Wednesday, July 8, 2009

You Can Always Learn Something

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.

24 comments:

kel said...

What perfect timing... I was just going to put the last few years of Western Horsemen magazines on ebay... I would send them to you if you would like or to anyone else that reads... first come first serve! I have about 4 years of WH back magazines that I am getting rid of - I love them but am tired of storing them. I am on a house cleaning binge and a lot of stuff must go. I also have some older AQHA journals if anyone is interested.

AareneX said...

Mugs, you must be reading my mind. It is *definitely* time to break the herd-bound nonsense between my big STB mare and her little Arab mare buddy. I've got the book ordered, and can't wait to read it!

Um, if you've got any suggestions for the meanwhile, I'm listening.

The little Arab doesn't act out when she has a rider, but rather bats her eyelashes in a sort of "Oh, don't go kicking all those other horses just to get back to lil' old me..." leading big old STB mare to kick everything in sight to rescue her friend from loneliness.

The Arab *does* throw herself around if she's left alone and the STB goes out of sight, and she (the arab) has a history of crash landings when she's being histrionic, leading to vet bills that we can't afford.

I want to be able to take my STB for a trail ride without coming home to a little bloody Arab...or having the STB pitch me off a cliff in her anxiety to return to the pasture.

They live together in a 4-acre pasture, with neighbor horses in view on the other side of the fence.

Suggestions? Other than reading the book, which I will certainly do!

gtyyup said...

I can sure see where the ground driving would work to your advantage. All my colts get a lot of driving before they're ridden. This would be a perfect way to test them outside of the round pen without putting yourself in danger. Great post Mugs.

mugwump said...

AareneX- Wrap the Arabs legs and tie her up while you're gone. That is the first part. She will be less dramatic if she's tied than racing around the field.
I have done the tie training where I have the two cry babies tied on opposite sides of a hill. I sit on the top and watch both. When they are quiet I let them go.Sometimes it takes days.
Keep in mind I don't let a horse go who throws herself on the ground. I let them sort it out.
This will help though.

mugwump said...

It's funny, for various reasons I do very little ground driving. Not because I disagree, but because I was taught to just get up there and go. This book has me seriously rethinking my position.

gtyyup said...

My ground driving isn't just point and go with a little turn left, right, and stop. Todd has taught me to get the horse bending, moving hips, moving shoulders, accepting the pull of the snaffle, backing straight, backing in circles...all the stuff I want that horse to know before I step on board. They get focused on you on the ground and you just transfer the feel to the saddle.

I should say too that I pony the colts outside a lot too before I venture out with them to unfamiliar territory outside their comfort zone. But the driving would sure give you an idea where the horse's head (brains) is when he's by himself on the other side of the barn away from the other horses.

Laura Crum said...

I'm like you mugwump, I was taught to get up on them and ride them, and I always looked down on people who did a lot of ground driving. You know, "these folks are just scared to get on." However, at this point in my life, if I had to handle anything truly difficult from a horse, I would be right down there on the ground keeping my (much bigger than it used to be) rear end out of serious trouble. I'm just not willing to take the risks I used to take.

But I do have a question. Its always been my impression that a horse senses if you're scared to be on him. You can (and I have) address some behavioral stuff from the ground by lunging or whatever, and you can tire the horse and he'll act better--for the moment. But it always seems to me that in the end you have to get up on the horse when he isn't worn out, and at that point, the horse knows he's got you right where he wants you. So, I'm totally willing to be enlightened here. Is there stuff in this book that helps you to convince the horse (from the ground) that he has to mind while you're on his back (when he's not worn down)?

Also, I do know that you can teach a colt a lot from the ground. Like mugwump, I was taught to get up there and go. I'm not saying its always right. Just that that was what I knew.

I know a woman who, every time her horse misbehaves on the trail, hops off of him and works his butt off on the ground. She says it works for her. She's a Parelli person. Are we talking about the same theory here, or a different one? Just curious.

mugwump said...

