Akira: Before & After….


Buying a new horse is like getting a nicely wrapped present. Sometimes what’s underneath just isn’t as nice as the wrappings.  Other times, you get lucky. The first year is always a time of discovery. Now that Kelsey has had Akira for 1 1/2 years, it is a good time to reflect back on what we got and how much has changed. We purchased Akira for her personality not her training. So short of some kind of lameness or health issue (which thankfully we haven’t had), we weren’t too worried about what we’d find., but it is always fun to look back  Akira was 6 when we got her and had done some jumping and some trick training. Plus she had a strong Instagram following. That’s about all we knew…..

Here is a list of what we found…and their current status:

Rear: Did I mention Akira was trained to rear and strike out on command….or any time you raised a hand or a whip, touched her on her shoulder or anywhere in front of the girth? To make it worse, this was Akira’s go-to trick when she didn’t know what we were asking. (It did make for some striking Instagram pictures though, and we knew she reared when we purchased her). This was the first piece of training we had to take off her as it is dangerous unless it is on tight stimulus control (which it wasn’t). I am happy to say it is completely extinguished…thank heavens.

Jumping: Akira had raw talent for sure. She could clear 4 feet! However, her training caused her to run AT the fences instead of  having a nice adjustable canter TO the fences. Her previous owner had been taught to pull up on the reins multiple times before the fence to “free her shoulder,” and it did….at the expense of inverting her frame/dropping her back and causing her to run at the fences even more. Today Akira can canter calmly to the fences. She is getting more adjustable every day. To date, Kelsey has jumped her 3’3″ with no trouble. Kelsey has also shown her eventing at Copper Meadows earning a 3rd place her first time out. They also won a Hunter championship at PVRA.


Lunge: If you raised the whip to ask Akira to move, she would rear and strike as she was trained to do. She had zero lunge training on the line. The vet couldn’t get her to canter for the vet check. The previous owner mentioned that you needed to skip along side her to get her to canter….What???? This was an easy fix though, and Akira can W/T/C with verbal and visual aids.

Trailer Loading: We were told to prepare for it to take a long time to load Akira when we picked her up. It really wasn’t that bad though…but the vet did lift her butt and put it in the trailer for her ride home! Today Akira will load with no issues and sometimes will take a nice little run and hop into the trailer. This goal is definitely complete!


Transitions/energy: You would think that a horse that was jumping would have a minimal level of flat work training….and Akira did….but it was pretty minimal. They were using whips AND spurs to get her to move forward (if that didn’t work, we were instructed to yell at her). Everyone laughed when we asked if she was rideable without spurs. The answer was, “Yes, but you will be exhausted!” Today, Akira is never ridden with spurs and gets her transitions most of the time with Kelsey. She is now strong enough to transition from walk to canter, etc…but she still needs to be more forward and more responsive. This is work in progress…and as a dressage horse, a never-ending quest. We also need to make the aids easier for other riders as Akira is super pokey with riders other than the two of us.


Quality of the Gaits: Akira was ridden inverted when we purchased her. Occasionally she was put into a frame with draw reins (which offer little training value other than force). Akira has made HUGE improvements here and is now winning her lower level dressage classes with great scores! Kelsey even beat her Eventing coach in a dressage class! Akira still needs more energy in the future to move up the dressage levels, but again, it is all work in progress.

Kicking Out: When you asked for an upward transition, Akira would sometimes kick out a hind leg. I was told by the previous owner that it was because my saddle didn’t fit and Akira got back sore really easily. I was pretty certain this was really just a training issue (mostly because it happened when Kelsey was riding bareback), and that is what it turned out to be. Akira is an incredibly sensitive horse, but people mistake her lack of responsiveness as a lack of desire to go forward. It isn’t. It’s a training thing. All the spurs, whips and yelling at her made her really insecure and fear the upward transitions and the pain associated with them. While she absolutely never kicks out now, her transitions still need work, but are light years ahead of where they were.

Leads: Akira had challenges picking up one of her leads…I think it was her left. This was a balance and straightness thing and was pretty straight forward for Kelsey to clean up. Akira still needs work on overall balance and bending, and she is just about ready to start this phase of her training.

Lead changes: Akira’s lead changes were front to back and were forced by throwing her off-balance. Sigh. I’d rather not have lead changes that see them put on wrong. However, Kelsey got them cleaned up on her own, and Akira is starting to do tempi changes every 3-4 strides -totally clean and balanced. Yay!

Bits: So not a training issue but we were told to ride Akira in a kimberwick (a mild leverage bit with a curb chain). This turned out to be way, Way, WAY too much bit for Akira. Akira works best in the mildest bit you can find…a mullen happy mouth snaffle. She can go in a happy mouth gag for Cross Country if you want a little “louder”bit…but nothing stronger. She has the most sensitive mouth around and absolutely detests curb chains.

