Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Good Old Mare

I stopped in at a local day show last Saturday to visit with a few friends. I was admiring a young girl who was just riding the tar (in a good way) out of a sharp looking Fjord pony. This petite little thing wrestled the Fjord through class after class. She looked cool and calm and her pony merrily lumbered her way through the arena as best she could.

A Fjord doesn't exactly melt into the crowd in my neck of the woods. Our English classes are judged in the "Wenglish" or "Engstern" tradition and the Western are, well western. The classes are filled with quarter horses, paints, a few arabs, more quarters and paints, some grades that look like quarters or paints and did I mention the quarter horses and paints?

But I watched this young rider place in most of her classes. They make a fairly stunning pair in my book. She even reins on her little Fjord and their patterns are quiet and solid, even if they don't have a 30 foot slide or a hair trigger spin.

I told the girl's grandmother how impressed with them I was and her answer surprised me a little.

"If she was riding one of the other horses you see here she'd really be cleaning up," she said.

I was a little taken aback. For one thing, that pony is a dream. The other is I know full well the little girl rides the way she does because she had to really work in order to succeed on a horse who doesn't quite fit in. Kids don't learn to ride like she does when they're handed a trained show horse.

What parents often fail to understand is a finished horse shapes a green rider. The rider learns to fit the horse's needs in order to compete. There is nothing wrong with this, but for kids especially, I think it's important for them to learn to shape the horse to fit them. It truly teaches them to ride.

Which is why I was perfectly willing to have my daughter spend her first several years riding and competing on a very willing, gentle but extremely elderly mare, Annie.
Annie was a quarter horse. My daughter had grown up riding her. The kidlet rode with me until she was four, then took over the reins and was off on her own.

Annie never gave me reason to doubt her. She was consistently kind, she loved kids, she tried to do what I asked of her. She was my primary beginner lesson horse. She was also just about the slowest horse on the planet.

Annie was famous for her innovative transitions. When a child would be urging her into a trot for the first time, Annie would speed up her walk and begin bobbing her head in a perfect imitation of a horse at the trot. But those feet would keep on walking. She could "trope" all day. Slow and easy, loping in the front and trotting in the back.

Annie gave children confidence. She would obey when they could make her, but not until they were horsemen enough to get her there. She would lower her head for a hug from the tiniest child. She would stand quiet and soft for the most fearful.

She was perfect. Unless you were my fearless wild child, crazy with the desire to run and wanting so bad to go to the shows with her mom. Annie and my kidlet had been a perfect pair at the day shows. They had become an almost unbeatable team in the 10 and under morning classes.

Now, at 11, my little girl had definitely out-grown her horse. But she was the horse I had for her. She would have to do.

So the kidlet began to teach Annie to rein. She begged me for sliders. I finally caved and had Ed come put sliders on Annie. Of course they were my version of appropriate sliders for a 26 year old horse. Ed shoed her in the back with regular keg shoes, but turned them upside-down so they were smooth. Then he left all the nail heads on to give her some grip.
Kidlet was happy, Annie was safe and we were reining.

I was pleased and impressed to see my little girl get the old mare circling up. She worked hard and figured out her lead changes. Annie, as usual, complied with dignity once she was resigned to the fact that my kidlet was determined to make it happen.

I finally promised to take her to an AQHA show and let her show in the youth reining. I warned her the competition would be fierce, that Annie was old and not a reiner.

Kidlet was sure it wouldn't matter, she knew they'd be fine. We picked a show in Rifle, because it was smaller than some and we would have time to go tubing in the river and take a trip to the hot springs. Kidlet was out of her mind.

The first day of the show came awfully quick. Kidlet was a nervous wreck when she saw the sleek and finished reiners she was up against.The other youth riders were well into their teens, confident and at ease.
She snapped and snarled at everyone in our group (ahh...so like her mother!) and fretted all the way into the arena. She had a look of absolute terror on her face. Annie looked bored.

They under spun and zeroed. They misplaced their markers. They missed a lead. Kidlet's hat fell off, banged Annie on the butt and I witnessed the only buck I ever saw come from the old mare.

Kidlet left the arena with her head down and disappeared. I gave her a few minutes and found her sitting in the truck, crying her eyes out. Annie stood patiently beside the truck door, her reins dangling.

I rapped on the window.

"Get out here and take care of your horse."

I went back to the arena to wait for my class. Kidlet showed up later that afternoon. She was red-eyed, but cheerful enough.

"I cleaned the stalls and watered Annie," Kidlet told me. "She's out grazing."

It seemed the crisis had passed. When we had curled up in our trailer for the night we talked more about the day. I reminded Kidlet of what was important. Remembering her pattern, riding her horse to the best of her ability and being proud of what they could do. She really didn't want to hear it, but I hoped part of my stubborn little girl was listening.

