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!!!




Dinosaurs Grow Up Fast!

All Dino’s ribbons from his first year of showing

Dino just turned 6 years old. Where did the time go? It seems like I have had him for about 2 years. In reality, it has been 4! Yikes. He has grown up to be a pretty good little dinosaur and a gentle giant for sure. His finished stats are:

Height: Just under 17.2

Weight: About 1200 pounds

Shoe Size: 3 (He has pretty big front feet!)

Favorite Food: Alfalfa (in hay form only not pellets) and apples (which is funny because he wouldn’t even eat apples when I first got him). Oh and for some reason he LOVES anything Kelsey is eating!

Likes: Hanging out with his friends (especially his girlfriend Akira), taking slow walks around the barn, and performing tricks for treats.

Dislikes: Exerting too much energy (dinosaurs aren’t known for their speed), and staying in his stall too long (he needs to roam!)

Accomplishments:  Dino started showing exactly 1 year ago. He started at Training level Dressage and progressed to Second level all during his first year of showing.  He also won Reserve Champion Horse of the Year for PVRA Dressage. Looking back over his first show year, I realized Dino never placed lower than a second in any class.

This Year’s Plan: Who knows? I keep toying with the idea of jumping him. He has fabulous rhythm to and from the jumps. He seems unfazed by jumping too ….but he has only jumped tiny jumps so far. My biggest challenge is probably that I am too lazy to set and take down jumps every time I want to jump. But I have to say…. after watching Kelsey and Akira do Eventing, I have been thinking about it a lot!

Dino warming up for yesterday’s show.

Finally Dino Learns Something Really Useful…

I spend a lot of time training Dino to do dressage, but let’s face it…..dressage moves are only so useful. Honestly, when was the last time you really needed to bust out a passage???? So that’s why I like to train Dino to do something really useful every now and then. Well, that plus the fact that I am kind of lazy sometimes ….

So check out Dino’s new moves. That’s right, he can now hoof it over to the cooler, open it up, grab me a treat, and walk over and hand (or mouth) deliver it. That is something that can really come in handy. Now I can sit back and enjoy ice cold snacks any time. I think that is waaay more useful than passage!

Here is Dino Doing it Right….


Here is My Video Fail

While trying to get this trick on video,  I asked Dino  2x to get me some cookies from the cooler. Notice how he shakes his head “No” both times before deciding to get them. This horse is just too smart!

Dino’s First Solo Road Trip

Dino is getting ready for his first show. So, I thought I would take him on a solo road trip to see what I can expect from him. I am happy to say it was 95% successful!  

For the most part, Dino acted like a typical nervous young horse. There was lots of screaming to the other horses, plenty of distractions and a pretty tense body. Not great for showing dressage-but to be expected for a young horse just learning how to travel. 

It was the remaining 5% that makes me just a tad nervous…. I have always said that Dino has an extreme play drive. He also can act a bit stud-like on a rare occasion and throw full on temper tantrums if he isn’t allowed to go play with his friends or see a girlfriend. This is pretty infrequent, only happens when he is high as a kite, and never happens under saddle. It is just one of those things he is growing out of. 

Today Dino was plodding along on the longe line, looking around a bit, but generalky ok. When out of nowhere, he launched himself straight up in the air and struck out. It was a marvelous display of power! He went into the most amazing stallion like trot screaming toward another horse. When he finally realized that I wasn’t going to release him, he got mad and gave me the full, “I hate  you for not letting me go play” power buck. I just let him work it out, and he was fine again within a few minutes after the horse was out of his view. 

The question is, “What set him off?” The horse wasn’t all that close. Dino had been watching that horse and 2 others in a dressage lesson for the previous 20 minutes. Why didn’t he get set off earlier?  

At the moment Dino took off, it looked like the owner of the other horse was doing some Parrelli like maneuvers trying to load her horse in her trailer. Now I am not a Partelli fan, but this wasn’t as bad as I have seen the Parelli stuff get. Yeah, the horse was under some stress, but not a ridiculous amount. Is Dino that sensitive, that another horse’s elevated stress level could set him off?  Guess I won’t know until it happens again. Has anyone else ever had this experience?

Losing A Best Friend -Sutter’s Story

Most of you know my daughter’s pony Sutter died unexpectedly on Friday afternoon. I am devastated. That pony meant the world to me. It wasn’t just any pony… This was my daughter’s best friend. Maybe telling his story will relieve some of the grief. So here it is….

Sutter- The World’s Best Pony (totally true-go ahead Google it)

When Kelsey was 10 years old, I decided to get her a horse. I wanted it to be an all-around horse-something she could try multiple disciplines on and see what she liked.

I wasn’t having very good luck. I had just returned a pony that failed vet check when  I found Sutter’s ad on Craigslist. I really was in no mood to look at another horse that  weekend, but something in the ad gave me hope. It certainly wasn’t the picture -mouth cranked closed, inverted frame, spurs. It wasn’t the price either because this pony was not in my price range. But, I went to see him anyway.

Sutter’s Sale Ad Picture – Not Great

The pony was cute enough, but when I saw the trainer ride him, I knew he wasn’t for me. A whip AND spurs were needed to get him moving. It took at least 4 tries to pick up the right lead, and he held it for a whopping three strides. Great. This was a big waste of time.

When it was my turn to ride him, I could add gate sour to the list of issues along with a complete lack of any fundamental training. I asked him to back. He started to rear. How long do you actually have to test ride a horse before you can hop off and say, “No thanks?”

Everything gets a little blurry after this. Somehow I went from “this is definitely not going to work” to “I should bring my daughter to meet him.”  Sometimes things just don’t make sense.

So I brought Kelsey out the next day. When she saw him, she announced, “He’s gorgeous!”  She rode him and jogged him around the arena, his mouth gaping open. He kept getting “sticky” at the gate too. It wasn’t a very pretty picture.

