The World of Living with Horses

By Caroline Invicta Stevenson

My passion for horses took over when I was about 5 and old enough to feel and respond to a childlike passion. I was told we were moving – moving without my beloved Daisy, who we didn’t even own and who was shared by many other children like me at the pony rides.

I was devastated, heartbroken and unmanageable. I cried, stomped all to no avail. We just couldn’t leave Daisy, but we did. My nanny and mother tried to console me on the long car ride from California to Texas; I just cried more. I couldn’t live without Daisy, but I did.

We arrived at our new home, “Seven Oaks,” which turned out to be a real ranch where you could keep horses. I figured this out because when we got there, I found a donkey out in a barn with corrals. Wow, a real donkey to ride. Wrong. I tried and tried but Smokey would not go. I had a better ride on the drugstore pony.


Finally, I thought I would bribe him with a carrot on a string attached to a stick, which I dangled in front of his nose. Smokey actually started to move in a slow clip cloppy way.

Smokey’s favorite trick was to cut through the tool shed and scrape me off on the side of the walk through door. Time and again I would try to steer him away from the shed and that door with the carrot, but trying to hold the stick and hold onto a very smart donkey while riding bareback got the best of me. So I decided to spend the rest of my time and energy dressing Smokey.

My favorite fashion statement was mismatched knee-high socks and aprons. I think he rather enjoyed this change of pace as I fed him many carrots that I bit into small pieces and hid in his apron pockets.

My stepfather’s sister was married to a real Texas Ranger. Uncle Dick came by “Seven Oaks” to meet his new niece who, he was told, was “horse crazy.” He listened to my sad tale of leaving Miss Daisy and when I showed him Smokey in his knee-highs and apron, I believe he saw the need for rescue. He asked whether I’d like to meet a Prince.

I spent the next few years in an inseparable bond with dear Prince. I ate, slept, read to him and, yes, rode him every way and where I could. I loved him and told myself there was a little girl who loved Daisy just as much in my absence.

 NEXT: A Prince to the rescue.


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By Stephanie von Bidder


The beginning of training for any horse centers on management. I choose to address mental and physical health before expecting results under saddle.

During our first evaluation ride, Ariana strongly signaled she wasn’t comfortable with me taking the lead. That first wild ride convinced me that her program had to begin with my feet firmly planted on the ground.

Ariana had given me loads of information, loud and clear: She was anxious, insecure and angry. Acting like a spindle-top rodeo bronc and trying to exit the arena with another horse, which is how our ride ended, is naughty behavior – naughty, but entirely normal.

In nature, horses rely on their herd for safety. She had spent the previous year in foal turned out in a herd and handled infrequently by humans. Her life was natural. She had her foal, raised him and was weaned. Not only had she bonded and found security with horses, now it was spring and her hormones told her she was ready to breed.

Ariana’s life in training would be entirely different from life in her herd. It was my responsibility to ease her difficult transition. My first priority was her physical health.

Horses under stress are highly prone to stomach ulcers that can be responsible for bad behavior. I treated her with Omeprazole, an oral medication that would coat her stomach and act as a preventative. Next, I broke the breeding cycle by administering a hormone called Altrenogest that kept her in a state of anestrous with no urge to breed.

My second priority was to change Ariana’s daily routine and manage her like a competition horse. Overnight she lived outside in a private field beside other horses; there she could rest, eat and play.

She came into the barn every morning on a schedule. Her stall offered luxuries she quickly came to enjoy – unlimited piles of hay, a fan and a fly control system that gave her relief from the relentless heat, humidity and swarming bugs of the South.

I spent many hours grooming, bathing and hand-grazing her. Very gradually she bonded  with me. Becoming accustomed to life as a diva didn’t seem to be as much of a stretch.

It was no surprise that one day I found Ariana waiting at the gate nickering to be brought in. Her mindset had changed and her training in the ring could now begin. She had accepted me, as she would another horse. Now it was time to see if I could take the lead from my boss mare.

Training Challenge: Gaining trust and creating a partnership under saddle. Working through herd-bound behavior and separation anxiety.

NEXT TIME Ariana learns that troting me around isn’t so bad. 

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By Caroline Invicta Stevenson

I was 3 years old when I discovered the drugstore pony.

I was fortunate to have a loving nanny and we walked everywhere in what was then a peaceful Beverly Hills. I was still tethered to her wrist by a leash attached to a pale blue leather harness. She walked, I pranced – even in the rain, sheltered by a huge black umbrella. I had started to whinny and snort by then, pretending to be a horse tugging against the reins, in my case the harness!

