Just for Fun-The 5 Pieces of Tack I Can’t Live Without (AKA Gift Buying Guide for the Picky Cowgirl)

Over the years of training horses I often have had people ask me what tack I would recommend. The tack listed below is what I use personally. None of it is cheap-but I have found that spending the extra money to buy higher quality tack does make a difference in your horses comfort-and your horse’s performance. I also linked where you can buy the tack I recommend, so if you are wondering what to buy the picky cowgirl in your life, here are some ideas. Keep tuned-I will also be posting a fun western fashion guide highlighting the riding attire and accessories I like.

So here are a few of my favorite things:

1. Don Dodge Smooth Snaffle Bit by Greg Darnell

If I could only own one bit, I would own the Don Dodge Smooth Snaffle bit made by Greg Darnell. This snaffle bit is balanced and has nice feel, and I like the D Rings so it doesn’t pinch or pull through the horse’s mouth as easily. They are really reasonably priced too. You can get one for yourself (or as a present for a friend) by visiting http://aldunningsadtack.com/index.php?p=product&id=46

2. Schutz Brothers Reins

Good reins make a huge difference is cuing your horse. Reins that are too light flop and wiggle excessively, giving your horse signals you don’t want. Too heavy and thick reins are hard hold and handle. These Schutz Brothers Reins are just right-soft and pliable in your hands, have enough weight to drape well, and carry the slightest signal down to the bit. You can get them from AD Tack when you buy your Snaffle Bit 🙂 http://aldunningsadtack.com/index.php?p=product&id=82

3. Mohair Cinch

When I was training horses I used only neoprene cinches so that I could disinfect them easily between horses and prevent girth fungus, but always had a problem with girth sores. I never even tried a mohair cinch until I met my hubby-and now I am a convert to the mohair, and now I dislike using the neoprene cinches. The mohair breathes better, these cinches last longer, and I haven’t had a single girth sore on any of my horses since. They are more expensive than a neoprene or cotton string cinch, but trust me, it is worth it, and your horse will thank you! Dennis Moreland makes a great one (http://www.dmtack.com/products/10cs-dm-straight-cincha/) or if you want to save a little bit of money, we have used some of these cinches sold by Smith Brothers and they work good too-I like the roller buckle on the Smith Brothers Cinch for our rope horses. http://www.smithbrothers.com/smith-brothers-100%25-mohair-roller-buckle-cinch/p/X3-02172/

4. Quality Wool Saddle Pad

We like using these wool pads from Smith Brothers as everyday work pads. Like the Mohair Cinches, the wool pads are more expensive, but they do last longer and your horse will thank you! http://www.smithbrothers.com/smith-brothers-100%25-wool-pad/p/X3-1965/

5. Bob’s Cowhorse Saddle

When we first got engaged, someone jokingly asked my hubby how much money he had to pay for his bride-to-be. Without missing a beat, he replied “A truck, a trailer, 2 saddles, and a horse,” as I had instantly claimed as “mine” some of his things. One of those two saddles was his (now my) Bob’s Cowhorse Saddle. A quality saddle makes a big difference in your position, and when your position in the saddle is correct, your horse can perform better.  Visit http://aldunningsadtack.com/index.php?p=product&id=4 to get your own.


Molasses tacked up in the Bob’s Cowhorse Saddle, Mohair Cinch, and Wool Saddle Pad.


Performance Horsemanship or Natural Horsemanship? My Performance Horsemanship Philosophy in Detail

Performance Horsemanship or Natural Horsemanship?
My Performance Horsemanship Philosophy in Detail

In simple terms, I strive to follow natural horsemanship principles when training my horses, while keeping the big picture in mind that my horses have a job-they have to be broke enough to work cattle.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? However, I am somewhat reluctant to call what I do natural horsemanship.

Why? Because I understand that not all of what I do is considered “natural horsemanship” by some people.

What I have found is that the word natural has been taken out of context by some natural horsemanship enthusiasts. What should be simple has been made complex. In some people’s eyes, you cannot be a “natural horseman” if your horses wear shoes, if you ride your horse in any sort of bit, or if you feed your horses grain. Do a google search for Natural Horsemanship, and you will see what I mean.

