Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

The Transition From Paddock Ornament to Sport Horse

Those of you who have been following our story know that Rocío came to us skinny with no muscle tone whatsoever. The reason for this (and once again, if you’ve been following the blog, this will be redundant) is that she was rounded up five years ago. She’s been standing in a holding pen for five years.

Rocío prior to pick-up. Photo by Karen Morang.

Rocío prior to pick-up. Photo by Karen Morang.

Given that we have a deadline (August 7th) for this competition, I have had to go about her training in a careful way. I want to make sure that I work with her every day, but I don’t want to make her sore.

First, we adjusted her regime so that she has unlimited hay and worked towards giving her a little bit of grain per day. I assumed she had never eaten grain before because of the hesitant way she approached it — however, this quickly evolved. She can’t get enough of it now.

We keep in mind that, since her stomach is not used to grain, it may be sensitive. This is why we opted for low-starch, low-sugar WellSolve, and we keep the amount small. We also feed her rice bran, which is easy on her stomach and has a high percentage of fat. She already looks a lot better.

Rocío getting fat with her friend Tica.

Rocío getting fat with her friend Tica, despite being dirty (it is mud season, after all!)

My trainer Ainslie and I have come up with a simple conditioning plan. Given that much of her early training took place in the roundpen, it was tempting to ask her go around in many circles every day. When we train horses, we also put a lot of emphasis on yielding the hindquarters and lunging for respect, which requires small circles and sharp turns.

Lunging for respect is a great exercise but makes them go in many small circles. Photo by Karen Morang.

Lunging for respect is a great exercise but makes them go in many small circles. Photo by Karen Morang.

Because tight circles put a lot of pressure on her joints, I made sure to spend no more than a few minutes per day at the beginning roundpenning and lunging. I’ve been extending the amount of time that I do this a little bit every day. Still, it’s taken me almost three weeks to work my way up to twenty minutes of circles a day. I’m moving very slowly.

In addition, while her walk and trot are lovely, it seems that she has done very little cantering in her life. Given that she has just hung out in a holding pen, this makes sense. I’ve been asking for a few canter strides in the roundpen each day, and it’s gotten easier for her. Only when she seemed like she could canter easily with no rider did I ask her to lope under saddle for a few strides.

Cantering riderless in the roundpen.

Cantering riderless in the roundpen. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Our policy under saddle was similar to our policy with circles: I only rode for a few minutes the first few weeks, and I’ve been working my way up to longer rides.

Keeping things simple under saddle. Photo by Karen Morang.

Keeping things simple under saddle. Photo by Karen Morang.

One truly unique thing that I’ve learned from Ainslie during my time working with her is the value of trail walks. Walking up and down hills and stepping over logs and around stones is perfect slow conditioning for a horse. Ainslie and I make sure to take her for a two-mile hand walk through the woods at least five times a week. I’ve started riding her for part of this walk, but I don’t ride the whole time yet, and although I will soon, I’ll wait to make sure she seems ready. She still tires too easily for me to feel comfortable doing this.

Trail walk. Photo by Anne Dykiel.

Trail walk. Photo by Anne Dykiel.

Getting on! Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Getting on! Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Often, Ainslie and I just end up ponying her in between our two mounts.

Ainslie rewarding Rocío for her good behavior after a trail walk. We had sandwiched her between Tica and Dolly.

Ainslie rewarding Rocío for her good behavior after a trail walk. We had sandwiched her between Tica and Dolly.

We also noticed that the stall we have for her, which is attached to the roundpen, requires for her to take a step up every time she walks into it. And walk in and out of it she does — at least a hundred times a day! She loves walking in to check out what’s going on inside the barn, and stepping back out to see everything around her corral. Ainslie pointed out to me how good this was for her conditioning.

Big step in and out from the stall. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Big step in and out from the stall. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

We also started lunging her through poles and over small jumps, which also helps their conditioning. We only do this once or twice a week, maximum, so as not to stress her joints. She is such a talented and enthusiastic little jumper that we asked her to jump the barrels several times – she thought it was the coolest thing!

Lunging Rocío over jumps. We won't go higher than this for a long time and keep jump sessions infrequent.

Lunging Rocío over jumps. We won’t go higher than this for a long time and keep jump sessions infrequent.

Already, Rocío has bulked up and even seems to be getting a little bit of top line. She stretches down by herself on the lunge line, and this gives me faith that this program is working!

Another thing that we had to consider is that while the mustangs got their shots and feet trimmed before we picked them up, they have most likely have never had their teeth done. I put the bridle in her mouth but refused to work her in it until our dentist came to look at her.