One day, we turned a corner and there, right in front of a drugstore, was a brightly painted steel pony. Wow! What luck. Nanny gave up some coins and I spent a glorious few minutes rocking, snorting and whinnying in the steel pony’s voice as we shared our glee. All too soon my ride became slower and slower, until we came to a full stop. Oh, the frustration. I stammered my rage through the stutter I had in those days – to no avail. I tried kicking, flailing my arms and jumping up and down in the saddle. Nothing, nada, zippo.

As a teacher I see riders who remind me of those times suffering from “Drugstore Pony Syndrome.” Frustrated when their horses don’t move or are just plain pokey, they lift their hands up and down, move their seat back and forth or push the reins forward while flapping them at their horse’s face. Try this on a hard-to-move horse and he’ll be at a deader-than-dead stop looking back at you to see what’s wrong.

When trying to help a rider in this situation I ask, “What exactly do you want your horse to do? Why are you moving all over the place?” I of course get a variety of answers, but will share some of my favorites: ”I’m driving him forward with my seat.” I suggest they save that seat for the car. “I’m kicking him and moving him forward with my legs and hands.” I ask, “Is he responding?”

You, as a rider, must above all be patient and still while communicating. Your thoughts must first go from your brain, to your body and then to your horse’s brain and to his much bigger and stronger body. Patience and consistent repetition is what will help your horse understand what you want and make him perform better for you.

If you are holding 5 pounds of pressure in your hands and reins, you must push at least 5-and-a-half pounds with your legs. Keeping your horse in front of your leg is paramount. Your hands must be steady and follow in the straight line between your horse’s mouth and your elbow.

These life experiences and the tips I share with you are what I have found helpful in my day-to-day training. I hope that you’ll tell me whether and how you find them useful in your life with horses.

NEXT: My first experience on a real horse

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By Stephanie von Bidder

Flawless was supposed to be a black-and-white pinto. Genetics dictated a 7/8 chance she would be. Clearly, the other 1/8 was chestnut with a white star.Maddie was born special – the spitting image of a mother appropriately named Flawless. In reality, they were both special.

The filly stood out on a breeding farm that specialized in producing warm-blood pintos. As Flawless matured, her owner found she was unusual in ways other than color; a beautiful mover, athletic and even-tempered, she was an ideal candidate for motherhood.

Eventually, she gave birth to Pizzazz, later nicknamed Maddie. The little ruby princess grew up surrounded by grandparents, aunts and uncles of a very different color.

Fast forward six years to a busy schooling ring in Tryon, NC. Maddie has moved away from her family and is proving herself a capable young show horse.  She is athletic, determined and focused, or so I thought.

We are breezing through a pre-show school when I am suddenly clearing jump after jump on a horse that is staring at something off in the distance. I ignore her behavior, thinking it a temporary distraction.

As I continue, her head and neck are like a periscope twisting and turning in whatever direction she chooses to stare. Frustrated, I stop and see that there are spots approaching: Maddie recognizes them as her Uncle Newsprint.

Never having been in this situation, I let Maddie take a look at Newsprint, then try to get back to business. Work is a fruitless endeavor; no matter where I want her to go her eyes are glued to him. I’m terrified to let her near anticipating she’ll scream and holler for him the whole horse show. I immediately take her back to the barn hoping we won’t run into him again.

The next day we managed to show without sighting Newsprint – until Saturday night. We’re warming up for Maddie’s first big night class under the lights. She feels great and I know she’s ready. Then up strolls the big spotted horse and she is driven to distraction – a mare on a mission, and not my mission.

I cave. There is nothing to do but let her visit him. So, we walk alongside to say hello. She turns her head to lightly touch his neck with her nose.


We stood beside Newsprint for a few minutes while I watched some horses go. She finally felt relaxed and happy. Entering the ring, I had no idea how Maddie would behave. She was perfect– so perfect, she was called back in the top 10.

I was so proud of Maddie that night, realizing that she was growing up; realizing, too, that I still had a lot to learn.

Training Challenge: Trusting Maddie to be the mature show horse that I prepared her to be.


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by Terry Berg

Picture this: It’s morning, Day 2. Before you make your way to the barn, you need to understand that your horse thinks the clinic was an amusing diversion from his usual routine. He doesn’t understand that the clinic was the start of a new “norm,” a new relationship with you. Before heading to the barn, you need to create a plan.

