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Guest Blogger: What A Lifelong Foxhunter Learned From The Cowboys

Guest Blogger: What A Lifelong Foxhunter Learned From The Cowboys

My friend Pattie Boden hunts with the Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club and the Farmington Hunt Club near Charlottesville, Va. She owns and operates The Animal Connection, a stylish holistic pet store in Charlottesville. Her knowledge of alternative pet foods always astounds me. I asked her a few months back to tell me about her new-found passion for alternative styles of horsemanship, because she, as I did for so long, lives amongst some of the finest traditional horse people in the world. But often, our ideas have clashed with those around us. For me, it was easier to keep my mouth shut, accept what I needed to learn from those infinitely more experienced than I, and move on. Pattie has found a way to thrive in place, revealing the beauty of personal reinvention found in devoting a different kind of time and attention to her horses.  

What A Lifelong Foxhunter Learned From The Cowboys

Sometimes you start on a journey before your bags are packed. That’s how it’s been with horses. I’d like to say I attended a mind-blowing clinic that changed my life, but it sure didn’t happen that way.

My first exposure to “natural horsemanship” was with a visitor to Virginia from Colorado. I was invited to watch Garth Eichler try to solve some issues with problem horses. I’d ridden in the hunter/jumper field all my life and I really had no idea what he was doing, but what impressed me the most from that first visit is that the horse needed help and he wasn’t about to finish this session until he was able to help this animal. This horse was pretty sure he was in charge of any human in his path and didn’t care who knew it. The Virginia hosts fussed at Garth for not staying on a pretty ambitious schedule, but he felt he needed to stick with this horse for whatever time it took. Even in the pouring rain. As I look back on that now, it was clear that Garth was in it for the horse.

Garth Eichler

I’ve followed foxhounds since my teens and I can tell you it is a pretty dicey deal for horse and rider. (I say followed, because hunters follow the scent of where the fox has been a good while ago – most times the fox is laughing at you.) It’s big energy at these meets and a whole lot to ask of a horse to come off a trailer into a flurry of nervous activity and be expected to stand still and behave nice. You’ve got riders from all walks of life and all levels of expertise (or not) coming together to follow ages old protocol and decidedly fixed trail manners. Some people get good help with good trainers but you do have a lot of people who wing it on a song and a prayer. I think I kinda fell somewhere in the middle.

That year, I bought my buckskin pony, Lightning. She is a saint, albeit an opinionated one. When I first met her, I’d had a pretty shaky couple of years with a “typical chestnut mare” who wasn’t good for my confidence level. So I was more than relieved to find a great caretaker. In turn, I believe she was also relieved to not have to be a school pony for kids anymore and she fell right into life with an adult who was all about fun.

Garth came back to Virginia that spring and I decided to see what this horsemanship thing was all about. It wasn’t easy – in fact, it took me all afternoon to learn how to get Lightning to give me “two eyes” or lead with a soft feel. I was amazed to find I wasn’t the leader after all and she was shocked to even consider that she wasn’t and even tried to kick me a few times for good measure. If you had told me years ago that it would take that kind of time to do these seemingly simple exercises, I would have laughed. Lightning got the one rein stop with no problem, it was her favorite exercise. But to move off when I asked her to (“I mean move off”) was met with resistance. It got better, but I still was just opening the door.

The best thing about that week was getting to know Garth. He’s as honest with his thoughts and his comments really made me think. He was aware of everything…. EVERYTHING. He taught me how to feel what a horse is thinking and doing from the end of a lead rope, to watch a horse’s ears, eyes and body position. If you think that is easy, just try to do this standing a distance in front of your horse without turning around to see. (I’m still working on this one.)

What got my attention was when Garth said the way we approach horses can teach us a lot about how we interact with people. As I was dealing with an alcoholic family member and managing employees in a retail business, that concept was huge. Garth suggested that I offer the right answers and the wrong answers would become difficult for them to select, I can tell you what a difference that has made in my life.

