Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Me and the Big K

“You been following the standings?” The Big K had a dopey grin on his face.
“What standings?” I asked, wary.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of trap he was setting. The Big K rarely asked a question and expected a simple answer. Most of his questions were lead-ins to getting me to realize yet another huge failing. It paid to be cautious when he asked innocent sounding questions.
I busied myself with Sonita’s protective boots. She pinned her ears at K’s horse and stomped her hind foot. I reached up and slapped her belly, reminding her I was crouched under her and didn’t appreciate her foot flashing so close to my head.
Sonita settled for swatting her tail and grabbing at the shanks of her bit a few times as I slipped on her bridle. I clipped my romels to the rein chains and swung up into the saddle.
The Big K rode with me to the arena, still smirking.
“C’mon, give. What standings?” I finally broke.
NRCHA. For the World Show.”
“No, I haven’t been paying much attention,” I admitted.
I knew my daughter and another one of my youth riders had qualified, but I had never been one to keep checking on who’s sitting where in the national averages. It was a failing of mine which irritated the Big K to no end. He always knew where everybody in the country stood, in his own events, the events of the other top riders and where all of his clients were sitting. I on the other hand, figured somebody would fill me in if I needed to be caught up. And I could always ask the Big K, he knew everything.
“Maybe you should,” he pursued.
“Should what?”
“Check the standings.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Never mind, let’s get riding, we have a lot to work through.”
I tried to chew on the conversation while we rode. The Big K was feeling a little manic though. He kept barking and picking on every move I made.
“Your hands are too slow! Quit asking her permission! Git in there and tell her what to do!
“Git your leg off her! Give her some room, you’ve got to quit over-riding.
“Are you going to sit there waiting for her to decide to do what she’s told today or tomorrow? Move that mare out!
“Quit letting her draw you into a fight! Stay focused!”
My head was spinning. Sonita was gnashing her bit and wringing her tail with everything she had. Sweat trickled between my shoulder blades and my shirt stuck to my back. I stopped and dropped my reins. The Big K sat his horse, glaring at me from across the arena.
I stared back and unzipped my Carhart. Sonita relaxed and blew. I pulled off my gloves and stuck them in my pocket. I searched my mind for a clue. I knew I had ticked him off somehow. I decided I didn’t care a whole lot. I walked Sonita over to him.
“I think I’ve had enough today. I’m losing Sonita. There’s no point in all of us being pissed off.”
“Why would you be mad?” The Big K widened his eyes in innocent surprise.
The baby blues weren’t going to work on me today though. I didn’t know what he was so gassed up about, but I sure didn’t plan on getting me or my horse beat to death over it.
“I was in a perfectly fine mood when I unloaded my horse,” I replied.
“I don’t think you should go just yet. We have a lot to get done.”
I still didn’t understand. The majority of our season was over. One more small show in November and then nothing until Pre-Denver in January.
“I guess I don’t see the panic,” I said.
“Well, if you’re happy with how that mare of yours works, then so be it.”
“She’s all right. We’ll be better by next year.” I rested a protective hand on Sonita’s neck. Her bright red coat curled like a Hereford 4-H steer when she was hot. The wet curls already felt cold and stiff under my rough red fingers.
“I don’t know about you but I’d want to be better than all right if I was going to the World Show.” The Big K’s grin couldn’t have been bigger.
“What? No way.” I felt my stomach flip.
“Your win in Pueblo did it. You top tenned. Looks like Sonita’s going to the Worlds.”
The National Reined Cowhorse Association is divided into eight regions. Colorado falls into the North Central Region along with Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.
The top ten riders in their class for each region are selected to ride in the NRCHA World Show.
It turns out Sonita was sitting eighth in the open limited bridle for our region.
My mind spun out of control. I had envisioned being a World Show qualifier someday. But not today. Not on this horse. Never on this horse.
“What am I going to do?” I stared at the Big K in horror. Sonita felt my rising tension. She shook her head, rattling her bit and began to paw the hard ground.
“I suggest you get back out there and start loping. I told you we had a lot of work to do.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sometimes We All Could Use a Little Dale Carnegie

I received a very interesting forward from Fugly today. She thought this would be a better post from my side of the tracks. I suspect she’s laughing her butt off waiting to see just how I’ll tackle this one. This is an interesting situation. I am sure there is an absolute nightmare going on at this barn. I’m just not sure which is worse. The bad training, which is obviously happening, or the venom spewing out of a woman who I think really wants to help. This is a classic case of needing to try a little honey instead of toxic waste.
Her un-edited letter is in green, the rest is all me….

There's a lady at our stable who is a trainer. From the first day I saw her riding, I was not impressed. She was yanking on her horse trying to do some half ass sidepasses.The first questions I would ask are,
What kind of horse is she training?
What discipline does she study?
Just "Western or English" isn’t going to cut it here. Does she train pleasure horses, reiners, trail horses, western riding, what?
Where did she study?
How many years experience does she have?
Who did she study under?
How many horses has she trained?

Everyone who takes lessons with her troddles along with 2-inch long cowboy parade spurs.I am not sure what “parade” spurs are. I do know that I use spurs. I understand their purpose. I understand they should be the difference between the poke of a finger (spur) and the punch of a fist (heel). I also make sure that any horse I train moves forward off my seat and legs with or without my spurs. I’m not aware of any troddling, but you’d have to ask my clients.
I would need to ask the trainer a few more questions.
What are the spurs for?
Can she ride her horses without them?
I would check any horse she rides for bumps, welts, scars or cuts in the spur area.
If there were any of those things, I would take photos of the injured areas. While I’m checking for spur marks I’d be looking for sored mouths. I’d be taking pictures here too.

All the horses she "trains" have draw reins 24/7 not to mention a big honking western bit.In my own personal experience--a good trainer can ride a horse sucessfully in a snaffle bit.

Draw-reins and big western “honking” bits have nothing in common. Incredible damage can be done with bad hands in a snaffle bit. Incredibly beautiful things can happen in a big western “honking” bit when the horse is well trained and understands the purpose of the bit, especially when ridden by educated hands.
Draw-reins are a tool. They are supposed to help a horse pick up his back. In my opinion, they are a cheater tool, which is usually ineffective. Although I have used them to retrain a horse that was trained by bad hands to ride with his nose in the air. Once the horse understood where I wanted his nose I took the draw-reins off. It took ten minutes.

A good trainer always uses pressure and release and tries to create a comfortable, relaxed ride for the horse. A trainer masters the horse on the ground first before getting on top and cowboying around.
A good cowboy knows when to get on a horse and ride. Most of the cowboys I learned to ride from did believe in a pressure and release method of training. I would be proud to have them “cowboy” my horse around. Actually, they taught me to “cowboy” my horse around. Using
pressure and release. Yee Ha!
I need to add a little here. The pressure and release approach is based on the theory of making "the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy". When a horse is doing the wrong thing a good trainer makes it difficult. It's the horse's job to find the comfortable relaxed place. This is on the ground or on his back.

It's sad because she gives lessons as well. She walks around our barn trying to order people around, and has gone as far to grab someone's horse from them to show them the right way.
If a trainer is in the arena with a client it is her job to order them around. If she is walking around the barn it is her job to keep her mouth shut unless somebody asks her a question. If somebody grabbed my horse I would notify the police and then the stable management, probably after I “cowboyed” her around.

Lately I've been really heated after watching one of her proteges' attempting to train a client's/boarder's horse. The little 16 year old snotty brat was on him, a 3 year old, with big honkin spurs, constantly yanking with the draw reins as his mouth was open and she was constantly over correcting him. She was also repeatly spurring this horse.
I hate draw reins. I used to ride my older mare in them because I didn't know how to control her and ride her because she was as hot as can be and always ready to go. I regret using them on her now, now that I've had more education on headsets.
I wonder. Did you become educated because somebody called you a sixteen-year-old snotty brat? Or because someone was kind enough to point out your troddle?

