Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Martin's Hackamore

And then there's Martin Black.

I have a lot of trouble with the horse training industry. I question what we do to our horses, why we do it and who the people are that do it for us.
Horse trainers bug me. Even I bug me.
I was lucky enough to be a trainer for many years. I was privileged to ride many horses of many levels of breeding and ability. I got to ride enough to become a decent horsewoman.
I still bug me.
I love the elegance, the thoroughness and the time involved in creating a bridle horse. I became fascinated with the whole process while learning to train a reined cowhorse.
Ideally it takes a minimum of five years to develop a bridle horse.
This beautiful, time-honored training method creates a horse that can be ridden with a flex of muscle, a lift of the romel, a clean, clear thought.

As a competitor in AQHA and NRCHA events I found that a successful trainer does not get to spend five years developing a winner. A successful trainer needs to win on three-year-olds. Win on four-year-olds. Win on five-year-olds.
Keep on going, even if it takes twisted wire snaffles and logging chain hackamores to make that next show.
Keep on going, even if our horses have hocks so blown that by the time they are four they creep forward in exaggerated strides like a crab. Just inject those hocks and head for the next show.
Keep going when everything that inspired our event is left behind in the dust.

I left my profession, disillusioned and sad.

As many of you know, I can't leave anything alone. You see I have this horse. This cool little horse. She has the makings of a winner. She has never let me down. She is sharp on a cow, sweet and beautiful in her dry work. She is a horse I want to show.
I rode her in a snaffle her three year-old year. I rode her the best I could. I showed her a little. She did OK.
I rode her in a hackamore for the following two years. I used the wonderful things I learned and rejected the terrible. I figured as best I could. But I have holes. Huge holes in my knowledge. I showed her maybe an eighth of what I should have. She did pretty good.
I moved her into the two-rein. She had a tough time. I had nobody in my circle I could go to. Nobody I knew had truly studied the two rein. They simply rammed their horse into the bridle, forced a frame, added a bosal and showed.
I rode at home. I played with my two-rein. I showed her once. I rode mainly with the bosal.

So now I have a six year old mare. She's still sound. She has been trained to the best I know.

I've gone back to my hackamore. I'm not willing to push past what I know. You see, I have this cool little horse. She responds to the flex of a muscle, the lift of my mecate, a clear, clean thought. I'm afraid I'll ruin this wonderful thing.

I read a few articles written by a man who grew up ranching in Idaho. He went on to work in California, Texas and more. His articles rang a bell. He didn't talk about futurities or derbies or sliders on two-year-olds. He talked about finding the release. About patience. About listening.
"AHA!" I can just hear all you NHer's holler. But guess what?
He doesn't talk about being above the show world. Or not needing it. He rides to succeed. He also tries to be kind and fair with his horses.
This guy is doing what I had given up ever having a shot at.
He rides bridle horses.
He trains them one step at a time.
He shows.
How cool.
So I watched the first of his bridle horse DVD series. The Hackamore.
His instruction is clear and to the point. Lots of information on fitting the hackamore. About the different sizes and how they work. About quality.
Then we got into using the hackamore.
This guy is good. I learned some new things, some incredibly helpful things.
I learned some practical information that I definitely needed.
This DVD will help the beginner who's interested, and people like me, who want more.
I'm going to work through the series. I'm planning on staying impressed.
I'm planning on showing my mare.
Check out his website, it gives you a peek into my world. The world I 'm beginning to think I don't have to leave.
I am very intrigued.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's My Line?

stilllearning said:
Will a very lazy horse ever have enough "juice" to do advanced work? My trainer says we won't have enough engine for upper level dressage. I'm hoping she's wrong. Any opinions?


holly said: I am wondering now, if cow bred horses are more "on" or something than horses bred for other disciplines.

I just love it when a subject I'm getting ready to post on dovetails with one or more thoughts from you guys.
As most of you have figured out by now, I have a "never say never" type of attitude when it comes to training horses. I used to be a zealot. I felt that any horse who was conformationally able to do the required maneuvers could become effective in the show pen if it was understood and trained with patience.
To a certain extent I still feel this is true. I have trained a lot of horses that were not specifically bred for what I wanted. I guess there are benefits to being a second rate cowhorse trainer. I was given ample opportunity to ride horses who not were bred for cowhorse, as a matter of fact they often were a prime example of BYB at it's best.
I have taught a Thoroughbred mare with string halt and her green owners, to slide stop, take her leads and do a respectable lead change.
I have taught a pacing,shambling wreck of a quarter horse mare to walk, trot and canter in the way she was supposed to.

I survived Sonita.

I took on a foundation bred mare that traced back mainly to race horses and had some success in the cowhorse world.
Those are a few highlights.

Then I finally put down some serious money for a Smart Chic Olena, Hollywood Jac 86 bred filly. I realized I had been training Chihuahua's to be sled dogs. Now I had gone and gotten myself a husky.
My life changed. My new little horse learned at the speed of light. Her spins were low and flat. She slid at least ten feet the first time I asked her to "Whoa". She was barefoot and had been ridden maybe 10 times. I learned to be more careful when I threw out my whoas.
The first time she saw a cow she trotted straight to it with her ears pricked and shaking with excitement. On her own she tracked it, turned with it and stopped with it. Since I had been carefully taught to do nothing my first few rides on cattle, I never picked up my reins or asked her to stop. With the right bred horse I found out I didn't have to.