Two days later it was time for her next class. She came into the arena silent and focused. She watched the other goes with fierce determination. She snarked at me if I even pretended to coach.

"I know my pattern!" Kidlet hissed at me.

I left her be and kept my stage mother anxieties to myself.

When the kidlet and Annie walked into the arena she sat straight in the saddle and looked the judges dead in the eye.

Annie loped off into her first big circle. I glanced up at the judges. They smiled at the very cute picture Annie and my little girl presented. They also looked resigned at the incredibly slow lope they saw going around the arena. One of the judges looked at his watch and settled back into his chair.

It didn't seem possible but when it came to their small slow circle, Kidlet brought Annie down even slower. It was amazing. I could almost hear the judges groan. Then back to the next big fast, er sort of.

I was proud. Annie was cruising along at her usual crawl and Kidlet sat a little up and forward, her hand up and her legs bumping a gentle encouragement in fine reiner style.
She sat back and took Annie through her clean lead change smooth as silk. The old mare was level and quiet, huffing her way around the pen.

I saw the judges sit up and look a little closer.

Kidlet's second set of circles was as perfect and slow-mo as the first. There were a few whistles from the audience after the second lead change. I saw a tiny flash of a smile whip across my daughter's serious face and then she looked up the pen and started her run-down.

Kidlet sat back and drove the old mare up the pen. Annie rounded her back, well, sucked in her belly anyway, and pushed into the bridle. Although they would have lost a race with a pleasure horse, they still increased speed with every stride and stopped clean. They slid a good three or four feet. Tiny little eleven's.

Their roll back was honest and they repeated the clean run down and stop. The judges were leaning forward and smiling now. Her last stop was clean. They backed straight.

Then came the spins. Annie could not spin. She had arthritis in both hocks and was seriously sway-backed. There was no way to pick herself up and get around.

Kidlet dropped her weight to the inside, took her leg off and drove her forward. They executed four tiny little circles each way. They were done.

I glanced at my watch. My daughter and her mare had been in the arena for almost 12 minutes. Almost twice the length of the average pattern. But there were people clapping. My wild child had gone out there and shown her horse. She was calm, smiling and proud. Me too.

A miracle happened that afternoon. We sat and watched the other kids go. We saw nerves get to them and watched forgotten patterns. We saw over ridden horses blow and buck. We saw over-spins an under-spins. We saw Annie get a third place ribbon.

No one will ever convince me I made a mistake keeping my daughter on Annie for all those years. She loved and treasured that mare. She learned how to take a knock. She learned to compete. She learned to ride. All in the safety of that slow, old mare.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This is Mugwump's daughter speaking...

Hi. This is Janet's daughter.
I wanna put my name down.. but she won't let me. whatev.
I just thought that you guys might be interested in what I have to say about all of what's happened to my mom in the past ten months.
First off. I'm super proud.
I love the fact that so many people look up and respect her.. although her fellow trainers always knew that my mom was a baller.. i dont think they ever realized to what extent. if you're wondering what baller means: it is the act of being fly. and fly... well it simply means cool.
Secondly. I find it great that people love my mom so much that they often think about her and her advice while they are riding and/or training. It's funny because my mom gets uber flattered.. and seeing my mom flattered is just fun.
This blog has overall brought my mom the spotlight that she has deserved for so long, but because of the ridiculous way that the cowhorse/journalist worlds work, she never earned.
All in all, I am very thankful for the mugwump chronicles and all of her devoted fans. You guys have shown my mom just how great/cool/baller/sweet/awesome/amazing/legit she really is.

so thanks for the ever-growing support.
its much appreciated.
and please excuse me for my lack of capitalization and punctuation marks. although i maybe an aspiring english teacher. ive let facebook and myspace affect my typing skills a bit too much.

-mugwump junior.

She's an odd little duckling, my kid. I added the photo for sweet revenge. My daughter is eleven in this shot, she's on Annie the antique. I'm on Loki, a four-year-old, who was on her way into the arena for her first cowhorse run. The sick look on my face is as close to a smile as I can muster on show day.
My daughter is almost 18 now. She's grown into a nice person, an excellent horseman and an all around good kid.
I'll tell you about that show today or tomorrow, depending on my time at the paper.
This was taken Annie's one and only AQHA show with my daughter.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Sonita hollered as I drove in. As always, she was ready to go. She paced up and down her run, carefully walking as close to the rail as she could. It had rained the night before and she refused to get mud on her feet.

As I worked through my chores I kept looking over at her. The new coat that came in with the harvest moon every year was thick and glossy. Deep cherry red, she was at her prettiest in the early fall.

Sonita became nervous under my gaze and she lunged at the horses on either side of her. Her muscles bunched and slid, smooth under her skin.

I went back to work, releasing her from my eyes. She settled and walked back into her stall for a bite of hay.

