Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sometimes Your Nerve Just Fails You

The worst wreck I ever had happened about two years before I quit training. At the time I neatly rationalized everything that happened. I wasn't on one of my horses. I was riding in a new place under conditions I wasn't familiar with. I wasn't given a clear history of the horse I was given to ride.

Afterwards I decided there was no reason for me to be afraid. If I could have better control over my circumstances, think each step through, pay better attention to my gut instincts and not allow myself to be pressured, I should be fine.

The reality is fear can be insidious. You can ignore it, run from it, shout at it, but once fear takes hold it effects every aspect of your life, for the rest of your life. It certainly did mine.

After my accident I found myself being slower to make my first ride on a new horse. Once I finally got on it took me days longer to push through to each new step. Instead of feeling if each new colt was ready for the next step, I was stiff with the memory of a horse that gave me no response whatsoever, the only horse I ever rode that had no give, no bend, nothing.

My friend Grace had called me one bright Sunday morning and asked me to meet her and a few others to ride some quarter horses.
I was off that day and really wasn't in the mood to ride. But I hadn't had a chance to visit with Grace for a long time and I was curious to see what she was planning to ride, since as far as I knew she wasn't into horses at all. I agreed to meet up with her, promised my eye-rolling husband I would be back in a few hours and headed towards town.

I pulled into the large lot and walked over to meet Grace and her friends.

"Hey!" she called, and waved, I could tell she was happy to see me.

"You ride first, then we'll all take turns," she said.

I'll be honest, I might have swaggered just a little bit, I was proud to be the one they were looking up to, the trainer they trusted to explain things to them.

The horse was a stiff, stubby little thing who had seen better days. I really didn't see anything to worry about, but beyond a rudimentary glance at the tack I didn't spend much time looking the situation over. I was playing to the group standing around me, just a little. I couldn't help it.

I normally would have paid more attention to how unyielding the little horse was when I tightened my inside rein, but I was letting my ego take the place of my common sense. I just swung my leg over and started to ride.

The little horse started off slow enough but just as I got my outside foot into the stirrup he started to pick up speed. I tried to pull him up but he just kept on going. He jumped forward and I lost my balance and came out of the saddle. I fell to the outside and was stuck fast by my boot, ironically the same foot I had barely gotten into the stirrup.

I hit the ground and the little horse just kept going and going, dragging me behind him. Everyone stood around screaming, but no one seemed to be able to help. I truly thought this was the end.

If that Kmart manager hadn't come running out of the store and pulled the plug ....on the quarter horse.....I might have died.


April fools.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Stills

I have no idea what the rules are here. I realized I check gttyups (Life at the Rough String) blog every Sunday to see what beautiful pictures she has for the week. There was an invitation to join in. I happen to have some qualifiers, so I'm jumping in. I have little camera experience, but usually carry one with me because of my job with the paper.This is Annie walking out to rejoin the herd on one of her last good afternoons.

These are photos I took on a walk beautiful afternoon. These are taken from the ridge behind my house.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mort and Blizzards

We had a wicked blizzard here in Colorado the last few days. It was great to see it, our state is parched and dusty this year. I had to leave work early yesterday and drive home in white-out conditions. Typical Colorado we went from blue skies to white-outs, drifting and vehicles off the road in 45 minutes.

Everybody made it safely home, we had plenty of wood and groceries so it was kind of fun. Today the worst is over, we have lots of hay and pasture growing snow on the ground and the sun has come back out. I haven't written about Mort for awhile. I think it's time, since he's always on my mind on a bright and beautiful day after a snow storm.

Snow Drifts and Reining

There should be a law. Blizzards during spring break are just wrong. Especially when the month before burned hot enough to bring out the freckles on my face and arms in the short hours after school.

I had day dreamed through the last few weeks before break, helplessly watching my grades slide down the tubes right before our quarterly report cards. I couldn't make myself care. There were two, count 'em two full shows scheduled at Kit Carson Riding Club arena. My head was full of patterns and rules, stops and starts, seconds I might shave off of my timed events.

I had discovered reining. I officially competed in the "morning events." I had no patience for halter, we were a high speed nightmare in pleasure and I didn't ride pretty enough for horsemanship. But Mort and I had discovered reining. Since we still ran the speed events in the afternoon we qualified for the all around trophies awarded at the end of the show season. I was crazy with wanting one of those trophies.

