Peggy’s Teaching Philosophy and Principles

Here’s an interview I did with the BCHA just before a clinic in July of 2016:


via Community Profile: Meet Peggy Gurnett, Horse Trainer – Boulder County Horse Association

“I’m bored. I can’t learn.” “I’M SCARED!!!! I CAN’T LEARN?!#@!”


Bored and relaxed are often hard to tell apart.  A horse can look like this after vigorous exercise, or after getting up from a nap, or after standing around awhile.


This horse is either scared (see the rolling eye), or  hurting (see the bit preventing the horse from either breathing or swallowing).  One thing for sure, this horse is being ridden by someone incompetent and heavy-handed.                                                                              scared



Check out the article below from a blog I really like,

via Fear and training: Does a scared horse learn? –

My Underweight Horse: A Hard Lesson Learned

My Hungry HorseWhat do you see in this photograph?  I came across this while going through some old photos, and I thought to myself, “underfed, probably rescue horse”,





About 3 seconds later it dawned on me that this was a photo of my Thoroughbred mare, Skigh, taken almost exactly a year ago.  I felt sick with guilt and anger at myself that I had allowed my mare to become so thin and unhealthy.  At the time this photograph was taken, I was beginning to have a bad feeing about the place I was boarding her and I ultimately moved her to safety in the early spring, which in retrospect was much too late.

SO, HOW THE HELL DID I LET THIS HAPPEN?   I’ve trained horses for over 20 years.  I know the basics of good horse nutrition and body conformation.  I would put food in my horse’s mouth before I put food on my own table.

I’ve thought this over obsessively and here is what I’ve come to:

  •  I saw my mare almost every day last summer and the changes were incremental enough that I wasn’t shocked.
  • I fed her 10 lbs of Equine Senior Active daily, the maximum recommended amount. I figured this would keep her at a healthy weight.
  • I was optimistic rather than realistic, and I didn’t use an objective measure that worked for me to track her body condition.
  • I had owned horses who were easy keepers prior to owning Skigh and so I was not tuned in as well as I should have been to her body condition.

The following is the body condition score available from


At the time of the photo from last year, Skigh was a score of 3 to 4.

Here’s another photo of her from my Facebook timeline on June 2, 2016:

body score 4Not as bad as the top photo, but it still makes me cringe.

Here are the changes I’ve made since last summer:

  • I got out of what was a toxic boarding situation.  The place I boarded Skigh seemed to have plenty of nice people and a good vibe initially.  It can take months of paying attention (which I wasn’t always good at, being busy teaching and training, thinking my horse was being well-cared for, etc., etc.) to see subtle patterns of neglect.  In the end it boiled down to one big thing–my horse didn’t get enough hay, and what she got was poor; and one other pretty big thing:  after I arrived, some new boarders turned up and that mix of people made for a less supportive environment.  Having gotten her to a safe place, I now can see in hindsight how internalized my horse was..  Of course, she felt all this more than I did.
  • I now take a photo of my horse from the same angle on the 15th of every month.  The objective record has become a crucial part of my record keeping.
  • I looked HARD for a quality place to move my horse.  Like any facility, it has its share of distractions.  What has gone on since March 1, since we moved, is that my horse is more relaxed and happy than I’ve seen her since we first met.

Take a look!

trotting Skigh

The Right Bit in the Right Hands


bad snaffle

I learned early on that this “happy alligator” position of the horse’s mouth is a dead giveaway of hands that close too quickly.  When the bit does this to a horse’s tongue, the horse can neither breathe nor swallow.

Below is an article written by horsewoman Julie Goodnight about bits.  After attending a seminar with Dale Myler, I have been struck by how wrong I was about what I thought I knew.

So many people think they are being “kinder” to their horse by avoiding bits or by using a single jointed snaffle.  And there is so much confusion about what a snaffle bit really is.

Have a look:


“The Right Bit in the Right Hands”

Article written by Julie Goodnight

Good Day!

