Winter Arena Exercises, Part 1

Zeus my 2012 POA/Appaloosa

As we reach the midway point of December, our North Idaho countryside is usually covered in a blanket of snow, but this year it’s not.  November put out a great effort with nearly 6 inches of snow here at the ranch. However, since then it has warmed up and we have no more snow. Don’t get me wrong, it is still beautiful here and wagon rides and Christmas parties have continued at the ranch.

To get away from the weather coverage and get to my point, its been a while since I have ridden my horses.  I can tell this is going to be a long winter as I already have horse withdrawals. You may ask, “Why don’t you just ride in the indoor arena?”  A 70′ by 100′ arena gets pretty small when you start adding things like two of our smaller sleighs and one large motor home. (Insert sad face here) The weather, however, has warmed (48 degrees today) and the footing outside has un-frozen so I can get out on the trails again. Woohoo!

Smokey a four year old I put 17 days
on before winter arrived and
ended my fun.

While I have been sitting inside, listening to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, finding every scrap of info I can on Cowboy Dressage and Western Dressage, and reading dozens of articles on Horse Collaborative, I have been dreaming about riding my project horses Zeus and Smokey.  In the midst of my daydreams, I have compiled several horseback arena exercises.  Most of these are adapted from Pat Wyse’s Basic Handle.

Here are a couple exercises you can do in the often small spaces we have available for riding in the winter time. Whether that space is an indoor arena or an open patch of un-frozen ground, you can continue to make progress in your horse’s training through the cold winter months.

Exercise One: Corner Circles
This exercise can be done at any gait but be sure to introduce it at a walk first, especially if your horse doesn’t know that your leg means anything but go. For a green horse this is a great way to introduce guiding leg pressure in a low stress environment. For a horse farther along in training, this is a great warm up or cool down exercise to get them listening to your legs. You can also use this exercise for introducing the turn on the haunches as it keeps the forward motion needed to perform a haunch turn without falling backward in the spin causing a belly-button turn.

Start at A and ride deep into the corner.

B: Begin a right hand, 5-10 meter circle. Bring your horse’s nose around enough that you can see the corner of his eye. Use your inside leg just behind the girth to ask your horse to move out and away from your leg.  Pay close attention to the timing of your leg ques. When your horse steps away from your leg immediately release the leg pressure. Ask again with your inside leg. If this is your horse’s first introduction to moving off your leg, all your asking for is a little step then release, little step then release.  If your horse moves off your leg nicely you can ask for a more dramatic crossing over step away from your leg.  Remember to ask soft first and increase the pressure until the horse responds, then release. Always start soft and increase pressure as needed. Ride strait down the long side of the arena toward the next corner.

C: Ride deep into the corner again.  Begin a right hand circle. This time, use your outside leg forward, at about your cinch, to ask your horse to step their front end around.  Again, start soft and increase the leg pressure until your horse steps away then release. Ask again. Start soft and release when your horse steps over.  Remember, you can ask for a more drastic step over on the haunches from a more experienced horse. Only ask for a little step from a horse that you are just introducing the leg to. Ride down the short end of the arena toward the next corner.

D: Ride deep into the corner. Begin a right hand circle and complete as in at letter B.

E. As you ride out of the circle at D ride across the diagonal and reverse directions.  Complete this exercise tracking left following directions as above only apposite.

Exercise Two: Straight Lines
We use this exercise on colts that are in their first few days of riding and our most solid saddle horses. For that horse that constantly tries to cut the corners and dive to the middle this is great to get them listening to your aids as well.  Introduce this exercise at a walk but be sure to increase the speed as training progresses. Riding this exercise while rating your horse (speeding up and slowing down) is a great way to create focus in the arena.

B: Create an octagon as you ride around the arena or field.  Focus on a point in front of you and ride a straight line to the point, guiding with your leg and reins. Ride as close to that point as you can (without running into it) then release the guiding pressure turn and readjust to a new point and begin guiding again.  Use your hand and legs in coordination to guide your horse in straight lines.  Your legs are there for a reason. Use them!

A: The same principals apply as you make a pentagon shape with your horse.  This does add a degree of difficulty as your angles will be sharper.  The lines will also be longer so you will have more time to focus on the straight line and really perfect it.