Trainer Mike Craig had opened the doors to the Monte Foreman balanced ride approach and I had embraced it with everything I had. Reining offered me a chance to show what I had learned and not penalize us for going too fast.

I had maybe 12 lessons with Mike over the course of three years. I hung onto those lessons with every word. I thought and practiced and tried my best. I never learned how to slow Mort down. He either did or he didn't. I did learn how to guide him straight and in a circle. I learned how to change leads without effort. I learned how to do a roll back and spin. And we could stop.

Mort could stop better than any horse I knew. The balanced ride stop had us sliding on a loose rein, something which absolutely didn't happen back then. Monte was inventive, thoughtful and precise. I loved the methodical approach and the feel I developed.

Mort loved anything which didn't involve me hanging on his face.

The photos above will give you an idea of how earth shattering and forward Monte's thinking was in the early 70's. The guy on top is winning the Colorado State Fair reining in the late 60's. The guy on the Appy is doing a Monte Foreman stop just a few years later. Cool huh? Monte was all about balance, rhythm and staying out of the horses way.

Because of these amazing stops, me and my high headed hot horse were winning the reining in our local clubs. Every time. Every show. It was absolutely amazing.

I had found I liked winning. So I was destroyed when, the very first day of spring break we got zapped with a monumental blizzard that shut the town down and filled the KCRC arena to the tippy-top with sloppy spring snow. I knew this meant both shows would be canceled. So I was pretty cranky as I crawled into my winter garb and drug my way to the barn to feed.

"Don't stay out there too long, there's more snow coming in this afternoon," my mom said.

"I won't, it's not like there's any point," I sulked and headed out the door.

When I got to the barn I fed and cleared some of the snow from Mort's pen, around the pump and out of his shed.

By the time Mort had finished his breakfast I had cheered considerably. The sky was blue, the air was calm and the drifts rolled like sand dunes across the prairie. I slipped on his bridle, vaulted up and we headed out into the fields. The snow was past his knees and he trotted out high-kneed and snorty. His hooves kicked up a fine spray of the beautiful powder and I squinted against the glare of the sun sparkling on the snow.

WUMP! Mort and I were slammed to a stop as we sunk up to his chest in a snow drift. We stood, Mort nibbling at the snow in front of him, his front end sunk completely into the snow and his hind half propped on the ground behind us.

I realized the snow had filled in the dips and swells of the prairie. The even swatch of snow I though I was trotting through was actually hiding a fairly steep drop-off . My boots were slowly filling with snow and I felt Mort's front feet sink a little deeper. He snorted and tossed his head.

"Get us out of here Mort," I hung onto his mane and clucked some encouragement. He tried to jump forward and sunk even deeper in the snow. Now his hind end was beginning to slide into the snow-filled hole.

I looked around and saw nothing but endless acres of snow. It seemed I was the only idiot out that morning. I tried to fight down the little tickle of panic. Maybe I needed to get off. I slid my leg over and immediately sunk to my armpits in the snow.

"Oh great, just great."

I clung to Mort's neck and he tossed his head away from my weight. It was just enough to lever me out of the snow. I half swam and half crawled back onto his back. I sat on his sweaty back, with my hands on my thighs and steam swirling around my head.

I was really stumped. And stuck. Mort suddenly lurched backwards, struggling to find a purchase in the snow. I held his mane and sat as straight as I could, trying to stay out of his way.
He stopped his struggle and I looked around.

He had backed out a couple inches. So I sat still and waited. Mort threw himself backwards again, his front legs pushing and struggling against his weight as his hind feet stepped back a few more inches. I breathed a silent prayer to whoever the patron saint of stupid girls on horses was and hung on.

We had a little room around us now, so I angled his shoulders a bit. On his next thrust back he had fresh snow to grab hold of.

We got a rhythm going. I would place him and he would throw himself back. I'd let him decide how long to air up and when to struggle again. He let me angle him before each try. We were both calm. I had complete faith in what he was doing. For the first time I think Mort considered me a partner he trusted.

Finally we lurched out of the hole. We stood in the bright Colorado sun, sweat soaked and covered with snow. I patted him on the neck and looked around. There was no way to tell where the snow ended and the ground began.