Is there anyway you can write a blog on headsets, draw reins, spurs, overcorrecting and more importantly--How to tell if you have a good horse trainer, and the long term effects of overcorrecting.
There is a terrible risk of permanently damaging your horse with the wrong bit and misused training equipment. Over correction with draw reins will create a horse that travels with his head to his knees, his neck breaking over in the middle instead of at the poll and riding over the bit. Draw-reins also push a horse on his front end, making them travel with a hollowed out back and no drive from the hind end.
Often a trainer will attempt to compensate for the trailing hindquarters by driving the horse forward and into their hands, I guess this is where the “honking” spurs come in.
In my experience this creates a crooked frame and false collection. The horse may achieve the desired look, but will be taking small, stilted steps and often develops unnatural mannerisms (tongue wagging, tail wringing).
It completely destroys all hope of getting any kind of stop.
Over-riding can also stress the horse mentally to the point where he will explode or just quit. At the very least this approach leads to a shortened life in the show-pen. Chronic back and leg issues will develop from too much pressure on to young a horse on top of the unnatural methods of developing collection.

The 3 yr old's owner received a call from me to let her know. She said she could tell her horse was acting like he didn't want to be ridden anymore.
This means the owner is open to a better way. In my mind that’s a great first step.

There are several other horses's down there falling prey to the hands of this idiotbitch. She drives the other boarders insane with her cocky ass attitutude, you swear she has a dxxx or something with the way she acts.
My guess is some of the horses and their owners (or at least their husbands, sons, or boyfriends) are similarly equipped. I know some of the cowboys who taught me the pressure and release method of training were. What’s your point? Making friends?

I'd at least like to let the unsuspecting public know the truth about horse training. Please write something I can print up and leave at the stable.Start with the list of questions I offered at the top of this letter. As a matter of fact, I’ll type up something you can post. Then tape up the photos of the bloody mouths and spur marks.
Most of the people riding with this woman feel they are learning the right way to be horsemen. I completely agree she seems horrible. But attacking her will only make her clients protective. Nobody wants to be told they are stupid or cruel or snotty when they think they are doing the right thing.
I would use my riding ability and perfect angel of a horse as an example. I would be happy to tell people how I learned to train in a different, gentler way, when they asked. I would keep my anger under control. If I treat people like they are idiots they aren’t going to listen to me. If I show them a different way that succeeds and creates a better relationship between the owner and horse, they’ll come on over.
I would ask the stable management to let you organize a clinic featuring a trainer you approve of. Then I’d ask some of the people you are worried about to help you organize the clinic.

You can beat a horse into submission as sucessfully as meeting the horse halfway. I'm definetly no PETA lady, if my horse does something bad, I smack her. But honestly, my horse hasn't done anything bad in YEARS. She's a prefect angel.To be honest, I don’t think you can beat a horse as successfully as you can meet them halfway. I found it works the same way with people. Good luck. I know your heart is in the right place.

_Questions For Every Trainer From Every Horse Owner

What kind of horse do you train?
What discipline do you study?
What is your specialty?
If you show, what have you won?
Where did you study?
Who did you learn from?
How many years have you been training?
How many horses have you trained?
How many horses are you currently riding?
Can I speak to some of your past clients?
Can I watch you ride a finished horse you have trained?
Can I watch you ride a young horse you are starting?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

This is a story we printed for the Christmas edition of my newspaper, on the equine page. Some of it might be familiar to some of you, but I think you might still get a kick out of it. Happy Holidays guys, talk to you in a few days.



I got my horse Mort in the spring of my freshman year in high school. He brought with him the weight of responsibility and a huge debt to my parents. There were six children in my family. We always had plenty to eat, clothes to wear and lived in nice neighborhoods. We had toys and bikes. But we most definitely didn't get horses.
In our family education was the highest priority. So we lived on a tight budget as my parents saved for college. They didn't buy us cars. For the most part they didn't send us to camp, let us learn to ski, or extend individual privileges. If they couldn't give it to all of us, then nobody got it. We were all going to be able to go to college. That was a lot. We were expected to work hard in school and get jobs if we wanted extras.

Then I got a horse. This took some major rule-breaking. I'm still not sure how or why I managed it. What I do know is Mort helped me learn to survive in a world I didn't understand. A horse at that time of my life made the difference between success and failure as I grew into adulthood. How my parents knew is anybody's guess. They were pretty smart sometimes.
When I got Mort there was some serious conversation. He was my birthday present for life. He was my Christmas present for life. I had to keep him in a self-care barn. I had to pay for his upkeep. If there was ever a question of neglect he was gone. I agreed to every restriction. I was getting my horse. I couldn't stinking believe it.

My first Christmas as a horse owner arrived. I sat with a stupid grin on my face as my brothers and sisters opened all their stuff. My mom kept shooting me these worried looks. I had gotten a bathrobe, but otherwise they had held true to their word. No presents.
I knew my mom was feeling bad. I felt just fine. With every present my siblings opened I thought, "I have a horse".
Finally they were done. My Dad grinned at me and said, "Might as well go get your Christmas present."
I pulled my jeans on over my pajamas, rammed my boots onto my feet and shot out the door, buttoning my coat as I headed down the frozen street.
I cut through a neighborhood side yard and slid over the Moline's back fence. I could hear them laughing in the house. I was glad they were having a good Christmas too.
I hesitated at the lip of the steep ditch which separated me from my pasture. I took a deep breath, measured my steps and ran through the cement culvert, carefully balancing my bucket of brown sugar laced hot oatmeal, carrots and apples. If I hit it just so and didn't hesitate I knew I could scramble across without losing my footing.
I stood up in the pasture on the other side and dusted off my snowy knees. My ears burned with the cold and I took off my mitten to rub at them, wishing I had remembered my hat.
Mort nickered, his star bright against his beautiful black face. His fuzzy dun coat glinted in the sharp morning light as he paced, hungry. I felt a catch in my throat as I stomped through the snowy field up to his shed.
I crawled through the corral rails with an armload of hay. I laughed and pushed Mort away as he tried to stick his head in the bucket of mash hanging from the crook of my arm.
"Wait you geek, get off me!"
I finally wrestled him off enough to set the bucket down in the snow. I carried the hay into his shed and dumped it into his feeder. He had finished his mash and was kicking the empty bucket around his pen by the time I chopped the ice out of his water tank.
I was slinging the ice out into the field when I felt his nose push into the small of my back.
"Oof!" I grunted.
It was a good shove. I turned to face him and cupped my hands around his muzzle. Mort’s warm breath covered my frozen fingers. I pulled at the mash covering his whiskers, it was already frozen at the ends.
Mort snorted and pulled his nose away. He stepped back into me and nuzzled under my hair, lipping at my frozen ears. I wrapped my arms around his neck and buried my face in his cool fluffed out coat. I dug my fingers into his warm skin. He tolerated me for a minute before he pulled away and went into his shed to eat his hay.
I leaned against the door and watched him in the shadows. The sun splintered through the chinks in the walls and streamed over him. Snow floated down and melted into crystals across his back. My heart beat in sync with the slow steady music of him chewing the sweet alfalfa hay.

I heard the sounds of sleigh bells coming across the field. I turned and looked outside. My friend Melinda was walking up to feed her horse. Melinda wrestled with her own steaming bucket as Shannon nickered to her. She saw me, grinned and waved two heavy leather straps covered with sleigh bells over her head.
"I thought we could tie these on our saddles and ride around the neighborhood!" she called.
Mort snorted and stamped behind me as he rooted in his hay. The steam from his breath whirled around his head.
"Merry Christmas!" Melinda shouted.
"Merry Christmas!" I hollered back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You Say To-may-toe, I Say To-Mah-Toe

We have had two posts in a row where our language barriers have created some interesting discussions. When you think about it, this should come as no big surprise. We come together on this blog from different parts of the country, different disciplines, heck all over the world. Add to this the magic of "horse speak" and we have the potential for some pretty interesting mix-ups in our communication.

I'm still flat out cracking up over our comments about "back". When Whywudyabreedit was asking for help to select a trainer to back her horse for the first time, I have to admit, in my mind I kept thinking, "Just back the damn thing!", as in pick up your reins and get him to step back. Since I try hard to never cop that kind of attitude I simply squelched it and went on....

So I hope you get the help you're looking for Whywud, I was pretty useless on that one.