Laura- I don't think anything works if you're afraid. I know I'm totally worthless once I'm boogered.
I would think if you are driving them and you are simply getting them ready to ride, like GTTYUP is talking about it's going to be a totally different thing.
Kinsey doesn't say try riding first, then go to driving. He considers it prep work for a safe ride. That's what got me thinking.
I wasn't happy on Loki, but I rode her anyway.I'm not afraid of her, I know her too well.
I also think I could get her used to leaving the group without hanging my hide out to dry if I did it Kinsey's way.

oregonsunshine said...

I've been eying this same book lately! We're moving in about a week out to horse property and we'll have trails to ride and whatnot, but not an arena, which I'm used to. Odd, but I grew up playing in the woods, but I've never been on a trail ride! I've got all the appropriate knowledge and experience for people. However, I'm especially encouraged now to pick up this book with your recommendation and knowing it deals with herd-bound behavior, something I worry about facing eventually.

Thanks Mugs!

Laura Crum said...

I totally agree with you about not hanging your hide out to dry. I think we should all do whatever makes us feel safer (and be safer). You know my solution. I don't ride horses that make me feel even a tiny bit nervous any more. My horse training days are done.

Also, I agree that you have to make a distinction between using ground driving as a training tool with a colt (though I never did much of that either), and using ground driving as a way to address behavioral issues, which is what I think we're talking about here. I'm sure you/he aren't talking about having to ground drive the horse before you take it on a ride forever, though, right? That doesn't seem too practical. So the idea must be that at some point (through the ground driving) you get them to where you can just step up on them and go. And I'm kind of wondering how that transition will work out. I know, I know, I should read the book and see for myself.

The herd bound thing is a really hard one to fix. My personal solution has been to avoid horses with this issue. But if I remember right, you were actually riding Loki around the pasture where she lives with her buddies. Correct me if I'm wrong here. And I did find, many years ago, that virtually all my horses would act herd bound if I rode them around my sixty acre field while they were currently turned out there. My cowboy friend who helps look after the field found the same thing. We could take horses that weren't currently turned out there (even if they had been in the past) and ride around it and they would act fine. The ones who were currently living there always acted stupid if we rode them there. But we could take the pasture horses out and ride somewhere else and they were fine. So, its just a small thing, but maybe it could be helpful while you're working with Loki. I wouldn't ride her around the field where she lives if I could help it.

Like gtyyp, I used to pony my colts "outside" before I rode them there. That helped with a lot of them.

Sarah said...

That's much the same as what I do when my horse gets silly about being alone (usually only during the first few days of spring) - just get him working, paying attention, so that he can't get worried about his buddies.

I have a question (again =P) not entirely related to the post, but I thought I'd ask, because I love the way you explain things.

I have a western pleasure horse that, while he's very competitive, is way too smart for his own good and gets himself worked up really easily. The gears are always turning with him, and if you give him too much to focus on at once he gets upset. He even finds things to worry about all by himself and gets really tense - he won't put a foot wrong, but he tucks his head behind the bit and lifts his head and bugs his eyes. Usually I can remind him to just focus on me. The real problem is he always second guesses me. He won't just go where I point him, he wavers and tucks his chin and is constantly asking "are you sure? really? because I think we should be over there, on the rail". I've tried doing lots of circles and stuff and just keeping my cool, and some days are a lot better than others, but I wondered if you had any advice as far as just getting him to go where I ask, without trying to anticipate and getting himself worked up?

I reread your post "Ride like Ben Cartwright", but living in Southern Ontario has its drawbacks - no arroyos at which to point ;) is there a version of this I can do in the arena?

Thanks in advance even for reading this whole thing x)

mugwump said...

Laura-To my mind a well trained horse will go where I want them to, whether its around the pasture with their buddies in it or in an arena.
Loki needs to learn to go where I want, when I want and how I want.
From what I read this is the tool he uses to go "when" and "where." The idea being you get this part and the "how" will follow.
While I'm not knocking your experience or your choice to not ride your horses in your pasture, I do plan on riding mine in theirs.
I also plan on continuing to train any horse I decide I want to ride to go where I need them to.
If I can find a new method that ends up with me doing what I want and where I want then I'm going to try it.
It seems, to me anyway, it is easier to try to learn something new than quit riding a horse who might make me a tiny bit nervous. But that's just me.

drifter said...

