Friday, April 25, 2008

Ride like Ben Cartwright

I have had some interesting reading the last few days.

I've been cruising around the fuglyhorseoftheday blog. A huge discussion has been going on about calming the dreaded "old lady nerves" we all seem to be incapable of ducking.

The older I get, one of the biggest problems I have seems to be my tendency to pick. I want the head just so, the line of travel to be dead on, the shape of my colts bodies to be in a beautiful, perfect "C" as we learn to bend.

I feel safest when all of those things are in place.

If I'm being honest, I feel safest when my poor little horses are locked tightly between my knees and my hands.

I fight my picking habits more and more as I age.

A few weeks ago I was stuck home for a few days, wildly sick with a horrible flu.

All I could manage was to lay on my recliner and watch CRAPTV. My favorite no brainer channel.

I was happily watching Bonanza.

I couldn't help myself, my trainer brain kicked in.

I'm not talking about the urge to laugh at the high headed, wildly tossing, often rearing stuff. That's how they were riding on TV then.

I was watching how those ponies were trained.

The first thing I noticed is that every horse went where it was pointed, every time. It didn't matter whether Little Joe knew how to ride or not. (Which in the earlier episodes he definitely DID NOT)

If somebody needed to lope through that arroyo, they pointed that horse at it, and off they loped. Perfectly framed in the shot.

Those horses put their feet where they were supposed to, every single step. At the speed they were asked to. No legs were in use by the riders that I could ever see.

Those horses walked, jogged soft enough to make ol' Hoss look like he knew what was up, and loped from a stand still. All the second they were told to, and they still looked reasonably happy.

How many of us can say that about our horses? I know my own arena babies often forget exactly what it means to simply head off into the sunset.

If you had seen my first run down in my dry work at my last show, you would understand why this meant a lot to me.

I would love to talk to some of those T.V. wranglers. I'd like to pick their brains. But I couldn't find any on the Internet.

Instead, when I went back to work I decided to ride like Ben Cartwright. I started with my broke ones, and progressed down to my babies.

No circles, no leg yields, no collection.

I just pointed them off somewhere, threw out my reins, and expected them to git.

I say "git" because I think that's how Ben would say it.

Did they git, you ask?

Yes they did.

I rode like that for a week.

My boss thought I was still burning with the fever, so I made her do it too.

We can git really far at my job because I'm out on the prairie.

What happened was all of my horses, broke to not so broke, had a blast.

They started to travel straight and true. Their leg coordination picked up considerably. They moved with more confidence and grace.

I on the other hand about had a stroke for the first few days. Unlike Ben, I didn't have a stunt double, so I had to suck it up.

Because I was scaring the crap out of myself, I had to give myself a few rules.

First, I couldn't check their speed, I could only steer left or right. With my hands. No legs. No pulling.

Soon I found out why you point them towards the arroyo. It slows them down.

Surprise, surprise, after a few days all of my horses began to go only at the speed I asked them for.

Once they quit worrying about what I was up to they started to relax and enjoy themselves. One interesting note, the rowdiest ones were also the brokest.

My best horse, my personal horse, my trained to the nines, two rein competitor, got pretty darn wacky. She loved the no restraint on the speed deal. She wiggled, she wobbled, she skittered, she bucked (the little rat), and then she ran. She thought this was going to be the paybacks of all paybacks.

Until we got a few miles out (yes indeedy, it's a big prairie) and she found out I still expected her to go where I pointed. In and out of dry creek beds, across fields, along sandy berms by dirt roads, whatever.

She got herself together, quit trying to mess with me, and started looking around with interest.
She started going exactly where I pointed her. At the speed I asked. I had to push her up into the next gear, and she'd slow as soon as I deepened my seat.

This was way too much fun to be a training tool. But it became one. It helped me remember how much fun it is to just ride. How good for both our brains. Don't tell anybody, but I may have ki-yi-yied a time or two. I had to trust my horses. They didn't let me down, not a one. My mare was the only one that bucked, and she was just goofing.

We should all ride like Ben Cartwright. At least once in a while. Now I remember why I rode so well as a kid. I had a bad case of the go fast. I loved my horse. I was getting my first taste of freedom. I just rode. Yippee ki yi yi!


  1. I don't exactly know how I stumbled upon your blog, but I've been reading it for a little while. After reading this I decided, well hell sounds like this persons onto something.

    I don't have a prairie, but I've got woods with lots of trails. I took my barrel horse out (I mainly train for barrels) and I will normally school him while out there, but decided that we were just gonna go for a nice ride. Low and behold, he just plodded along as quiet as can be, normally he’s quiet until we have a bit of a lope. I’ve never been so proud of that horse.

  2. >>I on the other hand about had a stroke for the first few days. Unlike Ben, I didn't have a stunt double, so I had to suck it up.<<


    I have a friend who really wants me to haul the VLC out eventually and go riding with him in Montana. I am sure the VLC would love this. I, on the other hand, am nearly rendered catatonic with shock at the thought of riding out where there are NO WALLS. No walls at all. And, you know, HILLS and shit...and maybe BEARS.

    Maybe when he's a 5 year old...LOL.

    Or maybe I will just send him to you and you can do it, LOLOLOL!

  3. I am new to your blog and was just browsing through when I found this entry. I'm also new to horses and riding and have spent the last year working with my 5 year old mare on slowing her down, collecting herself, and also building up my confidence as a rider. Last night I rode her and after a while of working on her stops and collection in general I started her out at a trot and pretty much dropped the reins. I only asked her for a large circle and off we went. It was amazing. She leveled out, set her head and extended her trot like I've never felt before. I couldn't believe it. The less I thought about and asked for, the more she did. I hadn't really thought about what was different last night until I read this entry today and a little light bulb went off. I'm definitely going to incorporate more of this into our sessions. It was way to fun not to!

  4. I LOVE THIS! I have a friend who was getting upset with her horse because he wanted to GO and she was fighting to hold him back. He's supposed to be a western pleasure horse and she was quite upset that he wasn't just moseying along like expected.

    I told her "then let him go... he'll run and then he'll realize it's more work than worth and he'll feel better". So she "gitted" lmao...... down the road they flew!!!! It would have been much more fun in a prairie with an arroyo, but what the heck.

    And you know what? It worked!

    She got yelled at because his running made one of the younger girls' horses want to run too, but I'm pretty sure she had him under control even if her mom was concerned about it.

    I have a horse who if I "gitted", we could end up in Kansas before he'd stop. :-|

    Little Joe sure was cute back then, wasn't he? (swoon)

  5. I absolutely love getting out there and lettin' 'er rip! I used to have a fear of wide open spaces until I learned the pure joy of galloping on a horse that wants to gallop.

    A year ago I purchased my first horse as an adult. A 3-year-old Thoroughbred - he had never raced but had trained at the track. He knew what it meant to gallop. Our third hack in the woods (which was about our 10th ride - he's been a superstar!) we were trotting along and he much prefers third gear so when I could feel him about to roll into it, I let him. I couldn't let myself let him all the way out. The trail we were on was going to turn soon but he had a fantastic time. The next time we went out we found a longer path and when he pulled to be turned loose, I let him go. He had his ears pricked the entire time and when I finally pulled him up he was prancing and snorting. I haven't found a path long enough that when I let him out he actually slows down on his own. Perhaps that should be my goal for this year.

    What a fantastic experience!


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