Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Me and the Big K

“You been following the standings?” The Big K had a dopey grin on his face.
“What standings?” I asked, wary.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of trap he was setting. The Big K rarely asked a question and expected a simple answer. Most of his questions were lead-ins to getting me to realize yet another huge failing. It paid to be cautious when he asked innocent sounding questions.
I busied myself with Sonita’s protective boots. She pinned her ears at K’s horse and stomped her hind foot. I reached up and slapped her belly, reminding her I was crouched under her and didn’t appreciate her foot flashing so close to my head.
Sonita settled for swatting her tail and grabbing at the shanks of her bit a few times as I slipped on her bridle. I clipped my romels to the rein chains and swung up into the saddle.
The Big K rode with me to the arena, still smirking.
“C’mon, give. What standings?” I finally broke.
NRCHA. For the World Show.”
“No, I haven’t been paying much attention,” I admitted.
I knew my daughter and another one of my youth riders had qualified, but I had never been one to keep checking on who’s sitting where in the national averages. It was a failing of mine which irritated the Big K to no end. He always knew where everybody in the country stood, in his own events, the events of the other top riders and where all of his clients were sitting. I on the other hand, figured somebody would fill me in if I needed to be caught up. And I could always ask the Big K, he knew everything.
“Maybe you should,” he pursued.
“Should what?”
“Check the standings.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Never mind, let’s get riding, we have a lot to work through.”
I tried to chew on the conversation while we rode. The Big K was feeling a little manic though. He kept barking and picking on every move I made.
“Your hands are too slow! Quit asking her permission! Git in there and tell her what to do!
“Git your leg off her! Give her some room, you’ve got to quit over-riding.
“Are you going to sit there waiting for her to decide to do what she’s told today or tomorrow? Move that mare out!
“Quit letting her draw you into a fight! Stay focused!”
My head was spinning. Sonita was gnashing her bit and wringing her tail with everything she had. Sweat trickled between my shoulder blades and my shirt stuck to my back. I stopped and dropped my reins. The Big K sat his horse, glaring at me from across the arena.
I stared back and unzipped my Carhart. Sonita relaxed and blew. I pulled off my gloves and stuck them in my pocket. I searched my mind for a clue. I knew I had ticked him off somehow. I decided I didn’t care a whole lot. I walked Sonita over to him.
“I think I’ve had enough today. I’m losing Sonita. There’s no point in all of us being pissed off.”
“Why would you be mad?” The Big K widened his eyes in innocent surprise.
The baby blues weren’t going to work on me today though. I didn’t know what he was so gassed up about, but I sure didn’t plan on getting me or my horse beat to death over it.
“I was in a perfectly fine mood when I unloaded my horse,” I replied.
“I don’t think you should go just yet. We have a lot to get done.”
I still didn’t understand. The majority of our season was over. One more small show in November and then nothing until Pre-Denver in January.
“I guess I don’t see the panic,” I said.
“Well, if you’re happy with how that mare of yours works, then so be it.”
“She’s all right. We’ll be better by next year.” I rested a protective hand on Sonita’s neck. Her bright red coat curled like a Hereford 4-H steer when she was hot. The wet curls already felt cold and stiff under my rough red fingers.
“I don’t know about you but I’d want to be better than all right if I was going to the World Show.” The Big K’s grin couldn’t have been bigger.
“What? No way.” I felt my stomach flip.
“Your win in Pueblo did it. You top tenned. Looks like Sonita’s going to the Worlds.”
The National Reined Cowhorse Association is divided into eight regions. Colorado falls into the North Central Region along with Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.
The top ten riders in their class for each region are selected to ride in the NRCHA World Show.
It turns out Sonita was sitting eighth in the open limited bridle for our region.
My mind spun out of control. I had envisioned being a World Show qualifier someday. But not today. Not on this horse. Never on this horse.
“What am I going to do?” I stared at the Big K in horror. Sonita felt my rising tension. She shook her head, rattling her bit and began to paw the hard ground.
“I suggest you get back out there and start loping. I told you we had a lot of work to do.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sometimes We All Could Use a Little Dale Carnegie