Anyway, so now I'm thinking, what terms do I regularly use that might cause confusion? How often are we just being polite and not saying "Huh?" because we feel stupid for asking? I say let's all get in the habit of simply going, "Huh?" We'll all learn a lot more and get a good laugh once in a while at each others expense.

I think the horse world makes people more self-conscious than anywhere else. As horse people we tend to be the first to offer our expertise and the last to admit when we don't know something. No matter how little we may actually know. Be honest, you know we have all been there.

I don't know what it is about horses that makes us all want to be the expert in every situation. Is it because it takes so long to actually learn anything? Is it because there are so many levels where we can actually become knowledgeable, but still fall down in others? What is it?

I have learned there are specific phases every new rider goes through.

1. "Which end is the head, why can't I wear my Crocs and when can we run?"

2."Oh no, this is hard, kinda scary and this bone-head horse won't do anything!"

3."Oh my gosh I''m learning to do stuff and I understand the difference between a fetlock and a forelock!"

4."If I learn how this thing ticks then I can get more done!" ( My favorite point with a new student)

5. I'm an expert! (Uh-oh)

Then depending on the person, this phase settles in for a while. Some stay there forever. I'll be honest, I don't have much patience for this phase. Luckily, most of us have some massive slap from reality, you know, we break something, we humiliate ourselves, we try to step up into a discipline that's over our head, that kind of thing. Sometimes it's tragedy.
From there horse people go two different ways. They either quit or they go back to learning.
Personally, I'm still learning.

I'm determined to become a competitive cutter.
I still dabble in dressage and probably will for the rest of my life. I find it a peaceful and interesting discipline.
I am re-structuring my program for developing a bridle horse, yet again.
I'm learning from you guys ever day.

So here's my contribution. I'm putting out my list of terms that you may or may not be familiar with.
Please, please, add in your terminology. This should be really fun.

Turn-around: A spin in place. My horse plants his inside hind leg and trots or runs around with the front legs for several revolutions, pushing with the outside hind for momentum.

Spin: See turn-around.

Roll-back: The horse comes to a stop. He rocks back, turns over his hocks and returns in the direction he came from. The horse leaves in a fluid motion without hesitation.

dry work: reined work. The reining pattern we do before we work our cow. Since many of us hate the dry work (horses and riders both) we'll refer to it as dry as dust....

boxing: holding a cow at the short end of an arena. This is the first phase of cow work in a cowhorse competition.

down the fence: taking the cow down the long side of the arena, this is the fast, fun part. We pass and turn the cow at least twice during this phase.

circle up: this is the last phase, we drive the cow to the middle of the arena and circle it to the left and then right with our horses.

Romel: Romel reins are becoming very popular again as they were in the days of the vaquero.The romel is a requirement in the reined cowhorse competitions.They are like a one piece or roping rein with a ring or tie connector with a romel connected and a popper on the end. You can get these made out of simple leather or pay for hand braided rawhide. The coolness factor that comes with a set of high quality rawhide romels is priceless.

Full bridle: In my world this is when my horse has graduated to a one-ear bridle, a full spade or half-breed bit, ridden with a flat leather chin strap and romel reins.

Hackamore: A bosal. A bitless bridle made of braided raw-hide, leather or a combination of the two. The hackamore works off of the sensitive areas of a horse's nose and jaw. The hackamore is used for one to several years in the development of a bridle horse.
Mechanical hackamores with long shanks are different. They can apply a very high ratio of pressure to the sensitive area of the nose, chin and poll and cause extreme pain.

Snaffle: A bit with no shanks. So an O-ring or and egg-butt can be a snaffle, but a tom thumb is not.

Curb: A bit with shanks

Broken Mouth Bits: A lot of us learn to call all broken mouth bits snaffles. They aren't. You can have a broken mouth curb such as a tom thumb or a broken mouth pelham or you can have a broken mouth snaffle such as a ring snaffle or eggbutt snaffle. You can have a two piece broken mouth or a three piece broken mouth and the action of each can be very different giving your horse very different signals and producing different results.

I have to get to work, or get beaten. So I'll end with my favorite.

Horsin' : A mare in season

Huh?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Show Ring Longevity


This is a subject near and dear to my heart. It is the core of my inability to make peace with the sport of cowhorse. Reining and cutting are just as troubling, for that matter any sport that involves horses.

Nagsonmom asked-Is reining bad for horse long term function? How often does a reining horse rein for 6 years or so and then remain sound for trail riding for the next 10? I love the fun, but don't want to invest time and money in something that is ultimately bad for the horses involved.

The fact remains that all equestrian related sports push horses too hard, too fast and too young. Economics play a large part of this. A horse is not mature until they are six years old. So who wants to wait four or five years to start a horse? A two year old is definitely not mature enough to carry a rider, in my mind, at all.
Since Nagonmom asked about reining, that's the event I'm going to pick on. But I could as easily go after cowhorses, pleasure horses, all-arounders, any of the events I'm familiar with.
An article written by The Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Science (ANZFAS) warned, the decision to break a horse as a two-year-old may well be a decision to break the horse down. Well-muscled, well-grown yearlings are skeletally immature, resulting in a horse where the flesh (muscle) is willing but the skeleton (immature bones, ligaments and connective tissue). Many horses are not skeletally mature until 4.5 years of age...Horses with closed epiphisial lines, are ready to be started.
The ANZFAS went on to say, horses with open epiphysial lines should be spelled, otherwise the stresses of training could cause epiphysitis, shin soreness, splints, fractures, poor development and chronic lameness.
It is a problem that occurs at the growth plates of young horses that can make them sore and lame, and it is part of the developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) complex.
Eventually, the growth plate closes as the long bones reach their maximum length. Generally speaking, the growth plates at the lower extremities, such as the cannon bone, will close first, while those at the knee and hock—radius and tibia, respectively—will close later in the young horse’s development.
For the most part, the long bones don't reach their maximum length until the horse is 4-6 years old.
Now add in the fact that young quarter horse show prospects are bred to show a solid muscle bound look of maturity and are stuffed full of rich feed from weaning on. This all adds to the myth that quarter horses mature early enough to take the stress of starting them on January 1st of their two-year-old year. This makes the average start date for a show prospect anywhere from 18 to 20 months.
The reality is these babies are packing around a lot of muscle and weight on a frail and immature skeletal system. Where in this picture does it make sense for us to throw on a 40 pound saddle and crawl on top of them?
The other problem is mental stability. A two-year-old horse has a brain like a sponge. He is willing to accept a rider as his leader without much thought.
A two-year-old will try his little heart out. He will work past all common sense, because he is not old enough to know how to save himself from our stupidity. He trusts his rider to tell him what to do.
The end result is a horse that will fall apart mentally from being bombarded with stimulus he can't absorb. Show ring drop outs are often crazy with fear, or so dull they have no response left.
Repetitious exercise is extremely tough on a horse's legs.
Standard warm-up on a reiner is 20 to 30 circles every day. A spin is as strenuous as two laps around a big arena at speed. Think about how much spinning we do, just in a daily routine. Slide stops are incredibly tough on legs. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it is not normal to inject your horse's hocks at three years, four years, five, oh hell, EVER.
If I have to inject my horse's hocks I'm not going to feel safe scrambling up a mountain side.
Trainer Richard Shrake said it best, "There's only so many slide stops in a horse. Be careful how you use them."
When we start horses as two-year-olds they tend to live in stalls. Their exercise consists of short burst of activity combined with long periods of standing in one spot. I can guarantee a horse kept this way for six or seven years will not be sound later in life. They need to be out. They need to wander around.
That being said, here's where I am. I still want to show in cowhorse events. I have come to realize I can't be competitive as an open trainer. Part of this is an unwillingness to ride my young horse as hard as is required to win.
What I can do is raise my personal horses as I feel they should be raised. My coming two-year-old is out on pasture in a pretty wild part of Colorado. He has free choice hay. He has 80 acres of windy pasture, hills, gullies and trees to roar around on.
This fall I plan on putting 30 to 60 days on him. It will include very basic walk, trot, canter and some cow 101. He won't be required to collect in any way. Then he'll be turned out until the following spring.
That's when I'll begin his training. I'm planning on cutting on him for a season and then starting his reined work as a four-year-old. He may show in a derby or two his four-year-old year. I'll actually think about getting serious his five-year-old year.
My guess is we will share a long, sound, sane and happy life together.
My yellow mare was started as a two-year-old. I started her lightly. I never rode her more than fifteen minutes at a time. I didn't show her until late her three-year-old year. She is OK. But I have been extremely careful. I keep a balance between shows, trails and just screwing around with her buds. Every show I have pushed her at I try to balance with two small day shows where I just "lope through."
At six she is sound and mostly sane. Because I haven't pushed her (compared to how I was taught to train) she is the best horse I have ever ridden. Because I haven't pushed her she has earned the least of all my cowhorses. I think she'll end up being the best competitor I've ever had.
I still wish I had waited another year to start her.
So, Nagonmom, the questions I would ask myself are,
1.Is my horse sound?
2.Can I take him out riding now?
3. Why aren't I trail riding and reining both?
4. Is my horse calm and happy?
5. Is my horse living somewhere other than a box stall?
6. What can I do to keep a balance?
I plan on being competitive and keeping my horses sound and happy. I bet you can too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hobbles and Show Ring Longevity