By this time I was working for the Big K. I was riding his horses. They were essentially the same. Not in personality. I still encountered mean ones, scared ones, big hearted ones and cowards.
But it was a whole new world riding horses that were well bred for a specific job, out of proven parents.
We still had failures. But the difference was astounding.
I still had my other horses come in. I never climbed to a height where I could afford to train only the best. Because of the rise in the caliber of some of the horse I got to ride, I was much more effective with the regular guys.
I also learned what could be overcome and what couldn't.

Physical Limitations

Even if a horse looks conformationally correct, it doesn't mean it can do anything we want it to.
Cowhorses are often small. They don't necessarily have straight legs. Pretty is not always a concern, although pretty helps in all sports.
They are built to sink their hind end into the dirt. They have huge lateral flexibility, so they can spin and turn a cow. The are often bred to be low headed and flat in their way of travel. They are not necessarily fast. We only need them to be faster than a cow. Our sport is not a timed one. A cowhorse that wants to race does not want to turn a cow. A good cowhorse is agile like a cat.

A halter horse is not going to move like I need it to in order to work a cow.
Neither is a pleasure horse.
The Hanoverian stud colt I worked with last summer really showed me what a well bred dressage horse can do. He is not even broke yet. But he moves with a beautiful arrogance that takes my breath away. His leg action is so elastic he can kick a fly on the point of his shoulder and not bend. I don't know enough about dressage to say anymore than that, but I got a good idea of what a star this colt will be, just teaching him his basic manners. He would be a dismal failure as a cowhorse.

Mental Limitations

Cowhorses tend to be extremely hot.
I rode them for so long I adapted my opinion of what is hot. Cowhorses I considered completely quiet and gentle were either terrified of, or took delight in terrifying green riders. I realized my concept of gentle was not what it used to be.
In order to have the fire to succeed in the show pen, a good cowhorse is a lot of horse.
They are impatient, intelligent and have a bunch of go.
To my great sorrow I learned that a gentle, quiet soul without the drive or flexibility to become a star can be snapped like a twig, mentally and/or physically if she is pushed beyond her capabilities.
(another story, another day)
A hot, intelligent horse can be labeled crazy or mean when he is incapable of adapting to a quiet life in a barn, being ridden on week ends and being shown at the local 4-H show.
Most well bred pleasure horses I have known are sweet, gentle creatures. They have been bred to not only accept, but relish a life in Sleezy sleepwear, box stalls and excruciatingly slow jogs on the rail. They love being fussed over in a way that would drive a good cowhorse to drink.
The key here is to find the value in each horse. If my lazy, gentle dressage horse doesn't have the "it factor" to make the upper levels it can come from many places. Maybe my gentle best friend doesn't have the mental drive to make it to the top. Or maybe he can't physically reach those heights.
That doesn't mean he's not worth his weight in gold. It means I have the right mount to be learning on. I can study my selected discipline, and be safe in his gentle temperament and kind nature. He won't get rattled when I make mistakes. He will simply wait until I get it right and then he'll do his best.
The most valuable cowhorse there is? The one that will pack a newby around and not kill them.
They bring in tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds. Rarely will they go on to win The World Show, but these are the horses every trainer is scrambling to find. There aren't many of them.

Which brings me to my next point.
If we are dedicated to a sport we have to face the inevitability of outgrowing the horses we start on. The horses that were patient enough to deal with us as we fumble our way are rarely the super stars. The super starts expect us to know what we're doing. They deserve that respect.
Which is why we sell our horses.  
Realize the sweet teacher can go on to a life of being ridden within their bounds. Selling a horse is not the end of the world, for you, or your horse. You learn with each ride. The horses you learn on can stay where they shine, not become losers trying to shoulder a burden we had no right to expect.
I also am against selling a horse before we're ready. I have seen over and over again, people leave a horse behind to buy something bigger or better. Usually because they assume it's the horse's fault they aren't winning. This can be a trainer's fault or the rider's fault. I think we just have to be sure it's time to move up. Sometimes the reality is that we have to learn to ride what we have.
I am a huge believer in taking a horse as far as I can. I become a better horseman because of it and leave a horse with a better chance of becoming the beloved family member they all deserve to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sonita/Chapter 14

We were on our way. Sonita had finally started to place. I was beginning to understand my horse and the cowhorse game we played. After showing in AQHA or NRCHA events 26 times before even having our name called, much less ending up in the money, Sonita and I were becoming competitive.
My students and the horses I had in training were all beginning to benefit from my hard won knowledge. My students were beginning to show and place, my horses were becoming soft and reliable. I was beginning to understand the mysteries of working a cow. I could get through entire shows without anybody asking me, "Why don't you get rid of that tail-wringing bitch and get a cowhorse?" I became competent help at a horse show and was asked to shag cattle (move cattle back to the holding pens after they were worked), do bit checks and scribe for some of the top judges at our bigger shows.
I was no longer considered "cannon fodder" for the classes I entered. The friendly greetings from my fellow competitors stayed the same, but the unending advice and help began to dry up. Some regretted the advice they had given, because it was becoming obvious I listened to everyone, and used it. Most were happy for me. I had certainly paid my dues.
The cowhorse bunch is a tight knit group. I was proud and happy to finally be an accepted part of it.

