On Bits

I am supposed to be writing a book (The Big Book of Miniature Horses, coming Fall 2017!) but I’ve been mulling bits a lot lately, and that doesn’t fit in the book so – here it goes.

Rocky has never been comfortable with a bit. He has worn different types of bits, adjusted every which way, and he just never seems to get completely okay with it like most horses do. Right now he’s as good as he’s ever been, with a mullen bit adjusted quite far up in his mouth.

A few months ago I bought him a sidepull noseband, so that I could work with him without using the bit to see if that would make him more comfortable. A sidepull is just a noseband with a ring on each side for the rein, very similar to working off the side rings of a halter. He has been working beautifully with it on the long lines, but with the clinic coming up I continued working from the bit in front of the cart.

Since the clinic I’ve been driving him from the sidepull, and while I was sure he would work well in it as he is so light and responsive on the long lines, but I didn’t anticipate the greater degree of relaxation and suppleness that he immediately demonstrated. I do still have him carrying the bit, as with any sort of competitive driving I want to do with him he will have to be driven with a bit, but I have to wonder if he would be even better without the bit entirely.


Rocky loves his side pull noseband.



I have another horse, Sonic, who is being put back in harness after a couple years off. He is very uncomfortable with the bit, a new issue that I expect is the result of a dental problem. I have the vet booked for my fall old folks teeth day this week and he’ll be on the list (even though he’s not old), but in the meantime I’ve been working him off the halter instead and he is going beautifully. If it works out that I want to hook him before his teeth are fixed, then I will feel comfortable driving him off the halter.


Sonic was so happy the first time I worked him without the uncomfortable bit in his mouth.

There was a time, not that many years ago, when I was pretty skeptical about the idea of driving a horse without a bit. I think I even remember saying, “It isn’t like a riding horse, when you have your legs and seat to control your horse. Your hands are all you have, so you need to have a bit.”

What I didn’t properly understand then, is that we aren’t “controlling” the horse with the bit at all – at least, not if we are trying to do right by our horse and have a confident partner. Instead, we are communicating with them through the bit, and if they properly understand the language of communication that we’ve taught them, using it through a metal bit or a bitless bridle or a sidepull or a halter, makes no difference other than the preference of our horse.

If you have a horse that won’t stop, don’t get a stronger bit. Instead, refine your communication. Go back to the ground, make sure they understand the cues and response. Make sure you are consistent on your end, always using the cues in the same order, giving your horse the warning and time they need to respond in balance and comfort.

I definitely don’t think bits are inherently bad. I think that a person with harsh hands will be hard on the horse regardless of what tack is involved. Most horses find a bit an excellent, clear method of communication. But some horses are simply not comfortable with a bit, and I think it’s great to be able to explore other methods, especially if the alternative is to tie their mouth shut with a tight noseband and make the situation more painful for them.

You’re not controlling the horse through the bit, you’re communicating through their brain.


Rocky is a Driving Horse!

If you’ve read the blog (the last time I posted which was embarrassingly long ago) then you know that Rocky has been a “project” for a long time. Not all his fault, of course, especially for the last year and a half when my health/surgery/prolonged recovery from surgery kept me from being able to drive at all.

When I did start being well enough to drive a horse again, I drove Rocky once, found it was extra painful with a horse I wasn’t confident in, and decided to drive a more experienced horse for a while first. So I pulled Finnegan out of the pasture (who hadn’t driven in about 7 years) and the two of us had a lot of fun this summer preparing for and showing at our local circuit of AMHA shows.finnkendra

Many months ago, in the early days of my recovery – when I still believed the doctors and their 6 week estimate – I registered for a clinic with my favourite clinician, Centered Driving instructor Peggy Brown. By the last show of the summer I was well enough to do most everything I wanted to do, and I had 5 weeks before the clinic. I really, really wanted to take Rocky, but as always, it was up to what he was ready for.

The first day I hooked Rocky up I made myself a solid rule that I wasn’t going to ask him to trot, as that has been his major bugaboo. He gets out of balance, scares himself and either prudently returns to walk, or scoots a few strides, then prudently returns to walk. I knew it would be way to easy for me to push for too much too fast, so I made the decision before I even started that I wouldn’t ask him for a trot for at least the first three drives, and it was a good thing I’d made that a hard and fast decision because he was so confident that first drive that I totally would’ve been tempted to push too fast too soon.

The next day, during a particularly confident stretch of forward walk, Rocky was the one that suggested that he could trot, and he was right, he could! We did only a few strides and then I asked him to walk, but from there his confidence grew. Within the week he was trotting both directions and changing direction on the diagonal without a problem.

