I know I've been gone a bunch. But there is something volatile and horse related brewing around here. I am seriously P O'd and will be writing about it soon enough, bear with me.
Everybody Knows Sumpthin’ About Sumpthin’ By Janet Huntington
When I was a kid there were two styles of riding. You could ride Western, or English.
Since I first came in contact with horses on a regular basis at Mark Reynor Stables in the Springs I learned to ride Western. This meant I bobbed along in a heavy western saddle with a saddle horn and a string cinch. I learned what a curb bit was, how to ride with my left hand and to sit a trot. When our drill team rode in the Pikes Peak or Bust Parade and Rodeo we wore cowboy hats and spurs. We were really cool.
As I grew older and wiser I found out there were different kinds of western saddles. There were barrel saddles, roping saddles and fistula creating saddles made in Mexico. I learned to ride in a ring snaffle and with two hands.
I developed a liking for local horse shows. I discovered the difference between “morning events” and “speed events.” I liked to insist the speed events were cooler, but I secretly wished I could be better at the pleasure, halter and horsemanship classes that made up the morning events. Those horses and their riders seemed so calm and composed.
Periodically I would hear things from English riders along the lines of, “Western is fine for beginners, but real riding is done in an English saddle.” This made me defensive and mad. Then I got an English saddle and learned to post, ride my horse with contact and pop over a few jumps.
I developed an appreciation for close contact and free swinging stirrups, but found I got the same ride from my Monte Foreman balanced ride western saddle. I liked jumping bareback better too. So I was back in the western world before I learned about different types of English saddles and this time by choice.
The years went by and I discovered the difference between pleasure horses, gymkhana horses and happily for me reining horses. Reining was the event for me. It was cool. It was classy. I still got to go fast. Yeah baby. I learned about reining saddles, correctional bits and movable shanks. I rode with 8-foot split reins, with no knots tied in them. Slide stops and spins? Best thing ever. I started to appreciate finesse.
The art of dressage began to play a part in my world. By learning to use my legs and seat more than my hands I was able to improve my riding and my horse’s ability. But wait, wasn’t this close to the same theory I had learned from Monte Foreman? It was pretty darn close to Ray Hunt’s approach too. I still didn’t need to give up my western saddle. I just needed a close contact saddle and some common sense.
Then I found the world of cows. Reined cowhorse, Vaquero riding and cutting. Those aren’t called bosals, they’re hackamores. Bosalitos, mecates, spade bits, romel reins. More equipment, more layers of cool. I found the best contact I had ever had with my horses when I invested in a quality, custom cutting saddle.
By this time I had come up through many layers and levels of horsemanship. Which was better? Which was THE way to ride? The more I learned the less I knew. What trainer was right? Which method should be the one I adopt as my own? It turns out the best trainer is the one who knows more than me and is willing to share information.
The best method is the one slowly forming in my mind and my muscle memory as I keep learning and trying new things. I never skip an article in a horse magazine because it’s about a different riding discipline. I try to understand weight distribution and placement of seat bones no matter what kind a saddle is on my horse. Did you know the stirrup length and seat is identical for a person who rides dressage, cutting or reined cowhorse? Dressage folks look a lot straighter and not quite as dusty as the cow folk, but the shoulders, hips and heels align and hang the same.
I tend to remember the first three sentences of everything I read, but nothing else. This makes me really good at Trivial Pursuit and terrible in World History. It also has helped me pick up handy tips from different disciplines, no matter how far they run from my own preferences.
I learned from a barrel racing article to watch the tips of my horse’s ears through a turn. If they aren’t level the horse’s shoulders aren’t either. I found this applies to circles, spins and fence turns.
I was recently reading an article on hunter jumpers. It was about take-off points for proper jumps. The suggestion which stood out in my mind was to draw a three foot box in front of your jumps and try to place your horse’s front feet in the box before take-off. This would be a great exercise while setting up jumps for western versatility or Extreme Cowboy Races.
I know calvaletti exercises are great for flexibility and drive, something we could all use on our horses and a fun way to break up a routine.
Pleasure riders pointed out to me if I ride with my tongue on the roof of my mouth I’ll hold my head up straight.
Basic dressage, from theory to practice can be applied in all areas of reined cowhorse. I try to read and understand about everything to cross my desk about dressage.
I am not a fan of “Natural Horsemanship.” Or maybe it’s simply the term that bugs me. There’s nothing natural about us riding these horses. So let’s quit kidding ourselves. BUT! John Lyons taught me repetition is for my sake more than the horse’s. Ray Hunt taught me to keep the feet moving. The Australian guy taught me it only works to lope some horses down. Sometimes getting them tired gets them hysterical. I have to apologize to the spirit of Mr. Hunt for lumping him in with those other guys, but you catch my drift.
Over the years my education in the equine world has gone beyond saddles, leg position and theory. I’ve learned to be patient, I’ve learned to be open minded and I’ve learned to listen.
Even when I think whoever is telling me about the new and only way to train, is full of horse cookies, if I keep my ears open and my mouth shut I generally will pick up something to think about, something to try, another way to approach the world of horses.
Does anybody know anything about chariot racing?