I have two interesting questions to cover today and a general plea from myself to you guys. I know I have had some good questions asked that I've missed. I really don't mean to skip you. I have a habit of waiting to answer questions until they fit into the "flow" of the blog. Add my tendency to be extremely spacey and easily side-tracked and it sometimes means I lose track of some real good ideas.
So please, have pity and ask me again. I'll try to store them so I can rely on a check list rather than my feeble short term memory. Thanks.

Whywudyabreedit asked about leg restraints. My personal experience is with hobbles on the front legs. I have worked with trainers who use various other leg restraints and typical me, I asked lots of non-judgemental questions about them and really studied the results. So I have a fairly educated background behind my feelings about them.
I first used hobbles on Mort. I liked the idea of taking him camping and being able to let him graze. I also thought it would be an easy way to let him out of our over-grazed field and to have some of the prairie grass around us without losing him. So I went to Donna's Brokn' Spoke Western Wear and Tack Shop and bought a set of hobbles. Donna showed me how they went on and I went home and got long suffering Mort out.
I stood him in a soft sandy spot, buckled the hobbles on and stood back. Mort tried to take a step, felt the restraint and glared at me. He shuffled forward a few steps before he figured out to hop with his front legs together. That was it. He was hobble broke.
I took him out to the prairie and turned him out in his hobbles. He munched away for half an hour and then took off, front legs together, at about 100 mph. I caught up with him several miles later at his favorite hang-out, the pasture behind the Vista-View Drive In.
So much for my great hobble experiment.
As the years went by and I began to fancy myself a horse trainer, I continued to hobble break my horses. I felt it was part of their basic education. Some were like Mort and calmly sorted it out. Some became frightened and threw themselves a time or two. I learned that the broker the horse, the less fuss I got when I put the hobbles on.
Then I met a trainer who specialized in rope horses. I watched him get his horses used to a rope. He would rope each foot, suspend it by pulling on it and release when the horse gave. Eventually he could rope a foot, pull forward and the horse would walk into the pull to get the release. Since then I have seen this done on the end of a lead rope like the roper used and with the horse moving around a round pen. I haven't tried the round pen method because I can't rope my way out of a paper bag.
I thought that was pretty smart and started doing the same, but with my soft cotton 50 foot rope. I would just loop it around their hooves and legs and get them to give and stretch to the pull of the rope.
I found it was a much easier and safer way to get my horses to learn to pick up their feet.
In the same time period I was watching and learning from Ray Hunt, through reading and clinics. He would restrain a tough horse by having one rider rope a horse's head and then one hind foot. By stretching out the hind foot and only releasing when the horse relaxed into the hold he safely got the horse introduced to his concept of seeking release.
This was the method used by my shoer and I (except we were on the ground) to teach Sonita to quit trying to take his head off every time he shoed her. It worked and no blood was drawn.
Then I had a horse come in for training. This filly had no intention of being ridden, ever. She would react violently every time she thought I might even be contemplating throwing a leg over her back.
I was reading an "old-timers guide to horse training" or some such thing. In it there was a training tip for horses who wouldn't let a rider on. It involved a one leg restraint that buckled around the pastern and tied the foot up to the forearm. The idea was to put the restraint on the horse and lead her around on three legs until she gave. It guaranteed the horse would let you on.
So I tried it.

It worked. Like a charm to tell the truth. I took away the filly's ability to flee. She thought I was going to kill her. She accepted her upcoming death and gave in. I released her leg, got on the horse and successfully rode her. This method was often used by the old "mustangers." They could get a lot of horses started quick this way.

A few years later I saw a young horse in a similar restraint.This time it was attached to a hind leg. A pretty, decently bred black stud colt. The colt who was wearing it also had his head tied around to the leg. So every time he tried to release his head he would pull the leg forward.
I was told the colt was not particularly flexible and was especially stiff in the direction he was being forced to hold.
I saw him tied this way for several hours a day over a two week period.
The young colt went home as a program drop-out a month later. He was extremely well trained, but slightly lame in the back. The owner planned on resting him and hopefully riding him in some local versatility shows.

I also have watched horses hobbled to learn not to paw. I have seen this work to varying degrees.

Here's my take on all of this. Hobbles are about restraint. They are about stopping forward motion.
My entire training program is based on forward motion being a reward. It's why I don't use a one-rein stop. It's why I don't use hobbles as a training device.
I have learned to teach my horses to accept me by giving them the freedom to move. If they are uncomfortable and need to move they can. If they want to rest or be quiet they can do it by standing quiet next to me while I do whatever I feel like. Be it stand in the stirrup, sit on their back, whatever.
They accept me because they have the knowledge, instilled from day one, that if they are uncomfortable they can move off.
Leg restraints force the same issue. It's no longer acceptance of me by choice, it's acceptance of me only because they have lost the ability to flee. There is no building of trust that way. There is only submission. Which to my mind is a scary way to train. I can't trust a horse who doesn't trust me.
I'm fine with the rope around one foot at a time approach. Once again it teaches restraint with a release at the end. A release that encourages forward movement.
I'm OK with hobble breaking a horse. Except I no longer hope it will keep them in the neighborhood.
I still haven't used hobbles to stop my horse from pawing. Ignoring them works pretty well, and is easier.
The filly I started with the leg restraint never became trustworthy under saddle. Rideable, yes, trustworthy, no.
The little black colt? He went home well-trained, but terrified. Once he was home it turned into aggression. He became unpredictable and didn't make it in versatility. Of course it didn't matter because he was permanently lame in the hind by the time he was four.
My overall outlook on leg restraints is it depends on the type and how they're used. I have found that spending more time on strengthening my own training methods was a much better solution for everybody.
I'll have to make this a two parter because for some reason my daughter thinks she should be allowed to do homework today. So, mas manana hombrettes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Martin's Hackamore


And then there's Martin Black.

I have a lot of trouble with the horse training industry. I question what we do to our horses, why we do it and who the people are that do it for us.
Horse trainers bug me. Even I bug me.
I was lucky enough to be a trainer for many years. I was privileged to ride many horses of many levels of breeding and ability. I got to ride enough to become a decent horsewoman.
I still bug me.
I love the elegance, the thoroughness and the time involved in creating a bridle horse. I became fascinated with the whole process while learning to train a reined cowhorse.
Ideally it takes a minimum of five years to develop a bridle horse.
This beautiful, time-honored training method creates a horse that can be ridden with a flex of muscle, a lift of the romel, a clean, clear thought.

As a competitor in AQHA and NRCHA events I found that a successful trainer does not get to spend five years developing a winner. A successful trainer needs to win on three-year-olds. Win on four-year-olds. Win on five-year-olds.
Keep on going, even if it takes twisted wire snaffles and logging chain hackamores to make that next show.
Keep on going, even if our horses have hocks so blown that by the time they are four they creep forward in exaggerated strides like a crab. Just inject those hocks and head for the next show.
Keep going when everything that inspired our event is left behind in the dust.

