areas of your life.
  • Do not assign ‘blame’ to the situation.  You can go over the events that led up to this at another time but now is not the time.  It is what it is and start there.  No judgment.  The horse (or your co-worker) is feeling what they are feeling.  That is where they are, so don’t hold on to bias or your list of ‘should haves’ into the situation.  You do not know the whole story.  Try to see it from their perspective.  Listen.  Observe.  Let them express what they are feeling. 
  • Be mindful of your own body language.  Horses are experts at body language and knowing someone’s inner experience.  Have good intentions and good thoughts toward the person (or horse).  Yes, it does make a difference.  Don’t crowd an angry person or horse.  Give them space.  Let the horse move its feet if it needs to.  I recently read a de-escalating technique for autistic kids in which the adult is advised to lower themselves to below the child’s eye level so not to intimidate them.  Obviously you need to keep yourself safe with your horse so don’t crouch on the ground…. But you can loosen your grip on the reins or lead rope and stay in a safe zone while the horse is allowed to lower his head, breathe and move his feet.  Angry people need to not feel threatened so do not to throw gasoline onto their fire with your anger.
  •  Frightened people and horses in highly charged situations are what I call ‘a live wire’.  Trauma (and instincts in a horse) cause them to think differently than they would do when they do not feel threatened.  Now is NOT the time to show them who is boss.  Step back, breathe, and talk slowly and calmly.  Do not give long instructions – they just can’t process that in the state of mind they are in.  Use fewer words and slow your body down.  Keep instructions simple and straightforward.
  • As the horse or person is given space, try to access where they are coming from.  What are they feeling?  Right now you need to focus on what they need… balanced with what is needed to keep everyone safe.  Soften yourself and see if they don’t soften as well.  Be observant.  You have to be vigilant about your environment but calm in your mannerisms and voice.  Do not engage in a fight.  Do not get pulled into an argument.  This is a biggie. Now is not the time to prove you are right.  Feel confident in your actions but do not raise your voice or add fuel to their anger.  You can have a firm stand on something—no, horse or angry person, you will NOT run over me.  Redirect but do not make it into a fight.  Redirect.  Redirect. Redirect. 
  •  Set limits and state consequences clearly and concisely.  The fewer words the better.  Keep voice calm, slow and clear.  Do not raise your voice.  State what you need to establish boundaries.  De-escalating is NOT about letting someone get their way…. It is about taking a dangerous or out of control situation and making it safe and manageable.  Limits and consequences are a fact of life and without them there is anarchy.  Keep anger out of YOUR voice and body language but be firm. 
  •  Choose carefully what you stand firm on.  Give a choice on something negotiable as you stand firm on the non-negotiable action. 
  • Do not rush… allow the person or horse time to process.  Their brain is functioning in flight or fight mode so they likely cannot process words as quickly.  Allow time for them to digest this information.  

·         Even with the best intentions and de-escalating skills some situations continue to spin out of control.  Think safety and get help.  Think this part out beforehand if at all possible.  If you are having issues with your horse (or another person) have a backup person close that can call for help.   Do not do this alone if at all possible.  Let someone know where you are and what you are doing and a way to signal help.  Ideally having other people close by (who understand de-escalating techniques as well) who can assist or get help is the best if at all possible. 

In the saddle, I physically practice lowering my center of gravity and getting myself grounded on the horse.  Sally Swift in her book, Centered Riding described the sensation as a helium balloon rising and falling in your body.  Practice what that feels like when riding and observe your horse’s reaction to the difference.  As my horse begins to get nervous or anxious I can usually calm him down by paying attention to my own breathing (was I holding my breath?  Tightening my muscles?) And making myself heavy in the saddle with soft muscles.  I find keeping an awareness of my body and his, noticing where my tension is and how tense he is has a correlation.   Another possibility is maybe I check out a bit while riding and he sensed my inattention?  I begin to ride more proactively (assertively) but not aggressively.  I stay mindful of tension in my own body.  My tension is picked up by him so I need to keep my body relaxed but alert.  I actively ride with cues and direction and with soft muscles and a deep seat.  I release after he responds to my cues.  I bring his attention back to me and I stay in control of (my body,) behavior and attitude.  (Referring back to #1 de-escalating tip.) I do not get angry.  I stay on top of my own emotions.  If the situation is unraveling faster than I feel safe, I get off.  I also keep in mind that I can work thru situations with my horse and we can both overcome obstacles so I balance between staying safe (baling) and pushing myself and my horse out of our comfort zone.  I pay attention to myself, my horse and our environment and use good judgment.  At least that is always the plan! 

Stay safe, have fun and ride on! 


