Category Archives: Instructional

Gain insight from my musings that might be helpful to you and your horse(s) — stimulate thought and discussion. Happiness runs in a circular motion — sounds like a loop-trail to me!

Laddie, Light My Fire!

Dateline:  Pacific Palisades, California

The year:  1967

I can still picture the scene.

I’m in my early teens, trotting and galloping the dirt fire roads above Will Rogers State Park, riding my first horse, Rebel — the fulfillment of my life-long horsey dreams.

Alongside the horn of my Western saddle bounces the buckskin pouch I sewed myself, containing my small transistor radio — precursor to the Walkman, the iPod, the Smart Phone.


KRLA, my favorite Los Angeles rock station, is playing the long, seven-minute version of The Doors, Light My Fire.

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire

I rise and fall with Rebel’s swift and powerful movement, to the sound, the feel, the rhythm . . .

Come on Baby light my fire!

Listen to The Doors here:

Carousel Horses

It’s a magical time. Along with Disneyland, The Beatles, vinyl discs, Star Trek . . . Jim Morrison’s rifts frozen into the framework of my Baby Boomer’s generation coming of age.

This song nails it — encapsulating the elation, the freedom, the escape of riding Rebel — from my everyday, junior-high life.

You know that it will be untrue
You know that I will be a liar

If I was to say to you,
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher . . .


Light My Fire became Rebel and my theme song.

I can’t listen without transporting back to the rhythm of hoof-beats, the feeling of freedom, the smell of chaparral — and hot sweaty horse.

That, and the GIANT SMILE on my otherwise trying-to-figure-life-out teenage face.


Laddie Shadow

(From my journal, written the night Laddie came together to really RIDE :))


Laddie, Light My Fire!

Fast forward: Fortysomething years later, Frazier Park, California

The Scene: Riding my homebred gelding, Laddie, in the woods!

Same rhythm. Same hoofbeats. Same theme . . .

Girl on horseback, experiencing flight. Freedom. Escape from everyday reality into Pegasus’ realm.


You see, Laddie came together tonight. And transformed from ‘sticky, green’, to full-blown, Rebel-style Light My Fire!



Homebred Horse!

We started riding Laddie May, 2012, as a four year old.

Born August 22, 2008, I like to wait to start them. Give them time to grow and mature . . .

Especially being half-Arabian. Especially being part-draft, part-Shire.

(For some reason, the smaller horses and the bigger horses seem to take longer.)

Although half-Arabian, Laddie pulled his Grand-Shire’s genes, with Arabian accents. He looks very Welsh Cob: big curvy neck, heavy hindquarters, large high-stepping hooves, complete with feathers.

He’s the third of my four generations of offspring. And I find him the most interesting!

Baby Laddie


Training Notes

You see, training horses comes together little by little, in fits and starts.

From the time they are born, you move them in the general direction that you wish to accomplish — personable, and mannered, and safe.

Yet, by their very nature, horses are cantankerous, and dangerous, and animated.

They kick and bite and strike. In a word: Wild!

No healthy young horse I’ve known walks up and allows itself to be haltered — walking perfectly, following.

Some are easier than others, yet, like a Mustang off the range, little foals have to learn all that.


Apply By Layers 

My favorite description of training horses is like applying varnish to wood. It must be done in thin coats, allowed to dry — and sanded between, in order to shine.

You cannot just dump the stuff on in one session, but must lay it down, layer by layer, building, just so — and stopping at just the right time, to let the lessons sink in . . .

Sometimes you make progress. Other times you just back off and give them time to grow.

The biggest question: Is this horse suited to what I want to use him for? Does he have the build, the mind, the temperament to be safe and fun?

Some individuals, some breeds, fail this requirement. It’s taken me years to work out the mixture, but I’ve got it now, and I treasure it!

Laddie Looking


Our Method of Starting Horses

When we first take our young horses out into the woods, we let them run along with the group, free. Then, later, on a rope. And then we let them run free again.

