Someone who ‘gets it’…working horses takes planning, consistency, reviews and time

“Hi Stacy! Just wanted to share a little bit of success with you. I have written about my difficult mare a few times. After someNikki Hale 1 thought, discussion with other horsey friends, and careful planning, I have reworked a regimen for my girl. She is in boot camp now and seems to be responding superbly! In just two days she has pretty well mastered a new skill of ground driving, and I have started the mounting process. I never thought I would get this far with her, especially this fast. But she really seems to be responding to it. Yesterday I reviewed everything she already knows, and added ground driving. Today she acted like she had been driving for weeks, so I put the saddle on and started stepping up. I even sat on her for a few seconds. So excited!- Nikki H.”


Nikki! I am so excited for you because I can tell by just reading your note to me that YOU GET IT! Let me tell you how I know:Nikki Hale 2


  • You have been asking questions. I do remember that you have written before. Searching shows that you are fully engaged and you are taking responsibility for the outcome.
  • You asked other friends; there is wisdom in asking people who know you and your horse. They will often be able to shed light on areas you may not see because you are so wrapped up in everything. Horsey friends for horsey problems are great!
  • You made a plan which puts you ahead of most.
  • You are reviewing the things that she knows. This is SO important because it makes the training more solid and can help you find ‘holes’ in the training, things that the horse didn’t really get solid on before you moved on. Review gives the Nikki Hale 3chance to make things solid.

Congratulations Nikki! I am so glad that I was part of this learning process. The steps you are taking show that you have what Emmie had…and that is truly a complement.Nikki Hale 5


  1. Nikki Hale on May 12, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Sara, Thank you! I will. If you like you can find me on FB.

  2. Sara McNeil on May 12, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Sydne, I really like the technique you used with your hard to catch horse. It makes a lot of sense. We adopted a young horse last year, a yearling, that had basically been left to starve to death. She had a lot of trust issues. It took a long time, working with her every day, to gain her trust. If I thought of all we had to accomplish, it was overwhelming. I just focused on the little steps. She’s come a long way and I celebrate every small accomplishment. I think persistence is the key, exactly how you acted with your mare, even if it took a long time. Congratulations on your work with her! And Nikki, let us know how it’s going!

  3. Nikki Hale on May 9, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    If anyone is interested in watching, here is a link to the video of the full session from the first day. From catching to finish. Its about 40 minutes long, but you get to see (almost) everything that happened in that session. I also have a much shorter video of the second day, although it cut off right before I actually sat on her 🙁 there are a few others of my little guy on there too. Thanks!

  4. Sydne on May 9, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Nikki, so great to read your story! Keep at it; you really seem to be on the right track 🙂 That catching issue so reminded me of my loan horse. The only way I can ever catch her is with treats.

    A few weeks ago, she started not wanting to be caught by the riding school owners (she is a schooling horse and I loan her for a couple of days a week), and eventually started coming at them with her teeth. So either they had to bring her in last as she would follow the other schooling horses in when they were caught, or someone else had to go into the field and try and get her. She was still fine with me for a while but eventually, after having successfully played that power game with the riding school owners, she started doing that with me too!

    So the next time I tried bringing her in, I just kept walking after her whenever she moved away from me. I did not react to her showing her teeth (she never bites, but threatens) or let her draw me into her aggravated state, so after a while she calmed down and just stood there. We stood and stood for ten minutes at a time before I would make a step towards her. If she moved away, I would follow her until she stopped again. If she didn’t, I would just stand for another 5 minutes. Eventually, she just let me put the halter on. That day, I must have been in the field for about 45 minutes, but I caught her without a carrot…and she’s been fine catching since, for everyone involved.

    This may sound weird; but whenever I speak horse to her, we are doing fine. When I speak human to her (trying to sneakily catch her while she munches on carrots is only one example), that’s when we start having problems.
    She’s a difficult horse, especially for a novice like me, and compared to other horses I know much less willing to accept leadership or even companionship.

    Unlike you, Nikki, I don’t really have a big plan or regimen, as I am so new to it all, so I try to take it one session at a time.

    But when she willingly follows me around the field after I invited her to, I feel like crying with joy every time.
    You must feel the same, Nikki!

    • Nikki Hale on May 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Sydne, the best advice I can give is don’t stop learning! I have been riding, working, and training for 16 years now. And I still crave learning about these amazing animals. Learn from other people and trainers, but most of all learn from the animals. Learn to speak their language and they will teach you. I have spent many hours online watching videos, reading articles, etc. Watch different trainer and their similarities and differences. I have really enjoyed Stacy Westfall, Clinton Anderson, and Double Dan Horsemanship. In fact I saw a wonderful post from Clinton Anderson just this morning that said “There is no substitute for experience. The more horses you work with, the better your feel and timing will get.” I love this quote because I think that is the very thing that has led me to where I am. I have ridden many different disciplines, and breeds. I worked under a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer for several years. Even just hanging around the barn, being “a fly on the wall.” gave me so much knowledge. Good luck with your girl! Keep learning from her!