Here’s how I would start:

·        Review any video of the clinician working with you and your horse. Make notes on cards or in your cell phone of what you were told to do differently, so this becomes your new mantra.  Watch the video again looking for what you’re doing differently with your hands, legs, seat and even voice.

·        Read through the copious notes you took and write down repeat phrases and instructions.

·        Go over any books or DVDs you might have purchased from the clinician. Check out the pictures of what your main problem areas were and, again, try to come up with a simple mantra of a fix provided by the clinician. Here are some I’ve learned:

On the stop: “Legs in; say ‘Whoa’ as legs go out.”

For the lope departure: “Hip over, sit back, lift with your calf or spur and ‘smooch’.”

By having simple mantras you’re engaging your mind in what you’re doing. I can even hear my voice as I “talk” my way through the exercises.

·        Replay mentally the “ah-ha” moment when you tried what was demonstrated and it worked.

This is a really important part of what I do. I might hit the replay button when I’m sitting on my horse letting it air up after a wonderful attempt at a sliding stop.  It didn’t have to be a perfect stop; just an instance when my horse tried so much harder than he did before.

What did I do that made the difference? Maybe I squared the corner to the run down and worked my outside leg harder so my horse stood up better and was underneath himself and was able to melt into his stop.  The point is my horse got it.

Now it’s time to write out your plan. It helps to start the way the clinician started, with groundwork in the round pen or on the long line. Write that down and include the spots where you had problems, the fixes and the mantras you’ll use.

Figure that you’ll move on to mounting up and riding, either in the round pen or arena. Again note the exercises you learned at the clinic and specifically their order – what came first and how that led to the next exercise.  Now you have a written plan for today’s ride.

NEXT: Implementing the plan. 



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by Terry Berg

A recent Western clinic held at the facility I manage here in New Mexico, near Santa Fe, led some of the participants and me to this classic discussion:  “What do you do when the clinic is over?  How do you apply what you learned, when the clinician has gone home?”

Yes, everyone can learn from a clinic, even accomplished Western riders and trainers.  That’s why I sat in, expecting to hear a different way of explaining corrections to familiar problems.

Make no mistake: The clinic was a success. All the participants received instruction that would apply to their individual issues. The session began with “getting acquainted with your horse” – a.k.a. ground work.

Riders quickly learned that maybe their horses weren’t as easy to work with in a new environment as they were at home. They discovered that what they thought of as a partnership was really a herd of two in which one got to be the leader.  The second revelation was that if the human didn’t assume the leadership role, the horse certainly would.

What these riders were telling me, and what I knew from my own experience, is that with the clinic over, they were so full of knowledge their heads were spinning.  They said that they had to take a day off from the horses just to decompress, while in the back of their minds they were thinking, “Wow!  What will happen when I actually go out and ride again?”

Hi. I’m Terry Berg. I learned to ride growing up in Alaska, where my teacher was a retired cavalry officer who built the first indoor arena in the state out of a salvaged airplane hangar.  I am a judge with the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) and have judged all over the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.

I currently show, train and instruct as well as manage the Santa Fe Equestrian Center, a large multidiscipline equine facility. My students and I have won many regional, national and world championships with the NRHA , the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the American Paint Horse Association (APHA), the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) and other stock-breed associations.

As I have worked to become a better trainer, teacher and partner with my horses, I have experienced many of the triumphs and frustrations that accompany the riding experience.  In the coming months, I’ll be writing about all kinds of Western horse activities. I’m starting with one of the most common: the clinic. We all attend clinics, for all kinds of reasons.  No matter how good a clinic is, the trouble starts when the clinician goes home.

NEXT: After the clinic is over – creating a plan.


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by Stephanie von Bidder

Over the past three weeks Maddie learned how to use her right lead competently when cued; what impressed me more was that sometimes she chose to use it naturally, without prompting. I added our right-lead exercise into her sessions regularly and rarely did she err.

I challenged her by varying the jumps used and their placement, then randomly asking her to land left or right. I cued Maddie by slightly lifting the hand of the lead I desired on the approach to the jump. Sensitive as she is, the aid didn’t disrupt her and she was keen to it. With newfound dexterity, Maddie’s knees squared in the air when jumping and her form improved dramatically.