I'm jealous of the hills and mountains that you keep bragging about! I wish my place had some elevation changes.

Sydney said...

Western horseman was one of the first magazines I was given. I am and always will be drawn to it but I canceled my subscription. Why? Well I found too many articles on stuff like biographies of trainers and peaks into ranch farms and less and less on training or health etc and it just got to be boring. I love the western horseman from the 90's they have a lot of good no nonsense training tips in there. I love their books too. I have quite the few of them but that book is one that needs to be added to my collection considering 90% of the riding I do is on the trail.

HorseOfCourse said...

I think that was a good idea.
But what do you do when you live in a woodland area? It is not easy to get enough space to longe the horse. Any ideas?

Kate said...

I don't use ground driving a lot, but I use it when I need it, and have found it very useful. For those unfamiliar, Mark Rashid has a nice video on ground driving - I think it's called Ground Driving 101 or something like that. I find it great for barn or buddy sour horses or horses who need to learn about scary situations, or who haven't been on trails.

Glenatron said...

It was one of those lightbulb moments at a clinic I recall where someone was asking about a good way of getting past something their horse was really bothered about and our teacher just said "get off". It was like a whole room full of people who had never thought once that they could get off their horses. Funny often how we get ourselves stuck in these boxes.

"Western Horseman" doesn't really get over to the UK, which is probably for the best as I'd only end up buying it the whole time. Increasingly the people I ride with are getting subscriptions to "Eclectic Horseman" which is the only horsey reading I find unmissable - it's a real labour of love and has reliably interesting training and riding related articles from riders in different disciplines, particularly western and classical dressage.

Scamp said...

I have a problem similar to HorseOfCourse: our trails are really wooded. My little stinker can be a bit barn-sour but not to the point of argument, he just tries a few times to turn around, is stopped, then moves on.

My problem is mud. He is fine with a plain old mud puddle, but you get into the woods and the mud is dank, dark, deep, and sometimes harbors tiny frogs that all move at once when you approach. Yes, that happened on one of the first trail rides I took him on.

The trails are very wooded, with trees and brush to both sides and branches above. We get to the mud, and he balks, tries to back, tries to go to the left or the right (just as muddy, but the mud is hidden by the branches, logs, tree roots and other shoe-removing stuff that he can get cut on).

We get through it, but it's not pretty. Sometimes, he muscles his way through the brush and trees on the side; sometimes I muscle him through the (in his mind) frog-infested muck, sometimes he leaps it like a frog himself... but I'd like to just *go*, no drama.

Is this just a matter of wet saddle blankets, do you think? We'd been out there less than 10 times so far this year, it's been too rotten weather wise to really go consistently.

HorseNoob said...

I got my horse while he was boarded at a pretty big place (70+ horses). I was an arena baby, usually because I came at night, and he behaved perfectly.

First trail ride- calm until sudden bronco. I stayed on pretty good but decided to let go because, heck I'm a beginner! I sat up, looked at him and said "I'm not chasing you." He ran back to the barn.

I went back there with him the next day, on the ground. No bees, no tripping, were my hands that rough? Didn't think so, was it because a horse that had left rejoined the group? He knew these trails well, better than me.

I had lessons out on the trail, concentrating on ways of calming him, recognizing nervousness etc. I never went out alone but had no more issues that summer on trail occasions.

The next year, out with a larger group, first trail of the summer, we got passed on the trail mid way, and bronco happened again. This time I sat it, but hopped off afterwards because heck, he's not in his right mind! I let everyone go ahead and he started to flip out, even turning and giving me a solid kick to the thigh (MF-ow!), and we walked back.

We then moved, and he was having problems joining the new herd. Hhe had his own pasture for a bit. With no arena, we hit the road and trails. We could go blocks, miles, and he would dutifully plod along, curious.