Putting the bridle in her mouth.

Putting the bridle in her mouth. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Telling me her teeth are unhappy. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

She may be telling me that her teeth are unhappy, although it is common for young horses to play with the bit the first few times they wear it. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

He was nice enough to fit her in on Wednesday, and boy, am I glad he did. “On a scale of one to ten,” Ainslie asked him, “How bad are her teeth? Ten being the worst.”

He answered, “Ten.”

She had a wolf tooth that was so bad, it had practically become a part of her jaw. He had to tranquilize her to get it out, but he said that, even tranquilized, she was “very well-behaved.” She seemed to know she was being helped. It took him an absurdly long time. We gave him a generous tip (thank you, donors!) as it was a tough procedure for him.

Rocío's wolf tooth.

Rocío’s wolf tooth.

I am so grateful that I made sure to get her teeth done before working her in the bit. My dentist says she must have been miserable already, but it would have been unbearable for her.

While I know that all trainers have different conditioning plans, I had to take Rocío’s small size and lack of conditioning into consideration. I’m confident that this is a successful plan for her and hope to hear your thoughts on the matter!

Also, every other Saturday we host open training sessions for the public to attend. We hope that this will get Rocío used to a crowd. I was lucky enough to have a friend present to document last week’s. Here is the video if you want to see the highlights of her training session that day. Our next Mustang Saturday is May 9th at 4pm and we are located at 14 Breezy Point Road in Acton, MA.

We both need a little break every once in a while! Photo by Sheridan Studio.

We both need a little break every once in a while! Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Please consider donating if you haven’t already if you’re enjoying these updates.

Also make sure to like our page if you’re on Facebook!


Rocío’s Quiet Transformation From Subordinate to Alpha Mare

First of all, I’d like your input on turnout preferences. I’d love to see how the horse community feels about this issue.

While most things we have introduced Rocío to since her arrival have been new to her, turning her out with another horse was not. She had spent 5 years in a holding pen full of other mustangs, and, for this reason, we were sure that turning her out with another horse at Windflower would be a smooth process.

We chose Tica, Ainslie’s calmest mare, to be the first horse to turn Rocío out with.

“Patriotica,” Ainslie’s Andalusian mare.

We waited until the two had been properly introduced through the fence before introducing them. Additionally, the two had bonded from going out on trail walks together, where Ainslie would lead Tica and Rocío and I would follow.

One of Tica and Rocío’s first interactions.

One of Tica and Rocío’s first interactions, courtesy of Sheridan Studio.

However, it turned out that Rocío’s interaction with Tica was one of the most fascinating bits of herd dynamics I have ever observed.

When we were picking up Rocío from Orange on April 10th, we noticed that she was at the bottom of the pecking order. The other mares pushed her around. As a result, Rocío had gotten used to eating old, muddy scraps of hay because she usually couldn’t reach the good hay. We theorized that this was one of the reasons she had been so skinny when she arrived.

To observe this for yourself, you can take a peek at the pick-up video here. If you skip ahead to 0:27, you’ll see how shy she is compared to the other mares.

This is why we wanted her to be out with Tica specifically. Ainslie’s mare is very aloof in a herd and has “adopted” several of Ainslie’s young horses throughout the seventeen years Ainslie has owned her. She usually dominates but is not aggressive.

Tica establishing her role as herd leader early on. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Tica establishing her role as herd leader early on. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

As soon as we were out together, the mares behaved just as we had predicted. Tica, the flashy Andalusian, pranced around the paddock, shooting warning faces at Rocío while Rocío tried to follow her around. In these first few minutes, Rocío accepted her place as subordinate mare very quickly.


Tica bossing Rocío around. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Then, Tica settled down and ate some hay, while Rocío circled her for a few minutes. Tica wasn’t letting her approach the hay, and Rocío’s behavior was odd. She seemed to be approaching and retreating Tica from different angles.

All of a sudden, minutes later, Rocío backed up into Tica and kicked her! With a squeal, Tica backed off from the hay, and before we knew it, Rocío was chasing her around!

Rocío changing her place in the herd rather suddenly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Rocío changing her place in the herd rather suddenly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

We were shocked at this quick transformation, and Rocío’s methodical, quiet, relatively drama-free way of switching the dynamic. I’ve seen horses fight for dominance before, and sometimes those fights escalate. Usually, a complete switch from subordinate to alpha mare could be very explosive, but Rocío proved to be extremely calculated.

