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.


  1. Very interesting. I hear good things about Martin Black and here is just another one. The ranch where I pastured my horse this summer has a stud (cute little thing, damn cute) that the rancher got from Martin Black and one of his brothers. Has nothing but great things to say about that whole family. I would love to check out the dvd's. You think you have holes and need to learn more? I'm a moron compared! But I'm open and willing to learn more all the time. Wonder if my library has them? I'll have to look into that.

  2. Martin Black is the man I read about who starts TB colts in Kentucky. I was sure impressed with him in that interview, and have been scouring my mind ever since trying to remember his name or at least where I read the article or book. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. I've never heard of him. Then again I am far from cowboy country.

  4. Now I for sure need to add Martin Black’s stuff to my video collection! I knew it was good as I have heard things in circles, but if it’s good enough for you, then must be darn worth checking out. :)

  5. Thanks for the review about Martin Black. I'll be sure to check out his website. Sounds like my kind of training, or at least what I'd like to learn more about.

    As for Gail's boyfriend in the book Roped, which I haven't read yet, I was trying to come up with a reason why I didn't like Lonnie in Slickrock, which was my first introduction to the character. I can agree with your description! He's the kind of boyfriend she knows she should move on from, but just can't because of one thing or another.

  6. Thanks for the nice review of Roped, mugwump. So you think I should give Gail a new boyfriend?

    Martin Black sounds great. I'm thrilled to be paired with him, if only in the title of a blog post. I doubt it will happen in any other context, as my horsemanship skills aren't even in the same book, let alone on the same page as his. I know just enough to be aware how skilled he would have to be to teach horses in the traditional way, using the bosal and two rein without "cheating". I know this is something you and I have talked about, but I don't have enough knowledge to discuss it, really. Maybe I should watch that DVD.

  7. That is awesome Mugwump - congrats on finding someone with something to offer you and your wonderful mare!!

    I have to admit the language leaves me confused cuz I don't ride Western - but I imagine general riding concepts are similar all over. Like forward, submissive, accepting the bridle, moving away from pressure... lots o' ways to cook a goose right?

    Maybe once I get into Laura Crum's novels, I'll understand more of the Western language!


  8. I keep hearing good things from you about Laura Crum... Should I start at the beginning or should I pick a more recent book? Which is her best?

    Also, when using the ask, tell, demand cuing, if you ask a horse to do something, and he does, but then drops out of the gait (say, the canter) should I jump strait to 'demand' and get his butt back going or should I start over with the cuing system and 'ask' him to canter again? My problem is on the longe line at the canter, as I just started him and haven't cantered him under saddle yet.

  9. Regrets... When I was younger - early teens, this older gentleman took a liking to me. I was the kind of a sad case and he reached out to me. He was a gentleman and a great man. He was a horse show judge and seriouly involved in the horse industry. He would take me to horse shows to steward for him - always teaching me. He would call me after shows I had competed in and tell what did well and what I could have done better. When I got my drivers license he invited me to ride with him in the mornings. He was the real deal - he started his horses in a bosal, went to a snaffle, went back to the bosal with "just the right bit". he never touched the reins on his bridle just let the horse carry the bit for how ever long it took. It took him years to finish a horse, but to ride one of his was one of the greatest honors I have ever had. His favorite bridle horse was ridden in a full on spade he had designed specifically for that horse. I swear that horse knew what you wanted by a simple vibration to the rein. It was amazing. Of course the horse was way smarter and better trained then anything I have ever ridden before or since and was way more advanced than I will probably ever be able to ride right. I rode with him everyday for months and learned so much. But being a stupid teenager I wanted a new car, so I got a job and then didn't have the time to spend riding with him. I always thought there would be time. I got married and had to work. I had kids and really had to work. He passed away about 12 years ago and I never got to go finish what I started. The door was always open for me to go back, but life got in the way. If I had it to do over again, I would walk, ride a bike or whatever to get there and I would have made that my education and job.

    Good luck mugs with your endeavor and keep us posted on your progress. It sounds like this guy is alot like my old friend. Soak it up. All of it.