I received a very interesting forward from Fugly today. She thought this would be a better post from my side of the tracks. I suspect she’s laughing her butt off waiting to see just how I’ll tackle this one. This is an interesting situation. I am sure there is an absolute nightmare going on at this barn. I’m just not sure which is worse. The bad training, which is obviously happening, or the venom spewing out of a woman who I think really wants to help. This is a classic case of needing to try a little honey instead of toxic waste.
Her un-edited letter is in green, the rest is all me….

There's a lady at our stable who is a trainer. From the first day I saw her riding, I was not impressed. She was yanking on her horse trying to do some half ass sidepasses.The first questions I would ask are,
What kind of horse is she training?
What discipline does she study?
Just "Western or English" isn’t going to cut it here. Does she train pleasure horses, reiners, trail horses, western riding, what?
Where did she study?
How many years experience does she have?
Who did she study under?
How many horses has she trained?

Everyone who takes lessons with her troddles along with 2-inch long cowboy parade spurs.I am not sure what “parade” spurs are. I do know that I use spurs. I understand their purpose. I understand they should be the difference between the poke of a finger (spur) and the punch of a fist (heel). I also make sure that any horse I train moves forward off my seat and legs with or without my spurs. I’m not aware of any troddling, but you’d have to ask my clients.
I would need to ask the trainer a few more questions.
What are the spurs for?
Can she ride her horses without them?
I would check any horse she rides for bumps, welts, scars or cuts in the spur area.
If there were any of those things, I would take photos of the injured areas. While I’m checking for spur marks I’d be looking for sored mouths. I’d be taking pictures here too.

All the horses she "trains" have draw reins 24/7 not to mention a big honking western bit.In my own personal experience--a good trainer can ride a horse sucessfully in a snaffle bit.

Draw-reins and big western “honking” bits have nothing in common. Incredible damage can be done with bad hands in a snaffle bit. Incredibly beautiful things can happen in a big western “honking” bit when the horse is well trained and understands the purpose of the bit, especially when ridden by educated hands.
Draw-reins are a tool. They are supposed to help a horse pick up his back. In my opinion, they are a cheater tool, which is usually ineffective. Although I have used them to retrain a horse that was trained by bad hands to ride with his nose in the air. Once the horse understood where I wanted his nose I took the draw-reins off. It took ten minutes.

A good trainer always uses pressure and release and tries to create a comfortable, relaxed ride for the horse. A trainer masters the horse on the ground first before getting on top and cowboying around.
A good cowboy knows when to get on a horse and ride. Most of the cowboys I learned to ride from did believe in a pressure and release method of training. I would be proud to have them “cowboy” my horse around. Actually, they taught me to “cowboy” my horse around. Using
pressure and release. Yee Ha!
I need to add a little here. The pressure and release approach is based on the theory of making "the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy". When a horse is doing the wrong thing a good trainer makes it difficult. It's the horse's job to find the comfortable relaxed place. This is on the ground or on his back.

It's sad because she gives lessons as well. She walks around our barn trying to order people around, and has gone as far to grab someone's horse from them to show them the right way.
If a trainer is in the arena with a client it is her job to order them around. If she is walking around the barn it is her job to keep her mouth shut unless somebody asks her a question. If somebody grabbed my horse I would notify the police and then the stable management, probably after I “cowboyed” her around.

Lately I've been really heated after watching one of her proteges' attempting to train a client's/boarder's horse. The little 16 year old snotty brat was on him, a 3 year old, with big honkin spurs, constantly yanking with the draw reins as his mouth was open and she was constantly over correcting him. She was also repeatly spurring this horse.
I hate draw reins. I used to ride my older mare in them because I didn't know how to control her and ride her because she was as hot as can be and always ready to go. I regret using them on her now, now that I've had more education on headsets.
I wonder. Did you become educated because somebody called you a sixteen-year-old snotty brat? Or because someone was kind enough to point out your troddle?