Both mares were at peace very quickly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Both mares were at peace very quickly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

The fact that she had been out with her herd in Orange, MA for days and stayed at the bottom of the pecking order told me that she has gained a lot of confidence at Windflower since she has arrived. She became the bold lead mare within twenty minutes or less.

Both girls trotting around in harmony. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Both girls trotting around in harmony. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

This made me feel very happy for her, as well as reinforcing my opinion of how intelligent and sensible this little mare is.

Photo by Anne Dykiel.

Photo by Anne Dykiel.

If you like these updates, and haven’t already, please consider donating to our cause so that we can give this mare the best care possible.

Make sure you like our Facebook page!

As usual, I’d like to thank Sheridan Studio and Waxler Imagery for capturing all of these important moments. These photographers are truly gifted.

Implementing the Kel Jeffrey Method of Starting a Young Horse

Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Photo by Waxler Imagery.

While there have been many exciting aspects to Rocío’s training, the one everyone seems to be most curious about is the riding part.

Ainslie and I have always been a huge follower of Clinton Anderson’s training methods. Even though we have branched out to other trainers as well over time to maximize our education, we usually follow Clinton’s basic framework when starting a young horse.

Clinton uses a method called the Jeffery method to start his young horses. Some people call it the “Human Currycomb.” Here’s a picture that illustrates why.

human currycomb

Photo by Waxler Imagery.

As you can see, I’m laughing to myself a little bit. It doesn’t make for the most flattering pictures, but I can absolutely vouch for this method.

First of all, the horse gets used to the rider’s weight without the added complication of the saddle and bridle. Similarly, the rider doesn’t ask anything from the horse – he or she simply sits there and lets the horse get used to their presence.

However, there is a lot more that goes into this than one would think – hence the currycomb analogy.

While most riders try to mount their horses and go about their ride as gracefully as possible, it’s inevitable that eventually, the unexpected happens and they’ll stumble as they try to mount. Or, their leg will hit the horse’s flank inadvertently as they ride.

In order to prepare for for these situations,  we purposefully create situations that may make the horse uncomfortable. However, we only use our bodies to do this at first. We jump up and down near the horse, and hang over them like a potato sack, and rub our hands and legs all over his flank, belly, back, and hind end.

Getting her used to rubbing sensitive parts of her body. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Getting her used to rubbing sensitive parts of her body. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Then, in order to get the horse as used to as many unusual movements as possible, we slide off of the horse’s rear end before ever dismounting conventionally.

Eventually, when we introduce tack, we will simulate similar uncomfortable situations by hitting the horse’s side with the stirrups and lunging with the stirrups down until the horse is comfortable before we consider mounting. Clinton even enhances this by taking empty milk jugs, filling them with sand, and tying them to the saddle. Once the horse is comfortable with those things his side while he lunges, he’s pretty much comfortable with everything else.

This was clearly new for Rocío as her eye told us she was wary. However, she stood quietly and accepted my ungraceful implementation of this exercise. As with all new desensitizing type exercises, I only stay for a few seconds at a time and then slide off to let her know that the situation isn’t permanent, and to back off before she reacts. Sliding off before she reacts also rewards her for standing still. The timing of this takes a lot of effort and it’s something I’ll be working on my whole life. Learning to read the horse better will help with this, as most horses give slight signals before they’re about to react.

We call this the "potato sack" exercise. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

We call this the “potato sack” exercise. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Once she was fully comfortable with my rubbing her all over her body with my hands and legs, jumping up and down near and on her, and sliding off her rear end, only then did I sit on her the “conventional” way.

First ride. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

First ride. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

The main reason that this training session was so successful, however, is that we completed some important prerequisites before doing this. We had taught her to give to pressure and turn and face us, having her look at us rather than face her hindquarters to us. This way, if my timing were off and she were to react strongly to something I was doing before I could stop her, I could slide off and pull her towards me.

We also made sure she was comfortable with us touching every part of her body on the ground.

When my trainer and I start young horses together, she usually holds them for me. Clinton implements this method solo and without a mounting block, but I’m not the most graceful person out there, so for the sake of this small lady’s back, I use a stool. Plus, we figure that this is the safer way to do it if we happen to have two trainers who are familiar and experienced with the method.

Sometimes, it's hard being graceful when doing this exercise. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Sometimes, it’s hard being graceful when doing this exercise. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

The next step to Rocío’s riding training, besides introducing tack, was to teach her to respond to conventional aids. We will post more on this process next time and hope you enjoyed this post!

Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Adoption vs. Holding Pens or Slaughter: The Current Situation of BLM Mustangs

Wild Sulphur Mustangs of Sulphur HMA, UT. Photo by Matthew Pestour.

Wild Sulphur Mustangs of Sulphur HMA, UT. Photo by Matthew Pestour.

I wanted to address a topic that has come up constantly throughout my participation in the EMM.

First of all, I would like to clarify that I, and everyone else at Windflower Farm, would only participate in an event that benefits these amazing animals.

I did some further research about BLM mustangs to make sure I could back up this claim. I reached out to other trainers in the competition, as well as my own trainer Ainslie, and the good old Internet to learn more about the situation of the BLM mustangs.

EMM trainer Rob West and his current project, Wildfire.

EMM trainer Rob West and his current project, Wildfire.

First of all, I want to make something clear: the mustangs in this even were not rounded up for the sake of the competition.

The Extreme Mustang Makeover does not take their freedom away.

The government rounds the mustangs up “to protect herd health,” says Emma Minteer, a fellow EMM trainer out of Rose Hill Ranch. “A herd can double in size every 4 years and they have to remove some excess horses.”

Emma and her mustang mare, Amazing Grace.

Emma and her mustang mare, Amazing Grace.

Few people know that mustangs are not native to North America. They were brought over by the Spanish hundreds of  years ago and the population must be kept in check.

Another issue pertaining to mustang round-up is that the BLM is caught in a debate with cattle ranchers. The mustangs are losing their land so that cattle can have more grazing lands. For more info on this, check out this article.

The extra horses are kept in holding pens. “If we, the trainers, don’t do what we do,” says Stacy Garner, another trainer in the competition, “those mustangs in those competitions will spend the rest of their lives in holding facilities.”

Trainer Stacy Garner and her mustang, Rain.

Trainer Stacy Garner and her mustang, Rain.

Ainslie, my trainer, points out that my girl, Rocío, would most likely have been shipped to slaughter eventually, as some of them are. The fact that she was wild and never handled would have made her adoption very tough without this competition. The Extreme Mustang Makeover not only helps raise awareness, but makes the competing mustangs much more appealing for potential adopters.

Our lady, Rocio. She will be available for adoption in August. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Our lady, Rocio. She will be available for adoption in August. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Emma, some other trainers and myself agree that we want to stick to our area of expertise: training! If anyone has any concerns or wants to learn more about the BLM mustangs, I hope that they will conduct their own research before forming an opinion.

Rocio seems to love having a job. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Rocio seems to love having a job. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Rocío’s Arrival: I Thought I Was Supposed to Get a Wild Mustang!

Rocio & me the morning after her arrival.

Rocio & me the morning after her arrival.

This weekend has been one of the most exciting weekends I’ve had in a long time. As an inherent worrier, I had pictured many worst-case scenarios that could happen during Rocío’s arrival, but the process was smoother, more exciting, and more fascinating than I could ever imagine.

Our lovely lady. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Our lovely lady. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

We are fortunate enough to live only an hour from the pick-up location. My friend Jon, who is also a trainer, volunteered his trailer and time to come pick her up. He drove up from Connecticut Thursday night, and he and I met up with Ainslie, my trainer and the owner of the facility, at 6:15 Friday morning. In our eagerness, we had chosen the earliest pick-up time. We also wanted to pick her up early in the day because we wanted to watch her for most of the day to make sure she settled in.

Two of our students, Zoe and Katie, tagged along with us to document and witness the experience. We all piled into Jon’s truck after running to Dunkin Donuts. His dog, Curtis, squeezed in the back seat with them, a quiet, well-behaved observer on our journey. Several coffees later, we were ready to begin our adventure.

Katie, Zoe, and Jon's dog Curtis in the truck. Do you notice how much Curtis matches our mare's colors?

Katie, Zoe, and Jon’s dog Curtis in the truck. Do you notice how much Curtis matches our mare’s colors?

We arrived in Orange, MA right at 8am. Due to some trailer issues (which led the incredibly nice trainer at the pick-up location to lend us his trailer for Rocío), we had to wait a while before loading up my mare. Therefore, we had plenty of time to explore.

First, I filled out some paperwork, and my heart soared when the manager, Rebecca, said in an excited tone: “Oh, you got a pinto!” I had heard that the mustangs were usually solid colors such as bays and browns, since those are generally harder to adopt out. She told me that Rocío is one of the very pintos at the facility.

Then, she gave me Rocío’s number: #8171

Rocío's tag after I took it off Saturday morning.