This was my frame of mind as I entered the Colorado Reined Cowhorse Association's Futurity and Derby in September. I might not have been confident, but I was certainly hopeful. Sonita and I would show in the bridle class and I had an up and coming snaffle bit horse to show in the derby.
Three of my students, (OK, one was my kid) had gutted up and were also competing. I was feeling like I was finally getting somewhere.

As we pulled into the fairgrounds my entire trailer exploded with wild neighs and pounding hooves as Sonita began to double barrel the trailer walls with everything she had.
"Hey!" I yelled.
I slammed the truck into park and jumped out to see what had set her off now. I ran to the back of the trailer and Sonita let loose with another volley of kicks and shrieked her best wild stallion imitation.
"What is your problem?" I said as I peered into the last stall of my trailer.
The other horses were cowering, terrified by the sounds and violence. Sonita glared at me, her eyes wide and her ears flat. Ropey, foamy sweat dripped to the floor. Her hay bag was torn off it's hanger and stomped into the stall mats. The acrid smell of mare pee filled my nostrils.
"Oh no. Here we go."
Sonita was in heat.

Sonita in season was a terrible thing. Never a particularly friendly horse, when she cycled she became a vision from hell. Maybe Mother Nature simply knew that my own personal psychopath should never be bred, because when Sonita came in season she also became determined to kill any horse that flicked an ear her way. No stud was ever going to approach her and live. I'm not sure there was a fertility doc on the planet who would have been willing to AI her.
There is a lovely, legal hormone treatment available called Regu-mate. Within three days after starting a mare on Regu-mate her regular cycles will be suppressed. Essentially she will be begin behaving like a bred mare as long as she is given the treatment every day. A pregnant mare is a happy mare. Sonita on Regu-mate stayed almost focused, rideable, and fairly compliant.
Unfortunately, it costs about $400 a month to keep my mare happy and content. I had used it with much success during the spring and summer of that year. Some people only put their horse on it the week before a show in order to save money. But the uproar it caused with Sonita's hormones to stop and start her up again wasn't worth it. I wasn't willing to cause that much stress and discomfort to save some money.
It was fall. The intensity of her cycles should have been motoring down for the year. So I had retired the Regu-mate at the end of August. I had calculated the days and figured she wouldn't go into season until the week after the show.
As I stood watching her dismember my trailer I realized my calculations were wrong. So very wrong.

The Big K came by my stalls to say "Hey."
"Sonita's in," I said.
He stepped back as she lunged over the stall door, teeth bared at a horse that was led too close.
"So I see," he said.
"Have fun with that," he added as he walked on down the aisle.
I saw by his strut and the silent shaking of his shoulders that I was going to be his favorite joke of the day. It took everything I had to stop from throwing my curry at his retreating head.

I waited to work her until after midnight. At that time of night there are only a few riders out schooling their horses. A few green horses, a few green trainers, the nervous and the desperate. So we had plenty of room in the pen.
We rode until 4 a.m. Sonita roared, she leaped, she shook her head and thundered. She was savage. She would squeal and strike at the passing horses. I spun her off them over and over.
Typical of a cowhorse event, no one gave me room. They expected me to control my horse or clear the arena. So we fought.
When I finally put her up I did my chores and headed to the Roach Coach for coffee. I flopped my tired bones down at a picnic table with the Big K. He was just waking up and in irritatingly good form.
"Why good morning!" He said. "How did it go last night?"
"I rode her, but I never got her rode."
"It should get better, you've got a few more days before you show her. She'll start to come down."
I hated it when he was perky.
"Well, Mr. Sparkles, you weren't there when a stud moved into the stall behind us. She's gone. I mean over the moon. I'm thinking I should scratch. She's a train wreck."
"I guess I wouldn't stop you," he said and began studying his gnarly, scarred-up hands.
"But?" I asked.
"But nothing, you do what you need to."
"There's a but. What do you think?" I pressed.
"I think," the Big K glanced up at me from under the brim of his hat, "I think you should turn that aggression into something and go win your class."
"I was afraid you'd say something like that."
"It's time for you to ride like Bob."
I rested my forehead on the picnic table. The Big K and I had shared many a discussion on the pros and cons of the different riders we competed against. We would sit for hours and watch each rider, analyze the way they rode and how their horses went.
He was talking about Bob Avila. Not that I had to compete with him, but the Big K had crossed his path more than once.
"Avila doesn't win all the time because he's always on the best horse, even though I've never seen him undermounted," the Big K had told me,"he doesn't always win because he's the best rider. Nobody can be at their best all the time. Avila wins because he is the best showman out there. He can stare a judge in the eye and dare him to not give him the win. He can make every horse he rides look spectacular , even when things go wrong. Nobody can gut their way through a class like Bob."
I didn't want to ride like Bob. Bob would have yanked his saddle and shot Sonita dead in the arena years ago. Bob would have gotten himself a horse that wasn't one shoe light a set of sliders. A horse that was two bales short of a ton. A horse who had popped the last few strands of her 100% wool string cinch.
"Fine", I said into the table. "I'll ride like Bob."