  10. Heather- When I ask, cue, demand I let them fall out for quite a while. I always repeat the sequence. When I demand, I demand hard enough the horse doesn't want me to demand anymore.
    Soon they respond off at least the cue, if not the "ask".
    THEN I start to expect them to hold it. I either ask before they actually break, but when they are getting ready to, or I stop them before they slow down. It becomes easier for them to stay in the gait I put them in. AYou have to be tuned in to send them forward when they start to break, not when it's already happened, does that make sense?
    kel- You don't have to bemoan what you missed. Be glad you got to learn what you did. I've been known to develop whole training theories off of one good sentence from a good horseman. I'm not studying under Martin Black. Just watching his tapes and thinking...You can do the same. I'm old. I'm getting fat. I'm very tired. I still enjoy learning because I just love it. I try hard not to think too much about the boats I've missed. Just the ones I can still catch....Sorry to get so deep. I still have the flu. It's the Dayquil talking.

  11. Mugs,
    By bridle horse, do you mean one that is advanced enough to be ridden in a spade bit?

    I'm just not sure what you mean by that, but then after taking a look at Martin Black's website, I was pretty sure that's what he is referring to.

    Just a little confused on the terminology. :)

  12. Char-Yes. A horse that advances to the spade bit. We call it a full bridle.

  13. mugs - I am moving forward with a new trainers and clinicians and boy how things have changed! The ART of finishing a bridle horse is almost lost. I remember him doing the sketches of the mouth pieces for the spade bits he would have custom made for each horse. Who does that stuff now? He once told me a horse is really at its prime around 9 - 11. I am not sure if it is true, but it has always stuck with me.

    Martin Black is going to be in NO CA doing a ranch versatility clinic in April 09. I am going to save my pennies and try to go.

    It has been damn near 30 years since I rode with him. I am old and fat but riding 5 days a week (much to my husband annoyance). I am not going to let another opportunity pass me by. :)

  14. Well im going to try and find thouse DVD's got a comming 2 year old the owners want me to show next fall, Im going to need all the help I can get!

    PS -watching the Working Cow Horse on WOW!! So could not do that! I like things slow and quiet! I can see how your mare would have loved it though.

  15. I too, feel like you. The show world gets to a point where nothing can be appreciated any more. Where you're sitting there watching a class and whilst everyone is 'ooh-ing' and 'ah-ing', all you can see is a horse pulled behind the vertical, or broken down in two years, or just plain unhappy.
    So I took my Paint into pleasure classes. He's short and not TB-like at all, but he has a good stride. And you know what? He's trained carefully, slowly, and he absolutely loves his job.
    And somehow we keep winning.
    I keep telling disgruntled show people that if you don't try, you'll never change anything. If we keep bringing out happy, /truly/ trained horses into the ring--if we blow our competition away--then maybe we can change things.
    And maybe we can't--but trying sure never hurt anybody. ;)

  16. I am going to check this out. Not many riders and trainers around here use a hackamore or bosal. I don't know why. One of my friends uses a bosal on her mare, an extremely sensitive and fussy critter. My friend claims the mare hates the bit. I've watched, and in show classes she uses only the slightest pressure, and always uses the bosal for warm ups. The bit is only in that horse's mouth during the classes.

    In that case she's using the bosal because nothing else works, I guess.

    I'm curious about it though. There are always big long shanked hackamores for sale and it looks like a good idea but I've heard they can be just as vicious as a long shanked bit.

    Of course I'm thinking that not warming up the bit in the winter before shoving it in a horse's mouth would be kind of nice...

  17. Well spoken, DressageInJeans. Clap, clap.
    There will always be people prepared to take shortcuts when money and prestige is involved. Unfortunately.
    So what can the rest of us do?
    Work the horses so we can look at ourselves in the mirror with a good conscience every day.
    Enjoy the sheer joy it is to have the horse happily and willingly working together with you.
    Treasure the moments when you really feel like one movement, one thought.
    Keep your patience the days when thing are not working as they should.
    Work the horse with a view to keep it sound up to its 20ies.
    And always try to spread good routines and respect of the horse to the people around you.
    Like on this blog :-)

  18. HeiditheHick- I think of the shanks as a response tool. The longer the shank the more time a horse has to respond to the cue of my reins. I take into consoderation whats in the horses mouth, a curb or a broken mouth piece, what the bit is made of, whether I have a leather or chain chin strap, how heavy my reins are, what they are made of, etc.
    Even riding with a rope halter has lots of variables. Is the nose piece thin or thick? Is it knotted, double strand or single? Is the halter tied snug, creating poll pressure, or loose, working the nose?
    All of these things come into play for me. If you saw a full spade you would have a stroke.
    I haven't used one yet because I need to learn how, but I will.
    The key is education. I have seen more damage done with a ring snaffle than any other bit. In educated and uneducated hands. It doesn't mean the bit is bad. It means the rider doing the damage was either naive or brutal.Or both.
    Personally I don't like mechanical hackamores. With any length shank. I don't like the resistance the horses develop in them. But I do know Laura Crum gets along with them real well.
    I also have no use for Tom Thumb bits. They give no warning before they bite. They are short shanked bits with a broken mouth.
    As far as your friend goes that has a fussy horse that won't go in any bit? My first thought was teeth. My second thought was lack of knowledge on your friends part. I do know that if I can only show in a piece of equipment by switching into it right before a show I shouldn't be using that equipment.