When I put her in the line-up, I was careful to tie her so the other horses were well out of her kick zone. She squealed a few times and settled in, happy enough to watch me ride the other horses and snake at them over the rail as I loped past.

"Hssss," I would mutter as I flashed by her and lifted my rein in a mild threat. It was just enough to get her to keep those bared yellow teeth at bay. My own version of horse whispering, I guess.

I brought her out to ride in the middle of my day. I was warmed up enough to deal with her and still fresh enough to survive what ever my little darling cooked up for our ride.

We walked around the perimeter of the rail. I made her bridle through the corners and past my tie rail, but let her spook and blow at the walls and shadows in between.

After we had made it around once each way Sonita had enough. She rattled her rein chains and savaged the roller in her bit. She began to strike out a forefoot every step or two. She didn't break gait, or lean on my hand so I caved. We picked up our lope.

I let her go around the rail at her own speed. Today she was content with a fast lope.
"Good girl," I said. This usually meant we were looking at a good work-out.

Sonita tried to come off the rail, afraid of the dark shadows against the arena walls. I pushed her into frame and loped her through the scary corners, driving her hindquarters forward, her shoulders into the center of the arena, easing the pressure building in her mind.

We went into our circles and Sonita relaxed into the zone. We loped our standard twenty circles each way, ending collected and correct for the last five.

As she stood in the center to blow, relaxed, alert and ready to go, I ran through my mental checklist of our strengths and weaknesses.

She still wouldn't stop worth a damn. I'd gone through a time thinking she wasn't able to. But she would park it as hard and long as necessary to turn a cow.

My inexperience as a cow horse trainer combined with Sonita's fierce determination to only obey if she saw a purpose had made it clear that World Show or no, we were going to take a hit on our stops.

She would still well up against my hand and look to the outside of her circles. I had never succeeded in getting her to focus on the track ahead. She was way too busy checking for her friends, the dreaded judges and something she may need to spook at.

Our spins were lovely.
Her feet never went off course. Her circles were clean and perfect, her run downs were true.

If the moons were in their proper phases and the stars were aligned in our favor, nothing could stop us on a cow.

We were qualified. We were going. Sonita was what she was and so was I. I sighed and loped her off.

Once I was satisfied we had done everything needed and Sonita had her edge off, I took her outside to walk in the fields behind the indoor arena. Sonita relaxed as soon as we came into the bright sun. As always, she was so much happier when we were outside.
I looked at my watch. We were an hour and a half into our ride. As usual, her workout had put me behind. I would be riding until at least 7 o'clock now.

Getting Sonita ridden was exhausting. We both needed the walk through the fields to regroup.
She still skittered and played, but most of her urgency was gone. She slowly cooled. I took her back to the barn, washed her down, threw on her cooler and brought her back to the arena to spend the rest of the day on the rail. Putting her up too soon still caused her to fret. I gave her a scratch, checked her legs for heat and went back to work.

That night as I started to put my horses away, one of my clients came out to help. (I had very well-trained clients)

"I'll take Sonita," Crystal told me.

Sonita nuzzled Crystal's hair and walked quietly next to her. Crystal was one of the few people Sonita liked, much less acknowledged.

I walked next to them and the two horses I was leading stayed carefully back and to the side. They knew to stay away from Sonita's teeth and heels.

"Are you excited about the Worlds? Are you getting scared?," Crystals friendly chatter brought me out of my thoughts.

"You know what, I'm starting to get excited," I said.

"You know what I'm scared of? I've decided to sell Sonita."

Crystal fell silent and stared. It was official. I had said it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Where I'm Heading

I can't get my photo examples side by side, but I think you'll get my drift. I have a lot of reading and thinking to do with the new information I've gotten.
I understand what you guys are saying, but I have to think where it fits in to my training methods.....and my training goals.
The indirect rein of opposition cracked me up. Simply because it was a very long, detailed explanation for a fairly simple, but carefully used way of handling our reins when our horses are being ridden two-handed.
I very carefully left that one out in my opening limbering exercises for Ezra Pandora.
It is considered a powerful containment of the outside shoulder and an instant brake. Also a heavily misused aid.
We call it, "Let that rein go, you're blocking his shoulder!"
Or, "Feel his hip swing out? Then let go of that dang rein!"
I guess indirect rein of opposition also works.

