I was out walking my dogs after work the day before yesterday. I follow a 2 mile loop through the park around the back of my house. As I was walking I kept an eye on a single horse and rider who was traversing the same loop in the opposite direction. We were going to meet at roughly the halfway point of my walk.
The rider, even from a distance, rode easily and well and his bay roan horse strode out with a confident even stride.
I thought it was my neighbor Andy, the caretaker of the Rock Ledge Ranch. He keeps a mustang, Caballo, in with his draft horses as a riding horse. Andy is a competent horseman and also, as a park employee, has the authority to tell me to leash my dogs. So I kept an eye on his progress, figuring I'd gather up my dogs in the trees right before he came over the top of the next ridge.
The horse was remarkable only in his assured, smooth way of going. He maintained his steady, ground covering walk up and down the trail, through the rocks and along the ridge.
I called in my dogs and stood with them at a sit, stay, off the trail by a few feet. I do this every time I see a runner, other dogs, bicycles or horses on the trails. It's good for them to sit quietly while a distracting presence goes by and solves a lot of potential problems from happening.
As the horse and rider topped the ridge I saw it wasn't Andy, so I didn't bother with my leashes. We just sat and waited while a man in probably his mid-sixties rode toward us on a young, long legged gelding.
"How are you today!" He greeted me as they rode towards us.
"Just fine thanks, and you?" I answered.
All the while I was checking out his gear, his horse and him.
The horse was a standard ranch type gelding, clean-legged and bright eyed, three, maybe four-years-old. He showed no sign of sweating or heavy breathing and I had watched him travel steadily for at least a couple of miles.
The tack was old, well-worn, western and basic ranch.
The old man was small, strong and comfortable looking. He wore jeans, a Carhart and a sweat stained ball cap. He looked pretty much like a Colorado cowboy.
I mean an actual, working cowboy. There was no mecate, just well used split reins, he didn't ride in a Wade, a cutter, or a "ranch" anything. It was just an old hard seat saddle.
He looked assured, happy and totally out of place in my suburban park.
"Let me get out of your way," he said and started to cut down into the basin below us.
"Don't mind us, my dogs are horse -broke," I answered.
"I can tell," he replied and I swear to God, he tipped his hat, "Good well trained dogs, the both of them."
He continued on his chosen path and I went on mine.
As I reached the ridge on the back side of my walk I looked down into the grassy basin below. The cowboy had just put his colt into a lope. He started to lope his colt in circles. The circles were big and perfect. I mean reining perfect. Each circle was the exact same size as the circle before. The bay roan colt travelled on a loose rein, his head a little high, his lope as rock solid, steady and relaxed as his walk had been.
I stood riveted, watching the calm, smooth work out going on below me. The cowboy stopped his colt, trotted him a bit, turned the other way and began his circles on the other lead. Again, they were perfect and smooth.
This was not reining training. The colt carried his head high and his nose out. He broke gait a couple of times.
He also stayed in beautiful, easy, free-flowing rhythm. He carried his rider on the uneven ground with strength and confidence. He rode on a relaxed rein. He didn't spook. Not even a little.
When he broke gait the cowboy simply put him back into the lope. No fussing, he just kicked him up.
I had a bit of an epiphany. This is what I want. This is how my horse need to start. They need to be ridden. The first couple years of their training has to be about going where they're pointed. Learning to travel in a confident manner. Learning to carry me. Simple, simple simple. The arena needs to mean no more to them or me than an open field.
This is where the solid showmanship will come from. This is where the winning attitude will begin to develop. All the tricks, bells and whistles can come later.
Needless to say I'm excited. I have got to track down this man. I want to know who he is, why he is riding in my neighborhood park, where he keeps his horse and when can I ride with him. I'm absolutely entranced.
So, lets start discussing this. What is the best way to build a solid riding horse?