I’m not sure what to credit for the change – the extensive long lining I did last fall to try and help him find his balance, the agility and obstacle practice to help him find his feet, the positive reinforcement work to further build our connection … or (most likely the biggest piece) he turned six and his physical and mental maturity caught up to what I was asking of him. I always said that “his brains would come in” when he was six, like Hawk’s did, and turns out I was right!

On a side note, think about how many Miniature Horses who drive in the show ring are finished their careers and “retired” by the age of six. Or the horses who are written off as “undriveable” – wonder how many of those needed just a little more patience, time and maturity to be able to do what was asked of them?

I drove Rocky as many times as possible before the clinic, probably about 25 drives, and we gradually built more duration on the trot, worked on bending – Rocky is very one sided, as most horses are to some degree in their early training – and did lots and lots of transitions to build relaxation, start to get some stretch over the topline, and build hind end strength.rockybutt

While I was confident that he was ready, I was still nervous about his first official driving outing, and I was grateful that it was with an instructor that I trust to do right by him. I’m pretty cautious about who I allow to influence a green horse – I definitely believe that I can learn something from everyone, but I don’t want to needlessly confuse a learning horse with a new system that doesn’t necessarily jive with what I’ve been explaining to them. If I am going to try out a new instructor, it’s going to be with a very experienced, confident horse – or as an auditor, which is sometimes even a more valuable way to learn. This instructor though, not only am I familiar with the way she does things, I’ve really tried to use her system as much as possible in Rocky’s training. The centered riding principles that she teaches really resonate with me, and I’ve found them so valuable in working with my horses.

Rocky has been to lots of shows and events, and he loves to go on another adventure. After all that experience, I didn’t anticipate that his stallion behaviour would be an issue, but I didn’t count on big horses. Rocky is used to lots of mares around at the shows he’s attended since he was a yearling, and he knows better than to act up around them. But BIG mares? They blew his little stallion mind a bit, though luckily he’s still a very good boy … was just quite a bit noisier and distracted than I’m used to on the first day.

But other than whinnying at the barn end of the ring, and not wanting to stand (which is frustrating because he stands perfectly at home), he did great! The last time that Peggy was in Alberta for a driving clinic, I decided two weeks before the clinic that Rocky wasn’t ready and it would be better to take an older horse so I would be able to work more on me instead of worrying about what my horse was going to do. I thought at one point as we were fixing issues with my position, that Rocky was being absolutely perfect for learning for both of us.rockyfirstclinicwalk

While my tippy head is a perennial issue of mine, a new development that Peggy was able to pinpoint was my left arm’s lack of participation, which was interesting because I am sure that historically it was my right hand that coaches were always telling me to pick up. I think the left arm and hand is in the wrong position as a way of protecting my very sore belly over the past 18 months, an hypothesis that seemed to hold up when Rocky was a little goosey the second day when I first hooked him up, and that left arm instinctively cradled my side whenever he reacted.

The left arm was not that impressed about being forced back into proper service, and complained loudly following my lessons, but I am super pleased to have identified the issue, and now that I know about it I can focus on fixing it using all the tools that Peggy taught me.

Rocky trotted more in each of his two lessons than he has maybe all together in harness thus far, and I was so very proud of him. He never hesitated, never gave up and was just super willing and consistent the entire time. We worked on beginning lengthenings (which I am pretty sure is amazing for a horse that has only been trotting in harness for a little more than a month!) and he was always ready to give me another bit of “zoom” to try again, and perhaps more impressive, he was always ready to come back to his steady working trot with nothing but a calming breath from me.

Peggy complimented Rocky and his lesson partner Ricco on their fitness, which was fun considering, as I said, Rocky had never done that much trotting – a testament to the value of lots and lots of active walking in conditioning a horse!rockyfirstclinictrot

The day after the clinic I drove him again, thinking a light drive would be good for any sore muscles on either one of us, and since I’m pretty sure it helped my recalcitrant left arm work out the kinks, hopefully it did the same for Rocky. We mostly did lots of stretchy walking, but I did ask for a short trot and when I was ready to walk, Rocky made it clear he wasn’t yet. I could just hear him saying, “I can keep going you know. I learned that at the clinic, I can trot and trot and trot!” I just love the willingness he is starting to show as he continues to gain strength and confidence!

Rocky’s going to have a couple well earned days off, and then we’ll get back to work until the snow flies and enforces a winter layoff. In addition to continuing to work on Peggy’s homework, I’d also like to get him back on the longlines (one more time! Ha – he’s spent more time on long lines than any horse maybe ever) and install a canter cue – he canters everywhere on his own, so I think it will fun for him to start cantering in harness as well – plus just a valuable skill for him to have.

I can’t wait til spring when we can start getting ready for Rocky’s first driving trial! Vermilion in mid-June – that’s the first goal!