What I really want to figure out is where does training end and abuse begin?
Olympic gymnasts don't look, move or react like us regular folks. They have carefully shaped bodies trained to do spectacular things beyond the realm of normal people.
There is a specific body type needed to even contemplate being a gymnast. Then the real fun begins.
Gymnasts train through pain, permanent disfigurement, psychological horrors and diets that would starve a bunny.
They are honed to focus only on the event, only on the win. Their desire to win is cultivated to the point of insanity, only rivaled to their attempt at perfection at every event, with every move.
As a gymnast progresses through the ranks, many fall by the wayside. Many start the long road to competition with huge hopes and desires and each year more fall to the wayside as those golden few finally reach the Nationals, The Olympics, the absolute top.
I had a suite-mate in college who was a junior Olympic gymnastic champion in junior high.
Claudia was the victim of her heritage. She became too tall, grew breasts, was too big-boned to continue her path to the Olympics. Keep in mind, she was 5'6 and weighed maybe 130 lbs.
She still managed a full scholarship for our no-name state school in gymnastics. We all went happily to see her first meet. She was wicked good. She won the majority of her events.
There were scouts in the stands.
I overheard them talking about her.
"What a cow. It's such a shame, she used to be perfection."
The scouts, who had come to see her left before the event was over.
Claudia was well aware they walked out. She knew exactly who they were.
She went to bed for a week.
She was crippled and scarred from the surgeries she went through as a girl to repair tendons and joints. Going into a depression and not stretching caused her to stiffen to the point she would cry when she got up to go to the bathroom.

Claudia went around and around like this for two years. Then she dropped her scholarship, quit exercising and started to eat. She was the meanest snake of a woman I've ever known.

The horses who compete at the top are the equine equivalent of our gymnasts. Except they can't quit unless we tell them too.

They are bred to perform. The desire to succeed is carefully crafted in them from day one. They are sculpted into a beautiful piece of art that has nothing to do with or buddies in the back yard.
They will try and try and try.

I don't have an answer here. Because I love the beauty of the artwork. I love the result of the careful breeding that goes into creating these pieces of art.

If we search and compare and analyze, do you think we can find a way to attain these levels of artistry without destroying our horses?

That's what I'm hoping for here....

If we find our similarities, understand our differences, share our processes, can we do this?

Friday, February 13, 2009

OK-Help Me Here - Rollkur

This is the definition Wikpedia gave me for this training method. I know nothing about it and would like you dressage guys to jump in and fly with this. The fact that it is "most notably used in show jumping"(other than dressage) makes me no longer willing to take it laying down when the hunter/jumper set bashes us westerners for being so abusive.
I'm also aware that this is very similar to what we do to reiners to create the low head sets so popular in the pen. We just keep asking for low and level, but the approach is the same.
So let's hear it, how does it work, why does it work, has anybody tried it and found better ways to get the same result.....Talk to me.

"Rollkur, now officially known as "hyperflexion of the neck," is a highly controversial training technique used by some dressage riders today. It was, and is still, used in other equestrian disciplines, most notably show jumping, before being adopted by some well-known dressage riders. However, it is not an old theory in dressage, either: Francois Baucher trained a similar method, although he did all his severe flexing at the halt, and in addition he connected the posture of the hind legs to the mix.

In dressage training, the rider can choose to make the horse work for periods with its neck lowered and its head behind the vertical, for various beneficial reasons, such as suppling, relaxing, and stretching the horse, yet rollkur takes this flexion to the extreme. In rollkur, the horse is asked to lower his head and round its neck as it works--working "deep"--so that the head is coming inward. In the extreme, the horse's mouth touches the middle of his chest. Rollkur is not a quick movement lasting a few seconds, but is held for a length of time, through work at the walk, trot, and canter, including shortening and extension of the gaits. Rollkur is not just longitudinal flexion (nose to chest or forelegs), but accompanied with repeated bending to the rider's leg.

Some riders who use rollkur accomplish the head position by lowering and fixing the hands until the horse yields its jaw backwards in response to the pressure on the bit. This technique (pulling in) goes against all classical riding. In classical dressage, the horse accepts the bit and the horse decides to come down with its head because it trusts the hands of the rider. In good companionship, it is possible to asks the horse to go a little deeper than the animal would do itself (until, eventually, rollkur is established)."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abuse at Shows

Horse of Course said- But I wonder - where are the authorities? I mean sports organisations, judges, etc. You mentioned in an earlier post that in one competition several of the horses leaving the arena were lame. Why were the riders not disqualified? When money is involved, some people will always be tempted to take shortcuts. I also understand that it is not easy to stand up for your principles as a single person when the result is that you won’t have money to pay your hay, or bread.But should not the organisations and the judges take the responsibility to defend the horse’s interest and make sure that measures were taken to keep abuse out of the sport?I would think that you have given this quite a lot of thoughts, Janet. How come it is like this? What can be done? What is done?

The story has been going on forever. There are basically two camps. The camp that breeds, shows, races and the camp that loves their horse and feels they are a pet and companion.

The breeding, showing, racing camp believes that horses are livestock and are for our personal use. This does not mean all these people are cruel. It means they use horses for personal gain and satisfaction.

Of course there are rules. There are watchdog groups. But the infra-structure supports the big win, the fastest horse, the fanciest breed. So there are abuses.