Is there anyway you can write a blog on headsets, draw reins, spurs, overcorrecting and more importantly--How to tell if you have a good horse trainer, and the long term effects of overcorrecting.
There is a terrible risk of permanently damaging your horse with the wrong bit and misused training equipment. Over correction with draw reins will create a horse that travels with his head to his knees, his neck breaking over in the middle instead of at the poll and riding over the bit. Draw-reins also push a horse on his front end, making them travel with a hollowed out back and no drive from the hind end.
Often a trainer will attempt to compensate for the trailing hindquarters by driving the horse forward and into their hands, I guess this is where the “honking” spurs come in.
In my experience this creates a crooked frame and false collection. The horse may achieve the desired look, but will be taking small, stilted steps and often develops unnatural mannerisms (tongue wagging, tail wringing).
It completely destroys all hope of getting any kind of stop.
Over-riding can also stress the horse mentally to the point where he will explode or just quit. At the very least this approach leads to a shortened life in the show-pen. Chronic back and leg issues will develop from too much pressure on to young a horse on top of the unnatural methods of developing collection.

The 3 yr old's owner received a call from me to let her know. She said she could tell her horse was acting like he didn't want to be ridden anymore.
This means the owner is open to a better way. In my mind that’s a great first step.

There are several other horses's down there falling prey to the hands of this idiotbitch. She drives the other boarders insane with her cocky ass attitutude, you swear she has a dxxx or something with the way she acts.
My guess is some of the horses and their owners (or at least their husbands, sons, or boyfriends) are similarly equipped. I know some of the cowboys who taught me the pressure and release method of training were. What’s your point? Making friends?

I'd at least like to let the unsuspecting public know the truth about horse training. Please write something I can print up and leave at the stable.Start with the list of questions I offered at the top of this letter. As a matter of fact, I’ll type up something you can post. Then tape up the photos of the bloody mouths and spur marks.
Most of the people riding with this woman feel they are learning the right way to be horsemen. I completely agree she seems horrible. But attacking her will only make her clients protective. Nobody wants to be told they are stupid or cruel or snotty when they think they are doing the right thing.
I would use my riding ability and perfect angel of a horse as an example. I would be happy to tell people how I learned to train in a different, gentler way, when they asked. I would keep my anger under control. If I treat people like they are idiots they aren’t going to listen to me. If I show them a different way that succeeds and creates a better relationship between the owner and horse, they’ll come on over.
I would ask the stable management to let you organize a clinic featuring a trainer you approve of. Then I’d ask some of the people you are worried about to help you organize the clinic.

You can beat a horse into submission as sucessfully as meeting the horse halfway. I'm definetly no PETA lady, if my horse does something bad, I smack her. But honestly, my horse hasn't done anything bad in YEARS. She's a prefect angel.To be honest, I don’t think you can beat a horse as successfully as you can meet them halfway. I found it works the same way with people. Good luck. I know your heart is in the right place.

_Questions For Every Trainer From Every Horse Owner

What kind of horse do you train?
What discipline do you study?
What is your specialty?
If you show, what have you won?
Where did you study?
Who did you learn from?
How many years have you been training?
How many horses have you trained?
How many horses are you currently riding?
Can I speak to some of your past clients?
Can I watch you ride a finished horse you have trained?
Can I watch you ride a young horse you are starting?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

This is a story we printed for the Christmas edition of my newspaper, on the equine page. Some of it might be familiar to some of you, but I think you might still get a kick out of it. Happy Holidays guys, talk to you in a few days.

I got my horse Mort in the spring of my freshman year in high school. He brought with him the weight of responsibility and a huge debt to my parents. There were six children in my family. We always had plenty to eat, clothes to wear and lived in nice neighborhoods. We had toys and bikes. But we most definitely didn't get horses.
In our family education was the highest priority. So we lived on a tight budget as my parents saved for college. They didn't buy us cars. For the most part they didn't send us to camp, let us learn to ski, or extend individual privileges. If they couldn't give it to all of us, then nobody got it. We were all going to be able to go to college. That was a lot. We were expected to work hard in school and get jobs if we wanted extras.