I left my profession, disillusioned and sad.

As many of you know, I can't leave anything alone. You see I have this horse. This cool little horse. She has the makings of a winner. She has never let me down. She is sharp on a cow, sweet and beautiful in her dry work. She is a horse I want to show.
I rode her in a snaffle her three year-old year. I rode her the best I could. I showed her a little. She did OK.
I rode her in a hackamore for the following two years. I used the wonderful things I learned and rejected the terrible. I figured as best I could. But I have holes. Huge holes in my knowledge. I showed her maybe an eighth of what I should have. She did pretty good.
I moved her into the two-rein. She had a tough time. I had nobody in my circle I could go to. Nobody I knew had truly studied the two rein. They simply rammed their horse into the bridle, forced a frame, added a bosal and showed.
I rode at home. I played with my two-rein. I showed her once. I rode mainly with the bosal.

So now I have a six year old mare. She's still sound. She has been trained to the best I know.

I've gone back to my hackamore. I'm not willing to push past what I know. You see, I have this cool little horse. She responds to the flex of a muscle, the lift of my mecate, a clear, clean thought. I'm afraid I'll ruin this wonderful thing.

I read a few articles written by a man who grew up ranching in Idaho. He went on to work in California, Texas and more. His articles rang a bell. He didn't talk about futurities or derbies or sliders on two-year-olds. He talked about finding the release. About patience. About listening.
"AHA!" I can just hear all you NHer's holler. But guess what?
HE SHOWS! HE WINS STUFF! HE GETS IT!
He doesn't talk about being above the show world. Or not needing it. He rides to succeed. He also tries to be kind and fair with his horses.
This guy is doing what I had given up ever having a shot at.
He rides bridle horses.
He trains them one step at a time.
He shows.
How cool.
So I watched the first of his bridle horse DVD series. The Hackamore.
His instruction is clear and to the point. Lots of information on fitting the hackamore. About the different sizes and how they work. About quality.
Then we got into using the hackamore.
This guy is good. I learned some new things, some incredibly helpful things.
I learned some practical information that I definitely needed.
This DVD will help the beginner who's interested, and people like me, who want more.
I'm going to work through the series. I'm planning on staying impressed.
I'm planning on showing my mare.
Check out his website, it gives you a peek into my world. The world I 'm beginning to think I don't have to leave.
I am very intrigued.
www.martinblack.net

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's My Line?

stilllearning said:
Will a very lazy horse ever have enough "juice" to do advanced work? My trainer says we won't have enough engine for upper level dressage. I'm hoping she's wrong. Any opinions?


AND

holly said: I am wondering now, if cow bred horses are more "on" or something than horses bred for other disciplines.

I just love it when a subject I'm getting ready to post on dovetails with one or more thoughts from you guys.
As most of you have figured out by now, I have a "never say never" type of attitude when it comes to training horses. I used to be a zealot. I felt that any horse who was conformationally able to do the required maneuvers could become effective in the show pen if it was understood and trained with patience.
To a certain extent I still feel this is true. I have trained a lot of horses that were not specifically bred for what I wanted. I guess there are benefits to being a second rate cowhorse trainer. I was given ample opportunity to ride horses who not were bred for cowhorse, as a matter of fact they often were a prime example of BYB at it's best.
I have taught a Thoroughbred mare with string halt and her green owners, to slide stop, take her leads and do a respectable lead change.
I have taught a pacing,shambling wreck of a quarter horse mare to walk, trot and canter in the way she was supposed to.

I survived Sonita.

I took on a foundation bred mare that traced back mainly to race horses and had some success in the cowhorse world.
Those are a few highlights.

Then I finally put down some serious money for a Smart Chic Olena, Hollywood Jac 86 bred filly. I realized I had been training Chihuahua's to be sled dogs. Now I had gone and gotten myself a husky.
My life changed. My new little horse learned at the speed of light. Her spins were low and flat. She slid at least ten feet the first time I asked her to "Whoa". She was barefoot and had been ridden maybe 10 times. I learned to be more careful when I threw out my whoas.
The first time she saw a cow she trotted straight to it with her ears pricked and shaking with excitement. On her own she tracked it, turned with it and stopped with it. Since I had been carefully taught to do nothing my first few rides on cattle, I never picked up my reins or asked her to stop. With the right bred horse I found out I didn't have to.

By this time I was working for the Big K. I was riding his horses. They were essentially the same. Not in personality. I still encountered mean ones, scared ones, big hearted ones and cowards.
But it was a whole new world riding horses that were well bred for a specific job, out of proven parents.
We still had failures. But the difference was astounding.
I still had my other horses come in. I never climbed to a height where I could afford to train only the best. Because of the rise in the caliber of some of the horse I got to ride, I was much more effective with the regular guys.
I also learned what could be overcome and what couldn't.

Physical Limitations

Even if a horse looks conformationally correct, it doesn't mean it can do anything we want it to.
Cowhorses are often small. They don't necessarily have straight legs. Pretty is not always a concern, although pretty helps in all sports.
They are built to sink their hind end into the dirt. They have huge lateral flexibility, so they can spin and turn a cow. The are often bred to be low headed and flat in their way of travel. They are not necessarily fast. We only need them to be faster than a cow. Our sport is not a timed one. A cowhorse that wants to race does not want to turn a cow. A good cowhorse is agile like a cat.

A halter horse is not going to move like I need it to in order to work a cow.
Neither is a pleasure horse.
The Hanoverian stud colt I worked with last summer really showed me what a well bred dressage horse can do. He is not even broke yet. But he moves with a beautiful arrogance that takes my breath away. His leg action is so elastic he can kick a fly on the point of his shoulder and not bend. I don't know enough about dressage to say anymore than that, but I got a good idea of what a star this colt will be, just teaching him his basic manners. He would be a dismal failure as a cowhorse.

Mental Limitations

Cowhorses tend to be extremely hot.
I rode them for so long I adapted my opinion of what is hot. Cowhorses I considered completely quiet and gentle were either terrified of, or took delight in terrifying green riders. I realized my concept of gentle was not what it used to be.
In order to have the fire to succeed in the show pen, a good cowhorse is a lot of horse.
They are impatient, intelligent and have a bunch of go.
To my great sorrow I learned that a gentle, quiet soul without the drive or flexibility to become a star can be snapped like a twig, mentally and/or physically if she is pushed beyond her capabilities.
(another story, another day)
A hot, intelligent horse can be labeled crazy or mean when he is incapable of adapting to a quiet life in a barn, being ridden on week ends and being shown at the local 4-H show.
Most well bred pleasure horses I have known are sweet, gentle creatures. They have been bred to not only accept, but relish a life in Sleezy sleepwear, box stalls and excruciatingly slow jogs on the rail. They love being fussed over in a way that would drive a good cowhorse to drink.
The key here is to find the value in each horse. If my lazy, gentle dressage horse doesn't have the "it factor" to make the upper levels it can come from many places. Maybe my gentle best friend doesn't have the mental drive to make it to the top. Or maybe he can't physically reach those heights.
That doesn't mean he's not worth his weight in gold. It means I have the right mount to be learning on. I can study my selected discipline, and be safe in his gentle temperament and kind nature. He won't get rattled when I make mistakes. He will simply wait until I get it right and then he'll do his best.
The most valuable cowhorse there is? The one that will pack a newby around and not kill them.
They bring in tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds. Rarely will they go on to win The World Show, but these are the horses every trainer is scrambling to find. There aren't many of them.