When the shows are run by people who compete, you're going to see abuse. Lame horses are allowed to go. Horses with scarred mouths, sides and minds are national champions. Tails are doctored, horses are tied in their stalls with their heads suspended, it goes on and on.

I had the hope I could become a top competitor without falling into these behaviors. I couldn't do it. So I quit. I still try. I still won't succeed.

There are small inroads. Judges often ask for horses to trot in before they start their patterns. This shows lameness better than when we walk in.

I see more horses moving in a more natural frame. I hear trainers talk about resting their horses, skipping futurities and starting with the derbies, that sort of thing.

The reality is, things will change when horses who have been raised and trained under humane conditions become national champions. Not one second before.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lots of Questions, Lots of Thoughts

Before I get going here I want to clarify my position one more time. I do not think I know the answers to every horse training problem which comes down the pike. I only know what I learned through my experience as a trainer and competitor in western events.
I made the majority of my money as a trainer by starting colts and riding problem horses. I also had a good sized clientele of people who took lessons on their own horses and back when I first started, kids on school horses.

I was at best, a mid-level cowhorse trainer. I never got the top bred horses to ride, I got the hand-me-downs from better trainers. I say they were better because they were. Some of the people I rode with were absolutely brilliant. Some were vicious and cruel. Many of them were both. All were trapped in their career by the expectations of the people they rode for.
I quit because I was 50, broke and becoming crippled up. I saw two close friends get busted up, one almost died, both spent their kids college funds on the ICU. I was sick of what was done to horses in order to make it to the big time. I had enough.

I always mull over your questions carefully before I answer. I will be devastated if somebody gets hurt trying advice from me. I won't answer in depth training questions if I think somebody might get hurt.

I am only capable of telling you what I would do in your situation. I like hearing what others would do in the same situation. I know I get pissy sometimes. Sometimes I just get tired. Tired of trying to formulate safe, reasonable answers and then see them become skewed or deliberately misunderstood. I try to let you guys know when I'm feeling that way. It doesn't mean I want to stop the exchange of ideas.

Horse of Course wanted to understand why I use my legs the way I do. So here we go. My horses are taught to step away from the pressure of my outside leg and into the “open door” of my inside leg. I ask for the outside hind foot to move toward the inside front by putting my weight into the outside corner of my saddle (about five pounds) , my outside calf encourages my horse to step haunches first, away from my weight and towards my relaxed, (or completely off) inside leg.
When I ask for a lope depart I push with my outside leg, toward the inside front. The horse steps with his outside hind leg and lopes off.

Redsmom asked about ways to practice patterns.
I will practice pieces. I’ll lope my circles and set up for a run down off of them, then go back to my circles. I’ll make squares, rectangles and octagons, with my horse collected up and driven forward, then go into pattern parts in a relaxed easy manner.
I’ll lope a circle, stop at random, spin once, twice, three times, whatever to the inside of my circle and then lope off again, trying to stay on the same path. Things like that.

When it comes to running reining patterns I have learned the easiest way to remember what I’m doing is to break it down into parts.

All patterns ask for two sets of circles. One set to the left, one to the right. (I’m talking AQHA, NRCHA, NRHA) I’ll have to change leads once each way. (There’s one crazy one where you ride one circle left, stop, spin, then go the other way, stop spin, then do your changes, but it’s only one)
There are at least two stops, sometimes three, sometimes four.
You will spin left and right.
You will do roll backs in reining classes, but not always in cowhorse classes.
You will back your horse once.

Knowing these things, I will check (usually as I ride in the arena, but that’s a BAD HABIT) my pattern at the show.
If it’s a run in with spins or roll backs at the end I figure out if I roll back or spin TO the judge or AWAY from the judge.
I practice spinning one over the required amount at home. I make sure I can count my spins. (Kind of, I can’t tell you how often I zero because I can’t count)
My circles are just that, not figure eights. I have one set to the right, and one set to the left, or vice versa. The change comes in simply when I start my next set of circles.
So I think, Right circles first, big, small, big, change, left circles, big, small, big, change….
So here’s a sample.

I have a run-in pattern. I know I roll-back away from the judge (R). So I lope straight down the arena on my left lead and stop.
We roll-back right and my horse comes out on her right lead, we continue straight to the other end and stop.
We roll-back away from the judge (L), come out on our left lead and lope straight past the middle of the arena and stop. Hesitate
We’ll spin 4 times away from the judge (R)Hesitate
We’ll spin 4 ¼ times towards the judge (L)Hesitate
We’ll walk two or three steps forward, set up our depart and lope off to the right.
3 circles to the right, large, small, large, change, 3 circles to the left, large, small, large change, continue around the end of the arena, set up for a final rundown, stop past the middle cone. Hesitate
Back TA-DA!