Rocío’s tag after I took it off Saturday morning.

Looking over her paperwork gave me a sinking feeling. The mare is 5 years old, and she comes from Rock Springs, Wyoming. However, the capture date is shocking: October 2010. I asked Ainslie, “How could she have been captured five years ago and still be wild?”

“She was kept in a holding pen,” Ainslie answered. “She was never handled, but she’s used to being in a confined space. She’s used to seeing people around her.”

Rocío being calm right from day 1. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Rocío being calm right from day 1. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

It broke my heart that, for the past 5 years, Rocío’s only identity has been #8171. It only reinforced the importance of the competition: to increase awareness and promote the adoption of these mustangs, who are being driven out of their homes. Since then, I’ve had to do a bit more research to understand the situation better, and here is more information. Also, here are some pictures of where Rocío was probably held.

After filling out the paperwork, I walked into the indoor where the mustangs and burros were being held. There were pens on either side of the indoor with about a dozen animals in each, and a long chute in the middle. The trailers back up into the indoor and lined up with the chute.

There were many full-grown mustangs, along with some burros and some weanlings, who seemed generally friendlier than the full-grown animals. We spent a lot of time petting as many animals as we could. They were all beautiful in their own way.

Ainslie and some burros.

Ainslie and some burros.

I went hunting for #8171. There were truly very few pintos, so she was easy to find. This was my first glimpse of her.


The first thing I noticed was how small she was. She was skinny, with absolutely no muscle tone, presumably from standing in a holding pen for 5 years. She was one of the quieter horses there, and she didn’t seem curious or engaged like her herd mates were.

When it came time to send her through the chute, the wrangler separated her very easily. She walked out calmly with her head low. However, as she was chasing her into the chute, Rocío doubled back and tried to go back to her herd. I heard the wrangler, who was one impressive lady, yelling and trying to round her up. Several failed attempts later, I turned and asked Byron, the EMM program director, “Is she a tough one?”

He laughed loudly. “She’s a wild horse,” he said. “You do know you’re getting an untrained one, right?”

I had to laugh along with him at this point, feeling a little sheepish after my question. I just hadn’t seen anything quite like this before.

Despite Rocío’s initial hesitation, once she finally got through the chute, she stepped calmly onto the trailer.


I had seen one horse gallop up there beforehand that morning, and the sound of his hooves slamming against the steel was loud and dramatic. Our little lady, however, seemed to decide that she wanted none of that drama.

Rocío's first look at me. She was calm from the start.

Rocío’s first look at me. She was calm from the start.

This stayed true throughout the entire ride. She stayed calm as we turned the trailer around and backed it into her turn out. We had pulled the round pen panels apart to allow for the trailer and shut her stall door. We had brought Tica, our calmest mare, into the stall so that they could sniff noses through the steel bars. Ainslie hoped that would comfort Rocío some.

Jon & me telling her to take her time. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

Jon & me telling her to take her time. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

She did not need comforting. She had some initial hesitation, and her body shook a little, but she hadn’t even broken a sweat on the ride home. She didn’t run off the trailer like I had anticipated, but stood on it calling the nearby horses for a few minutes. Then, she stepped off calmly.

She settled in as calmly as she transported and unloaded. Within a few minutes and some approach and retreat, I was scratching her neck. I would touch her for a few seconds at a time, making sure to step away before she decided to leave, making it my idea.

Our first contact.

Our first contact. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Before long she realized she had been very scratch-deprived her whole life, and she was one itchy girl. We spent the rest of the afternoon hand feeding her hay and scratching her neck. Before the real training began, I was also able to reach below her neck and untie her tag. It was moving to think about the fact that she had never been scratched before that day.

She has discovered that she loves being brushed.

She has discovered that she loves being brushed.

For those of you who want to see the adventure on video, watch the YouTube here.

After getting to know her, I have also realized that she’s one of the most engaged, curious horses I’ve worked with. Her blank look and seeming lack of engagement when I first saw must have been her reaction to the stress of her environment back there – to shut down and try to block everything out rather than to pace and react.

Curious girl playing with a tarp (day 2) while not caring one bit about Zoe behind her with the umbrella. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

Curious girl playing with a tarp (day 2) while not caring one bit about Zoe behind her with the umbrella. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

Thanks for following the story and be sure to like our Facebook page, and if you haven’t already, donate to our GoFundMe account. Thanks to everyone who already donated, we couldn’t have done this without you!

