When I was a young, horse-crazy girl, Mark Reynor and Western Horseman Magazine were the ultimate horse resources.
Mark was the consummate horseman, craggy, wise and just stern enough to create an almost John Wayne-like aura. He rode his wildly spotted Appaloosa gelding, Britches, with an ease that took my breath away. Mark helped shape my young attitude as a horseman by always considering the safety of the young riders in his charge first and his horse second (or it could be the other way around).
Each month,I eagerly poured over a borrowed copy of Western Horseman. The cowboy magazine was published in my own city of Colorado Springs and taught me everything, from home-made hoof dressing to how to tie a rope halter. To me every word was gospel.
I drooled over the photos of the beautiful "bull-dog" quarter horses (yeah, I'm that old), laughed at the silly cartoons and tried to ride my horse the way the "real cowboys" did.
Western Horseman and my time with Mark Reynor pretty much set the way I approached horses for the rest of my life. Horses were made to be ridden and if I was going to own one, it was my responsibility to learn how to do it right.
Mark has long been gone but Western Horseman is still going strong. I rotate my magazine subscriptions now and haven't gotten a new Western Horseman in about a year. But I always look forward to them and find myself scrounging up somebody else's copy every chance I get.
When we were talking about bolters and rearers I was doing some research to find some help beyond what I had for you.
I kept coming across the name of a book published by Western Horseman called Backcountry Basics. I hadn't read it before so I couldn't recommend it. I did think it was worth tracking down a copy and taking a looksee, so that's what I did.
I am really impressed with this book. There is a lot of solid, practical advice, all related to trail riding. South Carolina horse trainer Mike Kinsey is a no-nonsense, realistic, horseman. He approaches potentially dangerous problems with so much common sense I kept slapping myself on the forehead, thinking, Of Course!
His chapters on barn sour behavior and trail manners are priceless.
A few weeks ago I went on an extremely harrowing ride on my mare Loki. She is a Foundation bred mare who earned a NRCHA national top ten rating with my daughter and took me to a NRCHA regional championship in cowhorse. This is a pretty broke horse. She also is a horse who has been on a break for the last several years.
I have been on her maybe 4 times in the last year, all of them in the arena.
I took her out on a ride with my friend Charlotte and her good gelding Red. Loki went out of her mind. She was terrified being taken away from her herd-mates. I stayed quiet and calm and kept her nose pointed where I wanted to go. I stayed on her until I negotiated my planned ride and then dismounted and loosened her cinch, ending the ride before we got back to the herd.
I don't know if I can explain how bad that ride was. Loki was on the verge of exploding with every step. She didn't actually do anything, but it was there. She kept blocking me with her right shoulder, but for no purpose. She stayed in a walk on a loose rein, but her head was in the air, her tail clamped and I felt like I was on a powder keg.
Her feet barely touched the ground, her back was up and she was really light in the bridle. Too light. She wouldn't touch her snaffle except to shake her head and worry it.
Loki felt like a horse with no rider. Unfortunately I was up there.
So, I survived the ride, but I wasn't looking for the next one. I figured I would just keep going on these puke-inducing rides until she felt better. Ugh.
Then I read Backcountry Basics.
Kinsey came up with a perfectly simple solution. He is a big believer in ground driving. I do believe longing would also work in this situation.
He starts out leading his barn sour, or in my case buddy sour, horse until she gets upset. Then he works her. Right there. The horse isn't mindlessly sent out in circles, she is worked. Transitions, stops, starts, reverse, until she pays attention to you. Then the walk continues. He advocates tiny steps. Maybe the first day you quit when you first get her refocused. Then the next you go farther.
There is no molly-coddling going on here. The horse needs to go. Sometimes he recommends a crop. If he does he explains when and how to use it.
There is no unnecessary force either, just to the point, hard work, with the rider safely working the horse on the ground.
The irony is it's pretty much the philosophy I spout here on a regular basis. I thought, Of course! too many times to count. The great part was I was seeing the horse training truths I strongly believe in through a fresh set of eyes.
I am really impressed. I'd like to get a little Backcountry Basics talk going here. I strongly suggest this book to anybody who has to deal with spooking, refusals, water-crossings etc. He starts each chapter with a list of equipment needed to accomplish the lessons covered and the behavior you need out of your horse before you attempt them.
There's nothing better than learning something new, even at my age. It looks like The Western Horseman is still giving me food for thought and good advice.
I also picked up their newest publication Understanding Lameness. I haven't gotten to that one yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
One other thing, you don't have to be a cowboy to use this training advice, anybody with an English saddle who wants to go bushwacking can benefit from this book. Be warned though, you're going to wish you were.