I ride with spurs. I will use a curb bit on my horses. I will use a training aid like a german martingale if the situation warrants it. Sometimes our rope horses are rode in a tie-down. Currently none of my horses have shoes, but they will be shod if they need it. If we really think about, nothing that we do with our horses is natural!

I still like to think that I am a Natural Horsewoman. I own and have read all of the books by the “Fathers of Natural Horsemanship”: Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, etc. I follow their principles of making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. I strive be gentle as possible, yet as firm as necessary with my horses. I am constantly learning, researching, and expanding my horsemanship knowledge. I want what is best for my horses. When I hit a roadblock with my horse, I try to think what the horse is thinking, and feel what the horse is feeling, to understand the cause of the resistance, so I can fix it without causing my horse undue stress. I want my horse to think for himself-if they notice a bear in the woods, I want them to get us outta dodge! I want my horse to be my partner-not a machine-because at the end of the day, my horses are not show horses. They are ranch horses, and we have a job to do.

So that is why I like the label of “Performance Horsemanship” better. In training my horses I strive to develop control the five main body parts of the horse-the head, neck, shoulders, rib cage, and hips. When I can independently control the different body parts of my horse, we can be more successful at working cattle. How I develop that control might not be considered natural by all people, but I never use fear, intimidation, or force to get the control I need. If a job is too much for a particular horse, I admit it. Putting a horse in a situation that they can’t handle would only cause injury to human, horse, or cattle. The most important thing at the end of the day is that everyone: human, horses, and cattle, are handled without injury and/or undue stress. It may not be natural, but it gets the job done, and my horses are sound and happy, so I must be doing something right.

Molasses Cows

Useful Ranch Horse Skills (That are also handy if you need to run away from a posse)

(Please Note: This post is for entertainment purposes only. I do not actually advise running away from the law.)
Listed below are some useful ranch horse skills that are also handy if you ever find yourself in need of running away from a posse.

1. Wait patiently saddled and tied.


A good Ranch Horse will stand saddled and tied, waiting patiently until they are needed to work.

This trait is also useful, just in case you need to get outta Dodge quickly-you can’t be wasting time saddling your horse!

2. Walk through water.


Whether you are out in varied terrain rounding up cattle, having a horse that is willing to cross water is very useful to be sure that you don’t miss any strays.

If you need to outrun a posse, being able to walk your horse in the flow of the creek is even more useful for making your trail hard to follow.

3. Lean off the side and pick up objects from the ground.


Dismounting to pick up a dropped object takes time, so being able to lean over and pick up and item from the ground is super handy when you are running short on daylight and still have a lot of work left to do.

It is also handy if you are trying to outrun a posse-you can’t let dropped items leave a trail marking where you have been!

4. Stand on their back.

Zeb Standing On Molasses

Ok, so this really isn’t safe horsemanship, but it can be useful! Standing on your horse’s back increases your field of vision, allowing you to more easily look for strays.

Or, to allow you to check if a posse is chasing you!

Kids-don’t try this at home.

5. Run. Fast.


Having a fast ranch horse is handy if a heifer decides to break loose from the herd and make a run for the back section.

Having a fast horse is also handy when out-running a posse.

6. Ground Tie.


This is a handy skill, having a ranch horse that will patiently wait for you while you fix fence so that the heifers don’t become bovine escapees.

It is also handy if you horse will wait patiently for you to wipe out your trail with a pine bough, so that the posse can’t track you.

Hope you enjoyed this fun list!

Becoming a Horseman: The Top 5 Qualities That Separate Riders From Horsemen

What qualities do the top horsemen share? What separates the “riders” from the “horsemen”? I have come up with a list of the top 5 qualities that I think separate riders from horsemen.

5. Balance

A Horseman is balanced, and not just in the saddle. A Horseman has learned how to balance their emotions, to never get angry with the horse, to remain calm, cool, and collected in every interaction with the horse. A Horseman strives for balance in all things with their horse, from their position in the saddle, the horse’s balanced way of moving, to balancing the horse’s training to provide variety and prevent boredom.

4. Timing

A Horseman has great timing. They know when to apply and release pressure/aids to the horse to maximize the horse’s learning and understanding. The understand that the horse learns from the release, not the application, of pressure. They take great in the timing of their aids when they ask the horse to do something, and do not ask the horse to perform a maneuver they are not ready for.