I hope these winter arena exercises add a little variety to your riding and training this winter. Stay tuned for more winter training tips.

If you would like more information about visiting or riding at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch visit www.westernpleasureranch.com or call toll free at (888)863-9066.

For more info about my horseback mentor, Pat Wyse, visit his web site at www.horsewyse.com.

I would love to hear what you do with your horse in the winter. If you would like to share some training exercises to be featured on this blog e-mail them to [email protected]


Oh Christmas Tree…You Are REALLY Big!

Today was Christmas tree decorating day.  We started by going on a tree hunt.  Mom, Isaac, Libby (who was car ridden because of her recent knee surgery), me and my kids, Emily and Gabe headed out in the Jeep in search of the perfect Christmas Tree for the Lodge’s Great Room.  We came to an immediate, unanimous decision of this lovely tree we found out back.
I would like to introduce to you, the 2014, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch Christmas Tree. Its a good size, right? Not too big, not too small.  Just right for the lodge.
Dad and Isaac took the tractor out to harvest our perfect Christmas tree. OK, maybe its a little bit bigger than we thought it was.
OK, it’s way bigger than we thought it was.  I dub thee, Mega Tree!  At this point in the “bring the tree inside” process, Mega Tree got stuck…wedged I should say. It took some serious finagling and a rope to get it free. Parts of Mega Tree were harmed in the moving of Mega Tree.
Kim was pushing while dad, Isaac and I pulled.
After getting un-stuck on the deck, we rounded the corner and pulled Mega Tree through the front doors. Thank goodness for double doors!
Mega Tree making its entrance into the Great Room.
This is my mom and Mega tree.  Mom is 5’2″ tall.  Mega Tree is 18′ tall and 16′ wide.
Isaac attempting to cut some mass off of Mega Tree.
Mega Tree – 1, Isaac- 0
My son, Gabe, is very proud of Mega Tree.
And his awesome seat.
Dad brought out the pack saw to do a little trimming on Mega Tree.
Gabe and Emily helped.
We put lights on the top of Mega Tree so we wouldn’t have to put them on after the tree was up.  So far, getting Mega Tree off the floor is not looking very promising.  Do you think we could just leave it there?
Dad has a plan! He installed a pulley system to help pull the tree up. Thank goodness for cowboy ingenuity!
This was my view during the raising of Mega Tree.
Success! Thanks to the pulley, we raised Mega Tree with just mom, dad, and myself.
We tied off Mega Tree so it doesn’t fall on any unsuspecting dinner guests. Now you can eat your dinners in peace.
We now take a break from Mega Tree to decorate the upstairs tree. This tree is much, MUCH smaller and more manageable. This is the man crew after stringing lights on their “blue man tree”.
Back to Mega Tree. It took some serious creativity, and a really long stick to decorate the top of this tree.
The peanut gallery watched as we decorated.
Another project going on in the great room was dissecting old Christmas decorations to use elsewhere in the lodge.
We are almost done!
Presenting… Mega Tree upright and decorated in the Great Room of the lodge at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.  I am so proud!
Aunt Sandy and mom were the lead decorators on this project. A job well done ladies!
When the work is through, it is time to sit back, relax, and play some dominoes.
If you would like to come see Mega Tree for yourself, come visit the ranch for a sleigh ride, dinner, overnight stay, dinner show, or Christmas Tree of your very own.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…You are really big!

Don’t Squat With Yer Spurs On Or Other Places

Danielle taking the horses back to the field after a long day on the trail.

Some of our guests ask, and many more wonder in anxious silence, “How do I answer the call of nature while on a trail ride?” Here are a few tips from a seasoned trail guide and trail rider.