Then I got a horse. This took some major rule-breaking. I'm still not sure how or why I managed it. What I do know is Mort helped me learn to survive in a world I didn't understand. A horse at that time of my life made the difference between success and failure as I grew into adulthood. How my parents knew is anybody's guess. They were pretty smart sometimes.
When I got Mort there was some serious conversation. He was my birthday present for life. He was my Christmas present for life. I had to keep him in a self-care barn. I had to pay for his upkeep. If there was ever a question of neglect he was gone. I agreed to every restriction. I was getting my horse. I couldn't stinking believe it.

My first Christmas as a horse owner arrived. I sat with a stupid grin on my face as my brothers and sisters opened all their stuff. My mom kept shooting me these worried looks. I had gotten a bathrobe, but otherwise they had held true to their word. No presents.
I knew my mom was feeling bad. I felt just fine. With every present my siblings opened I thought, "I have a horse".
Finally they were done. My Dad grinned at me and said, "Might as well go get your Christmas present."
I pulled my jeans on over my pajamas, rammed my boots onto my feet and shot out the door, buttoning my coat as I headed down the frozen street.
I cut through a neighborhood side yard and slid over the Moline's back fence. I could hear them laughing in the house. I was glad they were having a good Christmas too.
I hesitated at the lip of the steep ditch which separated me from my pasture. I took a deep breath, measured my steps and ran through the cement culvert, carefully balancing my bucket of brown sugar laced hot oatmeal, carrots and apples. If I hit it just so and didn't hesitate I knew I could scramble across without losing my footing.
I stood up in the pasture on the other side and dusted off my snowy knees. My ears burned with the cold and I took off my mitten to rub at them, wishing I had remembered my hat.
Mort nickered, his star bright against his beautiful black face. His fuzzy dun coat glinted in the sharp morning light as he paced, hungry. I felt a catch in my throat as I stomped through the snowy field up to his shed.
I crawled through the corral rails with an armload of hay. I laughed and pushed Mort away as he tried to stick his head in the bucket of mash hanging from the crook of my arm.
"Wait you geek, get off me!"
I finally wrestled him off enough to set the bucket down in the snow. I carried the hay into his shed and dumped it into his feeder. He had finished his mash and was kicking the empty bucket around his pen by the time I chopped the ice out of his water tank.
I was slinging the ice out into the field when I felt his nose push into the small of my back.
"Oof!" I grunted.
It was a good shove. I turned to face him and cupped my hands around his muzzle. Mort’s warm breath covered my frozen fingers. I pulled at the mash covering his whiskers, it was already frozen at the ends.
Mort snorted and pulled his nose away. He stepped back into me and nuzzled under my hair, lipping at my frozen ears. I wrapped my arms around his neck and buried my face in his cool fluffed out coat. I dug my fingers into his warm skin. He tolerated me for a minute before he pulled away and went into his shed to eat his hay.
I leaned against the door and watched him in the shadows. The sun splintered through the chinks in the walls and streamed over him. Snow floated down and melted into crystals across his back. My heart beat in sync with the slow steady music of him chewing the sweet alfalfa hay.

I heard the sounds of sleigh bells coming across the field. I turned and looked outside. My friend Melinda was walking up to feed her horse. Melinda wrestled with her own steaming bucket as Shannon nickered to her. She saw me, grinned and waved two heavy leather straps covered with sleigh bells over her head.
"I thought we could tie these on our saddles and ride around the neighborhood!" she called.
Mort snorted and stamped behind me as he rooted in his hay. The steam from his breath whirled around his head.
"Merry Christmas!" Melinda shouted.
"Merry Christmas!" I hollered back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You Say To-may-toe, I Say To-Mah-Toe

We have had two posts in a row where our language barriers have created some interesting discussions. When you think about it, this should come as no big surprise. We come together on this blog from different parts of the country, different disciplines, heck all over the world. Add to this the magic of "horse speak" and we have the potential for some pretty interesting mix-ups in our communication.

