Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

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!


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.

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!

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.

How Clicker Training Saved Me

If you’re an avid blog reader, you’ll know that I’ve always been a strong advocate of natural horsemanship. I still am – I believe that natural horsemanship principles are an important part of a horse/human relationship. However, for years I believed that no other training methods – for example, clicker training – were also necessary. Now, however, I see that clicker training can facilitate training, and also be a lifesaver in some situations.
This belief started after an experience with my wonderful horse, Henley.

Henley Allhorsestuff connemara Thoroughbred

Here is a picture of Henley recently. This picture was taken by my wonderful trainer and barn owner, Ainslie Brennan.

I got Henley in August of this year, and although he’s a fairly level-headed and thoughtful guy, the Thoroughbred in him still gives him a reactive and flighty edge. However, his level-headedness made me decide to try some clicker training with him – just for fun, to teach him some tricks at liberty and picking up some objects and handing them to me. It also helped, I noticed, with his girthiness, and helped us desensitize him to umbrellas.

A couple of months ago, when my clicker training experience happened, I had really been wanting to take Henley on a trail ride. Some background about our trails: a wide trail connects the barn’s property to the conversation area, large enough for trucks to drive down – which they do, because at the end of the trail is a dam, and often construction workers and water workers come do some work on the dam. We must go down this trail and cross the dam to get to the trails.

The trail that leads out to the dam.

The trail that leads out to the dam.


The dam, with its new beautiful bridge, now that the construction has ended.

Inconveniently, they decided to rebuild the entire dam right as I got Henley. Therefore, my precious trails were blocked off, and my new horse and I were stuck in the riding arena for a month and a half.

I did take Henley down to the dam on weekends, when the workers weren’t working, and let him take a look at all of the scary foreign objects: parked trucks, bulldozers, and a port-a-potty. I would click him every time he overcame his nervousness and touched one of the objects with his muzzle, as a result of our clicker training exercise, “targeting.”

Sometimes, they opened up the bridge, and we could walk by and get to the trails. Those days were nice surprises – we got our trail ride, and we got to really desensitize our horses by walking them through a construction site. However, the dam had been closed off for a while, and that day I was missing the trails so much that I felt compelled to check if they were open – even though I heard the sounds of machines down there and knew that they were working. We had gone down there when they were building before, and they had nicely halted their construction to let the horses go by.

I figured that if the construction was too scary, I would get off and lead him back. Worse came to worse, I figured, a truck would drive down as we were coming back and forth from the dam, but I figured the chances were slim and that they would just see me and stop, and let us squeeze by slowly. The trail was not wide enough for a horse and a truck, but we could go through the trees.

So I tacked up my boy and rode the 5 minutes down to the dam, where I saw that hacking out was a lost cause: they had turned the bridge into a deep ditch full of strange equipment, and they were doing some crazy construction.

I turned around, bummed out, thinking that I could at least ride him back. However, as we were turning a corner, we heard the rumble of a truck. Annoyed that they had chosen the ten minutes that I happened to be on the trail to drive one of their trucks down, I stopped Henley and was getting ready to flag down the driver to ask them to stop and let us walk by when I noticed the impossible: the truck was reversing towards the dam instead of driving forward towards us. Forget about the driver seeing us through the rearview; it was a huge, scary truck, and I could tell that the driver was blind save from the side view mirrors keeping him on the trail. It was clear, however, that he did not see us.

The truck was advancing rather rapidly; I had very little time to think. The first thing I did was dive into the trees, but I was blocked by a stone wall and could not go very far into the woods – to my other side had been a ditch. In the few seconds that I was in those trees and the truck came nearer and nearer, where it would pass only feet away from me, all of my natural horsemanship came rushing into my head: what to do? Should I dismount and risk him running me over in the trees, out of fear? Did I have time to dismount? A one-rein stop wouldn’t work; we were too tightly squished between trees. No natural horsemanship exercise that I knew would save me now.

The thought came to me right as the truck was only about ten feet away, and Henley was already shaking despite my strokes and vocal reassurances: “Good boy, it’s okay, boy…” I needed to click him!

So I did. As the truck got closer, I clicked and treated, and my horse calmed down. He had been clicked in exchange for touching a truck of this size before at the site, but never moving and rumbling, and it was clear that he was distressed at the motion. I think clicker training saved us that day, when we were stuck in a tight box between a stone wall, trees, and a rumbling, frightening truck.

Finally the truck was gone, and the driver finally caught sight of me: I waved, and then Henley and I stepped calmly out of the trees and walked home as if nothing had happened.

I called my mom, a huge clicker training advocate, right away and told her what happened. She was the one who had guided me in training Henley, and who had taught Henley the meaning of the click, and had given him a positive association to it. I told her that I finally realized that there was more to clicker training that just tricks: it is a vital tool in situations where absolutely nothing else could work!