Now that this young horseman had this old foxhunter’s attention, I invited myself to visit Garth and his wife Jill at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado to see what this was truly all about. The first day, I learned I didn’t know how to lead a horse or tie a knot. At that point, I decided to throw away everything I knew and to start fresh like the rank beginner I was. Garth took me into the corral of trail horses, draft horses and donkeys and this is where I started to learn real herd dynamics. Watching them play, move each other off from food, who hung out with whom was a start. Then we’d halter one and I’d learn to disengage a hindquarter or move a front end to the left or the right. Every horse was so different and I was trying to hard I was exhausted mentally.

But the lightbulb went off when we finally got to trail ride up the mountain. I finally understood how what we did on the ground worked in the saddle. I understood that when you disengage the hindquarters, you have reliable brakes. When you move the front end, you can open gates without kicking your horse. And you could ask your horse to stop and go by changing the energy in your body, you didn’t need crops or spurs! This was pretty neat and the week didn’t last long enough.

Fall came and so did another hunting season. Everyone likes to have their picture taken at Opening Meet, when you are dressed in your finest and your horse is spit polished and braided. All this aside, the photo from that year is my favorite. Last year’s photo I was stiffly posed, reins tight, ready for anything… or so I thought. This year, my body was relaxed, my reins were loose on my horse’s neck, Lightning looked calm and happy… now I was truly ready for anything. I keep my before and after picture side by side, just to remind me to strive for more knowledge.

Lightning and me BEFORE

Lightning and me AFTER

That year was the best year of hunting I can remember. My horse was easier, responsive, relaxed, no worries at all. It was also one of the hardest, because my eyes were opened and I really started noticing potential train wrecks before people even got on their horses. It annoyed me that people were content to ride up behind my horse hoping for a rump to stop them and they wouldn’t take the time to teach their horse how to stop. I wondered why people didn’t realize that the horse understood stroking as a reward and patting was not. (Try this on yourself and see what feels better.) And geez, you should have seen Lightning laugh when my friend got off of her horse to retrieve a lost glove, her horse took off to the barn, and she was waving her crop trying to chase him and get him stopped. Talk about predator and prey!

Since then, I’ve made it my priority to spend as much time with Garth and his wife Jill as time, travel and budget will allow and one day I hope they’ll be proud to call me a horseman. I was honored to be at his ranch and have the opportunity to have a day with their teacher and friend, Tom Mowry. Garth and Tom are like father and son learning from each other. Talk about respect for people and animals. Everyone should be so lucky. I’ve also had time watching other trainers like Bryan Neubert, Buck Brannaman, Martin Black work with people and horses – everyone presents information differently, it’s neat to see what they have to offer.

My “horse family” and I traveled this year to to the Ray Hunt Memorial Weekend in Fort Worth, Texas. Although “horsemanship” taught this way is not new and not restricted to “cowboy riding,” Ray was one of the first who started teaching in weekend clinics and preaching the gospel according to Bill and Tom Dorrance. Over twenty horsemen from all over the country were given an unstarted colt, two hours on two days to work with them, and on the second day, everyone was riding like they’d been on the trail all their lives (some better than some of the seasoned hunt horses I’d seen in Virginia!). It was neat seeing how all these trainers were able to adjust to fit where the horse was in his mind. All had a lot of the same “mental tools” but how they used them were pretty amazing. Most had the horse as a priority in their mind, one or two showboated a little to prove their skills, but they were not judged the winner of the competition either.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, I was quickly becoming disillusioned with closed minded trainers and riding instructors. Breaking a horse instead of partnering seemed to be the norm. Riding by repetition instead of true feel just didn’t feel right. I just didn’t feel I belonged with the same old groups anymore. That’s where Kevin Freed and Lora Presgrave come in. I’d met them when he hosted Bryan Neubert at his Rockfish Farm, about twenty miles from my house. For some reason, I knew I was supposed to be at their barn. I am really blessed, because now I can ride with like-minded horsemen every day I can get out there. I feel safe with my horse and although riding time is distance limited, the time in the saddle is well spent.

The difference this has made in my now twenty four year old Lightning is unreal. Before she was always okay for a trail ride or competition but she could take it or leave it. She now meets me with a totally different attitude. She gets it that I’ve changed and she really likes it. Her eyes are bright with anticipation and she can’t wait to see what we are going to do from day to day. She is more balanced in her body and the change is amazing.