I'm still flat out cracking up over our comments about "back". When Whywudyabreedit was asking for help to select a trainer to back her horse for the first time, I have to admit, in my mind I kept thinking, "Just back the damn thing!", as in pick up your reins and get him to step back. Since I try hard to never cop that kind of attitude I simply squelched it and went on....

So I hope you get the help you're looking for Whywud, I was pretty useless on that one.

Anyway, so now I'm thinking, what terms do I regularly use that might cause confusion? How often are we just being polite and not saying "Huh?" because we feel stupid for asking? I say let's all get in the habit of simply going, "Huh?" We'll all learn a lot more and get a good laugh once in a while at each others expense.

I think the horse world makes people more self-conscious than anywhere else. As horse people we tend to be the first to offer our expertise and the last to admit when we don't know something. No matter how little we may actually know. Be honest, you know we have all been there.

I don't know what it is about horses that makes us all want to be the expert in every situation. Is it because it takes so long to actually learn anything? Is it because there are so many levels where we can actually become knowledgeable, but still fall down in others? What is it?

I have learned there are specific phases every new rider goes through.

1. "Which end is the head, why can't I wear my Crocs and when can we run?"

2."Oh no, this is hard, kinda scary and this bone-head horse won't do anything!"

3."Oh my gosh I''m learning to do stuff and I understand the difference between a fetlock and a forelock!"

4."If I learn how this thing ticks then I can get more done!" ( My favorite point with a new student)

5. I'm an expert! (Uh-oh)

Then depending on the person, this phase settles in for a while. Some stay there forever. I'll be honest, I don't have much patience for this phase. Luckily, most of us have some massive slap from reality, you know, we break something, we humiliate ourselves, we try to step up into a discipline that's over our head, that kind of thing. Sometimes it's tragedy.
From there horse people go two different ways. They either quit or they go back to learning.
Personally, I'm still learning.

I'm determined to become a competitive cutter.
I still dabble in dressage and probably will for the rest of my life. I find it a peaceful and interesting discipline.
I am re-structuring my program for developing a bridle horse, yet again.
I'm learning from you guys ever day.

So here's my contribution. I'm putting out my list of terms that you may or may not be familiar with.
Please, please, add in your terminology. This should be really fun.

Turn-around: A spin in place. My horse plants his inside hind leg and trots or runs around with the front legs for several revolutions, pushing with the outside hind for momentum.

Spin: See turn-around.

Roll-back: The horse comes to a stop. He rocks back, turns over his hocks and returns in the direction he came from. The horse leaves in a fluid motion without hesitation.

dry work: reined work. The reining pattern we do before we work our cow. Since many of us hate the dry work (horses and riders both) we'll refer to it as dry as dust....

boxing: holding a cow at the short end of an arena. This is the first phase of cow work in a cowhorse competition.

down the fence: taking the cow down the long side of the arena, this is the fast, fun part. We pass and turn the cow at least twice during this phase.

circle up: this is the last phase, we drive the cow to the middle of the arena and circle it to the left and then right with our horses.

Romel: Romel reins are becoming very popular again as they were in the days of the vaquero.The romel is a requirement in the reined cowhorse competitions.They are like a one piece or roping rein with a ring or tie connector with a romel connected and a popper on the end. You can get these made out of simple leather or pay for hand braided rawhide. The coolness factor that comes with a set of high quality rawhide romels is priceless.

Full bridle: In my world this is when my horse has graduated to a one-ear bridle, a full spade or half-breed bit, ridden with a flat leather chin strap and romel reins.

Hackamore: A bosal. A bitless bridle made of braided raw-hide, leather or a combination of the two. The hackamore works off of the sensitive areas of a horse's nose and jaw. The hackamore is used for one to several years in the development of a bridle horse.
Mechanical hackamores with long shanks are different. They can apply a very high ratio of pressure to the sensitive area of the nose, chin and poll and cause extreme pain.