Which brings me to my next point.
If we are dedicated to a sport we have to face the inevitability of outgrowing the horses we start on. The horses that were patient enough to deal with us as we fumble our way are rarely the super stars. The super starts expect us to know what we're doing. They deserve that respect.
Which is why we sell our horses.  
Realize the sweet teacher can go on to a life of being ridden within their bounds. Selling a horse is not the end of the world, for you, or your horse. You learn with each ride. The horses you learn on can stay where they shine, not become losers trying to shoulder a burden we had no right to expect.
I also am against selling a horse before we're ready. I have seen over and over again, people leave a horse behind to buy something bigger or better. Usually because they assume it's the horse's fault they aren't winning. This can be a trainer's fault or the rider's fault. I think we just have to be sure it's time to move up. Sometimes the reality is that we have to learn to ride what we have.
I am a huge believer in taking a horse as far as I can. I become a better horseman because of it and leave a horse with a better chance of becoming the beloved family member they all deserve to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sonita/Chapter 14

We were on our way. Sonita had finally started to place. I was beginning to understand my horse and the cowhorse game we played. After showing in AQHA or NRCHA events 26 times before even having our name called, much less ending up in the money, Sonita and I were becoming competitive.
My students and the horses I had in training were all beginning to benefit from my hard won knowledge. My students were beginning to show and place, my horses were becoming soft and reliable. I was beginning to understand the mysteries of working a cow. I could get through entire shows without anybody asking me, "Why don't you get rid of that tail-wringing bitch and get a cowhorse?" I became competent help at a horse show and was asked to shag cattle (move cattle back to the holding pens after they were worked), do bit checks and scribe for some of the top judges at our bigger shows.
I was no longer considered "cannon fodder" for the classes I entered. The friendly greetings from my fellow competitors stayed the same, but the unending advice and help began to dry up. Some regretted the advice they had given, because it was becoming obvious I listened to everyone, and used it. Most were happy for me. I had certainly paid my dues.
The cowhorse bunch is a tight knit group. I was proud and happy to finally be an accepted part of it.

This was my frame of mind as I entered the Colorado Reined Cowhorse Association's Futurity and Derby in September. I might not have been confident, but I was certainly hopeful. Sonita and I would show in the bridle class and I had an up and coming snaffle bit horse to show in the derby.
Three of my students, (OK, one was my kid) had gutted up and were also competing. I was feeling like I was finally getting somewhere.

As we pulled into the fairgrounds my entire trailer exploded with wild neighs and pounding hooves as Sonita began to double barrel the trailer walls with everything she had.
"Hey!" I yelled.
I slammed the truck into park and jumped out to see what had set her off now. I ran to the back of the trailer and Sonita let loose with another volley of kicks and shrieked her best wild stallion imitation.
"What is your problem?" I said as I peered into the last stall of my trailer.
The other horses were cowering, terrified by the sounds and violence. Sonita glared at me, her eyes wide and her ears flat. Ropey, foamy sweat dripped to the floor. Her hay bag was torn off it's hanger and stomped into the stall mats. The acrid smell of mare pee filled my nostrils.
"Oh no. Here we go."
Sonita was in heat.

Sonita in season was a terrible thing. Never a particularly friendly horse, when she cycled she became a vision from hell. Maybe Mother Nature simply knew that my own personal psychopath should never be bred, because when Sonita came in season she also became determined to kill any horse that flicked an ear her way. No stud was ever going to approach her and live. I'm not sure there was a fertility doc on the planet who would have been willing to AI her.
There is a lovely, legal hormone treatment available called Regu-mate. Within three days after starting a mare on Regu-mate her regular cycles will be suppressed. Essentially she will be begin behaving like a bred mare as long as she is given the treatment every day. A pregnant mare is a happy mare. Sonita on Regu-mate stayed almost focused, rideable, and fairly compliant.
Unfortunately, it costs about $400 a month to keep my mare happy and content. I had used it with much success during the spring and summer of that year. Some people only put their horse on it the week before a show in order to save money. But the uproar it caused with Sonita's hormones to stop and start her up again wasn't worth it. I wasn't willing to cause that much stress and discomfort to save some money.
It was fall. The intensity of her cycles should have been motoring down for the year. So I had retired the Regu-mate at the end of August. I had calculated the days and figured she wouldn't go into season until the week after the show.
As I stood watching her dismember my trailer I realized my calculations were wrong. So very wrong.

The Big K came by my stalls to say "Hey."
"Sonita's in," I said.
He stepped back as she lunged over the stall door, teeth bared at a horse that was led too close.
"So I see," he said.
"Have fun with that," he added as he walked on down the aisle.
I saw by his strut and the silent shaking of his shoulders that I was going to be his favorite joke of the day. It took everything I had to stop from throwing my curry at his retreating head.

I waited to work her until after midnight. At that time of night there are only a few riders out schooling their horses. A few green horses, a few green trainers, the nervous and the desperate. So we had plenty of room in the pen.
We rode until 4 a.m. Sonita roared, she leaped, she shook her head and thundered. She was savage. She would squeal and strike at the passing horses. I spun her off them over and over.
Typical of a cowhorse event, no one gave me room. They expected me to control my horse or clear the arena. So we fought.
When I finally put her up I did my chores and headed to the Roach Coach for coffee. I flopped my tired bones down at a picnic table with the Big K. He was just waking up and in irritatingly good form.
"Why good morning!" He said. "How did it go last night?"
"I rode her, but I never got her rode."
"It should get better, you've got a few more days before you show her. She'll start to come down."
I hated it when he was perky.
"Well, Mr. Sparkles, you weren't there when a stud moved into the stall behind us. She's gone. I mean over the moon. I'm thinking I should scratch. She's a train wreck."
"I guess I wouldn't stop you," he said and began studying his gnarly, scarred-up hands.
"But?" I asked.
"But nothing, you do what you need to."
"There's a but. What do you think?" I pressed.
"I think," the Big K glanced up at me from under the brim of his hat, "I think you should turn that aggression into something and go win your class."
"I was afraid you'd say something like that."
"It's time for you to ride like Bob."
I rested my forehead on the picnic table. The Big K and I had shared many a discussion on the pros and cons of the different riders we competed against. We would sit for hours and watch each rider, analyze the way they rode and how their horses went.
He was talking about Bob Avila. Not that I had to compete with him, but the Big K had crossed his path more than once.
"Avila doesn't win all the time because he's always on the best horse, even though I've never seen him undermounted," the Big K had told me,"he doesn't always win because he's the best rider. Nobody can be at their best all the time. Avila wins because he is the best showman out there. He can stare a judge in the eye and dare him to not give him the win. He can make every horse he rides look spectacular , even when things go wrong. Nobody can gut their way through a class like Bob."
I didn't want to ride like Bob. Bob would have yanked his saddle and shot Sonita dead in the arena years ago. Bob would have gotten himself a horse that wasn't one shoe light a set of sliders. A horse that was two bales short of a ton. A horse who had popped the last few strands of her 100% wool string cinch.
"Fine", I said into the table. "I'll ride like Bob."

It was finally show day. A warm, breezy beautiful day.I was in the warm up pen. Sonita was alternately squealing in fury and crying for her friends. We were loping many, many tiny little circles. "Ride like Bob, ride like Bob," ran through my mind in time with her lope.
A young rider came in on his stud horse. He nodded at me as he trotted by. It was the stud living behind Sonita.
He was a well behaved animal under saddle. He didn't nicker, his strong trot didn't waver. But his eye slid along Sonita as they passed.
She squealed and began to buck. I pulled her nose to my knee kicked her hip around. Sonita flipped her tail over her back and began to pee.
The stud lost his composure and nickered.
Sonita tried to buck harder and we spun in a circle. The pee sprayed around us like a water sprinkler. I heard the stud gear up and holler.
"Oh man, my new chaps!" Echoed behind me as I booted her out of the arena. I heard the announcer call my name. Sonita and I were in the hole. Just call me Bob.