It starts with learning to yield, to submit — to ropes and leadines and people.

Building, ever building, on what has been done before — adding weight and saddles, girth and tack.

They also must learn about trails and footing, trees, rocks and stumps. Barking dogs, speeding cars, loud motorcycles. Gates, mailboxes, dumpsters. Flushing quail, jack rabbits. And a thousand other things that can occur on a ride.

Once, riding Starboy solo, I heard a massive boom. He spooked in place, dipping, but fortunately not slipping off the steep trail. I thought there must have been a gas explosion from one of the houses below.

Turns out it was the Space Shuttle, Enterprise, coming in for a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, a hundred-plus miles from here! The Shuttle broke the sound barrier — right over our heads — and spooked my horse. How do you prepare for something like that???

Ladie and Hoku looking


First Time Up

We first hop on their backs, unsaddled, in the yard, after they are relaxed from a good workout — one of us standing at his head, helping the other on.

No stress, no drama.

Quietly up, praising and scratching.

On and off both sides.

Invariably, they reach around with their neck and sniff and chew at our feet, as if to say, “Hey! What’cha you doing up there Ma???”

Layer by layer.

All this prep takes place over the first several years.


First Ride!

When it’s time for their first real ride, we utilize the herd again. Horses do better in a group than by themselves, so we capitalize on this instinct.

For his first ride we took Laddie out, running along with us for over an hour, working his exuberant youthful energy down — swift-moving through the woods, up the wash, past the galloping place, to the turn-around . . .

My brave daughter, Ella, hopped on bareback and rode without a bridle, just a rope halter, for a good forty-five minutes — Lad, flowing along with the group, not at all concerned about having a rider on his back.

Instead of continuing back toward home, we turned up a side trail, now cantering, riding farther away from home so he wouldn’t be in a hurry — again working with his instincts.

Then she hopped off and back onto her horse, letting Lad run home free, with the herd.

Thus he learns the A B C’s of carrying a person, and doing our bidding as a trail horse — organically, by degrees.


Saddled Rides

The early saddled rides out from the barn can be interesting. The horse can get ‘sticky’ at any point — get confused, and not want to go. Or turn and bolt . . . with a big leap to the side.

You plan, as best you can, to have everything work in your favor.

Calm day. No wind. No barking dogs or speeding cars or new dumpsters or the like, but even on a country roadway, so much is outside of our control.

My first saddled ride on Lad involved twilight and a nearly full moon, a dark shoulder-less dirt roadway. All going well — then, surprise! The roar of an engine grinding towards us . . . headlights shifting through the willow trees. Face-to-face with the local septic pumping truck — the Big Rig, no less!

But because of all we’d put into him, Laddie handled it beautifully. (His mother, Fae was the one who spooked and pranced in place that night!)

And Laddie’s come along really well. Strong leader. Retaining what I put into him.

Still a bit spooky and sticky and hesitant and green. But smart and smooth — growing in confidence. And willing . . .


Stylized -- Laddie, McGill


Laddie, Light My Fire!

So when Laddie finally gave me his speed, his strength, his willingness to carry me without hesitation tonight (and on a solo ride, no less!) it signaled a milestone. So many years in the making!

And I praised him.

And I stroked his big neck.

And I whooped and hollered for joy!

And we flew through the woods, into the realm of Pegasus.

And I heard the Doors, and I felt the rhythm:

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire

And I rose and fell with Laddie’s swift and powerful movement . . .

And my eyes watered with the speed.

And a GIANT SMILE spread over my now-wiser, horse-satisfied face . . .

Come on Baby light my fire!
Try to set the night on fire . . .

AAAAhhhh! You’re AWESOME, Lad!

How FANTASTIC is that!!!!


Listen to more of the Doors here:

Rick Riding :))

Postscript:  Laddie continues to mature, AWESOME — turning eight this year. He happily carries (and cares for) those fortunate enough to ride him :))

Join Dawn for a Soul Horse Ride!  Experience the thrill of becoming one with your horse . . . Join Dawn and her homegrown herd for a  Soul Horse Ride in the Frazier Park Outback!