For more information about clicker training, stay tuned, as we will be coming out with some videos soon. Also, we sell clickers on the website under the “Natural Horsemanship Equipment” section if you have trouble making the clicking sound with your tongue.

Lastly, for those of you who have had experiences like these, or who just have a special relationship or history with your four-legged friend, we are having a blogging contest. Write up your story and e-mail it to and we will publish the winner, and give them a $10 coupon code to AHS.

Happy training, and stay safe!

Henley and I about to go on a trail ride. Snow rides are the best, enjoy the New England winter while it lasts!

Henley and I about to go on a trail ride. Snow rides are the best, enjoy the New England winter while it lasts!

Rescue Spotlight: Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue…The Truth About Mules and Donkeys

By Juliane Dykiel

Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue

Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue. South Acworth, NH

This is what I saw when I pulled up to Save Your Ass Long Ear rescue in South Acworth, New Hampshire on July 10. I had decided that it was time to visit Ann Firestone, the president of the rescue, to ask her some questions about mules and donkeys. I have been working with a little rescue mule who was adopted by my trainer Ainslie Brennan of Windflower Farm   for the past couple of years. She has been fascinating, but one mule doesn’t make me an expert. It was time to get some real information.

First, about Save Your Ass…


            Ann had been crazy about long ears since reading Marguerite Henry’s Brighty of the Grand Canyon.brighty

She bought her first donkey in 1990, and met other people online who loved donkeys like she did. She started helping donkeys find homes, and one thing led to another. Several people got together, and the rescue grew from there. Save Your Ass adopted out 125 animals in 5 years. The happy donkeys and mules peering at me seemed to agree that this was quite an accomplishment!

Save Your Ass Rescue Mules and Donkeys

Gertie, Jadu, Solomon, Asia, and Dinah. Ann even got her hand in the picture!

I then asked Ann the question I had been burning to ask her the most: “Who came up with the name?” She laughed and told me that Gail Lever, who was one of the founders, thought of it. She got the business going as a 501-C3 non-profit organization.

“Do you get any heat for it?” I asked, referring to the rescue’s use of the word “Ass.”

“Yes,” she told me honestly. Some people are simply turned off by the terminology, but this does not irk her. “It’s the proper name for a donkey,” she said.

Then, the next question: Why long ears?

Ann told me, “There are a lot of horse rescues.”

I realized how true this was. I’d heard of a million “horse rescues,” or more general “equine rescues,” but never a “long ear rescue” before Save Your Ass. And mules and donkeys definitely need rescuing!

Yet the main reason, Ann continued, is that she’s simply crazy about long ears!

Ann Firestone and Rescue Mule

Ann and her rescue mule Marlin.

Then, Ann and I walked around the rescue and I met her mule, Gertie, and some other rescues. Their happy endings are truly heart-warming. However, there are some that still need happy endings – even though they have been saved by the rescue, they still need forever homes. Contact me or Ann for more info on the adoptables, or check out the Save Your Ass website.

Now, about mules and donkeys themselves….

How are they physically?

I’d heard rumors about how athletic mules were, and that they out jump horses in jumping competitions, which is why they aren’t allowed to compete in them.

Ann told me that this was due to “hybrid vigor,” and the fact that the sterile cross gets the best qualities of each of the parents. Not only can they do anything from jumping to an outstanding performance in dressage, they metabolize food more efficiently than horses. This means we can feed them less, which means they’re cheaper to maintain in the food department!

In fact, Ann stressed that Save Your Ass experiences many more problems with overfed animals than neglected ones. This is particularly a problem with donkeys, as it is very easy to overfeed a donkey and not realize it. Therefore, it’s good for long ear owners to exploit the financial advantage of not having to feed them very much!

I asked Ann about their feet and she admitted that donkeys don’t often have very good feet. The one advantage, however, is that they do well barefoot, which negates the cost of shoeing. Trimming is much cheaper than shoeing. Mules also do great barefoot and Ann had no complaints about their feet.

The next thing that blew me away about long ears’ health is their lifespan – they live and function well into their 30’s and 40’s!

How about their temperament?

I’ve heard that donkeys are fantastic for nervous riders, as their instinct is to freeze, not run off, when confronted with something frightening. Ann mentioned that mules are much more reactive than donkeys, having half of the “flight” instinct that horses have, but still much more level-headed than a lot of our horse friends.

In other words, donkeys like to “conserve energy.” Cocoa Puff, a donkey adopted from Save Your Ass by a volunteer and board member, proved this to me when I went out to meet him.

Save Your Ass Rescue Donkey

Cocoa Puff conserving energy.

A donkey’s behavior, Ann explained, is any animal lover’s dream. They are usually in your face and want to be loved. Two of the little miniature donkeys at the rescue confirmed this for me. They were in our pockets the entire time we were in the pasture!

Ann Firestone Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue

Ann and Gertie, Jadu, and Solomon.

Ann told me that mules are a lot more wary, and it’s much harder to gain their trust. However, her mule Gertie’s attitude proved to me that the next thing that she told me is true: “Once you have a mule’s trust, you never lose it.”