So what I needed to remember was, Run in, roll-back away from the judge. Right roll-back, right lead depart, 3 circles, right spin, back at the end.
See where the flow comes in? They make sense if you think about it.

Redsmom-To encourage your horse to keep improving his stops…every time he gets his haunches under him when you say whoa, SIT! Loosen your reins, relax, let your horse catch some air. Sit still as long as it takes to smoke a cigarette, or pick your nose.
If he really slides, get down, loosen his cinch and be done for the day. He’ll be parking it in no time.

Autumnblaze has a horse pulling on the bit-I have a boundary. When I give my horse a loose rein I’ll give quite a bit. If he wants more, too bad. If my horse keeps bumping on the bit I’ll kick him forward into the bit and collect him up with lots of forward, then try again. If my response to his demand for more rein is more work he’ll knock it off.

Bedazzled is having trouble with rate in the hunt field. I can imagine. Your horse is running with the herd. WAAAAY more fun than listening to you….In cowhorse we have a similar situation. Our horses are running after a cow mind you, but we still get them being strong in the bridle.
First off, this has nothing to do with your bit. Don’t change! You have to work on this away from the hunt. It’s important to instill your rate cues away from the “scene of the crime”. The cues aren’t punishment, just cues.

I would start off with an energetic trot in an area I could count on him to be strong with me. The second I felt my horse get strong, I’d say “Eeeeasssy”, take hold of him and pull him down to a walk, then stop, then back a step or two. Rest a second and go again.

My cue would be to say “Eeeeeasssy”, sit heavy and quiet in my seat, with my hands strong but not yanking, and just melt …down…into….a….walk….then…stop…and…back. I wouldn’t give any release until we had backed our step. Then I would rest a second and start again.

I would do this over and over until he would begin to slow down as soon as I said Eeeeeeassssy”.
Then, when he slows one step below the speed I need him at I would relax, drive him forward to the speed I wanted and then relax again.

Then get it at the lope.

Once I had this cue down I would practice with friends. Let them go ahead, wait for the pull, and bring him all the way down to the stop, back.

Any time I don’t get a rate with my verbal cue, then I’m going to pull him down. Every time.
When it’s time for the hunt I would be willing to throw the day a time or two. He has to know you’ll pull him down, re-gather and start again as often as it takes. Even on hunt day.
That’s what I’d do.

Fyyahchild-back to spooking. Once I know I can ride a spook, I decide what is legit and what is bad behavior. I’ll get after them for being stupid. Sometimes I’ll get them to work (cut) plastic bags, goats, llamas, donkeys, whatever is freaking them. Usually I focus on staying on task. If I am circling, that’s what we’re doing. I’ll punish going off the circle, not the spook.

Justaplainsam on loping-Think slide, slide, slide at the lope. The harder you grip with your knees and calves the worse it will be. Try to stand in your stirrups and hold your horn for awhile. Then sit, stand, sit, stand. Hand on the horn, then off, on, off. Slide, slide, slide. I had this disgusting old man tell a bunch of us once, “Jest make looooove to that saddle honey.” He was a pig. He also had a point.

Redsmom-The horses ridden with two hands are 6 years old and younger. They are ridden in a snaffle bit (no shanks) or a hackamore (bosel).
Horses (western) 6 and over need to be shown in a shanked bit and ridden one-handed.
I always school and train my horses with two hands, no matter how old they are. Then I work them one handed. I go back and forth.

Monday, February 9, 2009

WARNING! I'm A Little Cranky!

I have read through the last comments on this post and I've got to step in here. I'm not going to be specific with names, but I might be going against the grain here.

Anybody who has read my blog through probably gets that I'm fairly simple in my approach to them. I believe a horse is a horse. I am a person. I like them, I even love some of them. I strongly feel that although my horses may like me, they don't love me. They love being horses, I am an inevitable interruption to what they would really like to do, which is hang out in a field with other horses. Our relationship is built on my expectations of them and their ability to perform those expectations.

I don't beat them or tear them up, but I do teach them to do what I ask. In return they receive kind, considerate care and have me in their corner. I train them to be service animals for most people so they have a chance in life and I do everything I can to ensure the quality and safety of their life with me.

That being said I also have to point out I want to ride them. I don't want to worry about their heads. I want them to do what I need to do, which is be ridden.

If I have a horse who spooks, leaps, misbehaves etc. I'm going to make sure I can ride well enough to stay on when the behavior happens.
I have had horses come out from under me. It can always happen. But I can count on one hand how many times that has happened in the last ten years. Keep in mind I was a trainer on misbehaving horses for most of those years.
It frightens a horse to have it's rider fall off.
Being horses they won't equate their behavior with losing the rider (at first), they will begin to misbehave because they are waiting for the rider to fall off and they are scared.
Eventually they will realize that when they spook they can unload the problem and then everybody is in trouble.