It was finally show day. A warm, breezy beautiful day.I was in the warm up pen. Sonita was alternately squealing in fury and crying for her friends. We were loping many, many tiny little circles. "Ride like Bob, ride like Bob," ran through my mind in time with her lope.
A young rider came in on his stud horse. He nodded at me as he trotted by. It was the stud living behind Sonita.
He was a well behaved animal under saddle. He didn't nicker, his strong trot didn't waver. But his eye slid along Sonita as they passed.
She squealed and began to buck. I pulled her nose to my knee kicked her hip around. Sonita flipped her tail over her back and began to pee.
The stud lost his composure and nickered.
Sonita tried to buck harder and we spun in a circle. The pee sprayed around us like a water sprinkler. I heard the stud gear up and holler.
"Oh man, my new chaps!" Echoed behind me as I booted her out of the arena. I heard the announcer call my name. Sonita and I were in the hole. Just call me Bob.

The pattern was a trot in. Sonita trotted into the arena at a snails pace, slinging her head and crying a lost, sad wail for her friends. We finally made the middle of the pen and she stopped to pee yet again.
The judges sat back in their chairs and grinned at each other. This was promising to be an interesting little interlude.
I sat up tall, looked them in the eye and picked up my reins. I dared them to laugh at me, at least in my mind.
Sonita stepped out, dropped into frame and loped off like a lamb. I couldn't believe it. She was on. All the way with me. She stopped, she spun, she changed, everything felt fantastic. I looked up into my final run down and saw the Big K grinning at me behind the gate.
I scowled at him and charged into my final stop. Who was he to smile at Bob?
We turned to face the cattle pens. I waved at the gateman for my cow. Sonita stood frozen, her back quivering through the saddle. We were going to eat this cow.
A white plastic grocery bag rolled slowly across the fence line. My eyes flicked on it and off again. Bob's horse wouldn't spook at a bag. I wasn't worried. The gate creaked open. I rested my hand on Sonita's neck, her cue to set on the cow. The white bag slowly rolled into view and settled in front of the opened gate. It waved gently back and forth in the breeze.
Sonita dropped her head and began to cut the bag.
The cow trotted out the gate. Sonita never lifted her head. She cut that Wal-mart bag with everything she had.
I wacked her with my spur hoping to get her on the cow before the judges realized what we were boxing.
Sonita dropped even lower and cut back and forth harder, mesmerised by the waving bag.
Sonita didn't see the cow until it began to meander down the side of the arena. She stopped. She looked.
I could almost feel her confusion.
"Why are we working a bag when there's a perfectly good cow right there, boss?"
I sighed and we went to the cow, straight down the fence. She worked it well, but it didn't really matter. We had missed our box work.
The second the judges whistle blew Sonita began to whinny her sad, lonesome cry. She kept it up until we left the arena.
The Big K was laughing so hard he could barely stay on his horse.
"What the hell do I do in a situation like that one?" I said.
"Give her a pet and tell her she's a good girl. This will never happen to you again. It's done. She went to work the minute you told her to. Didn't matter to her if it's a bag or a cow. That was just cool." He started to laugh again.
"Good job, Bob."
I rode back to my stalls on my whinnying, dripping, oozing mare. Bob my butt. I gave her a pat. "Good girl you knot head. Good girl."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Forward Cues and Neck Reining (Finally)

Poor Kel. I used her to get an extremely good discussion going and then woke up this morning realizing I hadn't really helped her.
Because I didn't answer her basic question.
Could she use her crop to teach her horse forward?
Her trainer was concerned that the horse would learn to respond only to the crop.
Which is a legitimate concern.
So I'm going to straighten that one out. Sorry Kel.
Yes, you can teach your horse forward with the crop.
The key is to make your pre-cue (cluck, kiss, whatever) and cue (bump with the legs) be what motivates your horse. The crop is the final consequence for ignoring them.
When your horse is solid on his cues and seeks the lope, you won't need the crop.
The key here is to always, forever and ever, amen, give the pre-cue, the cue and the consequence. Only once.
Here's my sequence.
1.I'm going to get my horse moving with my seat bones. From a stand still he will be walking, if I'm loping a small slow he will know I'm going to ask for more.
2.I'm going to cluck. Once.
3. I'm going to roll my calf into my horse and squeeze. Once.
4. I'm am going to apply my crop with wild enthusiasm until I have way more response than I needed.
I want my horse to never, ever want me to use my crop. I want him to do whatever it takes to prevent me from even thinking about that crop.
Which would be to listen to my cues. Without spurs.
When I use my crop I don't care if he ducks left or right, I will continue enthusiastically reinforcing my cue until he is running straight. (heads up Joy) Then I will quit and enjoy my ride.
It doesn't matter if you use your reins (my preferred method) a crop, a tree switch, the palm of your hand or Aunt Milly's tea cozy.
I would do this at home and have the problem fixed the next time I saw my trainer. If I go against the advice of someone I admire and need to continue to work with, I take care of it at home and just show up with the problem fixed. I never rub their face in it. I don't ever say, "Well so and so says to do it this way...." If the trainer asks I'll tell him, but usually he won't. You see, we're a tender-hearted, egotistical bunch, us trainer types. For the most part we'll just be relieved you figured it out.
But the key for everything I do is to give a consistent pre-cue, then a solid cue, then a consequence. When the consequence is no longer anything but a distant memory for me and my horse I know I'm getting somewhere.