Last night I dreamt all night about bits. It was a pleasant journey through my subconscious. After exploring all the different Myler bits this week and talking more about new ones to try on various horses, I guess my mind was just full of it. In a good way.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately that all bits are bad and that if you really want to be kind to your horse, you’d go bitless. Have you been in on a similar discussion? While I agree that there are many horses that work just fine in a bitless situation, I think it is overly simplistic to say horses shouldn’t use bits.

To me, there’s one really important fact. Bits don’t hurt horses, people’s hands hurt horses. There’s a concept dating back thousands of years (about 3500 years ago) that’s attributed to Xenophon, who wrote the oldest complete book of horsemanship (there are older pieces but they are only partial documents). He said that the harshest bit in the world can be soft in a horse’s mouth when in the right hands and the mildest bit can be very harsh in the wrong hands.

Having said that, I think that there are many bad bits that shouldn’t be used at all. There are some bits that I wouldn’t use but could envision a use or a horse I might try it on. And then there are the bits that I love that horses work great in. Through the years I’ve learned that there are few people involved with horses that know much about bits or even how and why the horse responds (or not). Worse yet, there are people out there that are flat out wrong about what they think about bits.

The most common example I can think of is the Tom Thumb bit. It’s a classic Western bit that many people refer to as a snaffle—showing a level of ignorance about the difference between a snaffle and curb bit. There are only two types of bits—direct pressure (snaffle) and leverage (curb). People think because the Tom Thumb is single jointed that it is a snaffle and therefore mild—and they are incorrect on both accounts. There’s an article in my training library about the Tom Thumb misconceptions but the point is that when it comes to bits, most people are not only ignorant but often what they think they know or what they have been told—sometimes even by a trainer– is flat bass-ackwards.

When a horse is struggling with the bit, there are two fundamental considerations to make, which are overlooked by most people. First, how does the bit fit the horse? Secondly, how are the rider’s hands contributing to this problem? The amazing thing about the Myler bit system is that it is born of decades of hands-on research and innovative design features (like shaping the bit to the horse’s mouth—what a concept!) which are all about making the horse comfortable with the bit. It is a passion and mission

of the Myler brothers to help as many horses as possible be comfortable and relaxed in the mouth.

The Mylers have inspired me to join their mission. I have decided to take a collection of bits with me on the road—to clinics and expos—to see if I can help more horses and riders. It’ll be my own private research project.

And now, I am headed out to the arena to ride my horse on this beautiful fall day. I hope you have time to do the same this weekend!

Why I don’t use lesson horses

We’ve all seen them.  Horses that people take “riding lessons” on.  So often, these horses look unhappy and have health issues related to taxiing people around to the calls of “heels down” and “get his head into the right position”,  I’ve seen many of these horses go inside themselves to survive the hours of thumping incompetence they must deal with.   The same is true for dude ranch horses.

lesson horse

Doing this to any horse goes against everything I believe in with regard to horses.  What I CAN get behind, and help clients with, is leasing a horse for 3 months or more, with the client as the sole rider of the leased horse.  A bond and relationship based on one-on-one interactions can be built.  Even half-leasing a horse with one other person doesn’t really work.  There is a constant push/pull in the horse’s world, even if the riders have the same philosophy.  To me, barns and trainers that use “lesson horses” are sacrificing the horse’s mental and emotional well-being in the name of making money.

No thanks.

The Key is Confidence

I love the look on this horse’s face, and the quiet mouth.  It looks like a partnership.

confident jumping

This is fron Denny Emerson, horseman at Tamarack Hill Farm in Vermont:

“This mare used to quit at jumps one foot high.  So we just fiddled around, tried to make her calm, and NEVER punished her when she would stop.

Jack LeGoff used to say,

‘Boldness comes from confidence.  Confidence comes from success.  So it is the job of the trainer to create lots of situations which guarantee success.’

We did that, and Rosie gradually lost her fear of jumping.

It seems so simple, Jack’s little ‘mantra’ but many riders and trainers still use force.  Which is maybe why Jack won all those gold medals, and the others do not.”