Although what I am learning helps me daily in my relationship with my horses, I really saw where all this came into play when I started looking for a younger horse. Although I didn’t buy a horse, a trip to an auction with my Colorado friends was one of the best lessons of my life. Arriving the day before the sale, Garth, Jill and Tom taught me how to evaluate a horse. What looked good in a photo, turned out to be a train wreck waiting to happen to an uneducated buyer. Watching how the sellers “prepared” a horse was crazy. We only saw a few horses advertised as “bomb proof” that might have actually been safe to ride. Most probably had big motors, but you wouldn’t have known it because they had their socks ridden off the day before. Talk about buyer-beware.

Next day at the ranch, Garth patiently took the time to help me learn how to evaluate a horse just from approaching his herd. I was overly tentative and didn’t feel I did very well putting what I’d learned into practice, but I learned a whole lot from watching him. Sometimes you can see and understand what the right thing to do, but you just don’t have the feel. I kinda felt like a stick in the mud and it was frustrating because he is so good at what he does and a “good job” from him is one of the best complements ever. You know you have deserved it when you get it. In his mind, though, one of the best complements is when your horse respects you, licks and chews, relaxes and likes being around you instead of their own kind.

I didn’t come home from Colorado with a horse. I’d been looking for one in Virginia a long time. I was pleased to find the right one was in the barn all along where I was boarding Lightning. I never really noticed the chestnut horse called Hank. But thanks to Garth’s teaching, I now knew what to look for. And boy did I start noticing. Hank is a kind sort who likes people and isn’t particularly pushy in the herd. He was used as a guest horse for all levels of riders so he’s adaptable and forgiving. When I asked if I could try him, he was responsive without being too reactive, which made me feel like I could learn a lot and not mess him up in the process. And, I knew his “history” – how he was started (by one of Ray Hunt’s students!), who rides him now and how he has been treated with kindness and respect throughout his twelve years of horse-human relationship. Thanks be to the horse gods who suggested to Kevin that he consider letting me share some time with this great animal.

Here's Hank, my newest ride.

My friend hosting this blog asked me to write about what foxhunters can learn from cowboys. Horsemanship knows no discipline, it’s not Western or English, it’s not cattleworking or foxhunting. Learning to be in partnership with animals is a language all it’s own and knows no boundaries or limitations. People are only limited by what they are willing to learn. And it’s okay, even if you’ve been riding for 40 years, to start fresh and learn something new. I’m looking at my relationships with horses and people in a whole new way these days, thanks to some really great teachers and friends. I’ve got a lot of wet saddle blankets to go before I get there, but the road sure is easier now that I’m headed in the right direction.

All the Best and Happy Trails
Pattie Boden
Owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va
“The all natural store for dogs, cats and horses”

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50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding by Wendy Murdoch

50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding by Wendy Murdoch

WENDY MURDOCH, an internationally recognized equestrian author, instructor, and clinician for over 23 years, teaches her students how to do what great riders do naturally. Her desire to understand the function of both horse and human, and her love of teaching capitalizes on the most current learning theories in order to show riders how to exceed their own expectations.

Wendy’s studies include an apprenticeship with Sally Swift, as well as extensive training with Linda Tellington-Jones, Dr. Joyce Harman, Jon Zahourek (Anatomy in Clay), and Dr. Hilary Clayton. To help her guide students toward better function, Wendy became a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner and continues her study with Dr. Feldenkrais’ first assistant, Mia Segal.

Her fascination with the mind/body connection between horse and rider has led her to explore courses outside the equine world and bring that information to her students. Murdoch writes articles for a wide variety of magazines and is a regular contributor to Eclectic Horseman Magazine. She is the author of Simplify Your Riding and creator of the three-part Ride Like a Natural DVD series. For more information, visit

NB: This book is on sale at Horse And Rider Books–10% off regular price of $27.95 until July 16th.

Start or end your riding sessions with Wendy Murdoch’s 5-Minute Fixes, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can replace old habits with new ones, get out of your riding rut, and transform what you can’t do to what you can do–naturally, capably, comfortably, and consistently alongside a happy riding partner–your horse.

