Every Time You Get On Your Horse, You Are Betting Your Life On This One Thing

Picture this:  you are with your horse friends, and it’s a gorgeous day, and a perfect time to head off for a ride.  You know your horse well, and you’ve spent loads of time in the saddle with him.  Fantastic!  Off you go, either in the arena, around the property, or up the trail.

Then it happens.

It’s never happened before.  And whatever it is (an unfamiliar object, shape, light pattern, another horse spooking, you name it), your horse PANICS, or BOLTS, or starts to BUCK.  When this happens, you are betting your life, and your horse’s life, that you can stop him.  You may also be panicking at this point.

This isn’t the time to worry about your brakes.  How do you stop your horse?  YOU CANNOT SUCCESSFULLY STOP A PANICKING HORSE BY PULLING ON HIS MOUTH OR HIS FACE..  In fact, if the horse is really scared, you will only put him in a more collected and powerful frame with which to run off with you.

YOU HAVE TO DISENGAGE THE HINDQUARTERS BY CROSSING THE HIND LEGS OVER WITH AN INDIRECT REIN.  If the hind legs are crossed, the horse can’t run and he can’t buck.

Above is a photo of HQ (hindquarter) disengagement done with the correct technique.  The rider is lifting up on the left rein while using her leg and body to support moving the HQ so that the left hind foot crosses over the right hind foot.  She is looking back at the left HQ, and as her body turns, so does her horse’s.

If this is new to you, I strongly suggest you learn it with your horse and practice it at all speeds, going in both directions.  Get so good at it that when you slide your hand down the rein and begin lifting as you begin to use leg pressure on the HQ that your horse stops without you having to do more.  When you need to use HQ disengagement as an emergency stop, you’ll be much more likely to survive if you’ve practiced and prepared.

I’ll be writing more on setting up the emergency stop in coming posts.  My purpose here is just to let you know just how important this is for your safety.




What I Learned Today: Why Does my Horse Always Spook at the Same Stuff??

April 10, 2018 at 10:30AM

I went for a lovely long ride on Skigh today.  Warm!  This is a photo of one of my new Monel stirrups.  I have wanted a pair of these forever, and now I know why.  My feet were falling asleep in my trusty old leather stirrups, and sometimes they felt a bit tight around my feet if things were getting dicey and I was considering bailing.  Today, my feet felt great after two hours, and I can so easily slip my feet out of them.

Riding Skigh is sometimes like going to a laser show with a kid on a sugar high:  Every little piece of reality is something to look at, to spook at, and for sure, to speed up for.  A truck unloading a bed full of gravel, a blowing tumbleweed–and other stuff she has seen before in exactly the same setting.  So, I made a conscious effort today not to buy into these energy surges, and instead, I got heavier and more relaxed in my seat every time she got distracted.  You can see it was breezy, all the more reason to worry!  My plan was just to walk for 40 minutes, without breaking into a trot or canter, and see if she would relax.  It worked.  It was the conscious adding to my relaxation that did the trick.  Our energy melded and ended on a really nice feeling.

February 18, 2018 at 02:47PM

Get a Spring Tune-Up!

spring tune up.jpg

I’m offering a spring special from now until April 15th.  I’ll spend two hours with you and your horse, evaluating basic safety concerns and making sure your horse is mentally, emotionally, and physically ready for the warm months.

I’m offering this at a big discount of $80 per tune-up.

Spring is the most dangerous time of year for horsemanship for these reasons:

–horses get very frisky in the spring with warm temps and new grass.

–some of us (not you, of course) have spent some serious time binge-watching Netflix and aren’t in summer fitness shape yet.

–during the winter it can be hard to spend quality time with your horse, so it’s time to knock the rust off and get the partnership connected again.

We can do this at your place or mine.  Give me a call (801-865-7196) or shoot me an email peggy@peggygurnetthorsemanship, and let’s get you ready for spring!

OK, So I have this horse. Now what? A guide for new horse owners and owners of a new horse.

Horse and computer.jpg

When I bought my first horse, here were my questions:

–does he dig for water?

–what is a halter and how does it work?

–he can eat enough food by himself, right?

You can tell by my questions that I’m the kind of person who likes to jump into things at the deep end, for better or worse.  My horse was in a herd of other friendly horses, and they would run over when someone came into the pasture.  This terrified me at first.  I couldn’t imagine such giants would be timid around a weakling like me.

So, I’ll be working on the nitty-gritty of things, starting with Day One with your horse, and going from there.  My experience is that the little things with horses become the big things.  I won’t make any assumptions about what you know, and there will be things you can pass over if you already know them.

Stay Tuned!



Yep, it’s true: horses can read our facial expressions (and they don’t always like what they see).

horse eye

I encourage everyone to read this good short article in The Atlantic.  I’ve put the link at the end of this post.

The author describes the “unlikely pairing of wily predator and one-ton prey” (must be a REALLY big horse), and I think about this on a daily basis, because it’s the crux of why things do and don’t work with horses.  My horse knows me better than I know myself a lot of the time.  And I try to see the world through her eyes.  NOTHING a horse ever does is wrong–their behaviors are a consequence of innate characteristics along with environment.  We program so many undesirable patterns into our horses (e.g., jigging on a trail ride, or fighting the bit, or refusing to go, or refusing to stop)–and then we get mad at them for doing these things that we created.  Just look around next time you’re at your barn, or wherever you ride, and you’ll see what I mean.

The article talks about horse vision.  Did you know that horses can see much better than dogs can, except for the blind spots caused by their eye position?  And the thing I found most interesting is that when confronted by a human with an angry face, horses will look at that person out of their left eye, thus engaging the right side of their brain, the side where fear-provoking stimulus is processed.  Dogs do this, too.  So, the common vernacular “going right-brained” has some scientific backup to it.

I’m going to start keeping tabs with my own horse on her reactions related to this stuff.

It’s a good read.

via:  https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/02/how-horses-read-human-emotions/471264/?utm_source=atlfb

The Pendulum


I seem to be in a kind of constant pendulum with respect to my horse.  I try to be assertive without being a bully or a wimp.  Sometimes the pendulum swing is slow, and sometimes not so slow.  I am very good at being balanced with my clients’ horses . . . but it’s another story when it comes to my own horse.  Objectivity is out the window for the most part.

My horse Skigh has been very head and ear shy in varying degrees since I’ve owned her.  There have been huge improvements in the last two years, but I still ask myself “Is this an old resistance picked up from her days at the racetrack?”, or “is she just giving me the finger?”  It depends.  If I don’t come to a good feeling of balance, I’ll ask someone I trust to have a look.

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

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.”

Is my horse hurting?

hurting horse?

If you’ve spent time around horses, you know that they can be incredibly stoic.  (Some humans could take a lesson here.) This article from UC Davis talks about reading horse expressions more accurately to pick up subtleties in how our horses express pain and discomfort.

via UC Davis Uses Software to Map Equine Pain