Personality: We were told Akira was a sweetheart, and this is 100% correct. She is the nicest, most nurturing horse I have come across. She is different from most horses though. You can’t force her into something. She is smart like a mule. If she doesn’t understand something. She shuts down. You really need to show her how to do something more than tell her. Oh, and did I mention she is silly????

Hidden Talents: It turns out that Akira has some hidden talents. She absolutely LOVES to give kisses. She will nuzzle you any chance she gets. When she lays down in the turnout, she would like you to come over and sit on her back and scratch her withers. She can swim. Oh and did I mention Akira can talk? Besides all of the normal horse communications – whinnies, nickers, etc, Akira has some special language skills. She will squeak like a dolphin when she is happy or content. It is kind of like a “thank you” squeak. Akira can also say “banana.” She won’t say carrot or apple, but a banana holds a special place in her heart and stomach, so she will ask for it by name!

It has been fun to see Kelsey and Akira grow together. They seem like a perfect match. This makes the “mom” side of me so happy. I was so devastated when we lost Sutter. I thought Kelsey would never have another “heart horse.” Akira changed all that. She is just that sweet!!!




Oops! Never forget the basic rule of liberty jump training….

There is a right way to liberty jump train and a wrong way. You would think after 30+ years of training, that I wouldn’t miss the #1 fundamental rule in liberty training.

I took Kelsey and pony off site for some jump training, but pony was a little too spooky for her. So lacking all necessary lunging equipment, I decided on an impromptu liberty jump training session. Pony is pretty new to liberty jump training, but he really loves it. I thought it would be the perfect way to get his extra energy out, and it definitely was!

I found 3 out of 4 of the basic “issues”, but judging by the video, finding the unknown last “issue” was the key!

Tucson’s Liberty Jumping Featured in Horse Nation!

Tucson's Liberty Jumping makes Horse Nation
Tucson’s Liberty Jumping makes Horse Nation

My “once in a lifetime” horse Tucson passed away back in 2013. So, imagine my surprise when I found out he had been featured in Horse Nation. I love the idea that he is still doing his “demos” for people, even long after he has gone. I hope he is still getting carrots in heaven every time someone watches him jump at liberty!  As of today, there are over 30K views….that’s a lot of carrots!

Carrots for Breakfast. Squirrel for Lunch.

I spent Sunday morning with my new squirrel friend Spot. I decided to push through my squirrel phobia and see if I could hand feed Spot.  I was only at the barn for a few minutes when Spot parked himself next to my whip. This was my big chance. I held a carrot out with my gloved hand. I could barely watch. I was so afraid he would bite me, jump on me or who knows what? But to my surprise, Spot walked up, gently wrapped his orange teeth around the carrot and waited for me to release it. He never tugged or made any fast movements. It was like he had been doing this his entire life. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I fed Spot a few more carrots. He was always gentle and slow in his movements- so very un-squirrel like. At this point, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for overcoming my fears and planned on getting a picture of this to share.

I finished my barn chores and returned to the tack room ready to try for my squirrel photo op. As I went to open the door, I heard a slight rustling noise off to my left. According to my daughter I said, “Oh geez” and took 2 steps back. Right in front of me was the local bobcat with a squirrel in its mouth. It was so close, I could have touched the cat with my whip. Since the squirrel’s entire head and shoulders were in the cat’s mouth, I couldn’t ID the squirrel. A quick glance around revealed 3 other squirrels in the area. Were any of them mine?

Today is Friday, and I have not seen Spot since Sunday morning. It looks as if my little friend made a tasty lunch for the local bobcat. While I do miss my friend, I realize the bobcat provides a valuable service. With all the squirrels around, I just wish he would have picked another squirrel for lunch. Sorry Spot. Life is pretty rough when you are a squirrel.


The Taming of the Squirrel

I usually dislike rodents at the barn, but I got to thinking….Could I train a wild squirrel to be friendly? I wanted a squirrel to enjoy hanging out with me….maybe even be able to pet it. The only problem with that scenario is that I am secretly scared of touching the little guys. No problem. I found a squirrel willing to work around my phobia.

Meet Spot. Spot is easily recognizable by the large patch of fur that was missing from his back, his torn left ear and the orange snaggle tooth that sometimes protrudes out of the right side of his mouth. He’s a real looker.

Spot was easily target trained to the end of my whip. When Spot hears my voice, he comes out. He sits next to my whip waiting for a carrot. He is so comfortable around me that he hangs out while he eats. He lets me pet him with the whip. I scratch him around the ears and stroke his back. He seems to enjoy the attention. He could easily run off and eat his carrot, but he sticks around until he is done. He waits patiently for the next carrot. He will stay around for quite awhile, leaving occasionally to chase off an interloping squirrel. But then, he comes right back to my whip.

The only challenge with having a squirrel friend, is that they are pretty sneaky. Sometimes while sitting in the tack room, I turn around and find Spot has been sitting quietly behind me the entire time. He scares the crud out of me! Oh well. I will enjoy his company while I can. Squirrels don’t last long around here.

Here’s a little video of my good friend Spot….


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