3. Feel

A Horseman has great feel. They know where the horse’s feet are at all times, at all gaits. They ride in rhythm with the horse, using their hands, legs, and seat to communicate with a “soft feel.”A Horseman is also aware of the horse’s mental and emotional states, and can feel when to ask for more, and when to quit for the day.

2. Experience

A Horseman is experienced. They have spent a lot of time, with a lot of different horses, and usually spent a lot of time with a mentor, to become the best horseman they can be. Through their experience they have learned how horses think, and how to clearly communicate with the horse.

1. Dedication

A Horseman is dedicated. They never stop learning, and are constantly striving to become a better horseman. They are dedicated to the welfare of the horse. They work consistently with their horses, to ensure that the horse is capable of performing the requests of the rider. They expect 1% improvement everyday.

A Horseman is constantly working to improve their horsemanship, constantly working on these 5 qualities.

I am always working on these 5 things, from balancing the demands of life and work and family with my horsemanship, to developing my timing and feel, always increasing my experience by working with my horses and expanding my knowledge by reading books, watching training dvds, and spending any time that I can with mentors and trainers that I admire. It takes a lot of dedication to keep working on improving my horsemanship!

I would love to hear from you! Do you possess these qualities? What do you do to work on these qualities? What qualities should be added to this list? What do you think separates Riders from Horsemen?

Performance Horse Development and The Training Scale

Some of you might be familiar with the Dressage Training Scale. Pictured below, I have the Dressage Training Scale with my notes on how a Performance Horse Development Horse, or PHD Horse, should display the parts of the Training Scale.

We start at the bottom of the Training Scale, and work our way up. Like the foundation of a house, if the base of the Pyramid is not solid, the parts at the top will fall apart.


So what does Performance Horse Development have in common with the Dressage Training Scale?

A lot!

IPHDA has created a set of progressive patterns that increase the physical and mental demands on the horse and rider as they move through the levels. Each level is designed to make sure the horse accepts the cues from the rider, allowing the horse and rider to perform the gymnastic and control maneuvers of each level in a manner that develops the horse’s strength and suppleness.

Let’s take a look through the progression of PHD patterns and how they relate to the Training Scale.

Level 1A: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can:

  1. Walk and trot with forward energy.
  2. Transition down from trot to walk, and walk to halt, while maintaining longitudinal balance. Transition up from a standstill to trot and walk, and walk to trot, without losing longitudinal softness.
  3. Start to develop some lateral softness by being able to perform circles with an arc in their shoulders and hips so that the horse’s feet follow the arc of the circle.
  4. The horse will start to listen to the rider’s rhythm as they begin to become supple at this level. Listening to the rider’s rhythm will help the horse maintain a steady cadence and smooth transitions

Level 1: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the level 1a requirements):

  1. Transition from a trot to a stop while maintaining longitudinal balance.
  2. Back while maintaining longitudinal softness.
  3. Perform 180 degree turns on the haunches while maintaining longitudinal balance and with forward energy. It is the forward energy and longitudinal balance that allows the 180 degree turns to have lateral balance.

What are we looking for in a Level 1A & 1 PHD Horse?


A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have a steady, consistent rhythm at the walk, trot, and back up.
A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have lateral suppleness to be able to walk and trot circles, to change bend, and to perform 180 degree turns on the haunches.
A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have longitudinal suppleness to be able to transition up and down between a halt, walk, and trot.

What about Level 2A/2?

Level 2A: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the Level 1 requirement):

  1. Lope with forward energy.
  2. Transition down from lope to trot while maintaining longitudinal balance.
  3. Transition up from a standstill, walk, or trot to a lope without losing longitudinal softness.
  4. Start to develop more lateral softness by being able to perform circles at a lope, and smaller circles at a trot, with an arc in their shoulders and hips so that the horse’s feet follow the arc of the circle.
  5. The horse will further develop their willingness to listen to the rider’s rhythm as they begin to become supple at this level.

Level 2: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the Level 2A requirements):

  1. Have control over the horse’s stride length at the trot,
  2. Stop from a long trot, while maintaining longitudinal softness
  3. Back up, and then turn, 180 on the haunches without a hesitation, this requires maintaining longitudinal softness while changing the amount of lateral balance and softness required.

What are we looking for in a Level 2A & 2 PHD Horse?