Copyright Ainslie Sheridan

Copyright Ainslie Sheridan

Also, Sheridan Studio and Waxler imagery have contributed many wonderful pictures to the project, so make sure to check out their pages as well. Buying gifts from Sheridan Studio will benefit Rocío directly.

Making herself right at home with a big roll.

Making herself right at home with a big roll.

The Great Helmet Debate


Well, it’s two days until mustang pick-up, and I’m getting increasingly more and more excited.

One thing I’d like to clarify to my readers before I embark on this journey is that I’ll be wearing a helmet 100% of the time. While helmet use has increased within the past few decades, I realize that plenty of people still choose not to wear them.

The first thing I did was create a poll to gauge helmet preferences before I share a personal experience and continue to advocate helmet wearing throughout this story. I will repeat the poll after the competition to see how, and if, preferences have changed.

I’m sure you’ve already heard many stories about why wearing a helmet is important, but I figured that adding one more to your repertoire will only reinforce this.

I often choose to wear a helmet with fresh horses when doing ground work.

I often choose to wear a helmet with fresh horses when doing ground work. This talented mare belongs to Cynthia Labruzzo.

Three years ago, when I was 17, I took a horse that I believed I knew very well out on trail. I’m going to omit the name and description of this horse to protect her reputation, seeing as the accident was not her fault and she has been doing great.

She was green at the time, but had been fairly reliable. I took her out on trail by myself, and made a giant mistake: I did not bring a cell phone, even though I had been told my entire life by my trainer to bring one out on trail.

My trainer Ainslie and me trail riding when I was 9. I learned to wear a helmet from a young age.

My trainer Ainslie and me trail riding when I was 9. I learned to wear a helmet from a young age.

However, I was wearing a safety vest, which you’ll see me wear when I start my mustang under saddle. I was also wearing a helmet, but it was a poorly-fitted, older model. I was really only wearing it because I was always taught to wear something, but I hadn’t bothered to invest in a new, correctly-fitted one in a long time.

Those of you who live and trail ride in New England I’m sure are familiar with the stony trails. Our horses must often pick through paths adorned with huge protruding boulders. It was during one of those especially stony parts of the trail that my seemingly quiet horse threw one of the most extreme bucks I had ever experienced.

There were no warning signs, and at the time there didn’t seem to be any contributing factors. The next thing I remember was waking up on the ground. The memory  is foggy, but one thing I will always remember clearly is the blood pouring down all over the rocks.

The funny thing is that I didn’t feel any pain. I felt like I was floating. The most terrifying aspect of the situation was that I couldn’t remember much about myself or how I’d gotten into the situation. I had a vague sense of direction, so I started walking, but I kept falling over. I remember thinking that if I didn’t reach home soon I was going to have to collapse and scream for help.

I’m not sure whether twenty minutes or thirty seconds passed, but eventually I saw a man walking in close proximity with his dogs. I remember mustering up the last of my strength to run up to him and ask for help. In retrospect, I can only imagine how shocking the situation must have been for him: being on a peaceful walk in the woods with his dogs only to be approached by a bloody, crying, dirt-covered teenager.

Some survival instinct within me must have registered that I had finally found help, because my memory blacks out completely right at that moment. When I woke up, I was still in the woods, but time had passed. Somehow, my trainer Ainslie was there, sitting on the ground comforting me.

It’s hard to describe how my head felt at that moment. There was still no pain, although blood continued to pour from my nose, but my disorientation caused enough fear that I kept repeating the same question to Ainslie: “Am I dying? Am I dying?”

She kept reassuring me that it was just a concussion, and that I was fine. To this day I don’t know if she truly believed it, because by the time the EMTs finally arrived and were able to carry me out of the woods on a stretcher, they skipped Emerson (the closest hospital) and took me straight to Lahey Clinic in Burlington. Lahey has a better head trauma center.

There, I waited for hours in paralyzing fear as my senses returned to me. Doctors scanned my brain to make sure I didn’t need emergency surgery. The hours during which I awaited news were long and dreadful, and I will never forget them.

Thankfully, the results returned: there was no bleeding in my brain, just a bad concussion and a broken nose. There was a lump on the back of my head where I presume it had hit the rocks, and it’s possible I got the broken nose from a kick to the face as the horse ran away (yes, she was shod on all 4 feet). I had been wearing a helmet, and had it been fitted properly, perhaps I would have been fine, I will never know. However, one thing I’m sure of is that if I had not been wearing a helmet, I would be dead.

The doctors said that my safety vest may have saved me from some more serious back damage, and this is the reason I often wear a vest today.