Neck Reining

There are a lot of ways to teach your horse to neck rein. Mine go into a full bridle, ridden with a romel rein. I ride two-handed until they are six. So I have a lot of time to get them neck-reining.
By the time I ask them to neck rein they know to follow their nose where I point it.
That may sound simple, but it's vital.
When I first ride my babies I just point their nose and expect them to follow. I let all other parts trail behind the nose.
I ride one rein at a time.
Left rein to go left, right to go right.
As we progress I teach my horse to line up behind her nose.
I point the nose and use inside leg pressure to guide the hips over and line up her entire body.
Once we have that step I begin using my outside leg to push the shoulders into alignment first, then the hips.
I consistently cue every time.
My horse learns that when I guide the nose the shoulders, ribs and hips automatically line up.
I have very little trouble with bulging shoulders because I start them this way.
This is a very simplified version of the base I put on my young horses. I don't do any turns, stops, asking for collection, nothing else until I have this.
When I ask my horse to neck rein it becomes a new cue. Essentially I'm offering a gift. If you point your nose where I want it, off of my neck rein, I won't pull you. Invariably my horse says, "Cool, I'm on it."
I rarely pull hard when I neck rein. Sometimes on an older, willful butt-munch of a disobedient pig, (now I'm channeling Sonita) I will hoist her around some, but that's another story for another day.
So here goes.
I start my horses in split reins.
How I hold my reins:
I extend my guiding hand (left or right, it doesn't matter, just pick one and keep it) like I'm going to shake somebody's hand.
I fold my fingers in, my wrist stays the same, my thumb is resting on top.
My forefinger is between my reins. (you don't have to do this, but I like the control I get with it.) My wrist is soft and relaxed, but I'm not going to ride palm side down.

My reins hang down the same side as my guiding hand. If I ride left, the reins hang down the left side.

When I ask for my turn, I look in the direction I want to go, I point the thumb of my rein hand (remember, thumb on top) at the ear on my horse. I want to go to the left, my thumb points to the left ear. This should lay the rein on her neck.
I don't want my hand to move outside of a six to eight inch invisible box that I keep floating over my saddle horn. My hand can go as high or as low as I need within the confines of my invisible box.
If she doesn't respond:
I will raise my hand straight in the air until I make light contact with her mouth. (pre cue)
I will lay my outside leg on her side at the cinch (cue) and push with my calf.
If she doesn't respond:
I will go back to two hands.
I will take the guiding rein and pull her head in the direction I want her to go. (make it happen)
When I have to pull with my direct rein I don't release the pressure until the shoulders ribs and hips are lined up, then I let her go.
I will go back to one hand.
We walk on a relaxed reins for 5 or 6 strides and I go again.
I'll keep turning left until I get some try. Then I'll go right.
I never increase my neck rein pressure.
Listening to my neck rein means she gets no pressure at all, just the feel of the rein on her neck. She has to trust I won't increase the pressure, or my point is moot.
When I want to refine my turns or need to increase my hold, my hand rises straight up to get contact.
As I reach for that contact my legs push her into the bit for collection, when I release my legs, if I'm still holding her face, she'll stop and back.

I am so irked. I have a horse for sale on Dreamhorse. The last of my horses in training. His name is Pete. He's really cool. I just had some wahoo call and ask about my horse. He asked all the normal questions. He said he was green, but he rode with a trainer. I asked who the trainer was. He wouldn't tell me. He asked some fairly inept questions for someone who has a competent trainer helping them. I offered to talk to the trainer. He didn't want me to do that. Then, sight unseen he makes an offer that is $5000 less his price.
I told him that I don't barter with people who haven't even seen the horse. Then I said something about good luck with your search and hung up. Was he legit? Was he somebody trying to take advantage of the current market? I don't know or care. I had the feeling he was a scammer. Be careful out there when you're selling horses folks. I'd rather keep feeding them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Channel Matt Dillon

I had this long, detailed explanation of over and under rein use and a neck reining segment. My computer crashed and I lost most of it. I stomped off in a sulk, come back and Laura has beat me to it. Well, your going to get it anyway.....
Kel said- The problem is he is LAZY, LAZY, LAZY. He always has been. Even as a 2 year old, you could put leg on him and he just grunts at you. You put a spur on him, and he grunts at you, you really put a spur on him and he grunts at you. He will move, but there is no "try" there and he just can't wait to stop. And stop he can! He stops nice, his transitions from fast to slow are awesome, but getting to the fast or turnarounds, etc is ugly and lazy. No energy at all. The trainer said that I needed bigger spurs and only use them if I really meant it and then really mean it. I bought a pair of rock grinders and did just that, it gets him going for about 20 seconds. Then you can just feel him deflate and the energy just fades away.