A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have a steady, consistent rhythm at the walk, trot, lope and back up.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have lateral suppleness to be able to walk, trot, and lope circles, to change bend, and to perform 180 degree turns on the haunches.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have longitudinal suppleness to be able to transition up and down between a halt, walk, trot, and lope.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should accept the rider’s contact and connection to change between a regular jog and an extended jog.

Levels 3A through 8 continue on with this gradual progression up the training scale.

As you can clearly see, the PHD Progression starts at the bottom of the training scale, and works its way up. If you take the time to work through the PHD Patterns, you will develop your horse into a solid, well broke horse that can go on to excel in other disciplines.

Why does the PHD Progression work?

Because by working through the PHD Progression you are ensuring that a solid foundation is laid in your horse’s training-there will be no holes or skipped steps.  The PHD Progression also gradually develops the muscles in your horse’s topline, making it a great exercise program and reducing the chance of injury to your horse, because you are not asking him to perform maneuvers that he is not ready for.

Using the PHD Progression:

When I got a new horse in for training that was “broke”, the first thing I would do was ride a Level 1/1A PHD Pattern. These patterns are a great diagnostic tool, and quickly helped me determine where the holes in the horse’s training were. By riding the patterns throughout the horse’s training, I could easily see where the horse was improving, and where the horse needed work, for example, if the horse was stiff to the left, I would have trouble with circles. If the horse was ignoring my forward cues, my upward transitions would be rough, etc.

By continuing to test the horse by riding the PHD Patterns, I was a lot less likely to ignore or cover up holes-the PHD Patterns are great truth tellers!

So if you have a broke horse at home, start with Level 1A. Film the pattern and submit it in a V-Show, or send it in for Video Coaching with one of the IPHDA Professionals. Then listen to the feedback, and work on the areas where you have trouble. You will be amazed at how quickly your horse improves at other events when you use the PHD Progression to find-and fill in-the holes in your horse’s training.

So go over to the IPHDA website (www.iphda.com), download the PHD Patterns, and get to work!

You already own a PHD horse-you just need to get out there and develop it! 

Becoming a Horseman: The Importance of Consistency

One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do. -Ian Francis

Strive for 1% Improvement Every Ride. 100 Rides, 100% Improvement.

Continue reading

What is a Horseman?

What is a Horseman?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “Horseman” as:
1. a rider of driver of horses; especially one whose skill is exceptional
2. a person skilled in caring for or managing horses
3. a person who breeds or raises horses

While the dictionary definition is technically correct, a Horseman is more than those things.

Horseman is not a title that is lightly given or easily achieved. To be called a Horseman, it must be earned, and is one of the greatest compliments that can be received.

A Horseman (or Horsewoman) is someone who has learned how horses think, and who has honed their skills to be able to communicate clearly with horses. A Horseman views the horse as a partner, not a tool.

A Horseman is someone who has dedicated a lot of their time to learn about horses and horsemanship, and continues to dedicate their time, because they realize that you never stop learning with these amazing creatures. A Horseman views themselves as a life-long student of the horse.

Through their experience and never ending thirst for knowledge, a Horseman is someone who has learned feel, timing, and balance. A Horseman knows when to push a horse, and when to back off. They understand the importance of getting a horse’s respect, but they can achieve it without causing the horse fear or worry.

A Horseman understands that horses must be allowed to move freely forward, that impulsion is a necessary ingredient for creating a performance horse. A Horseman has honed their riding skills, so that they can allow the horse to move freely and not interfere with the horse’s athleticism.

A Horseman has a positive attitude. They know that the way to go fast with a horse is to go slow. There is always tomorrow. They don’t let their emotions get in the way of how they work with a horse. This lesson might be the hardest one for a Horseman to learn.

A Horseman has learned how to properly care for their horse. A Horseman learns how to recognize the early signs of soreness in their horse, so that it can be treated before it becomes a problem.

The process to becoming a Horseman does not happen overnight. It is a Journey, a life-long dedication. There are many different paths to becoming a Horseman, many different disciplines in which to enjoy these amazing animals. For those of us that are lucky enough to be able to travel this road, the reward is great-a partnership with our horse.

Someday I hope to be a Horseman. I really enjoy this Journey, and each horse that I work with teaches me more.

What do you think? How do you define a Horseman? Please feel free to leave a comment!