  19. I should say that I don't use mechanical hackamores for any other purpose than trail riding broke horses. If the horse isn't quarreling with you about anything, the mechanical hackamore is a pleasant "bit" for horse and rider to cruise around in. I never liked these things in any application where you need the horse to do much--they don't give you any feel. They are no good for a horse that wants to go, go, go, either. But my two lazy little trail horses are obviously very happy in them (I think most horses enjoy not having a bit in their mouths, if they could choose), and if you need the horse to pay attention, you've got a tool.

  20. Laura... great minds think alike! On my broke horse when I go trail riding I use a sliester mechanical hackamore with the fat flat nose piece - can't stand the rolled or round ones. The chain chin strap is extended out as far as it will go and it basically just hangs on his face. The shanks are lose and have a lot of movement and he will get to walking out and start swinging the reins to the beat of his walk. I never train on him, ask him to work, just go down the trail when I ride him it in. I think that he knows when I pull that hackmore out, the day is just for relaxing and he really enjoys it. I can feel that he is relaxed and comfortable. Horses need a break from the daily grind and it can be as theraputic for them as it is for us. :)

    I will be the first one to say that a mechanical hackamore in the wrong hands (as with any thing) can be a lethal weapon.

  21. This is VERY cool! Watch till the end. I love the differences, but how you can tell that both are just having a great time.

  22. What is a two rein? I'm planning on trying to find these videos but I'm curious what that is... Also, will a good bosal cost as much as the ones on his website or will a $40ish one off ebay be fine just not as pretty?

  23. Esquared-The hackamores on his website are very reasonably priced...I've had some luck on eBay with used ones....I shy away from the new ones, they are usually pretty rough. If you can get a chance to look at the video before you buy it will explain a lot.

  24. I'm sorry,I forgot part.. the two rein is actually two separate headstalls and rigs The bridle, with your bit and romel reins, and the bosal and mecate. It's a transition phase to prepare your horse to ride in a full bridle.

  25. My old mare was happiest playing polo in a mechanical hackamore - but in polo, you hardly ever pull on your reins. She was so much happier in that than the hardware she had been playing in for years because she was a strong mare (coscojero pelham and draw reins). Everybody thought I was nuts when I tried it but the mare loved it!

    I think it all depends on how you ride...I'd much rather ride a strong horse in more bit and be able to pitch them away and let them be than ride in a snaffle and have a war on my hands the whole time.

  26. Fascinating. But confusing too, sigh. Isn't it too bad life is just too short to learn everything? I'm having trouble with the terminology, non-native English speaker, never seen a cowhorse and all that... Is there a picture of a spade bit somewhere? Is the full bridle anything like the double bridle used in dressage – a snaffle and a curb at the same time, with two sets of reins? I've ridden with a snaffle and a halter plus two sets of reins sometimes to teach either me or the horse something: accepting the bit, developping feel and not getting away with riding too much with my hands etc. Your concept of the two rein sounds like a similar idea but more sophisticated (a halter is not made for riding after all, or not the English type nylon/leather ones I use anyway). Maybe I should get me a proper bosal. Strugling with terminology again: what's the difference between a mechanical hackamore and a non mechanical one? And isn't a bosal sort of like a hackamore? Full of questions I am today :)

    About competions: I do believe it's possible to do well even if you do everything the slow and correct way. At least that's what I like to think. It's just that there's a sea of people with a very short attention span out there, the good ones get lost among it all. It would be very neat to one day win with a correctly trained horse of my own, but since that's a remote possibility at the moment I think I'm going to watch and go talk to people I think are doing a good job. Too many people start out nice and slow with a young horse but then listen to others who deride them for not winning right away and change their training. I'm thinking we should go praise them instead and show that there are others who like what they do, even if it takes longer to win.

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