Test Ride
But when she walked him back to the pasture during feeding time, I noticed he seemed not to care about the food.  He was really happy to be just walking with Kelsey. Hmmm. maybe there is more to this pony.

Walking Back
The owner took him from Kelsey and released him into the pasture. All the horses were huddled around the feeders devouring dinner. But this little pony didn’t go straight to his hay. Instead, he came straight to Kelsey! He stretched his nose through the fence and breathed deeply, taking in her scent. Kelsey got a quick kiss on his nose and then he took off bucking and galloping around the pasture like he was the happiest little horse in the world. It was so sweet. I was sold.

First Kiss
Thankfully his price was negotiable. His owner had been praying that a 10 year old girl would buy him, and they could grow up together.  She just knew he needed to be with kids. It also turns out we had friends in common that could give us a “good horse owner” reference. So that helps.

Kelsey named her new pony Sutter after Sutter’s Mill-where gold was first found in California. He was, after all, a golden palomino.

Sutter turned out to be everything we expected- a solid citizen with almost no training. He wouldn’t pick up his feet, couldn’t lunge, couldn’t canter, could barely steer and had absolutely no idea about trailers. Yep, he was perfect for a ten year old. What the heck was I thinking???

Time passed. I spent a day or two a week sneaking in training rides. Kelsey handled the bulk of his work. I made mistakes. Never training a horse for a kid, I put a big stop on this little guy (no parent wants to see their kid on a runaway horse right?). Well evidently big stops, little kids, and english saddles are not a great combo. Did you know kids can fly right over a pony’s shoulder when he stops big? Oops. That may have been the reason Kelsey unexpectedly decided to switch to western for awhile. My mistake.

It wasn’t long before Kelsey and Sutter were ready for their first show. I had no clue how he would respond. I had never trailered him out. At the show grounds, I snuck him into the show arena before the show started. I had the kids make noise, jump on the bleachers, and of course, feed him carrots for positive association. I needed to know how this pony would respond! When the show manager finally kicked me out of the arena, I handed Sutter to Kelsey and let her warm up. I stood back and chewed my fingernails down to the nubs. They called her class. I could barely watch. The ring was filled with 14 kids on various types of uncontrollable horses. You just can’t train for this stuff.

Sutter was a saint. When they called the ribbons for their very first class, at their very first show together, they pulled a first! At that moment I realized the true value of this pony. He was rock solid. It is exactly what every parent wants for their kid. You just can’t put a price tag on that.

First Blue!
Sutter graduated to bigger shows. He showed western and hunter under saddle. He amassed a sizable collection of mostly blue and red ribbons. Kelsey and Sutter won the year end championship for 12 and under.  They even tried their hand at the trail class. They came in second to a horse that had a world  top ten ranking in that class- missing the win by only a few points.  The judge was amazed and couldn’t believe they had never done trail. That was Sutter though. Give him a challenge and he was right on it, but don’t bore him with endless circles.

Trail Class
Speaking of endless circles, Sutter tried his hand at dressage. I can’t say he loved it, but he was successful. He attended 2 dressage shows. He pulled firsts in both classes his first time out, receiving the highest score of the day out of any class with that judge. His second show,  he pulled a first and a second- he was only beat by a warmblood that specialized in dressage. Not bad for a quarter pony.

Kelsey went on to jump Sutter. His first hunter class he pulled a 5th out of 19 – and it was an OPEN class-Kelsey was up against much older teens, adults, even trainers were allowed.

Sutter’s next hunter show, he pulled Show Champion. Sutter seemed unstoppable.

Hunter Champion
Sutter didn’t just show, he was game for anything. He went on an annual trip to the beach. He loved to play in the water! He loved trail riding too! He especially loved to play in the creek, digging little holes in the rocky edge with his lip and watching them fill with water. He was like a little kid. So much fun.

Beach Pony
Nothing was off limits for Sutter. I even brought him home to have lunch in our kitchen. He also strolled the neighborhood like a big yellow lab puppy. He was a blast.

Last summer, Kelsey took Sutter camping. He was a true gentlemen (except for his 5am whinny for a wake up call… Thanks a lot Sutter….and yes, breakfast is on its way).

Recently, Kelsey and Sutter were practicing to try their first cross country event. They had schooled coffins, banks, water, logs, triple in and outs. They scheduled their first cross country clinic for next weekend. If all went well, they were going to enter their first real event. Exciting times.

X Country
Friday afternoon was going to be a turnout followed by a light ride. Everything started out perfectly. Kelsey and her brother got Sutter out of his stall, fed him his favorite peppermint and took him to the turnout. I was turning my horse out in the adjacent arena. Both  horses were hot. It was the first time in weeks that the footing was dry enough for turnouts. The horses were having  a fine time kicking up their heels, feeding off one another like horse do.

Then it happened. Sutter was galloping down the long stretch when it hit him mid-stride. He went down. He couldn’t get up. His legs twitched in the air-completely useless. He started screaming. A panic whinny. He needed Kelsey! By the time I reached him, I knew he was dying. I had Kelsey come to say her goodbyes. He calmed when she arrived. He died in her arms.
From the time it hit him to the time he was gone took less that two minutes. Aortic aneurysm. The only way you know they have one is when they drop dead. There are no symptoms. No tests. Sutter never took a sick day or a lame step the entire time we had him (except a bad reaction to a tetanus shot…but those things can really hurt!). He was only 8. Life totally stinks sometimes.

Sutter was in our lives for only 4 years, but he gave us enough memories to last a lifetime. I really loved that little guy, and probably cried the hardest when he died. I know I need to suck it up and move on, help find my daughter another horse. But how do you top “The World’s Best Pony?” I have no clue where to start…

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