The pattern was a trot in. Sonita trotted into the arena at a snails pace, slinging her head and crying a lost, sad wail for her friends. We finally made the middle of the pen and she stopped to pee yet again.
The judges sat back in their chairs and grinned at each other. This was promising to be an interesting little interlude.
I sat up tall, looked them in the eye and picked up my reins. I dared them to laugh at me, at least in my mind.
Sonita stepped out, dropped into frame and loped off like a lamb. I couldn't believe it. She was on. All the way with me. She stopped, she spun, she changed, everything felt fantastic. I looked up into my final run down and saw the Big K grinning at me behind the gate.
I scowled at him and charged into my final stop. Who was he to smile at Bob?
We turned to face the cattle pens. I waved at the gateman for my cow. Sonita stood frozen, her back quivering through the saddle. We were going to eat this cow.
A white plastic grocery bag rolled slowly across the fence line. My eyes flicked on it and off again. Bob's horse wouldn't spook at a bag. I wasn't worried. The gate creaked open. I rested my hand on Sonita's neck, her cue to set on the cow. The white bag slowly rolled into view and settled in front of the opened gate. It waved gently back and forth in the breeze.
Sonita dropped her head and began to cut the bag.
The cow trotted out the gate. Sonita never lifted her head. She cut that Wal-mart bag with everything she had.
I wacked her with my spur hoping to get her on the cow before the judges realized what we were boxing.
Sonita dropped even lower and cut back and forth harder, mesmerised by the waving bag.
Sonita didn't see the cow until it began to meander down the side of the arena. She stopped. She looked.
I could almost feel her confusion.
"Why are we working a bag when there's a perfectly good cow right there, boss?"
I sighed and we went to the cow, straight down the fence. She worked it well, but it didn't really matter. We had missed our box work.
The second the judges whistle blew Sonita began to whinny her sad, lonesome cry. She kept it up until we left the arena.
The Big K was laughing so hard he could barely stay on his horse.
"What the hell do I do in a situation like that one?" I said.
"Give her a pet and tell her she's a good girl. This will never happen to you again. It's done. She went to work the minute you told her to. Didn't matter to her if it's a bag or a cow. That was just cool." He started to laugh again.
"Good job, Bob."
I rode back to my stalls on my whinnying, dripping, oozing mare. Bob my butt. I gave her a pat. "Good girl you knot head. Good girl."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Forward Cues and Neck Reining (Finally)

Poor Kel. I used her to get an extremely good discussion going and then woke up this morning realizing I hadn't really helped her.
Because I didn't answer her basic question.
Could she use her crop to teach her horse forward?
Her trainer was concerned that the horse would learn to respond only to the crop.
Which is a legitimate concern.
So I'm going to straighten that one out. Sorry Kel.
Yes, you can teach your horse forward with the crop.
The key is to make your pre-cue (cluck, kiss, whatever) and cue (bump with the legs) be what motivates your horse. The crop is the final consequence for ignoring them.
When your horse is solid on his cues and seeks the lope, you won't need the crop.
The key here is to always, forever and ever, amen, give the pre-cue, the cue and the consequence. Only once.
Here's my sequence.
1.I'm going to get my horse moving with my seat bones. From a stand still he will be walking, if I'm loping a small slow he will know I'm going to ask for more.
2.I'm going to cluck. Once.
3. I'm going to roll my calf into my horse and squeeze. Once.
4. I'm am going to apply my crop with wild enthusiasm until I have way more response than I needed.
I want my horse to never, ever want me to use my crop. I want him to do whatever it takes to prevent me from even thinking about that crop.
Which would be to listen to my cues. Without spurs.
When I use my crop I don't care if he ducks left or right, I will continue enthusiastically reinforcing my cue until he is running straight. (heads up Joy) Then I will quit and enjoy my ride.
It doesn't matter if you use your reins (my preferred method) a crop, a tree switch, the palm of your hand or Aunt Milly's tea cozy.
I would do this at home and have the problem fixed the next time I saw my trainer. If I go against the advice of someone I admire and need to continue to work with, I take care of it at home and just show up with the problem fixed. I never rub their face in it. I don't ever say, "Well so and so says to do it this way...." If the trainer asks I'll tell him, but usually he won't. You see, we're a tender-hearted, egotistical bunch, us trainer types. For the most part we'll just be relieved you figured it out.
But the key for everything I do is to give a consistent pre-cue, then a solid cue, then a consequence. When the consequence is no longer anything but a distant memory for me and my horse I know I'm getting somewhere.

Neck Reining

There are a lot of ways to teach your horse to neck rein. Mine go into a full bridle, ridden with a romel rein. I ride two-handed until they are six. So I have a lot of time to get them neck-reining.
By the time I ask them to neck rein they know to follow their nose where I point it.
That may sound simple, but it's vital.
When I first ride my babies I just point their nose and expect them to follow. I let all other parts trail behind the nose.
I ride one rein at a time.
Left rein to go left, right to go right.
As we progress I teach my horse to line up behind her nose.
I point the nose and use inside leg pressure to guide the hips over and line up her entire body.
Once we have that step I begin using my outside leg to push the shoulders into alignment first, then the hips.
I consistently cue every time.
My horse learns that when I guide the nose the shoulders, ribs and hips automatically line up.
I have very little trouble with bulging shoulders because I start them this way.
This is a very simplified version of the base I put on my young horses. I don't do any turns, stops, asking for collection, nothing else until I have this.
When I ask my horse to neck rein it becomes a new cue. Essentially I'm offering a gift. If you point your nose where I want it, off of my neck rein, I won't pull you. Invariably my horse says, "Cool, I'm on it."
I rarely pull hard when I neck rein. Sometimes on an older, willful butt-munch of a disobedient pig, (now I'm channeling Sonita) I will hoist her around some, but that's another story for another day.
So here goes.
I start my horses in split reins.
How I hold my reins:
I extend my guiding hand (left or right, it doesn't matter, just pick one and keep it) like I'm going to shake somebody's hand.
I fold my fingers in, my wrist stays the same, my thumb is resting on top.
My forefinger is between my reins. (you don't have to do this, but I like the control I get with it.) My wrist is soft and relaxed, but I'm not going to ride palm side down.

My reins hang down the same side as my guiding hand. If I ride left, the reins hang down the left side.

When I ask for my turn, I look in the direction I want to go, I point the thumb of my rein hand (remember, thumb on top) at the ear on my horse. I want to go to the left, my thumb points to the left ear. This should lay the rein on her neck.
I don't want my hand to move outside of a six to eight inch invisible box that I keep floating over my saddle horn. My hand can go as high or as low as I need within the confines of my invisible box.
If she doesn't respond:
I will raise my hand straight in the air until I make light contact with her mouth. (pre cue)
I will lay my outside leg on her side at the cinch (cue) and push with my calf.
If she doesn't respond:
I will go back to two hands.
I will take the guiding rein and pull her head in the direction I want her to go. (make it happen)
When I have to pull with my direct rein I don't release the pressure until the shoulders ribs and hips are lined up, then I let her go.
I will go back to one hand.
We walk on a relaxed reins for 5 or 6 strides and I go again.
I'll keep turning left until I get some try. Then I'll go right.
I never increase my neck rein pressure.
Listening to my neck rein means she gets no pressure at all, just the feel of the rein on her neck. She has to trust I won't increase the pressure, or my point is moot.
When I want to refine my turns or need to increase my hold, my hand rises straight up to get contact.
As I reach for that contact my legs push her into the bit for collection, when I release my legs, if I'm still holding her face, she'll stop and back.

I am so irked. I have a horse for sale on Dreamhorse. The last of my horses in training. His name is Pete. He's really cool. I just had some wahoo call and ask about my horse. He asked all the normal questions. He said he was green, but he rode with a trainer. I asked who the trainer was. He wouldn't tell me. He asked some fairly inept questions for someone who has a competent trainer helping them. I offered to talk to the trainer. He didn't want me to do that. Then, sight unseen he makes an offer that is $5000 less his price.
I told him that I don't barter with people who haven't even seen the horse. Then I said something about good luck with your search and hung up. Was he legit? Was he somebody trying to take advantage of the current market? I don't know or care. I had the feeling he was a scammer. Be careful out there when you're selling horses folks. I'd rather keep feeding them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Channel Matt Dillon

I had this long, detailed explanation of over and under rein use and a neck reining segment. My computer crashed and I lost most of it. I stomped off in a sulk, come back and Laura has beat me to it. Well, your going to get it anyway.....
Kel said- The problem is he is LAZY, LAZY, LAZY. He always has been. Even as a 2 year old, you could put leg on him and he just grunts at you. You put a spur on him, and he grunts at you, you really put a spur on him and he grunts at you. He will move, but there is no "try" there and he just can't wait to stop. And stop he can! He stops nice, his transitions from fast to slow are awesome, but getting to the fast or turnarounds, etc is ugly and lazy. No energy at all. The trainer said that I needed bigger spurs and only use them if I really meant it and then really mean it. I bought a pair of rock grinders and did just that, it gets him going for about 20 seconds. Then you can just feel him deflate and the energy just fades away.