He made friends, and then couldn't leave the driveway without nervously backing into whatever I didn't want him to back onto (pile of rocks, a sharp ditch, a bush, etc.)

He went back to boarding for winter (dark in MN in winter, need those indoor arena lights), and I kept him there this summmer, as he's in training (building a solid lope). We went on a trail ride. Beautiful calm day, a friendly mare he liked with a sensible rider, at a walk, with plenty of stops and assurances that things are fine.

Halfway through the ride, another bronco moment. I hopped off as did she and we walked back together.

Last night I couldn't get him down to the outdoor arena, and I KNOW his trainer rides him down there and works him there, so yay we have yet ANOTHER thing to work on.

Whatta brat. :( I'll be sure to have the trainer take him on a trail or two and see what he thinks. Ugh.

autumnblaze said...

WHAT a perfect topic for me! Of course, you know I've been one of the ones pestering you about such things. On top of that though, we've changed barns and therefore trails. I did not think I'd be nervous about it... but I am. If I'm nervous he'll be nervous. Grr. I was hoping someone else might be heading out and we could go in a group so he can see the new trails with friends. I also wanted him good and settled in - it hasn't been a week yet but he's doing well in his new herd. It's the largest he's ever been in but no true idiots it seems.

He's done spectacular in the ring there... was eyeing the jumps, ears perked! I'll let my trainer see what he can do there.

I plan on picking up this book because I think it will be extremely helpful to us. I do want to start trailoring out with an endurance/trail person who has offered - I'm not worried as much about that b/c he'll have a buddy. However, knowing trail etiquette and such will be VERY important! I like the arena but love the trail... I wanna get back out but I don't want to be so dang nervous I CAUSE the problem. Thanks for the rec mugs!

autumnblaze said...

Oh, and I'll have the same problem as HorseofCourse and Scamp here too with narrow trails (how come people dont' cut trails very wide around here?!?!). Except fence on one side, like at the last barn, but this isn't post and board. High tensile. I think that's making me the most nervous.

He doesn't like mucky mud much either... but we get through it. Have met 'new' white gravel patches that he was TERRIFIED of from a distance but that went well, despite an attempt or two to spin and leave the premises. I was quiet but insistent he had to go the way I was asking, blocked like hell, encouraged and praised him when he took a step forward. He was fine after his foot hit it the first time. It didn't have super skeery frogs though...

badges blues N jazz said...

awesome.. Confirmation that I have been doing things correctly! that is EXACTLY what I do. If my mare starts being buddy sour (which is frequently) I get her attention back on me by makeing her WORK in a way that she has to THINK. (rollbacks etc.)
Also, with her being so darn herdbound, I have taken her for walks (me on the ground) down our neighbourhood to a field by a park, and worked on ground stuff. Lunging and quick change of directions etc.
I am also taking my yearling out for walks by himself in hopes to prevent the problems I have encountered with my herdbound mare. hmmmm. Hope it works!

Laura Crum said...

Well, good for you, mugwump. Hope it works. It will be fun for all of us to hear about. I'm sure we'll all learn some useful stuff.

Amy said...

HorseNoob- you are training him to buck! Every time he throws a fit, you get off and walk him home... no more work!

My mare never really had bucking bronco moments, but there was a point where I couldn't get her to move out- at all. All she would do if I upped the pressure was buck and snarl at me, and even bite my leg. We remedied this through lots (and lots) of groundwork, and restarting riding in very easy increments (i.e. longeing in the field next door and riding home).

Now, when she does buck, which is far less frequently, she gets to turn on the haunches each way and back up about 15 feet, briskly. And then, she gets to do whatever it was she threw a fit about (usually cantering) all over again. 9 times out of 10, she loses the attitude and canters off nicely.

Back on topic- this book sounds like something that would work for me... past couple days, I have been riding in the evening when it's cooler... and my horse is terrified of the longer shadows *rolls eyes*. She has been improving in leaps and bounds, and the last couple days has been an absolute booger! Shying, spooking, all out stopping from a jog and refusing to go any further because of the way a shadow hit the road... new challenges all the time...

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