#1 Go before you leave. Remember that time when you were a kid, headed out on a road trip with the family, only minutes after departing and you declare “I gotta go!” Likely Dad’s response was, “Why didn’t you go before we left?” This is a good scenario to learn from when preparing to head out on a long trail ride.
#2 When nature calls, don’t answer it. Put nature on hold until the ride is over.
#3 Sometimes you just can’t put nature on hold. Believe me I know. I spent one summer guiding trail rides while pregnant and the call of nature was just NOT going to wait.  In this situation, choose a nice secluded spot with lots of brushy coverage. You don’t want your fellow riders to see more of nature than they were expecting. For those of you riding in those un-natural places without trees, good luck to you!
#4 Choose a spot carefully. Don’t make the rookie mistake of leaving the trail you’re on only to find that you are relieving yourself in another trail…with other riders coming up the trail behind you.  Becoming the butt of wrangler jokes for years to come, and inadvertently christening said trail with its new name, Full Moon Trail, probably isn’t on your vacation bucket list. True story.
#5 Leave your horse with your guide or tied to a tree.  You don’t need your mighty steed getting …well…nosy.
#6 Bury it. This might be getting just a little too personal, but learn from the boy scouts and bury it.
#7 “How do I bury it? It’s not like I have a boy scout along with his little collapsible shovel and all.”  Well I don’t know, get creative!
#8 Don’t use the “toilet paper” you think nature has provided for you. It’s just not going to end well.  That leafy green may look as soft as Charmin but likely it will leave you wishin’ you weren’t a itchin’.
#9 And last but not least, don’t squat with yer spurs on.
Saddling up and heading out on horseback, whether it is for an hour or for a week, is something I look forward to rain or shine.  Sharing that experience with someone else makes it even better. Now you can join me on the trail just a little more prepared for your next horseback adventure into the woods.

Danielle enjoying a view of the fall colors on her horse JR.

This blog is written and maintained by Danielle Otis, one of the wranglers (one job title among many) at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.  It is a collection of tales and stories related to the ranch that come straight “from the horse’s mouth”.


Goodbye Old Friend

Today is a day I have dreaded. I have known for many years that today would come, but I have always hoped we could put it off just a little bit longer. Today I said goodbye to my old friend.
JR Chicka Do was my big, palomino, Quarter Horse gelding and he was Just Right. He was mine for 18 years. When I think of my childhood, JR is in every part of it. In fact, he was there as I navigated all of my adolescent and young adult years. We spent a couple awkward years in Pony Club , all of my 11 years of 4-H and years of teaching other 4-H ers and other horse crazy kids. I spent hundreds of hours and countless horse shows on the back of that big blonde horse. JR saw other horses come and go, he was part of my wedding, he took my daughter for her first ride, her first horse show and taught her to lope just this summer.
Twelve years ago JR was diagnosed with Navicular Disease.  We have worked to put off this day since that time. Because of the great work of John Fuller, our farrier, JR spent most of those years pain free and sound. As Fall approached, it became obvious that we could no longer maintain him pain free.
JR goes on to wait for me in heaven today. I was blessed to have the many years with him that I have had and I will forever be thankful for him. JR was practically perfect in every way. He was my teacher, partner, student, friend and great source of joy. Daddy, thank you for letting me steal your horse from you all those years ago.
Goodbye Old Friend…