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Riders4helmets National Helmet Awareness Day July 10 Attracts National Support

Riders4helmets National Helmet Awareness Day July 10 Attracts National Support

From a press release

PHOTO Courtesy Sarah Wheeler

Aurora, OH (July 6, 2010) — The riders4helmets National Helmet Awareness Day, set for July 10 at the Kentucky Horse Park, is shaping up to be a big event. It has attracted the support of major equestrian stars, organizations, retailers and helmet manufacturers from across the United States. The first of its kind, the event was created to support the riders4helmets national campaign, designed to educate equestrians on the benefits of wearing helmets. Riders4helmets is jointly operated by Jeri Bryant and SUCCEED®.

Participants in the National Helmet Awareness Day event will include Kemi O’Donnell who lost her 12 year old daughter as a result of a head injury sustained while riding. O’Donnell will be joined by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Frank Lovato, Jr., dressage rider Reese Koffler-Stanfield, eventer Cathy Wieschhoff, neurosurgeon Dr. Bill Brooks, and representatives of riders4helmets, USEF, USHJA, USDF, CHO, Troxel, Charles Owen, Good To Go Medical Card, Horse Radio Network and more.

More than 125 equestrian retailers and a number of helmet manufacturers have announced their participation in National Helmet Awareness Day. Participating helmet manufacturers include Charles Owen, Troxel, GPA, Aegis (Devon-Aire), Ovation, Tipperary, IRH and Antares-Sellier France. All are providing discounts on helmets as part of the event. The list of participating retailers is updated daily at

The United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) is the latest national equestrian organization to support National Helmet Awareness Day. The USHJA joins the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), United States Eventing Association (USEA), and the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) in pledging their support for the event.

A helmet campaign t-shirt autographed by leading equestrians will be placed up for auction in the Courtney King-Dye Medical Fund/Equestrian Aid Foundation eBay store on July 10th in honor of National Helmet Awareness Day. The t-shirt, featuring the “Strap One On. Everyone’s Doing It” helmet awareness slogan, will bear the signatures of 2010 Rolex KY 3DE winner William Fox-Pitt, Olympians David O’Connor, Karen O’Connor, Gina Miles, Hawley Bennett, Samantha St. Jacques and others. The eBay store can be found at

For further updates on National Helmet Awareness Day and the riders4helmets campaign, visit or follow the campaign on Facebook at, or, Twitter at

SUCCEED® Digestive Conditioning Program is an official product sponsor of USEF, USDF and USEA. It is produced and distributed exclusively by Freedom Health, LLC of Aurora, Ohio. The company is focused on finding, perfecting and delivering superior, innovative products that address real and significant health-related issues for animals and the people who care for them. Visit for further information on the product.

Media Contact:
Lyndsey White

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2011 Road to the Horse Will Feature a Triumvirate of “Legends”

From Pat Parelli, Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson to compete in the 2011 ROAD TO THE HORSE in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Though Parelli has never competed, both Anderson and Cox have each won twice. Needless to say, there will be a frenzy for tickets to this festival of horse breaking.

According to,

Road to the Horse World Championship of Colt-Starting is unlike any other event in the equine or entertainment industry. The two-day sold-out event matches three of the country’s best horse trainers and clinicians against one another as they train unbroken colts to ride in just a few short hours in front of a packed live audience and television cameras. By combining education, edge-of-your-seat suspense, entertainment and the love of the horse, Road to the Horse has been responsible for solidifying the position of today’s horsemanship heroes and launching the careers of tomorrow’s hottest new stars. In the process, the event itself has become a catalyst for the advancement of natural horsemanship. Hosted by Rick Lamb, of RFD-TV’s “The Horse Show With Rick Lamb,” spectators are guaranteed not only to have a good time, but also to walk away with training knowledge that will improve their relationship with horses. The event is supported by title sponsor Western Horseman and in association with AQHA.

I’ve heard terrible things about how the horses are treated during and after this competition. Simply put, humane gentling and training for under saddle work cannot be done in a weekend. I fear for the horses in this particularly amped up show with Pat Parelli participating.

I hold out some hope that Chris Cox will bring a little sanity to the proceedings. In general, I respect his attitudes and some of his methods. On occasion, I have been really moved watching his show on RFD TV. It’s a pleasure to watch a big name NH trainer who doesn’t use props or special equipment or gimmicks of any kind. For Cox, it’s all about the body. I hope he uses his kindly with his colt.