Snaffle: A bit with no shanks. So an O-ring or and egg-butt can be a snaffle, but a tom thumb is not.

Curb: A bit with shanks

Broken Mouth Bits: A lot of us learn to call all broken mouth bits snaffles. They aren't. You can have a broken mouth curb such as a tom thumb or a broken mouth pelham or you can have a broken mouth snaffle such as a ring snaffle or eggbutt snaffle. You can have a two piece broken mouth or a three piece broken mouth and the action of each can be very different giving your horse very different signals and producing different results.

I have to get to work, or get beaten. So I'll end with my favorite.

Horsin' : A mare in season


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Show Ring Longevity

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. It is the core of my inability to make peace with the sport of cowhorse. Reining and cutting are just as troubling, for that matter any sport that involves horses.

Nagsonmom asked-Is reining bad for horse long term function? How often does a reining horse rein for 6 years or so and then remain sound for trail riding for the next 10? I love the fun, but don't want to invest time and money in something that is ultimately bad for the horses involved.

The fact remains that all equestrian related sports push horses too hard, too fast and too young. Economics play a large part of this. A horse is not mature until they are six years old. So who wants to wait four or five years to start a horse? A two year old is definitely not mature enough to carry a rider, in my mind, at all.
Since Nagonmom asked about reining, that's the event I'm going to pick on. But I could as easily go after cowhorses, pleasure horses, all-arounders, any of the events I'm familiar with.
An article written by The Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Science (ANZFAS) warned, the decision to break a horse as a two-year-old may well be a decision to break the horse down. Well-muscled, well-grown yearlings are skeletally immature, resulting in a horse where the flesh (muscle) is willing but the skeleton (immature bones, ligaments and connective tissue). Many horses are not skeletally mature until 4.5 years of age...Horses with closed epiphisial lines, are ready to be started.
The ANZFAS went on to say, horses with open epiphysial lines should be spelled, otherwise the stresses of training could cause epiphysitis, shin soreness, splints, fractures, poor development and chronic lameness.
It is a problem that occurs at the growth plates of young horses that can make them sore and lame, and it is part of the developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) complex.
Eventually, the growth plate closes as the long bones reach their maximum length. Generally speaking, the growth plates at the lower extremities, such as the cannon bone, will close first, while those at the knee and hock—radius and tibia, respectively—will close later in the young horse’s development.
For the most part, the long bones don't reach their maximum length until the horse is 4-6 years old.
Now add in the fact that young quarter horse show prospects are bred to show a solid muscle bound look of maturity and are stuffed full of rich feed from weaning on. This all adds to the myth that quarter horses mature early enough to take the stress of starting them on January 1st of their two-year-old year. This makes the average start date for a show prospect anywhere from 18 to 20 months.
The reality is these babies are packing around a lot of muscle and weight on a frail and immature skeletal system. Where in this picture does it make sense for us to throw on a 40 pound saddle and crawl on top of them?
The other problem is mental stability. A two-year-old horse has a brain like a sponge. He is willing to accept a rider as his leader without much thought.
A two-year-old will try his little heart out. He will work past all common sense, because he is not old enough to know how to save himself from our stupidity. He trusts his rider to tell him what to do.
The end result is a horse that will fall apart mentally from being bombarded with stimulus he can't absorb. Show ring drop outs are often crazy with fear, or so dull they have no response left.
Repetitious exercise is extremely tough on a horse's legs.
Standard warm-up on a reiner is 20 to 30 circles every day. A spin is as strenuous as two laps around a big arena at speed. Think about how much spinning we do, just in a daily routine. Slide stops are incredibly tough on legs. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it is not normal to inject your horse's hocks at three years, four years, five, oh hell, EVER.
If I have to inject my horse's hocks I'm not going to feel safe scrambling up a mountain side.
Trainer Richard Shrake said it best, "There's only so many slide stops in a horse. Be careful how you use them."
When we start horses as two-year-olds they tend to live in stalls. Their exercise consists of short burst of activity combined with long periods of standing in one spot. I can guarantee a horse kept this way for six or seven years will not be sound later in life. They need to be out. They need to wander around.
That being said, here's where I am. I still want to show in cowhorse events. I have come to realize I can't be competitive as an open trainer. Part of this is an unwillingness to ride my young horse as hard as is required to win.
What I can do is raise my personal horses as I feel they should be raised. My coming two-year-old is out on pasture in a pretty wild part of Colorado. He has free choice hay. He has 80 acres of windy pasture, hills, gullies and trees to roar around on.
This fall I plan on putting 30 to 60 days on him. It will include very basic walk, trot, canter and some cow 101. He won't be required to collect in any way. Then he'll be turned out until the following spring.
That's when I'll begin his training. I'm planning on cutting on him for a season and then starting his reined work as a four-year-old. He may show in a derby or two his four-year-old year. I'll actually think about getting serious his five-year-old year.
My guess is we will share a long, sound, sane and happy life together.
My yellow mare was started as a two-year-old. I started her lightly. I never rode her more than fifteen minutes at a time. I didn't show her until late her three-year-old year. She is OK. But I have been extremely careful. I keep a balance between shows, trails and just screwing around with her buds. Every show I have pushed her at I try to balance with two small day shows where I just "lope through."
At six she is sound and mostly sane. Because I haven't pushed her (compared to how I was taught to train) she is the best horse I have ever ridden. Because I haven't pushed her she has earned the least of all my cowhorses. I think she'll end up being the best competitor I've ever had.
I still wish I had waited another year to start her.
So, Nagonmom, the questions I would ask myself are,
1.Is my horse sound?
2.Can I take him out riding now?
3. Why aren't I trail riding and reining both?
4. Is my horse calm and happy?
5. Is my horse living somewhere other than a box stall?
6. What can I do to keep a balance?
I plan on being competitive and keeping my horses sound and happy. I bet you can too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hobbles and Show Ring Longevity