A Fall Ride on the Moose Mountain Trail

Blacktail Lake
On the trail to Blacktail Lake
The Moose Mountain Loop Trail is an approximately 9 mile, round trip trail that takes you past two great mountain lakes.  This is a great horseback ride or hike. I rode this trail with my parents; Roley and Janice, my brother and sister-in-law; Isaac and Libby, and my two kids; Emily (4) and Gabe (2) on August 27, 2014.  Gabe rode in front of me and Emily rode behind Libby as neither of them are ready to ride their own horse on this sort of trail.
We drove to the trail head and unloaded our crew of 5 horses and 7 people. The trail head has a large parking lot with enough room for our 4 horse, goose-neck trailer and several other cars.  We headed out and followed the trail markers to Blacktail lake. This first part of the trail is a moderate climb with several long stretches of boardwalk.  Blacktail is a smaller lake but still beautiful.  We took our lunch break here and the kids had fun catching tadpoles and baby frogs until Gabe fell in.  We started a fire to dry off his clothes and keep the half naked toddler warm.  There are a couple primitive campsites here and plenty of grazing space that would make for an excellent spot for the horses to stay overnight.
Gabe, just after going for an
unplanned swim
Our lunch spot and campfire
To continue on our loop, we followed Trail 213 to Moose Mountain.  The trail levels out after the first short climb and is a very pretty ride through the high mountain trees.  As you approach the summit of Moose Mountain the trail get steeper and rockier. With Gabe riding in front of me, it was still not too difficult. Riding the ridge up to the summit offers some great view of both Blacktail Lake and Moose Lake.  The ridge narrows as you reach the top and I have to admit that last switchback made me thank God I was riding a great horse (I have a good healthy fear of steep drop-offs).  As you come down off the summit, the ridge begins to widen and offer some beautiful eastern views. At this point in our ride, Gabe and I dismounted and mom led my horse.  First of all, riding down hill with a two year old in front of you is not so easy and second of all that awesome horse I was thanking God for, is a bit mutton-withered and I would be riding on her ears by the time I got to the bottom.
Views coming off Moose Mountain
 As you continue on the ridge begins to narrow again and you come to what looks like (from the back of the line and on foot) a dead end, but no! The trail drops off sharply to the left.  This is where it gets a little western.  Everyone dismounted here and Isaac led the way on foot leading his horse.  Here the trail is a very steep, narrow side hill with a single switchback. We all turned our horses loose to follow Isaac down the trail while we scrambled down after on foot.  After this interesting descent everyone re-mounted, except Gabe and I (remember my mutton-withered horse) and the trail continues with a moderate descent through the trees into Moose Lake. I was able to start riding again about a quarter mile from the lake.  Moose Lake is about three times bigger that Blacktail Lake and has more primitive camping and fishing opportunities.  The trail wraps around the lake and heads back out the nearly two miles to the trail head.
Little Horse looking at
Moose Lake
Dad and Pepsi on one of
the many boardwalks
About a mile out from Moose Lake, on the way back to the trail head, one of the bridges crossing a creek was broken in the middle and lay in the creek bed. It looked as if it had happened recently and my bet is that the Forest Service will have it repaired soon as this is a high traffic trail.  We were able to get around the fallen bridge easily enough.  Dad and Isaac rode and us ladies (plus Gabe) led our horses across.
The broken bridge
Almost back to the trailhead
This was a really great family ride with beautiful views, great horses, not so great fishing.  This would also make a great day hike or overnight trip.  I would not suggest taking small children on this ride unless they ride frequently and a hardy in the saddle.  I was so proud of my little ones as they never got scared or tired.  As we were leaving Moose Lake we told Gabe that we were headed back to the trailer and he started crying and said he wanted to keep riding.  Oh and he wanted me to get off his horse!
Wylie and Blacktail Lake
*As a side note, this is not a ride that we take our guests on as we do not have permits to outfit in this area.  This was just a fun ride that we went on as a family and I though you might like to hear about our adventures in North Idaho.

For more information on trail riding at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, visit:  www.westernpleasureranch.com

Cross Country Skiing

As the colors of fall fade away and winter threatens to cover the North Idaho landscape once again (winter storm warning beginning tonight at 5pm), I find myself looking forward to winter a bit more this year.  Usually, I dread the icy chill of winter.  Sure, I enjoy the frosty charm for about a month, but after that I am ready for spring to come again. However, this year is a little different.  This year I have cross-country skis.

This will be the third winter that Western Pleasure Guest Ranch has been offering groomed cross country skiing. Each year the number of groomed trail kilometers grows.  This year we plan on having over 10k of groomed trails.  I am extremely excited to enjoy these miles of scenic trails all winter, while gliding along on my new skis. It took me a couple years to decide to buy skis.  I had been renting from the Tauber Angus Nordic Center just down the road from us.  They also have several miles of trails to enjoy.

Prices are as follows:

Daily pass:

  • Adults – $10
  •  kids (ages 6-12) – $5
  • kids ( ages 5 and under) – free
  • Free to those staying in one of our lodge rooms or log cabins
Season pass:
  • Adults – $65
  • Kids (ages 6-12) – $32
I hope to see you this winter along the trails at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch!
(208) 263-9066

The Bigger the Horse the Bigger the Heart

Amos and Andy were the best team of Percheron draft horses a person could ever hope to have. Amos was the motivated half of the team and Andy would rather just eat hay. They knew their job and they did it well. They taught all of us here at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch how to drive a team.