It turns out that I was very lucky in the end. I was lucky I understood the importance of helmets from  a very young age and always remember to wear one. I was lucky I put my safety vest on that day. I was lucky that I recovered very quickly and that I was back on a horse before I knew it.

One of my many rides since the accident. Often, bridleless trainers don't wear helmets, but I'm not one of those trainers.

One of my many rides since the accident. Often, bridleless trainers don’t wear helmets, but not me.

We discovered several months later that the mare I was riding had nerve damage on her back from an accident that occurred when she was younger and there had been no way to prevent or predict the accident. This is why I wear a helmet with every horse . We had no idea that she was having occasional painful spasms in her back.

To get more involved in the issue of helmet awareness, I would recommend checking out the organization Riders4Helmets. They also have a FaceBook page here.

Hours after my accident, I learned that I kept walking and talking to the man with the two dogs even after I blacked out. Apparently, he had asked if I needed to make a call, and I had surprisingly remembered Ainslie’s number. I guess years of calling it has engraved it into my brain. Ainslie tells me that she picked up the phone and heard my voice, sounding distant and vague, saying, “Hey Ainslie. I want you to know that the horse is on her way home.” Ainslie had stayed quiet after this confusing comment, at least until I elaborated: “And I’m going to need an ambulance.”

While I consider myself lucky, the fear associated with the memories from this accident will stay with me forever. I hope that this will encourage those who took the time to read this to stay safe.

Also, if you haven’t already, make sure you like my Facebook page and maybe even donate to our GoFundMe account.

Showing off my helmet the other day on Pop, a lovely mare owned by Deb Koehler.

Showing off my helmet the other day on Pop, a lovely mare owned by Deb Koehler.

My Upcoming Adventure in the Extreme Mustang Makeover


Hi everyone, Juliane here.

I just wanted to update everyone on the transfer of this blog from AllHorseStuff informational articles to updates about from my journey in the Extreme Mustang Makeover.

My posts will still be heavily horse training-related, now based on my actual most recent experiences.

I hope you will continue to follow this blog.

Here are some details about the competition. If you prefer to watch the video my student Katie & I created, click here.

On April 10th, 2015, a couple dozen local trainers, including myself, will pick up a wild, untouched, mustang mare from Orange, MA. We will all have 100 days to tame and train this horse, then show off the results on August 7&8 in Topsfield, MA.

We have decided to call my mare Rocio, even though we do not know anything about her yet. The horses will be randomly assigned to the each trainer. She will be staying at Windflower Farm in Acton MA, where I grew up riding under the guidance of Ainslie Sheridan.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m AllHorseStuff founder Hadrien’s sister. I’ve been learning natural horsemanship since I was 9 and have had the privilege of working with some wonderful, challenging horses. I’m now 20 years old, about to graduate college, and hoping to turn my freelance horse training business into a career.

I focus both on green horses and on older horses with particular behavioral issues. I’m an advocate of rescuing horses and seek to promote rescues such as Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue, Beech Brook Farm Equine Rescue, and Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue. Over time, I’ve become passionate about dressage, although I still teach and ride as many other disciplines as I’m able to explore.

An example of my natural horsemanship work. Photo taken by Julia Deraska.

An example of my natural horsemanship work. Photo taken by Julia Deraska.

Tica & me competing, suummer 2014. Photo taken by Izzy Bisese.

Tica & me competing, suummer 2014. Photo taken by Izzy Bisese.

In order to make this adventure possible, I need to raise some money to help care for Rocio during the time that she is here. I am a college student and it will be challenging for me to afford an additional horse while I finish up school. In order to do this, we have started a GoFundMe account here. Every dollar counts. If you donate, I hope you follow this blog so that you will eventually see the value of your contribution.

You can also like our Facebook page here.

I hope that you enjoy reading about this adventure!

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading!

How To Replace Your Leather Popper

Over time, the leather popper on your training rope or string can get worn down. You could replace the entire rope, but if the rope and snap are still in good condition you can buy a new popper and easily replace it.

How To Replace Your Leather Popper
(your speakers are working OK, this video has no sound)

Take it one step further and have your initials stamped on the leather popper so you know which rope is yours at the barn. Check out our poppers at

Blogging Contest Winner: Lauren and Devon’s Story

Here at AHS, we believe that our experiences with horses formulate our knowledge. We think that it’s just as important to convey the stories along with the knowledge.

