Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Why I Hate Halter/Mort
Here's my little colt, Leland. I saddled him for the first time this past weekend. Don't mock my fabric saddle. I borrowed it. It's light as a feather. I will never, ever ride in it.
Anyway, you can see how stressed he is. Not even a little.
I was saying hi to my little herd and visiting with my friend who owns the pasture when he sidled up next to me. I put an arm around his back and rubbed on him a little. He thought that was fine. So I put both arms across him and kept talking to my friend. I scratched his neck and his butt at the same time. Leland thought that was pretty cool. He air groomed a little.
"He's decided he's a gelding," I said.
"He is getting friendlier, he almost lets us pet him," she answered.
In case you are new to the blog or don't remember, this is my little colt that I'm experimenting with. I'm trying to train him in clean enough and clear enough steps that I only show him what I want once. Then he should know it.
He is about 2 1/2. I have had him since birth. He has been handled very little. He has never been fed anything by hand except wormer.
I've been loosely documenting what I've been doing with him. I can catch him, halter him, lead him. He trailers, allows other people to handle him, will pick up his feet, stands quiet for shots and worming.
Leland understands he needs to keep his shoulder clear of me and looks up politely when he sees me.
I don't think I've handled this colt more than 20 times.
So far so good.
I let him in the round pen and he sniffed the saddle and pad over. He pawed it a little, then ignored it.
I haltered him and led him next to the saddle and pad. I slung the rope over my arm and picked up the pad. I put it on his back and took it off. Then I put it on his back and slid the pad around.
Leland was interested and calm. I let the pad fall on the off-side.
He looked at the pad, then me.
I picked up the cloth saddle and put it on his back.
I ran the latigo through the cinch ring and pulled on the latigo without committing to cinching him up.
He humped his back a little.
When he relaxed I loosened the cinch, then finished looping it through and tightened it.
When I finally tighten my cinch on the first saddling I go ahead and cinch tight. I don't want a broncy colt to get scared with a saddle under his belly. I don't want to ruin a saddle either. Even if it's a cloth one.
I let Leland go and sent him around the round pen. He trotted with his tail clamped for a few goes, then relaxed. I sent him the other way and quit when he relaxed.
Then I left him in the round pen and messed with the other horses for a little.
I unsaddled him and let him go about 20 minutes later.
So now he's saddle broke.
Doing things this way has showed me some interesting results.
It has created a colt who is interested and respectful.
He just about says, "So what did you cook up for today?" when I decide to show him something.
He is incredibly calm. I can see his little baby brain work when I present a new task.
He has days, weeks, sometimes months between lessons. He hasn't forgotten one of them.
I think it has to do with the idea that each contact has meaning to him. He doesn't try to avoid me because what we do is interesting. He doesn't disrespect me because our contact has been minimal enough to not let bad habits develop from too much familiarity on either side.
My latest concern about my methodology is that so much of his training relies on muscle memory. Which is repetition.
His three-year-old year will be easy enough. He will be learning to carry me and to work a cow. Each lesson will build on the one before, so we should be good.
But what happens when I start his reined work during his 4-year-old year? Circles become perfect through repetition. Strength and calmness during each maneuver comes through repetition.
If I break each step of each maneuver down to it's smallest point, will we still progress enough to be competitive by the time he's 5?
Being able to count on a horse in the show pen depends on having trained his muscles to react automatically through muscle memory. Which comes from repetition.
Hmmmm. I'm giving myself a headache.
Why I Hate Halter
I wanted an all-around trophy so bad I thought I could die. Most of the local clubs offered a high-point trophy at the end of their monthly day shows.
Most of those trophies went to kids with two horses. It didn't mean I couldn't get it done. It just meant I had to do some figuring.
The speed events were not a problem. Not that we were consistent winners, but Mort and I had become reliably competitive.
Hot as he was, Mort wasn't particularly fast. He could place in barrels, flags and 75 up and back, but we were usually beat by at least one or two of kids with faster horses.
He shone in poles and keyhole. His lightening quick agility put him at the top of these two events pretty consistently.
But the morning events killed us. Pleasure? Ha. High headed and quick legged, we pretty much just lapped the rest of the group and were cut pretty quickly. Once in a while we would luck out and be in a class filled with even rougher stock than we were and Mort and I could place. I always entered, it was good for the both of us.
Horsemanship was a little better, but not much, I could ride, my seat was solid, but I didn't have the polish the other "morning" kids had. My weaknesses were glaringly obvious in those classes, but I watched like a hawk and copied the winners the best I could.
Reining was the best. We had that one down. Once Mort became consistent with the Monte Foreman stop, we won the reining every single time we walked in the arena. It was cool. Because we became contenders, I started to make friends with some of those dreaded morning kids. I was able to ride with them and expand my knowledge beyond what I could wrangle out of my friend Karen.
I needed another class though. That stinking Casey Heare was so good in the speed events she could take a day trophy without ever setting foot in the arena before the lunch break. If I was going to take her I needed some points from the morning.
So I decided to show in the halter classes. Even I should be able to pull off halter. All it took was a clean horse and a 4-H book, right?
I worked hard. Mort had a bad habit of moving a hind foot forward when his fronts were square and stepping forward when his hinds were square. But we practiced and practiced, I listened to the advice from the kids who knew what they were doing and got ready to give it a try.
We didn't place. I wasn't too surprised. I held my arms like I was balancing a tray of glasses, I smiled and remembered to keep my chin up.
It didn't get Mort square. He still stepped in and shoved me out of the line up with his nose. He thought halter was pretty boring. He wanted to nose the horse next to him, he wanted to snuffle the dirt. At one point he thought it might be a good time to roll. I was no fun at all.
So he sighed and cocked his hip. I sighed too.
After the class I went to talk to the judge, as was my habit after these classes, hoping for a tidbit of advice I could chew on. I was already thinking ahead to the next show.
"This isn't a halter horse," the judge told me.
"He's narrow chested and his front feet turn out."
"He's thin necked and it's set too high. You need another 50 pounds on this horse, that will hide a lot of his faults. You want your horse to look like a square."
I walked away in shock. I had no idea this class was about looks. I wouldn't have stayed out even if I had. Mort was beautiful.
I took Mort to the tie rail and tied him. I stood back and looked at him hard. My shining, race horse fit, beautiful headed boy looked different.
He was thin. He was so long legged he was a narrow, tall rectangle. Never a square. His feet turned out like a duck. Suddenly he looked shabby. My face burned in embarrassment.
Two classes later the same judge gave us a first in reining. It didn't change a thing. Suddenly the difference between my horse and the others at the show were stark, glaring and painful.
On our long ride home that evening I threw my reins out and let him trot. He stretched out and glided over the prairie. There wasn't a horse on the planet that could trot like Mort. It was miles out before I could sit back and admire the metallic glint of the setting sun against his coat.