Call to book your Life-Changing Adventure today:  (661) 703-6283

Dawn & Laddie -- McGill II

Like what you’ve read here? Visit Dawn’s sister blog: Journal of Dawn

Kailua Ferrari


Copyright 2013, 2016


April 22, 2016 · 9:40 pm

Finding Fae’s Dream

Fae’s my horse. Fae’s my dream! My life-long horse-dream come true!

When I ride Fae, my home-bred half-Shire mare, now twelve years old, she’s perfect! Glassy, smooth gaits, willing mount, responding lightly to my every whim.

But why is it that when certain other people ride my perfect mare, she responds poorly to them? What could be the difference between how I ride her, and how another rides?

(My kids and I must ride the same, for she also glides effortlessly for them.)

And Fae’s not alone. I see the same thing with Starboy. His walk completely influenced by the rider. When I ride him, he strides out. With another, “heavier” rider – not in weight but stiffness of movement – he lags and drags behind. Oy!


Fae Shadow Trail

So I rode Fae into the wilderness tonight, free-flowing, strong, setting out to solve this mystery – paying attention not just to the jubilant experience of our swift endurance-style ride, but how was I able to get this out of her? What was my role in attaining her perfection?

I’ve named the phenomenon: Finding (My Horse’s) Dream.

Every good horse has a DREAM HORSE inside – but how do I, as her rider, discover her dream? How do I mine it? Unleash it? Coerce it out of her?

Yes, every good horse has both an indwelling DREAM HORSE and a demon – the instinctive, spooky flight-or-fight creature who resists any attempt at control.

(I say every good horse, because in fortysomething years of horsing, most unfortunately, I’ve discovered – due to limitations beyond their control – certain individual horses operate outside the realm of “normal” and pose a serious danger to whomever tries to bond with them. Certain horses should not be ridden, and are not capable of rising to the dimension of the human/horse dream.)


I’m a trail rider, an endurance rider. That means I’m an Arabian rider. And all my horses have varying amounts of Arabian blood. Arabs, as a rule, want to go – and go, and go, and goooooo!

That’s why they excel at endurance. They endure because they want to endure. Not because somebody’s pushing them!

I don’t like to have to kick a horse, goad a horse to get her to move. I like a horse that wants to move out as much as I do.

Fae, being half-Shire, a “heavy” draft breed much like a Clydesdale, tends to be on the lazy side. (She’s only 1/8th Arabian – not that much!) But fortunately she’s not completely dull. She inherited some spice from Fanta, her dam, my tireless Appaloosa/Arabian/Thoroughbred/Racing-Quarter/Endurance-Dream-Horse-Mare.

Yet in order for Fae to perk up and move out, she needs something to motivate her. So I notice with Fae that I use certain tricks in order to get her to go.

Hokuleia in tow

Strategies & Tricks:

Two’s Company

Rather than ride alone, I’ll bring along another fast-moving horse, so she’ll have a “target” to keep up with, creating a bit of competition. In this case, “ponying” along on a rope, I brought Starboy, her half-Arabian brother – another one of Fanta’s. (Starboy also happened to be in a lazy mood today.)

Say it Out Loud

I notice how much I talk to my horses as I ride. Romancing, praising, singing, in an on-going, energetic dialog.

I remember years ago observing this while watching a carriage driving competition, how verbal the communication between horse and human. Horses respond well to our speech and tone, so I use my voice to encourage her.

Last night I began with camp songs in the meadow area outside the woods (“Just give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don’t fence me in…”) then Beatles songs (Norwegian Wood) as we re-entered the forest and came up and into the straight-away, gaining steam.

I heard myself repeating over and over (in melodic tone), “That a girl, Fae,” “You’re soo good, Fae,” “What an AWESOME mare!!!” – talking to her constantly in a perky, peppy way, to overcome her heavy-slow-Shire side, and bring-up the Fanta in her.