  5. Connie C on May 8, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Yay Nikki! I love hearing this. Its good and positive for the horse and the trainer!
    Great mental work for both of you.
    Great job! Keep it up, especially when those bumps show up.
    Many blessings,
    L. Constance
    P.S. Stacy, you are just great. Thank you for what you do. Happy horses, happy humans!

  6. Sara McNeil on May 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    I think it’s easier to think of training my young horse in terms of small steps that last about 10 minutes. Every day I try to master one small step in the process, like throwing a rope over my mare’s back without her moving. Then when she’s mastered that, I add a component, like throwing it around her legs and back or dropping her lead rope while I am throwing her rope. We have made a lot of steady progress this way. I have found if I keep it short, she doesn’t get bored or tired and I can usually find 10 minutes every day for her training.

    I taught my young horse to come to me when I call her by giving her a treat every single time she comes. I call all of the horses even when they are close when I feed them to get them use to the whistle. They know the whistle means food is coming. I put a halter on each horse even when I am not going to work them – put the halter on, give him or her a treat, take it off – almost every day. They don’t associate the halter with work, but with getting a treat. If you can’t catch your horse, practice in a stall. Call them and give them a treat when they face you, until they learn a reward is coming when they are caught. My horses come running when they see me in the field with a halter since they know for sure that they will get a reward.

    Congratulations on your success, Nikki! Reward yourself and your horse for every success, even the small ones!

    • Nikki Hale on May 8, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      Thank you Sara! Catching is actually one thing I have a hard time with this mare. She is an 8 year old (I think…) that was left a brood mare for until I got her. When I got her a year and a half ago, she was in foal with her 4th baby. The ranch she came from had 50 or 60 head, so they didn’t handle them regularly. She has a very strong fight-or-flight instinct and has basically no trust in people. I have tried using treats every time I go out, but all that did was make her so that she was all over the top of me, but if I reached for her she would bolt. She is very flighty and she can go from 0 to 100 in her energy level in about a half a second.
      Part of my “master plan” with her is to enclose her at night when I feed, so that I don’t have to chase her in whenever I decide to work her. Then work her first thing in the morning before I feed her. By her being enclosed at night, I can catch her easier so she is not so worked up when we start our session, and hopefully she will start associating work with getting to get out of her pen. Then I feed her after her workout as a reward of sorts for her good work. I don’t know if this theory will work, but its the best I have right now.
      I also have limited time, but I figure doing it this way I can spend an hour each morning with her, then I have the rest of the day to get all my other commitments taken care of.

  7. Nikki Hale on May 8, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you sooooo much for this blog Stacy! It really almost brings me to tears to read this praise. I have been working so hard with this mare. I have gotten so frustrated so many times, but I just keep at it, trying new techniques, doing more research, watching and reading more trainers, talking to more people. I have followed all of your blogs, Jac videos, and watched all of your DVDs. They have been so helpful. I am always trying to learn more and different new things about horses in general.

    One thing you mentioned that I am really big on is talking to other horsey friends, because I am notorious for getting so far wrapped up in the situation and not being able to see my way out. One major instance of that was with this mare last year. I had her in a fairly large round pen and could not catch her. After keeping her moving for 3 hours and still not being able to get near her, I started calling everyone I could think of that might have some insight. Finally after 4 1/2 hours (in 85 degree sun), she gave up. She never actually gave in to me as a leader, but at least she gave up and I could catch her. Then I did another half hour of a whole bunch of new stuff while she was tired. Lol

    And thank you so much for the comparison to Emmie. I have been following her since the Kentucky Cup. And to me, as much of an inspiration as you are, she is that much more so because she is not a professional, and has limited time, and doesn’t always have the ideal places to work her horses and she was able to accomplish what she did with Louie. I am really hoping to do that with my colt, who is now a yearling, and is out of this mare. He is an absolute breeze!

    Just to add to that original note, on our third day (yesterday), she was having a hard day. I could tell her brain just was not in it. She was having a harder time with saddling, bridling, long reining, even just standing still while bending. So I didn’t push her. Just stepped back and went back over everything again, especially the standing and bending, and didn’t add anything new. Today (more just because I am really tired and sore) I gave her the day off, although I did still go out and “catch” her before I fed and let her out of her stall.

    Thank you again for all the help! This really is a boost I needed with this mare. And thank you for being so approachable, for reading the (probably) thousands of questions and comments people send in to you. I do hope to be able to meet you in person someday…. Maybe at a reining competition with my colt! 🙂

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