Kel- First off. A good reiner spends his life hoping he can stop. So this is a GOOD thing you have going here. Remember that.

When I start a two year old I don't put spurs on him until I have a calm, happy, walk trot and canter off of a kiss. Not only that but he will stay contentedly loping at the speed I put him in until I say different. The lazier he wants to be the more determined I am to leave the spurs off. That's all my babies, all the time. I never put a spur to them until I have a happy forward horse.

I realize we already have an issue with this horse. So I'm not going to worry about it, I'm just going to set things straight.

I am only going to work on my forward, nothing else, until it's fixed.

I will to get rid of my spurs. Take them off. Be gone. Adios. Arevederci.

This horse is not a plug, he is setting himself against the spurs.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Spurs are not meant to give forward cues. They are meant to give directional cues. Go left, go right, move a rib, etc. Oops, I need to add that spurs will cause a horse to lift his back, which will actually slow his motion. Imagine the difficulty a horse has translating that to a "speed up" cue. My seat and calves give forward cues.

I am going to ride little Dudley with an eight foot pair of split reins.

I am going to get on Dudley cold (no warm-up) and hold my reins in one hand and the ends in another.

I will move my seat bones forward once to send him forward. Then I will roll my calves lightly into Dudley's sides and smooch once to tell him to lope.
Then I will pick up my reins and over and under him until he moves out at a lope.
I will not steer him. I won't encourage him. I will ride quiet until he stops on his own. I will do nothing except sit quiet until he is standing still.
Then I will move my seat bones forward once. I will roll my calves lightly into Dudley's sides and smooch once.
Then we channel Matt Dillon.
I will repeat this until he goes into a lope off my smooch.
When he gives me way more go than I anticipated or wanted(and he will) I will simply ride quiet. He is being good and going that's my point. I don't care how fast he's moving. I'm not going to discuss rate until way down the road.

The key here is to ride quiet, with a loose rein while Dudley is loping. This is about listening to my cues, nothing else. I want Dudley to be seeking the lope, because that's the place where everybody is quiet.
Once I have Dudley willing to lope, he needs to stay there.
So we up the ante.
I ask for the lope, I get it immediately off of the softest cue. As soon as Dudley slows down I over and under him, with no warning what so ever. I get after him until he is going faster than I need. Then I relax and bring him down to the lope again.
We lope a few circles, he tries to slow down and he gets the Mat Dillon treatment again.
I am not particularly coordinated when it comes to this over and under thing. My reins fly wildly around, half the time I end up with a rein wrapped around my neck. I don't care. This isn't about finesse. It's about getting moving. If I have to correct Dudley I'm going to make him give me more than I need. Then I'll be the one who slows him down.
When Dudley is consistently seeking the speed I want him at I'll let him stop. Every time I stop him I'll let him stand for a long time. But he only gets to stop if he is motoring along at the speed I asked for.
I'll keep his work outs short and to the point.
When I transition up from my slow to a fast circle I raise my hand and stand slightly in my stirrups, coming a little out of my seat. I cluck with every stride until they are going the speed I want. My horses are taught from day one that a cluck means faster. They need to increase their speed with every cluck.
I get that without touching them with my spurs.
That's where I would be at with Dudley before I ever put my spurs on again.
The way to get this to work is to have him wanting to lope because that's the happy place. I want to create a desire to move. If I remember to ride soft, quiet and with purpose at the lope Dudley will soon want to be there.
I'll have to rewrite the neck-rein piece tomorrow. I'm fried.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What I Can't Do.

We talk about fear. We talk about safety. Lately, as a lot of you know, it has weighed heavily in my posts.
Some questions come to me and leave me stumped. Not necessarily because I don't know the answer, (I'll admit that one) but because the way I would approach it may not be safe for someone else.
When I answer questions from you guys they often come with a lot of baggage. Mainly, I don't know you. I don't know your horse. I don't know how safe or unsafe the places you ride and train are.
When we describe ourselves there can be a lot of leeway going both ways. It can go from somebody angrily saying, "I have owned horses for 30 years, don't question my experience!", to another saying "I'm an intermediate rider who's trying to improve."
Unless I see someone ride there is no way for me to tell if that 30 years experience means somebody who has kept two half-starved horses in the neighbors field since they were kids and only get on them during hunting season, or if the tentative "intermediate" rider is actually someone who grew up riding on their family ranch and is now working on third level dressage with a horse they are training themselves.
How we perceive ourselves is often completely different than reality. My favorite phrase is, "The older I get, the better I was!" and yes, I'm talking about myself.
That being said, I'm glad to answer everybody as best I can, even those of you who try to trap me with questions or comments they think will prove my ignorance. Trust me, I'll 'fess up if I don't know an answer. I always try to answer a question with an explanation of how I would do it. This never means that I think it's the only answer. Just my answer.
I have had people ask me to recommend trainers in their state. This presents a huge problem for me. I have left my sport because I hate the way our show horses are treated. I don't hate all trainers but I can honestly say I don't know of a single one I would leave my horse with.
I am a firm believer in a rider learning to train and ride their horse. I drove over 2 hours one way for several years to ride with the Big K. In the 6 years I rode with and for him, he may have gotten on my horses 5 times. I insisted every step be explained to me. That simply was how I wanted it done and he respected and appreciated that.
I want my horses handled a certain way. I need to know how they are housed, watered and fed. I want control over those points whether I'm taking care of them or not. Most trainers don't put up with that nonsense.
If you want to put a horse in training I have no issue with it. Really. But you need to know the trainer inside and out. Beyond how the horses look in the stall, or how they ride in the ring. You need references from people in the sport you show in. You need to spend time learning about the ups and downs of what you're interested in. So I have a hard time recommending anybody. I have to put that weight on your shoulders, sorry.
I can tell you the trainers I still respect and feel comfortable sending people to.