Amp Up!

I notice that my riding is very light as far as rein control goes. I’m not “on” her mouth, rather allowing her, encouraging her to move forward. But this isn’t just done with my hands.

I bring my energy UP so that she will mimic my behavior. My body rides forward and light in the saddle, encouraging her movement to match mine.

Actually, I end up doing far more “surfing” than riding! Like bodysurfing a wave in the ocean, my whole body communicates with my mare. I notice how sensitive she is, and that subtle changes in my muscle tension, incline, and cadence affect her gaits.

After all, I’m RIDING the horse, bringing the horse’s energy up – not merely sitting, kicking, waiting…

Riding’s a vigorous physical activity, and I’m often winded by the effort.

Riding Style:

1) I find that I incline my body forward, a bit like a jockey, upwards in the stirrups. This places my weight and energy ahead of her center of balance, and acts as a gas pedal to cause her to go. In this manner I either post, lifting out of the saddle with each rhythm of her stride, or I stand somewhat in the stirrups (two-point), leaning forward, letting my legs act as shock absorbers – so that I’m smooth, not bouncing.

2) I use my legs to encourage her on, but not my heels. I “kick” with my upper calves, bump, bump, bumping, in rhythm with her stride. Like a metronome, my active legs set and keep her beat. Another way of thinking of it is like pumping your legs on a swingset. Rhythmical, in, out, in, out… Bump, bump… Pumping her motion in beat with my own.

3) I strive to anticipate what she’ll do. I know where she tends to go faster, slower. At the first feel of her slowing down, I use my tongue against the top of my mouth in a tisk-tisk fashion (rather than a cluck-cluck) to encourage her on, and I do this in unison with the movement of my calves against her, which is in unison with the movement of her stride. All the while, inclining my body forward.

4) I always ride with a Dressage whip (better known as a “wand”) and only use it sparingly, as a reminder, with either a brief snap against her shoulder or flank, or series of tap, tap, tapping – once again, setting the beat. (Just carrying the wand lets the horse know I mean business – I rarely use it, but apply it as a back-up to my other aids.)

Turns out, I’m playing music. Fae’s music. My wand-baton, my legs, my body – keeping the beat – like a dance, like a drummer, like an orchestra. I, the bandleader, conducting a symphony upon her forested stage…

Fae Shadow Tree McGill


Popping out of the woods, we hit the soft-sand wash, leaping sagebrush and logs, legs flying beneath me. No need to encourage her here, as she grabs the ground and pours on fresh steam with the change of setting and footing. Fae snorts the wind and opens up, Starboy flying behind us.

On we soar, rising, dipping, until she finally slows, signaling that she’s had enough. We walk a beat, taking in the beauty of the evening. Watching the trees and brush and animal tracks that make up our wild-land home. Her neck stretching, swinging.

Out of the wash, at the “galloping place” now – onto the firmer ground of smooth-surfaced dirt roadway, slightly climbing upward – Fae, sufficiently rested, tosses her head and signals that she’s ready to roll.

I ease my body forward, no leg needed. She picks up pace now, her smooth stride heaving in a mad-dance of pure-raw-powered horsey joy!

Starboy, next to us, stretches his nose, legs flying, pouring on speed. The three of us careening forward – just because we can…

Oh the excitement of a warmed-and-ready horse – finally cut loose, galloping full-out – just for the fun!

Whoops and hollers! Exuberant hearts! Broad smiles!

Starboy bursts into a fresh round of speed. Fae following suit, with quick large strides.

Neck to neck. Encouraging one another. Taunting one another.

“Come on, Fae, he’s whooping you! Are you going to let him get away with that? No, you’re not going to let him win! You’re going to whoop his…”

Fae matching, pouring it on… Legs, hooves, blurring, striking the earth. Stretching muscle and tendon and bone.

Manes and tails tossing with joy!


Looks like I’ve found Fae’s Dream!


Starboy and Fae lounging in snow

Copyright 2013


March 25, 2013 · 3:49 am