Ann and Mule

Ann and Asia.

She stressed how impossible mules are to handle, however, if they are not imprinted at an early age. She told me that she “learns something every day” working with the mules and that she is constantly reminded of how smart they are.

How about training methods?

After having met one of the rescue’s most difficult cases, Isabella, I asked Ann what kind of training methods she prefers for the long ears. She is a huge clicker training advocate and claims that it is one of the more effective ways to train a mule. She describes it as a method of “communication,” and that since mules are “thinkers,” it works very well.

I have seen the incredible effects of clicker training in horses, who are naturally very reactive animals, and have to say that I believe Ann when she says that this training method works. She has encouraged me to go out and learn more about it.

However, once you have a long ear’s trust and respect, in my experience, you can train them very similarly to a horse. Ann loaned me a book that confirms this: the exercises and methods that it recommends are similar to horse training books.

After all, Ainslie Brennan and I took her little rescue mule Brit to events and dressage shows as if she was any old regular training project of ours!

Juliane Dykiel Rescue Mule Dressage

Juliane and rescue mule Brit doing dressage at Groton Fairgrounds in October 2011.

In the end, my visit to Save Your Ass was eye-opening and heart-warming. I hope this convinces you to try a new relationship with a long ear. While I had some frustrating moments with Brit at the beginning, as soon as we figured each other out, the journey was incredibly humbling yet rewarding.

Juliane Dykiel and Rescue Mule Brit

Juliane and Brit.

If we’ve convinced you to adopt a long ear, check back regularly to the Mt. Toby Rescue Project page. We’ll keep updating it with new adoptables. And if you’re still in the mood for a horse, we have those posted up there as well!

Thanks for everything, Save Your Ass!

Save Your Ass Rescue Mules and Donkeys

Happy donkeys and mules.

Now, just for fun…

Training tip from Clinton Anderson: Keep it simple

By Hadrien Dykiel

One of the most effective ways to train your horse is keeping things simple. One way that I do this with my horses is by teaching them one principle at a time. For example, I will teach a young horse how squeezing means go forward before I introduce the opening rein. In other words, I teach my young horses the principle of speed before teaching them about direction, instead of trying to teach them both at the same time. I’ve found that breaking down your exercises and taking it step by step will actually help your horse learn much more quickly.

Keeping it simple is a training principle that Clinton Anderson stresses. Here an interesting post from his blog:

“Horses are very smart, but they are simple creatures. I put horses mentally in the same age group as six year old kids. Six year olds are very smart, they catch on quickly, but they are very simple. For example, I get people asking me all the time when teaching a horse the Cruising Lesson that shouldn’t I be worried he’s on the wrong lead? That he has his head in the air? No, I’m not. The horse has been loping around in the pasture on the wrong lead all his life; cantering around on a loose rein for three days isn’t going to hurt him. First he has to learn maintain the speed and direction I set him at, and then we can work on leads. Don’t get hung up on the details initially. Keep it basic. When you keep it simple, horses progress very quickly.

Also keep in mind you can’t teach a horse fifteen lessons all in the same day and expect him to remember them all and do well. You don’t teach a kid the alphabet, how to write, how to spell his name, write a sentence and read all in the same session. First you teach him the alphabet and when he’s good at that, then you move on. When you take your time and build on each lesson, they catch on quickly. But if you confuse them by throwing too much information at them, they shut down on you. Your horse is the same way. You have to break the information down for him so that he understands what you’re asking him to do.”

You can visit Clinton Anderson’s blog at

Go out there and keep it simple!

Letting Your Horse Be A Horse

By Hadrien Dykiel

Mojito, the incredibly easy-going 3 year old gelding we adopted from a rescue last summer, started misbehaving all of a sudden. He did not let us put on his bridle or pick out his feet. Undersaddle, he tried to run around as fast as he could and not stay on the track. What happened?

Let’s go back to 2 weeks ago. Mojito got kicked near his stiffle by another horse. The result was staples to close up the wound and a solitary paddock with no exercise. So for two weeks he was by himself without his usual horse buddies or his rider, stuck in a tiny paddock.

It was no surprise he was acting like a goof when we started working with him again! I have seen this happen over and over with horses. The solution is to let your horse be a horse.

Horse Running

Mojito, by Anne Dykiel

Once Mojito was healed, we turned him out with another horse, Cyy. Mojito went off cantering around the field, happy as a clam. I saw him out in the paddock playing with Cyy, rearing up and biting each other. We also took Mojito out on the trail, which he came back from tired but happy.

Mojito is now back to his normal self, an incredibly mature and well behaved young horse. Turn out, socializing with other horses, and trail rides are extremely important to horses. It gives them a chance to have fun and act like a real horse. Then, when it is time for them to work, they are much more willing to focus and make an effort.

Like us on facebook or sign up for the blog for updates on new articles and products!

Post Navigation