We lost Amos a few years ago at the ripe old age of 28. Andy is enjoying retirement and is currently the oldest horse on the ranch at 30 years young.

Andy misses Amos, his life long working partner, but has adjusted to life without Amos. In the winter, Andy has a private stall and run with a special diet of equine senior and hay pellets. In the summer, he has a part time job  babysitting the youngsters in one of our green pastures.

Andy loves any special attention he can get, especially if it involves a treat. So when you stop by the ranch be sure to find Andy and give him a scratch and a treat. Just make sure it’s a soft treat, he’s an old man and doesn’t have many teeth left.

Emily giving Andy a little love.
Andy- 30 years old and on a diet of grain and hay pellets and looking pretty good.
Andy enjoying some down time in his winter pen.
A memorial to Amos and Andy in the hallway at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch lodge.
The Bigger the Horse the Bigger the Heart.

Has winter returned to North Idaho?

Has winter returned to north Idaho? When I awoke this morning I was greeted by a cheery landscape of white! Yes, several inches of snow had fallen overnight. I have to admit that I was not especially pleased to see snow on an April morning, but it was very beautiful. These photos show the view from our front steps this morning. Emily even got in one last snow angel before it melted away. Yes, I am happy to report that the snow is quickly melting away to reveal that beautiful North Idaho spring.

Has winter returned to Western Pleasure Guest Ranch?

My Little Cowgirl

We had some fantastic early spring weather here at the ranch and we spent every moment we could outside soaking in that vitamin D.  The April showers have since arrived, but I thought I would share with you one of Emily’s favorite activities during those warm, sunny days.  I have to say I am pretty proud of my little three year old cowgirl.  She rode my good ol’ boy, JR, and one of the ranch horses, Honey, all by her self.  She was very confident in her ability to ride her horse all by herself.  “Mama, will you leave the arena? I want to do it all by myself!” She learned how to steer and kick to make the horse go forward. She trotted like her uncle Isaac (complete with an attempt to post) and announced that she wanted “to lope like my aunt Libby!” No, I didn’t let her lope. I am looking forward to the time we will spend together with our horses this summer!
Emily riding JR
Emily riding Honey, and me riding Little Horse.  Emily has laid claim to Little Horse.

My Little Cowgirl trotting along
More trotting
Gabe even got in on the fun! He was all smiles and giggles as he went for his ride.
At the end of the day, a cowgirl always takes care of her horse.

Winter Horse Therapy

Winter is slowly loosening its icy grip on us here at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch and I am suffering from some serious cabin fever symptoms.  So today, I left the kids with mom for a couple hours so I could go outside for some winter horse therapy.

JR = Practically Perfect in Every Way

Of the many horses here on the ranch, three of them are my very own.  I have JR, my 21 year old Quarter Horse who is practically perfect in every way and has been my partner, teacher, student and friend for 17 years.  Little Horse is a 15ish year old POA mare and Zeus is her yearling POA/Appaloosa colt.

Little Horse = Nervous Nelly

I headed to the barn and caught Little Horse and JR to groom away some of that winter hair.  Little Horse is always a bit of a nervous Nelly when she’s tied in the barn, so she danced around while JR stood quietly enjoying the brushing and scratches I was giving him.  While some may consider getting covered in pounds of white horse
hair a pain, I consider the time spent in the barn brushing away those winter coats to be very therapeutic.

JR Thinks spring is coming!
Little Horse doesn’t think spring is coming very soon.

After JR and Little Horse were brushed out, I turned them back out and got a little show from them and their young pen-mates. Even my gimpy old man got in on the fun.

Little Horse showing the youngsters who’s boss.
JR watching the show.

Running and playing
Don’t mess with the head man.

Little Horse coming to say hello.

Then I went and visited Zeus at the little horse barn.  A winter of very little attention from me has caused him to be a bit jumpy and stand-offish. He is coming around however as he has discovered that I can scratch and rub away that winter hair in places that he just can’t reach to scratch.

Zeus = Son of nervous Nelly, Mr. “Not so sure I want you to touch me.”

“Hey, whats going on back there?” I love those Appy spots!

It was very refreshing spending an hour with my fuzzy ponies.  There is a quote by Winston Churchill which I think is very true: There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.  ~Winston Churchill