Kel- First off. A good reiner spends his life hoping he can stop. So this is a GOOD thing you have going here. Remember that.

When I start a two year old I don't put spurs on him until I have a calm, happy, walk trot and canter off of a kiss. Not only that but he will stay contentedly loping at the speed I put him in until I say different. The lazier he wants to be the more determined I am to leave the spurs off. That's all my babies, all the time. I never put a spur to them until I have a happy forward horse.

I realize we already have an issue with this horse. So I'm not going to worry about it, I'm just going to set things straight.

I am only going to work on my forward, nothing else, until it's fixed.

I will to get rid of my spurs. Take them off. Be gone. Adios. Arevederci.

This horse is not a plug, he is setting himself against the spurs.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Spurs are not meant to give forward cues. They are meant to give directional cues. Go left, go right, move a rib, etc. Oops, I need to add that spurs will cause a horse to lift his back, which will actually slow his motion. Imagine the difficulty a horse has translating that to a "speed up" cue. My seat and calves give forward cues.

I am going to ride little Dudley with an eight foot pair of split reins.

I am going to get on Dudley cold (no warm-up) and hold my reins in one hand and the ends in another.

I will move my seat bones forward once to send him forward. Then I will roll my calves lightly into Dudley's sides and smooch once to tell him to lope.
Then I will pick up my reins and over and under him until he moves out at a lope.
I will not steer him. I won't encourage him. I will ride quiet until he stops on his own. I will do nothing except sit quiet until he is standing still.
Then I will move my seat bones forward once. I will roll my calves lightly into Dudley's sides and smooch once.
Then we channel Matt Dillon.
I will repeat this until he goes into a lope off my smooch.
When he gives me way more go than I anticipated or wanted(and he will) I will simply ride quiet. He is being good and going that's my point. I don't care how fast he's moving. I'm not going to discuss rate until way down the road.


The key here is to ride quiet, with a loose rein while Dudley is loping. This is about listening to my cues, nothing else. I want Dudley to be seeking the lope, because that's the place where everybody is quiet.
Once I have Dudley willing to lope, he needs to stay there.
So we up the ante.
I ask for the lope, I get it immediately off of the softest cue. As soon as Dudley slows down I over and under him, with no warning what so ever. I get after him until he is going faster than I need. Then I relax and bring him down to the lope again.
We lope a few circles, he tries to slow down and he gets the Mat Dillon treatment again.
I am not particularly coordinated when it comes to this over and under thing. My reins fly wildly around, half the time I end up with a rein wrapped around my neck. I don't care. This isn't about finesse. It's about getting moving. If I have to correct Dudley I'm going to make him give me more than I need. Then I'll be the one who slows him down.
When Dudley is consistently seeking the speed I want him at I'll let him stop. Every time I stop him I'll let him stand for a long time. But he only gets to stop if he is motoring along at the speed I asked for.
I'll keep his work outs short and to the point.
When I transition up from my slow to a fast circle I raise my hand and stand slightly in my stirrups, coming a little out of my seat. I cluck with every stride until they are going the speed I want. My horses are taught from day one that a cluck means faster. They need to increase their speed with every cluck.
I get that without touching them with my spurs.
That's where I would be at with Dudley before I ever put my spurs on again.
The way to get this to work is to have him wanting to lope because that's the happy place. I want to create a desire to move. If I remember to ride soft, quiet and with purpose at the lope Dudley will soon want to be there.
I'll have to rewrite the neck-rein piece tomorrow. I'm fried.
Manana.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What I Can't Do.

We talk about fear. We talk about safety. Lately, as a lot of you know, it has weighed heavily in my posts.
Some questions come to me and leave me stumped. Not necessarily because I don't know the answer, (I'll admit that one) but because the way I would approach it may not be safe for someone else.
When I answer questions from you guys they often come with a lot of baggage. Mainly, I don't know you. I don't know your horse. I don't know how safe or unsafe the places you ride and train are.
When we describe ourselves there can be a lot of leeway going both ways. It can go from somebody angrily saying, "I have owned horses for 30 years, don't question my experience!", to another saying "I'm an intermediate rider who's trying to improve."
Unless I see someone ride there is no way for me to tell if that 30 years experience means somebody who has kept two half-starved horses in the neighbors field since they were kids and only get on them during hunting season, or if the tentative "intermediate" rider is actually someone who grew up riding on their family ranch and is now working on third level dressage with a horse they are training themselves.
How we perceive ourselves is often completely different than reality. My favorite phrase is, "The older I get, the better I was!" and yes, I'm talking about myself.
That being said, I'm glad to answer everybody as best I can, even those of you who try to trap me with questions or comments they think will prove my ignorance. Trust me, I'll 'fess up if I don't know an answer. I always try to answer a question with an explanation of how I would do it. This never means that I think it's the only answer. Just my answer.
I have had people ask me to recommend trainers in their state. This presents a huge problem for me. I have left my sport because I hate the way our show horses are treated. I don't hate all trainers but I can honestly say I don't know of a single one I would leave my horse with.
I am a firm believer in a rider learning to train and ride their horse. I drove over 2 hours one way for several years to ride with the Big K. In the 6 years I rode with and for him, he may have gotten on my horses 5 times. I insisted every step be explained to me. That simply was how I wanted it done and he respected and appreciated that.
I want my horses handled a certain way. I need to know how they are housed, watered and fed. I want control over those points whether I'm taking care of them or not. Most trainers don't put up with that nonsense.
If you want to put a horse in training I have no issue with it. Really. But you need to know the trainer inside and out. Beyond how the horses look in the stall, or how they ride in the ring. You need references from people in the sport you show in. You need to spend time learning about the ups and downs of what you're interested in. So I have a hard time recommending anybody. I have to put that weight on your shoulders, sorry.
I can tell you the trainers I still respect and feel comfortable sending people to.

Colorado: Jack McCumber, cutting. Jack is semi-retired but you can beg for help, if he has cows he'll relent.
Oklahoma: Jamie and Marilyn Peters at Bar JP Quarterhorses, Reined Cowhorse. They mainly show derby on up. They don't like trashing the three year olds for futurities, so I'm a fan. Plus they're just great people.
Oklahoma: Don Murphy, Reined Cowhorse, reining, cutting. He's everything, what can I say?
California: Russell Dilday, Reined Cowhorse. OK, I really don't know much about him and have only met him briefly. But he is really hot. And his horse, Topsails Rien Maker is still sound, after winning just about everything.
Texas: Martin Black, Reined Cowhorse. I'm a little hesitant here, because I have just started reading up on this guy. But it seems he understands the ins and outs of cowhorse and his interest is in developing a true bridle horse and an all around rider to go with it. So far, I'm impressed.

That's it.

There are some training questions that encompass too much ground for me to feel safe getting into.
Colt starting is one of them. I know when I feel it's right to get on a youngster. It has to do with feel and confidence, both ways. I can't give you that feel. It's something you have to develop with your horse. If I could see you I could help you. I couldn't live with myself if somebody got hurt as a result of my advice.
If you guys have a specific question about a young horse your working with, I'll be happy to try to help. I'm not comfortable sharing what steps I go through to get on the first time. Sometimes I get on after three days, sometimes it's six weeks. It depends on the horse, me and my environment.
The NHers offer a lot of colt starting clinics. That's where I would head if I needed help and didn't want to put my horse in training.
There are a few NHer's I feel comfortable recommending.

Ray Hunt: Please forgive me for calling you a NH'er. He is the best. Absolutely. If you get a chance to see him, go. He will make you think.

John or Josh Lyons: I have to recommend these guys with a big BUT. I would not feel comfortable working with one of their "certified" trainers unless I knew how many horses they had trained and could talk to some of their clients. I do like John's tapes and books.

Clinton Anderson: He just makes sense.

That's about it.
I hope you'll still feel free to ask away. I hope everybody does everything they can to stay safe.
I hope you understand my limits and are OK with them. Also feel free to continue bringing up new and different techniques, methods, ideas or trainers. That's what this is all about. Later, gators.

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