Colorado: Jack McCumber, cutting. Jack is semi-retired but you can beg for help, if he has cows he'll relent.
Oklahoma: Jamie and Marilyn Peters at Bar JP Quarterhorses, Reined Cowhorse. They mainly show derby on up. They don't like trashing the three year olds for futurities, so I'm a fan. Plus they're just great people.
Oklahoma: Don Murphy, Reined Cowhorse, reining, cutting. He's everything, what can I say?
California: Russell Dilday, Reined Cowhorse. OK, I really don't know much about him and have only met him briefly. But he is really hot. And his horse, Topsails Rien Maker is still sound, after winning just about everything.
Texas: Martin Black, Reined Cowhorse. I'm a little hesitant here, because I have just started reading up on this guy. But it seems he understands the ins and outs of cowhorse and his interest is in developing a true bridle horse and an all around rider to go with it. So far, I'm impressed.

That's it.

There are some training questions that encompass too much ground for me to feel safe getting into.
Colt starting is one of them. I know when I feel it's right to get on a youngster. It has to do with feel and confidence, both ways. I can't give you that feel. It's something you have to develop with your horse. If I could see you I could help you. I couldn't live with myself if somebody got hurt as a result of my advice.
If you guys have a specific question about a young horse your working with, I'll be happy to try to help. I'm not comfortable sharing what steps I go through to get on the first time. Sometimes I get on after three days, sometimes it's six weeks. It depends on the horse, me and my environment.
The NHers offer a lot of colt starting clinics. That's where I would head if I needed help and didn't want to put my horse in training.
There are a few NHer's I feel comfortable recommending.

Ray Hunt: Please forgive me for calling you a NH'er. He is the best. Absolutely. If you get a chance to see him, go. He will make you think.

John or Josh Lyons: I have to recommend these guys with a big BUT. I would not feel comfortable working with one of their "certified" trainers unless I knew how many horses they had trained and could talk to some of their clients. I do like John's tapes and books.

Clinton Anderson: He just makes sense.

That's about it.
I hope you'll still feel free to ask away. I hope everybody does everything they can to stay safe.
I hope you understand my limits and are OK with them. Also feel free to continue bringing up new and different techniques, methods, ideas or trainers. That's what this is all about. Later, gators.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I have always loved this shot. If you look close you can see the tip of the cow's nose right below Sonita's breast collar. The heifer's tail is curled right above hers. Sonita's next step is to turn the cow into the fence.