7/13/10 Edited to add: Apparently the folks at Chris Cox’s website liked my post. I made it to his press room.

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Crazy Name = Common Sense: Journey of the Homing Pigeon

Crazy Name = Common Sense: Journey of the Homing Pigeon

I can never figure out how she does it. Her inspirations are distillations of pure common horse-sense, informed by classical horsemanship in the kindest tradition. They seem to come from Linda Tellington-Jones as modern-day transmissions from a kinder, gentler age.

Take a look at this image:

This 1648 illustration shows how timeless the "Homing Pigeon" leading position is! Note the use of a training bit, wands, and people leading the horse from both sides.

While there are many creatively-named positions and techniques for teaching people and training horses to do a number of basic and more advanced tasks, the most basic and versatile of these is the Journey of the Homing Pigeon. Linda’s crazy names for TTouches and leading positions puzzled me for a while. I get it now. Not only are they excellent mnemonic devices, but they also force us to use both sides of our brains while working and thinking about what we are doing. The image of a homing pigeon, guided by instinct and the care of expert training, is particularly applicable here.

By using two people on the ground at 45° from the horses’ eyes, plus a potential rider, the Journey of the Homing Pigeon guides a horse rather than directs a horse. It is a calming position for learning a number of tasks, because it virtually eliminates the anxiety of trying to decide what the handlers want. That’s pretty clear if the handlers communicate well. Another exercise in effective nonverbal communication for riders on the ground! Because there are handlers on both sides, the horse uses both sides of the brain. Telltale licking and chewing (“I’m thinking!”) begins much earlier. EEG studies on horses support this. Relaxation and real learning occur with surprising speed.

At first I thought it an impractical exercise. Who has the time and manpower to lead a horse in tandem all the time? What I have found is that it only takes a few times for the horse to learn what you need, and to gain the necessary confidence to move out with a single leader or rider.

According to Linda Tellington-Jones,

The Journey of the Homing Pigeon keeps a horse from leaning on or crowding you. It is useful for horses who have never been led, or who pull or are difficult to control. It speeds learning by influencing the horse from both sides, and it helps horses who are one-sided, or reluctant to being led from the right side.

This leading position is done with two people, two lead lines and two “wands.” (This is somewhat like a dressage whip, but very supple, white in color and never intended to strike a horse. They know the difference.) It’s important to designate the leading handler who will be in charge from the very beginning. The leader’s chain lead line is fastened in the usual TTouch way — over the noseband and up the opposite side. The support person’s soft lead rope (called a Zephyr) loops through onto the side ring of the halter nearest her and is twisted back on itself.

Both handlers should be far enough ahead of the horse so that they can see each other in front of the horse’s nose. This is vital for communication between leaders and so that the horse can keep each handler in view. Both wands are held at the level of the horse’s nose, well out in front, which helps the horse to focus on where he is going. To walk forward, the leader gives the voice signal, and both people “open” their wands in front of the horse, leading gently away from the face with their leads.

Here is a bird’s eye view of Linda and Kirsten Henry leading a horse in the Journey of the Homing Pigeon:

You can see how the handlers can keep the horse between their wand and hands, as well as between one another. A horse led in this way can learn calmly and attentively.

Changing directions and stops and starts takes coordination between handlers, but the result is a calm and very attentive horse. I have used the Journey of the Homing Pigeon to calm and focus fractious horses who have a tough time being led for whatever reason. After a few tries, the skill seems to stick. Of course there is always the possibility of returning to it in times of stress. It is an infinitely more effective technique than hanging onto the halter or being the swinging knot on the end of the lead rope I’ve seen so often, especially at horse shows, when horses are high and people are nervous, and all training seems to go out the window. It is adaptable to use with a single person (my next post will address this) as well.

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How To Videos for Needle Novices: the Horseman’s Comfort Doll Project


How to get the yarn onto the needles:

How to make the basic knit stitch:


How to Knit 2 Together (this makes your row shorter)

How to make the basic purl stitch (it’s the knit stitch backwards)

How to purl 2 together (this makes the row shorter)

How to bind your stitches off the needle when you are finished knitting


Sorry I can give no advice on crocheting. I simply can’t do it.

I really appreciate your participation in this project. GIVE IT A TRY!

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