We were scheduled to show in Tryon, NC. As expected, Maddie was ready to go and the suspense was killing me. I wondered, hoped, she would use her lessons in practice. When we arrived I was delighted, concerned, to see a barrage of bending lines going every which way. The horse show was going to be great or disastrous. We had been practicing diligently over small jumps. The exercises at home were simpler than what this 3-foot course would demand.

During our warm-up, I followed our regular routine, plus I cued her to land right a few times. Now it was up to her. On course, Maddie jumped the first jump beautifully, then easily the left bending line. When we jumped into the right bending line, I cued her. It seemed like minutes before I felt her land right. I was so shocked I almost forgot to find the next jump. I thought it might have been a fluke. But no, she did it again and again, stronger, more confident each time.

Maddie finished champion winning all her classes over fences and finished third in the $2,500 Hunter Derby, so I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when she picked up her right lead, at the wrong time, and blew her flat class.

Training Challenge: Trusting Maddie to put her training to good use. Knowing it is as important to laugh off her mistakes, as it is to celebrate her successes.

Next: Maddie is driven to distraction when she runs into an old friend.

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By Caroline Invicta Stevenson

I remember my first encounter with a pony. I was about 2 years old and loved dogs and stuffed animals. One day my nanny took me to the Farmers Market where the pony rides took place in Beverly Hills, California.

My nanny was shopping in the produce section and I was attached to her wrist with one of those very dated child restraints. It was a type of harness with a leash attached to make sure the child — in this case, me — wouldn’t run away.

As I was being led about, I spied the most marvelous sight: Beautiful furry creatures in all colors with children sitting on them, moving with them, were going round and round in circles. I remember tugging at my leash to get closer.

I was relentless and since I had a chronic stutter as a child, I made so much ruckus that my nanny allowed me to lead her to the pony ring. What pure joy!

So, age 2, my love of horses began. As my special daily  treat for going beyond good behavior, dear nanny took me to the pony ring. We were put in Western saddles with a belt attached and then buckled around our waist. (Time has changed safety standards, thank goodness.) There was a walking, trotting and cantering to master, which I did before we moved.

My favorite pony was a pinto called Daisy who was so soft and smelled so sweet, I shall never forget my first love. My early childhood and having Daisy in my life were some of my happiest memories. It’s wonderful how we are able to remember the happy memories so clearly, not so clear are the unhappy ones of so many years ago.

NEXT: Horses, mechanical and otherwise.


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I have loved horses all my life. Known as “horse crazy” from the time I could really talk, all that mattered to me were horses and ponies. Once I felt I knew enough about them to help others, I started teaching.

Caroline Invicta Stevenson

I don’t consider myself a whisperer; I speak in a strong voice or am silent and listen.  I don’t carry a magic wand or rattle plastic bags.

I don’t sell a rope halter and lead that will make your horse follow you to greatness. Nor do I have an 800-number where you can call and subscribe and learn how to ride and train horses.

I just want to help teach those of you who are receptive a simple, safe and more rewarding way to enjoy your horse.

I hope to do this using my lifetime of experiences.  These are lessons drawn from teaching, training and living with horses.

Every time I work with a horse or rider, I learn something, too. I hope you will enjoy my recap of some of this horse-life learning. It has taught me how to convey an understanding of horse and rider, and teach accordingly.

The result is a career that has taken me from the world of thoroughbred racing to the training of equine movie stars, with many stops in between. I designed major equestrian centers in the Southwest. Most recently I was responsible for the day-to-day running of Las Campanas, a Santa Fe, New Mexico facility I designed that became a benchmark for top equine centers nationwide.

Today, I oversee  Invicta Farms in Nambe, New Mexico, teaching and training with my daughter, Sarah, at this full-service hunter-jumper barn. And I still appreciate and participate in all breeds and disciplines.

Now that you know a bit about me, I’d like to get to know you by inviting you to share your thoughts about when you knew you loved horses. Please send me a story of your first experience or those of your children or grandchildren.When we next “meet” online, I’ll tell you when I fell in love with horses. I’ll also start incorporating into our conversations lessons related to my experiences.

Since I can’t work with each of you directly, please feel free to ask questions.

I have two rules you must follow, as all who work with me come to know.

Rule 1: These exercises are meant to be tried using the “buddy system.” It is always safer to have someone with you when riding and a second pair of eyes is so helpful during a training session. Rule 2: Wear your helmet when riding.

NEXT WEEK: That first love — a pony memory. 

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