When the Colorado sun sets in June it gets cold. Even if it was 80+ degrees just a few short hours before. The arena lights shone through the silhouettes of cattle milling in the dust. Sonita snorted and pinned her ears as we rode by, baring her teeth at the restless heifers.
She was in a good mood. The cool evening breeze and a full belly had helped her shake off the heavy workout we had sweated our way through earlier in the day.
We were about two hours away from our go at the Sagebrush Slide and Cowhorse Classic. The biggest NRCHA show we had entered to date. We were entered in the Limited Open Bridle class. Which means that our class was closed to open (pro) riders that had earned over $10,000. No problem for Sonita and I. We had yet to break $250. That left plenty of open riders to compete with. Plenty.
I was my usual jittery pre-show self. I headed to the warm-up arena to begin the ridiculously long warm up Sonita required in order to wrestle her into the show pen. I started out with my usual twenty circles each way. I kept my reins relaxed for the first ten or so, letting her snort and play as her muscles began to relax. Sonita shook her head and let loose with a series of gentle bucks. I called them her dolphin bucks. It was always a good sign when she was willing to goof at a show. It meant she was looking forward to the ride.
When we had loped long enough to get a good sweat started I brought her down to a walk and wandered over to the show pen to watch a few rides. She stood with her head slung high in the air watching the action over the arena fence. When the gate opened and the cow ran into the arena, Sonitas nostrils whiffled. She stayed frozen, her white ringed eyes wide, watching the fence run. She was stone until the whistle blew. Then she started to paw the ground and the roller in her bit clattered until foam dripped to the ground.
The Big K rode up next to us.
"She wants to cow tonight," he said.
"Maybe," was the best I could come up with.
The Big K stretched his arms over his head and flashed his two beer grin at me.
"Are you going to have fun out there or are you going to waste this fine night in a fret?"
"I'll do my best."
He could charm when he wanted.
"To show I mean, not fret."
I shook my head and went back to go lope some more.
I had finally learned how to warm up my horse. That afternoon I had schooled her stops and spins. I had bent and limbered her, checked her rate and speed transitions and made sure every part of her was physically and mentally ready to go.
Then I had given her a bath and settled her in a clean stall deep with shavings. I filled her two yellow buckets with fresh water and a splash of Mountain Dew. The yellow because she wouldn't drink unless she could see the bottom of her bucket, the Mountain Dew because she didn't like the taste of the water in Pueblo. I piled as much clean hay as I thought she might amuse herself with and let her be until it was time to get ready for our class.
When I saddled her I groomed her from head to toe. Checked her feet and felt her legs for heat, probably the 100th time that day. I went over my pad, feeling for burrs. I checked my rigging, my bridle, my romels. I cinched her loose and put on her boots, my nervous fingers fumbling with the velcro. Sonita boogered my hair as I bent over her forelegs, guaranteeing I would look like a total hooligan in the arena.
I tightened my cinch. Then we loped. Loped until she was winded and would stand quiet to air up. Then we loped some more, I asked her to go into the bridle, hold it for a few strides and let her go. We would watch the show for a few minutes and lope again when Sonita got restless. The Big K let me be, at this point in the game I was just another competitor and he had his own horses to ride.
My class began. I was draw six. I got down, put on my chaps and fought down the panic when my zipper stuck. I put on her skid boots, tightened my cinch again and got on. My stomach was in knots, my legs began to quiver and I felt Sonita tighten. She kicked out at the skid boots, once twice and then settled.
We walked out to the arena. We were in the hole. I sat with my arms crossed and breathed. I relaxed my legs. Sonita rolled her bit in a frenzy, but her legs were still.
"Draw six, you're up," the gate man called. He smiled as we walked in, I realized I must look like I was about to barf on my saddle.
The gate closed behind us and my stomach settled. Our pattern was a run in.We would run down the center of the arena, slide stop at the end, spin two and a half times, settle briefly and come the other way. I hoped.
I didn't make Sonita wait. It was never wise to ask her to hold still too long when we were showing. When she began her rundown I knew we were going to be fine. She took off with a confident, even stride. When I put my legs on her and raised my hand she came to the bridle and began to build her speed into the stop.
Our stop was solid, she whipped through her spins.
I took a breath. Sonita's head was high, she was feeling nervy. I willed her with everything I had to step out at a walk. She took one step, two and I was able to re-collect her for her lope depart. She got a little fast on our second rundown. I let it go, hoping she wouldn't sling her head when she stopped.
"Whoa!" I snapped.
She slammed into the ground, short and hard like a roper. I resigned myself to a -1 on that stop, knowing I had earned it by barking at her.
"Let it go and get on with it."
I heard the Big K holler. He was right. I let her step into her spins and made myself relax into my saddle.
Our last stop and back went fine, a little fast, a little crooked, but better than I had hoped.
I picked my head up and Sonita and I stared at the judges together. She loped off quiet.
Sonita kept her focus through her circles, stayed in the bridle for the most part and only lagged a half step through one lead change.
My heart started to lift, for us to only pull a half point penalty through our circles was about a miracle.
We squared off around the end of the pen for our last run down and Sonita rated like a champ. She lined out for the final stop and we were golden.
Not bad, not bad at all.
We sat in the middle of the arena, waiting for our cow. I went through my nervous ritual. I pushed up my glasses, settled deep into my saddle and shoved my feet further into my stirrups.
I could feel Sonita's back muscles quiver through my saddle as she stood mesmerized, waiting for the gait to swing open.
I waved at the gate man and he opened the gate.
Our cow blew out, tail high.
Good, Sonita liked them gnarly.
I sent her forward at a fast trot. She homed in on the heifers head, her own head beginning to drop and her ears flattened.
The cow feinted to the left and Sonita went with it, driving it across the pen. The cow began to run, I sat back and let my mare go. She stepped past and turned it back across the pen. The cow pushed towards us, trying to get by to head to the safety of the holding pen behind us. Sonita crouched low on her front legs and cut back and forth, holding the dodging cow in position.
The cow broke and returned to the back fence .
I put Sonita on the cow's hip and we drove her through the corner and down the long side of the arena.
The cow ran, thinking it had found an escape from my raging horse. Sonita was with it stride for stride. My hand was forward, she was in total control of the show. We ran the length of the arena, I asked Sonita to step by the cow five strides before the penalty marker.
She slammed in front of the cow, cutting off it's retreat and sending it down the fence the other way. We were flying, we were working in complete sync, I yipped out of pure excitement. The judges, the Big K, everything faded into the beautiful night . Nothing mattered except pushing that cow off the fence and circling her to the left, to the right, never wanting to quit. When the judges whistle blew Sonita slowed, knowing we were done. Then she surged forward again, unwilling to give up the beautiful game. I sat back and let her take one more turn.
We won that night. I knew it when we circled our cow. I knew when I saw the Big K's grin. I knew it when Sonita strutted out of the arena, cool, calm and about as happy as I was.