Sunday, April 20, 2014

Moore Horses Horsey Bootcamp Heaven: Sheza Edition

Rambo and I just returned from an awesome week with our endurance riding buddy and long time farrier and horse trainer April Moore of Moore Horses in gorgeous Humboldt County, California. Sheza stayed up there with April for the rest of her 30 days of brain expansion.

We left Monday morning with both my green beans loading up quite nicely, and it was an easy 5 1/2 hr haul on the 20 and 101. Sheza wiggled like a fish in the trailer and hollered for the first couple of hours but it was an otherwise uneventful and mostly familiar drive, as I take that route from the valley to Willits and on home to family on coast often. From Willits north it was just a gorgeous drive and before we knew it we were in a different sort of horsey paradise than our own:
Sheza filly arrives at school!
Greetings and first horse "whisperings" with April ;-)   Redhead Power!

Sheza and Rambo settled in

~Day 1, Sheza goes to work!~

I did my best to capture the pivotal expressions and moments in April's work with Sheza in the photos shared here. There were many, many more photos taken, but I think that these give a pretty good picture of the great work April is doing.  

April worked in the way of creating herself and her tasks for the horse as the happy quiet place, while giving the horses the opportunity to either commit to mistakes or commit to staying put and working as requested. I watched April work this way with a feisty, recently gelded, and barely broke paint horse on this day, and then work in exactly the same way with Sheza. The difference was in the horse's level of commitment to good or bad behavior. April only escalated energy as the horse did; it took some aggressive body language in response to the horse's aggressive attitude to establish her space with the paint, while aggression is not high on Sheza's response list. She tends to commit to spooking out and being dramatic at first, but quickly started to face up, think, and realize that her jamming around brainlessly was on HER and April was never asking it of her. In fact April was just standing there, twirling a rope or doing whatever calm activity Sheza had taken off from in the first place, and the thought process was clear in Sheza's responses as she got tired of running around and wanted to be in April's quiet place, even if the darn rope was still twirling. The key point I saw was that April was never reacting to the horse in the way of Do This Or Work, it was entirely the horse's choice what it decided to do, whether it committed to good or bad behavior, and she was unflappable and entirely consistent, so that indeed the horse figured it out itself, and ended up "begging her to ride them" as she put it. As she acknowledged, some horses figure it out quickly, others can take hours, the key is consistency and allowing the horse to work itself out and the "question" at hand out. Of course she also adapts strategies as needed to match various personalities, but it's hard to describe the process enough as it is, so there's my best go at some of it. Basically April reads the horses like books and acts accordingly; as such she is operating in much the way that I constantly strive to be better at with my own horses, so this week was really as much a learning opportunity for me as for my horses! 

moving out and burning off some sillies
before long she wanted to do what April was doing

 smarty-pants dramatic Sheza quickly decided that whatever April was up to climbing around on that fence was more fun than brainlessly working herself.

 Here is another of April's horses in training that she rode that day. He is a really cute and smart 8 yr old Morab gelding who came in halter broke (with some attitude) and has only been there for about 2 weeks. I think the relaxed expression says it all.

~Day 2, Ropes and Refreshers~

Sheza's sticky spot is her right ear. Periodically over the last few years as she grew up she would slang her head dramatically away when my hand neared the right ear, and I'd narrowly avoid getting knocked in the head, and I'd handle it until she didn't react anymore, and that was that. For a week, or a month, and then she'd randomly do it again. Thing is, her mother Desire does the *exact same thing with the same ear.*  In Desire's case she had TMJ and poll adjustments needed and taken care of a number of times over the last few years, so I can understand a pain origin for her tic, but the fact that her daughter does the exact same thing, and has been checked and wasn't out of adjustment is pretty interesting. April's stud and his colt have the same funny head habit as each other as well--ahh, genetics! 

Anyhow, day 2 started with some ear handling, visited the long rope all over the body and head area, revisited bareback mounting from the ground, and finally worked back to the dreaded ear. 

Happy redheads :-)
~Day 3, Ponying Steeds in Training~

On the third full day there I got to ride April's home raised palomino QH mare Daisy, ponying Spirit, the grey horse in training that was pictured being ridden some photos back. I first met Daisy and April at Cache Creek 2011 when we camped next to each other and she had baby Daisy along for camping exposure. Time sure flies for these fillies of ours!  It was only Spirit's second time being ponied and Daisy, by the way, turns 4 next month.  Was I nervous to pony a greenie off a baby greenie? Not in the slightest. One minute aboard Daisy told me that I had to only ask correctly to get whatever I needed as a steady pony horse, if I could just juggle split reins and a 12 ft pony rope--LOL. I did that, rather successfully actually, and we had a blast out on our little trail ride, with April riding family's big handsome QH mare and ponying Sheza.
 4 horses, 2 dogs, 2 redheads--tons of fun!
 halfway point, Sheza is starting to go, "woah, this is like..a lot."
Me on Daisy, ponying Spirit
almost home
After an 8 mile round trip with the last couple of miles done in a light rain, Sheza was truly tired for the first time in her life. I didn't get any good photos of her in the cloudy evening light but her expression was obvious. Tired critters are good critters! 

~Day 4, Ropes and Saddles

As it sounds, this day was about working on becoming "rope broke," and carrying a saddle for the first time. For background, I have handled Sheza extensively all over from day one but not done a lot of specific desensitization work. I girthed the bareback pad on her and ponied her out on her mother from an early age, but hadn't done so in about the last year.

ohmahgawd what's THAT!
Urgh, it still kinda weirds me out but I want to know what's she's doing.  
Not scared, I dominatE!

Hmmm..maybe ok, but my precious ear..
After some thinking time in the arena...

Sheza wasn't too worried about the whole saddle scenario but that's because the rest of the work, from her early days in the bareback pad to the relationship April had already formed with her, was leading up to it. It wasn't a forced or scary thing, and at this point Sheza had an idea of how the program worked. 

 I really like standing here, so I'll just watch and flinch a little ;-)

Moving out with the saddle and stirrups was new, and April let her just figure it on out and burn off what excessive energy she needed to until she was ready to engage again.

pretty relaxed! 
Gorgeous morning at Moore Horses

On the last morning Sheza got a touch up on her trim. April was great about giving me lots of tips on my hoof trimming and I can't wait to put some of her advice into action on my horses at home! 

That soft youngster gut is disappearing for the first time after 4 days of quality work. 
I know my gal is in great hands with April and I can't wait to go back in May and get my first rides on Sheza!! She sure has grown up wonderfully.

3 years ago...

Next time...Moore Horses Bootcamp Heaven: Rambo Edition 


  1. Your experiences sound so amazing. Sheza is such an incredible young horse. I can't wait for more of your adventures as years go on.

  2. That's so awesome. Great post, great pics!

  3. You gave Sheeza such a great base, it is so nice to see her with the trainer doing so well. I love your description of the training methods, but also how soft Sheeza looks, and mostly unconcerned. Awesome!