Put on your western saddle and practice some roll backs off the fence. Do some random, idle loping. Get moving around your arena and have a buddy yell out commands. As in lope, turn left, turn right, go straight to the fence anything sudden and quick.

Ride like Ben Cartwright.

Until you can stay seated when problems come up you can't judge the personality, horsenality, doganality, nothing. Because your coming off will exacerbate the problem no matter where it's coming from.

I had a cute little mare in training for two years. Her mother was an appendix mare with weak stifles and the sire was a decent, mid-level cowhorse. The mare should never have been bred and the stud should have been gelded as a two-year-old.

Of course these are the kind of horses I got in to train for the most part, (being a middle of the road trainer) so I'm only complaining a little.

This filly became a very solid minded little horse with absolutely no talent at all. She was awkward at best and almost dangerous in her cow work. If she got bumped by a cow she would go ass over tea kettle. Two of my five spills in the last 10 years came from cattle bumping into that filly. I still managed to ride through three of her falls (at about 30 mph).
I had been demanding this horse be taken home for about a year and finally refused to ride her on cattle at all when the owner gave up and took her home.

The upside to this horse was she was dead gentle. She had a heart as big as Wyoming and would give her all. She would pack anybody around, anywhere and was sweet all of the time. And she had a pretty fancy handle on her.

Her owner took her home to use as a trail horse. Within a year this mare is bucking, spooking, rearing, kicking at people and horses. I could keep going. It makes me absolutely sick.
How did it happen?
The horse spooked.
Keep in mind, this isn't a particularly spooky horse. Something just got to her.
The owner, who looooves to have me train her horses but refuses to take a lesson, couldn't stay on.
So it began.
Instead of slowing down, backing up and learning to ride her, she went to more bit and harder trail rides. I mentioned this horse had no talent right? It's showing up on the technical trails too. The owner doesn't blame me, or the horse's training.
She says, "She's too high powered a cowhorse for this and she's too light and sensitive."
This horse is NOT high-powered.
She is being ridden poorly.
She is being ruined.
In self defense you have to learn to sit a spook. Spooking can be fun. It should be. Because it's part of riding.

Now I'll get into what I see in the horses themselves. My yellow mare is a spooking idiot. It is a tendency I see in a lot of the cowhorse bloodlines. She sees and responds to every movement. It makes her kick butt in the show pen and makes her an irritating fool everywhere else. I work on her constantly. She is an eternal work in progress. We jump one way or the other at least once on a good day and often 7 or 8 times on a bad day. It's just her.
My foundation bred horses are quiet and calm. They can work a cow in a solid sensible manner. They sure don't look like my yellow horse.

I have three of my horses at a friends pasture. She has three foundation bred horses, my two and my yellow horse.
My friend has big giant tarps staked out and blowing around by the feeders. She figures they can all tarp train themselves.
The whole herd tromps across those tarps like they're nothing. Except my mare. She jumps them, spooks at them, leaps with every flap in the breeze. She'll hook onto them and cut them occasionally. She's obsessed with them.

Imagine riding that. I can and do. I also absolutely love her.

Sonita was a cowhorse. You guys have been reading about what it took to get her going. If I hadn't learned to ride her she would have been sent down the road as an impossible case, or I'd still be doing groundwork on her and talking about someday.

I have a little colt who's coming two . He is out of two successful show horses who are also foundation bred. He is kind and quiet. He doesn't have a chance in hell of showing like my yellow mare. But he's going to suit me as an old lady. He's going to be the perfect horse to tool around on as my aging bones force me to admit I'm not up to the hot little cowhorses anymore. He'll still spook and jump as I take him on the road to being the horse I envision. I'll be able to ride it because I've learned to sit a spook, a jump, a buck.

My final thought is, match your horse to your ability. If you can't stay on you're not having fun and things will just get worse. If you're having problems, SLOW DOWN. Learn to ride the spook. Decide if this is what you want in a horse. They are what they are.
Once you can sit through the spook with ease things will get better. Once you can ride your horse with confidence then you can decipher the difference between the nature of the horse and bad behavior.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mort and Me Walk The Line

I belonged to Kit Carson Riding Club in the 70's. The arena was a scant 1/2 mile from my stable. I loved competing in the Friday night gymkhana. When I first started showing Mort it was mainly a matter of hang on, point and pray for each event.

Since he ran away with me every time I let him loose we had plenty of speed, but had a tendency to leave barrels rolling and poles winging through the air.

The first event we conquered was 75 Up and Back. All we had to do was get around one barrel. Flags was next. Once again all we had to do was fly past a couple of barrels and I had to let go long enough to ram my flag in one bucket and out of the other.

The other events had me stymied.