I have two interesting questions to cover today and a general plea from myself to you guys. I know I have had some good questions asked that I've missed. I really don't mean to skip you. I have a habit of waiting to answer questions until they fit into the "flow" of the blog. Add my tendency to be extremely spacey and easily side-tracked and it sometimes means I lose track of some real good ideas.
So please, have pity and ask me again. I'll try to store them so I can rely on a check list rather than my feeble short term memory. Thanks.

Whywudyabreedit asked about leg restraints. My personal experience is with hobbles on the front legs. I have worked with trainers who use various other leg restraints and typical me, I asked lots of non-judgemental questions about them and really studied the results. So I have a fairly educated background behind my feelings about them.
I first used hobbles on Mort. I liked the idea of taking him camping and being able to let him graze. I also thought it would be an easy way to let him out of our over-grazed field and to have some of the prairie grass around us without losing him. So I went to Donna's Brokn' Spoke Western Wear and Tack Shop and bought a set of hobbles. Donna showed me how they went on and I went home and got long suffering Mort out.
I stood him in a soft sandy spot, buckled the hobbles on and stood back. Mort tried to take a step, felt the restraint and glared at me. He shuffled forward a few steps before he figured out to hop with his front legs together. That was it. He was hobble broke.
I took him out to the prairie and turned him out in his hobbles. He munched away for half an hour and then took off, front legs together, at about 100 mph. I caught up with him several miles later at his favorite hang-out, the pasture behind the Vista-View Drive In.
So much for my great hobble experiment.
As the years went by and I began to fancy myself a horse trainer, I continued to hobble break my horses. I felt it was part of their basic education. Some were like Mort and calmly sorted it out. Some became frightened and threw themselves a time or two. I learned that the broker the horse, the less fuss I got when I put the hobbles on.
Then I met a trainer who specialized in rope horses. I watched him get his horses used to a rope. He would rope each foot, suspend it by pulling on it and release when the horse gave. Eventually he could rope a foot, pull forward and the horse would walk into the pull to get the release. Since then I have seen this done on the end of a lead rope like the roper used and with the horse moving around a round pen. I haven't tried the round pen method because I can't rope my way out of a paper bag.
I thought that was pretty smart and started doing the same, but with my soft cotton 50 foot rope. I would just loop it around their hooves and legs and get them to give and stretch to the pull of the rope.
I found it was a much easier and safer way to get my horses to learn to pick up their feet.
In the same time period I was watching and learning from Ray Hunt, through reading and clinics. He would restrain a tough horse by having one rider rope a horse's head and then one hind foot. By stretching out the hind foot and only releasing when the horse relaxed into the hold he safely got the horse introduced to his concept of seeking release.
This was the method used by my shoer and I (except we were on the ground) to teach Sonita to quit trying to take his head off every time he shoed her. It worked and no blood was drawn.
Then I had a horse come in for training. This filly had no intention of being ridden, ever. She would react violently every time she thought I might even be contemplating throwing a leg over her back.
I was reading an "old-timers guide to horse training" or some such thing. In it there was a training tip for horses who wouldn't let a rider on. It involved a one leg restraint that buckled around the pastern and tied the foot up to the forearm. The idea was to put the restraint on the horse and lead her around on three legs until she gave. It guaranteed the horse would let you on.
So I tried it.