De-escalating tips adapted from Top 10 De-escalating Tips.
This blog post was inspired in part by an article I read here:

To see Sue’s equine and animal art go to 

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this blog post, I always appreciate you sharing it.  Thank you!  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Perspectives in Horse Behavior

A Difference in Perspective on Horse Behavior

I hit a bit of a bump with my new gelding a few months ago.  I've been riding him out on trails around my home by himself all spring and summer but hit a snag when some 'behaviors' began to surface.  Horseback riders are familiar with behavior issues.  Part of the attraction and challenge of riding is the horse has an opinion in being ridden too!  Since horses can't talk they let their actions speak for them.  That means we have to interpret the behaviors.  Ahhh... another added dimension to riding!  

Someone asked me the other day if horses like to be ridden.  She was coming over to my place to ride my Arab mare Abbey (the chestnut in the above photo) and I could tell her truthfully that Abbey did like it.  I knew Abbey would enjoy the attention and interaction when my friend came over to ride because my friend is a beginner rider and Abbey loves beginner riders!  I told my friend, as long as she did not ask Abbey to anything overly strenuous, was gentle on her mouth (I have new riders use a rope halter on her because she has such a soft mouth) and didn't kick her, Abbey would enjoy being ridden very much.  Abbey loves to putz around the riding ring and enjoys shy or timid riders.  She loves people.  She becomes very maternal and sweet as a lamb.  Other horses would hate this or become frustrated!  

My personal goal when riding is to find ways to connect with my horse and for them to enjoy our rides as much as I do.  

This brings me back to my gelding.  We were not enjoying our rides because we were out of sync.  Rather than becoming more relaxed as we got to know each other he was getting more tense and anxious.  I admit to engaging in a bit of a power struggle but thankfully saw this was not a lack of 'obedience' kind of thing and dropped that course of action.  I like to keep an eye out for the more subtle discomfort issues when things crop up especially since this horse by nature is calm with a quiet temperament and not a naturally nervous, hyper horse.  He has some get-up and go, but that is different than nerves.  He's a Tennesse Walker and has the breed's tolerant, docile temperament.  I checked tack, saddle fit, bridle and bit.  He had been showing signs of not liking the bit (pulling, tossing head etc.) so tried a couple I had on hand.  I got a better response, but he wasn't happy yet.  I bought an Imus comfort gaiting bit from Phoenix Rising Saddles.   Win!  He immediately relaxed, dropped his head and was happier.   

The next, equally helpful change I made was to do something completely unexpected (to him) on our rides out.  What I was finding is he got more hot and nervous the more we were out- rather than settling in as we rode on he was becoming more anxious.  So I decided to ride out and find spots to just stop and hang out!  I dismounted, let him graze and just sat and enjoyed the scenery.  My guess is that my walker was used to being ridden at a good speed out on the trail and just kept gaiting away for long stretches of time.  Nothing wrong with that, except I run out of trail too fast if all I do is gait!  I usually ride for only an hour to 2 at a time which I think might of felt short to him.  He has extensive trail experience which is evident.  I have plans to purchase a nicer trailer this coming year and begin to haul him out to group trail rides etc. but we aren't there yet.  I suspect many trail TW are ridden in a way that doesn't quite match my environment (crossing roads with traffic, riding on neighboring farms where I have limited access to areas etc.) so we have to adapt to not having miles of trails before us!  Cimmeron wasn't sure what was expected of him if  it wasn't to just be a smooth gaiting machine for miles on end!  Stopping to graze and smell the roses worked wonders for him.  He did NOT become disobedient but rather sweet and relaxed.  Stopping became an okay thing to do.  I feel like we made a major step in bonding time too!  He appeared to enjoy our riding time as I did one of HIS favorite activities.  Hmm, a change in perspective!  It isn't all about me.  The horse is part of the equation.  

I had needed Cimmeron to be okay with walking (preferably on a loose rein) sometimes on our trail rides.  The glitch I was running into is he got upset if he was asked to walk.  He would stop and stand and walk for a few strides, but very quickly wanted to move out again.  I have overcome 'jigging' on the trail with my quarter horse years ago by doing circles, bending or going the opposite way whenever he picked up the next gait from what I ask of him, but those same corrections did NOT work with Cimmeron.  He became more confused and upset.  Sometimes trail horses are only ridden straight forward and 'fast'.  They know go and whoa but less about flexing, bending or circling.  My guess is this was Cimmeron's background.  He does NOT like arena riding either.  Thinks going around in circles is for the birds!!  We are doing more of bending, flexing kinds of things the longer we ride together because I like riding horses that bend :) and it's good for him physically, but really my main goal was I wanted him to not always expect to work so hard!  He could be a bit of a slacker and that was okay.  I love his gait and find he is a super fun horse but like to see him walk when I need him to and not just from exhaustion.  I want him to stay sound and healthy for a long time.  

It was a good move- step back from the 'argument' with my horse and think of what might be going on from his perspective.  Found a couple 'comfort' issues and corrected them.  Found a difference in perspective and enlightened Cimmeron to a good work/pleasure balance!  I ride for pleasure and relaxation so want my horses to derive pleasure and relaxation from it too!  Win-win for us both!  

happy trails!  


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