Online Workshop – Starting Your Miniature Horse In Harness – September 2016

As requested, I am repeating my popular Online Workshop on Starting Your Miniature Horse In Harness in September 2016!

What will you learn?

Learn how your horse learns, and how to explain things in terms your horse understands.

Learn how to work with your horse’s natural instincts, instead of against them.

Learn how to listen to what your horse is telling you, and be confident about when they are ready to progress.

Learn how to make teaching your horse to drive a safe, fun and rewarding experience.

Learn a building block approach, each step building on the next to progressively teach the skills your horse needs to become a confident driving horse.

How does it work?

There are four webinars – each will be broadcast live. You’ll see my slides and photos and hear my voice describing the content to you. It’s interactive – you can ask questions anytime via a chat box and your keyboard.

For additional and video content, you’ll be added to a private Facebook group. I’ll share video clips to further illustrate the information shared in the webinars, you can ask questions and share your own photos and videos, and we’ll all have some great educational discussions.

Can’t make it to a live webinar? That’s no problem, as the recording will be available to you soon after it is broadcast so you can watch it whenever is convenient, and as many times as you would like. Have a question? Just head over to the Facebook group and ask away!

Not on Facebook? It’s free and easy to join, and with the simple interface for sharing and discussion, Facebook is the best venue I have found. Our group settings will be set to “secret” which means no one but those in the group will see anything you post, or even know you are a member.

Praise for Starting Your Miniature Horse In Harness:

“This workshop gave participants the whys as well as the how-tos so you had a good understanding of what the purpose was of each step.”

“Really enjoyed the sessions – nice blend of factual information, personal experience, good visuals, good supplemental video clips.”

“My husband and I watched all the webinars and found them full of knowledge. Explaining how to understand your horse was a big part … some people just don’t get that part but it is a really important part. Great job Kendra.”

Webinars will take place on September 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd, and will be at 6PM Mountain Time (Calgary, Alberta). You can find the time in your area with this Time Zone Calculator. But remember, even if you’re not available during the live broadcast, you can watch the recording any time and will have access to the Facebook group for all your questions.

The cost of this workshop is $110 CDN, and payment can be made via Paypal through the button below or via e-transfer to circlejminiatures@gmail.com – be sure to include the email you’d like to use to register, as you will be sent content and an invitation to the private Facebook group.


Thinking About Breeding Your Miniature Horse?

You’ve seen the photos and videos on Facebook and Pinterest. You saw that foal at the fair last summer and it was SO CUTE. Really, why wouldn’t you breed your mare?

Before you start hunting for a local stallion or shopping for a colt to add to your herd, maybe it’s time to ask a few questions of yourself.

Why do you want to breed your mare? Continue reading

Starting Your Miniature Horse In Harness


Register by filling out the form here, and pay via paypal here (or contact Kendra if you’d rather pay via another method).


I wasn’t able to access your previous webinars – will I be able to participate?

Yes! While you probably still won’t be able to participate in the live webinar presentation, I will be uploading the recording to Vimeo (accessible on any device) within 24 hours. And you will have full access to the facebook group for any questions or discussion that arise from each week’s presentation.

How long are the webinars?

Each webinar is scheduled to be approximately 1 hour long, but we might go a bit over with questions. Maybe plan on an hour and a half to be safe.

What if I miss one of the weekly webinars?

No worries, you can catch up! The recording will be available within 24 hours and you’ll be able to view the presentation and ask any questions and participate in the discussion in the facebook group.

I’m not on Facebook – do I have to be to participate?

I’m afraid so – but Facebook is free and straightforward to use, with simple sharing of videos, photos and discussion, making it the best venue option for our uses. You can sign up for Facebook in just a few moments and you don’t need to put in any private information beyond your email address. The group will be “secret” – a privacy level that means it is invisible to anyone who isn’t a member personally added by myself.

Do I need to have a horse being started in harness?

Not at all! You can learn valuable skills to help your current driving horse, learn how to fill in potential holes in their training, and of course, get a solid base of knowledge for the next time you ARE starting a horse in harness.

Will I have a driving horse by the end of the month?

Depending on your horse and your previous training experience, the time you can dedicate to the project …. Probably not. 😉 But you will have a good map to show you the way so you can continue to make progress on your horse’s schedule.

More questions? Let me know! circlejminiatures@gmail.com




Old Folk Teeth Day

Old Folk Teeth Day happens every six months at Circle J, because Image (25) and Valdez (26) need to have their teeth floated twice a year to avoid issues. Image is missing one tooth that was extracted a couple years ago, and Valdez is missing most of his teeth. Since horse’s teeth continue to erupt for their whole lifetime, any tooth that doesn’t have an opposing tooth to grind against will overgrow and cause issues with the horse’s ability to chew.  Continue reading