It worked. Like a charm to tell the truth. I took away the filly's ability to flee. She thought I was going to kill her. She accepted her upcoming death and gave in. I released her leg, got on the horse and successfully rode her. This method was often used by the old "mustangers." They could get a lot of horses started quick this way.

A few years later I saw a young horse in a similar restraint.This time it was attached to a hind leg. A pretty, decently bred black stud colt. The colt who was wearing it also had his head tied around to the leg. So every time he tried to release his head he would pull the leg forward.
I was told the colt was not particularly flexible and was especially stiff in the direction he was being forced to hold.
I saw him tied this way for several hours a day over a two week period.
The young colt went home as a program drop-out a month later. He was extremely well trained, but slightly lame in the back. The owner planned on resting him and hopefully riding him in some local versatility shows.

I also have watched horses hobbled to learn not to paw. I have seen this work to varying degrees.

Here's my take on all of this. Hobbles are about restraint. They are about stopping forward motion.
My entire training program is based on forward motion being a reward. It's why I don't use a one-rein stop. It's why I don't use hobbles as a training device.
I have learned to teach my horses to accept me by giving them the freedom to move. If they are uncomfortable and need to move they can. If they want to rest or be quiet they can do it by standing quiet next to me while I do whatever I feel like. Be it stand in the stirrup, sit on their back, whatever.
They accept me because they have the knowledge, instilled from day one, that if they are uncomfortable they can move off.
Leg restraints force the same issue. It's no longer acceptance of me by choice, it's acceptance of me only because they have lost the ability to flee. There is no building of trust that way. There is only submission. Which to my mind is a scary way to train. I can't trust a horse who doesn't trust me.
I'm fine with the rope around one foot at a time approach. Once again it teaches restraint with a release at the end. A release that encourages forward movement.
I'm OK with hobble breaking a horse. Except I no longer hope it will keep them in the neighborhood.
I still haven't used hobbles to stop my horse from pawing. Ignoring them works pretty well, and is easier.
The filly I started with the leg restraint never became trustworthy under saddle. Rideable, yes, trustworthy, no.
The little black colt? He went home well-trained, but terrified. Once he was home it turned into aggression. He became unpredictable and didn't make it in versatility. Of course it didn't matter because he was permanently lame in the hind by the time he was four.
My overall outlook on leg restraints is it depends on the type and how they're used. I have found that spending more time on strengthening my own training methods was a much better solution for everybody.
I'll have to make this a two parter because for some reason my daughter thinks she should be allowed to do homework today. So, mas manana hombrettes.