However, because of this, we end up publishing a lot of stories about ourselves. Therefore, I decided to reach out to the horse community and invite people to share their own stories about themselves and their horses. I hosted a blogging contest in early 2013, and the winner of the contest was the story of Lauren and her horse Devon. I love this story because it shows us how horses can keep a person together, and help a person on the road to recovery.


Lauren and Devon.

Here is what Lauren has to say about herself and Devon.

“Devon and I: our relationship started out perfect because he was a surprise birthday present. My dream had come true. Patiently, I waited for 8 years to finally have a pony to call my own. He was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. Instantly I was in love…but he may have needed some convincing.

The first year I owned Devon we took weekly lessons and attended many dressage and jumping clinics, and he began so show me his talent. With the help of Ainslie, a trainer at the barn where he used to live, and the Dykiel family, his old owners, I began to understand Devon more. They showed me a whole new way to become an even better horse owner: by continuing to use Natural horsemanship techniques with Devon. The results are addictive and I began to use these methods with all the horses I handled and still do today. Devon and I began to trust each other more and more. We participated in some local schooling 3 phases and jumper shows and he really began to shine. I took him to his first 3 phase, pre-elementary and he got 3rd! I also took him Elementary where he also finished 3rd, both times on his dressage score. Through the winter we attend jumper shows where he went clean and WON classes up to 3’3.


Lauren and Devon jumping.

The following year, we attended more clinics and some schooling shows, and of course continued lessons. People everywhere fell in love with him. I’m always getting comments on his good looks and talent. We were able to begin fine tuning his skills; he was better than I had ever dreamed he could be. We even were able to participate in a local AA rated Hunter/Jumper show where I entered him in both rings and he kept right up with the best of them. He is always making momma proud.


In the dressage ring.

In 2009, my boyfriend of almost a year, Drew, was in an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Between going to work and visiting Drew while he was in rehab, I only had time to ride a few times a week. Devon was a great horse to have at this time because he didn’t become “hot” and was still great to ride. This gave us time to get a lot of trail miles under our belts and lots of flat work. In the end I think it was a good time for him to relax for a little while with no jumping.



2010 was a turnaround year for us. We began schooling much more and he became a vital role in Drew’s recovery. Drew could come into Devon’s paddock and drive around and Devon would just follow him around and nuzzle him and his wheelchair. Brushing Devon became a form of exercise for Drew, and a form of therapy. Bringing Devon back into real work didn’t take long, he was always very smart, smarter than I am, and it was mainly stamina that we needed to get back. By the end of the year we were able to go to a jumper show and we went clear in all of our rounds and to a 2 phase where we did Novice and got 4th!

The following year we were able to start taking lesson again at Scarlett Hill Farm and we set a goal to go Beginner Novice in the spring, and we did. His gaits became very clear and transitions smooth, his canter became more balanced then it had ever been before. We started schooling more cross country fences like water, ditches, and drops. He took to it all with an open mind and a brave heart. He has never been one to be scared of fences, or anything for that matter.

When spring came I took him elementary for the first time out and he finished 2nd, so then I decided he was fine to jump right into Beginner Novice. A month later came our first BN event. He is always very calm at a show but you can tell he loves to show off. Our dressage was the best test we had ever had, we had a clear round stadium, and a clear round cross country, the wonder pony finished in first place. I had never been more proud of him then I was in that moment, I was not expecting that. Next year we hope to move up to Novice which will be very exciting!


Blue ribbon boy!

We continue to grow as a team and together we can conquer anything. He has taught me how to be a strong and brave leader, he gave me something I didn’t know I was missing, and he helped pave the paths I took in my life. I admire the strength and beauty he provides me with every day and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.”


Handsome Devon.

Spooky Horses & Exercise

By Hadrien Dykiel

The bucking and crow hopping thoroughbred or warmblood on the lunge line is a common sight at barns. After the rather high energy lunging session, the rider gets on the horse for a somewhat safer ride.

Exercise leads to calmer horses. Spooky horses believe their survival depends on over reacting to any potential danger. With bottled up excess energy, it’s easy for them to do so. On the flip side, a horse that’s been exercised will be more conservative with their “flight” response. They will save their precious energy to run away from real danger, like mountain lions, instead of spooking at everything, including the shadow of a butterfly.

This is why many of us resort to lunging difficult horses prior to riding, it works. However, it is more of a temporary solution. It is possible to condition your horse to remain calm instead of spooking through desensitizing. You can see our mini course on growing your horse’s comfort zone here:

If practiced, you may no longer need to lunge your horse prior to riding one day.

Post Navigation