Once a month we had a day show on Sundays. The "morning events" were something I could only look at and envy. In my own special, poisonous, bitter and jealous way.

The kids who rode in the morning events could really control their horses. Their horses would calmly, coolly tool around the ring, listening to every command like magic. Their horse took their leads. They backed up.
It killed me to think there was some magic touch I just didn't have. That my horse wasn't good enough, or I was just too thick to know how to get the job done.
Sometimes they had two horses. One for the morning and one for the speed events in the afternoon. I learned this was because they didn't want their "morning event" horse to get hot.

Get hot? C'mon already, Mort and I were born to boil. I decided I just didn't care. We liked to run, so we did. I ignored all those morning kids and teased my friend Karen because her mom wouldn't let her run her "morning horse" in the speed events. I had to make myself feel better somehow.

But I wanted to know what I was rejecting. I wanted to know how they magically got their horses to listen.

My first big break through came from listening in on a barrel racing lesson at a 4-H meeting (There was no such thing as a clinic back then, imagine that). I didn't belong to the equine part of 4-H because they met at a different arena every week and I didn't have a trailer. But on this lucky day they were meeting at Kit Carson, so I rode Mort over and sat outside the fence, listening with everything I had.
"You can come in and ride if you want honey," the instructor said when she saw me.
I scowled and slunk out of her line of sight. I knew Mort would just make an ass out of me. I couldn't bear the thought of having this professional pointing out what a crappy rider I was.
She shrugged and turned back to the other kids.
I didn't leave though. I was going to hear every word.
"You can't teach your horse to think on the run. Every horse needs to learn at the walk. So does the rider.
"Anybody can run a horse, it takes a horseman to walk," she told them.
She spent the rest of the lesson teaching how to run a direct line to the barrel how to set up for each turn and how to handle the reins.

The whole lesson came down to one sentence for me.
"Anybody can run a horse, it takes a horseman to walk."

I set up my practice barrels and poles in my pasture. They consisted of plain metal barrels, (watch those knees!) and six, dirt filled paint buckets with broom sticks in them.

Mort and I began to walk. It was horrible at first. He slung his head, he danced sideways, he loped in place. I would quit when he would walk through both patterns. Every day, over and over we walked the patterns. Mort calmed down. He began to walk his patterns on a loose rein.
I was finally able to think. I found my pocket in the barrels and how far past the end pole to go before I started my turn. I played with leaning in, then leaning out, around the barrels and through the poles. I finally settled on the middle, it seemed to work the best. I switched out of his bit and into a flat leather mechanical hackamore. I used it only for my speed events, I was already planning for the future.

I pushed it up to a trot. Mort immediately freaked, so I went back to a walk. Trot, walk, trot walk. This walk thing was pretty hard. It was nice too. I could daydream at the walk, admire the sun on my horse's metallic summer coat or just concentrate on the motion of his feet.

I rode bareback most of the time. As we progressed to trotting our patterns on a loose rein I really concentrated on my how I balanced on his back. The better a position I held the calmer Mort stayed. If I sat right, I didn't balance myself with my hands. If I wasn't hanging with my hands, Mort stayed focused and calm. His incessant head toss eased.

I skipped the next few gymkhanas. I was afraid I'd upset him.

We moved up to a lope. At first I had to hold his mane to stay off Mort's face, but eventually I could ride the barrels and poles at ease, still bareback and keeping my loose rein.

We went back to the Friday night gymkhana. I thought I would look the fool, no crop, no wild kicking. We were loping, but so slow. I didn't think I should go any faster though, I didn't want Mort to blow.
I only entered the Barrels and Poles, I didn't want him jazzed up by the Flags or 75 Up and Back.

In we went. I trotted him in, circled around in front of the starting line and got ready to go. Mort's head shot up and he started to jig so I started to trot in circles again, waiting for him to find the loose rein.

"Janet, you planning on running tonight?" The announcer gently teased.

Embarrassed, I smooched him into the lope and headed off to our first barrel. Mort loped quiet and smooth, we turned each barrel without a hitch and loped to the finish line.
I was tickled to death to hear a few approving whistles from the folks from the club and blown away to hear my time. A totally respectable third place. All from being calm.

Poles went even better. We were breathing down Casey Heare and her one-eyed Appy, Kiko's, neck for a close second. Nobody beat Casey and Kiko and we were right there. Mort hadn't even broken a sweat.

Mort and I walked home that night. His ribbons spun and flapped from his bridle in rhythm with his bobbing head. We were finally placing. Because we had slowed down. I thought about the 4-H hand book I had borrowed and had waiting for me at home.
It had a section on correct turns. It talked about backing. It explained leads.

I rubbed my horses neck and admired the red and yellow ribbons fluttering in the night breeze. They were pretty. Blue would be better though.
My thoughts turned to the morning events. My horse was walking after all.