Who needed a horse show? All thoughts of patron saints forgotten, I pointed him across the fields toward my friends house. I couldn't wait to tell Karen. Mort and I had invented a new sport. We were champion drift divers. I was sure we'd have time to pile drive into a few more drifts before the next storm rolled in.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clinics and Such

Before I get into clinicians I want to get back to GoTucker Go....She asked about what I mean when I say sit still on her pluggy horse -

Once he trots just sit quiet, no squeezing, pumping, bumping, nothing. Quiet weight, hands, legs. When he walks and just sort of dribbles to the gate, sit deep, exhale and make yourself as much dead weight as you can. If he stops, big praise, then ask him to trot out again, squeeze, bump, make him hustle....then sit quiet again. If he doesn't stop until the gate, don't worry about it. Still exhale, praise, then go again. You'll start building a whoa off an exhale while you're sitting quiet. Always a good thing. The key here is getting your horse to respond off a soft cue. Once he will trot off with energy and stop off your exhale you can work on sustaining the desired gait.

So onto clinicians.

I think clinicians are pretty valuable. We don't have access to the big ranches and farms who used to produce decent broke horses. There just aren't enough left. So we have a pretty large population of people who want to ride and a fairly large population of horses, but neither the horses or the people have the education they used to.

Lessons are great. Being able to put a horse in training can be great, especially if the owner gets the opportunity to ride the horse in training.

But there's a serious expense that goes with lessons and training. For the most part the owner will need a trailer, lots of extra money, time and luck to guarantee the right instructor or trainer. Unfortunately, once you own a horse your extra $$ flies right out the window and into the feed tub.

Also, as far as I'm concerned, the primary purpose of a clinician is to get the horse owner to think. Think about the horse as a horse, not their child, their dog or their boss. To help a horse owner understand and function in the equine world in relative safety and to be able to gain and develop their own philosophy and approach to horses.

If you can avoid the hype that tends to go with a popular clinician and simply glean the information you need to be safe and happy with your horse, than none of them are a waste. I personally refuse to buy anybody's stick, halter, mecate, T-shirt or ball cap. I just won't do it.
I go to clinics to watch how the clinician rides and works the horse, hear what he has to say and go home to think about it, not buy their crap.

If I ride with a clinician I do every single thing they say. I never tell them what I think or what my old trainer said, I NEVER tell them how they differ from the last clinician I went to. I usually ride a horse I am confident on because I want to be able to watch and absorb, not worry about getting tossed. I will ask about a problem horse, but I rarely ride one in a clinic. I don't believe in quick fixes, so insight is what I'm looking for over immediate answers. I stay and watch every rider, every day.

In the year before I retired some of my students became enamored with Clinton Anderson. I have never seen the man, as I don't get the RFD channel, but I had read a few of his articles and he seemed OK.

As a rule I would encourage my students to go see whoever they wanted, then come tell me what they've learned. Often I would have them ask the clinician about specific things we were working on, because hey, maybe they could help.

One of my students, Lyn, couldn't get enough of the guy.

"I know you don't want to hear this," she told me, "but he sounds just like you."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"He has a bunch of the same approaches you do, it's just wild."

I looked at her new Clinton Anderson hat, halter and mecate and sighed.

"If he's just like me why don't you save some money and just show up for your lessons?"

Greed aside, the point I made to her was of course we sounded alike, at least in some ways. Because horse training is what it is. Not rocket science by the way. Everybody has to approach it in a variation of the same way or the horse won't get trained. And in my part of the country every trainer has been influenced by Tom Dorrance or Ray Hunt. Every one of them. Including Clinton Anderson.

The standard clinician method of starting a colt is based on the Dorrance/Hunt teachings. And guess what? They didn't invent it either. Basic horse sense is essentially the same the world over. So it comes down to learning to listen, think and apply what works for you and your horse.

Things branch off once you begin to specialize. Then your mentors become the trainers who are the tops in their field. By the time you get to them they expect you to know how to handle your horse. But the discussion still revolves around the mind of the horse and how to get in there.

GTTYUP asked what clinicians I liked. So here goes. If I don't mention some it doesn't mean I don't like them or disapprove of them (although there are plenty of those out there). It simply means I'm telling you who I like. You should know, I think reading a clinicians books or watching their tapes are every bit as valuable as seeing them in person.

Monte Foreman. The reason I'm a trainer. His Balanced Ride methods helped me learn to use rhythm and timing to get my results. My riding is still heavily based on his teaching, almost 40 years after the fact.

John Lyons. He's great for a beginner. He will help you think. He likes people to take many, many steps. He might bore you to tears but by God, you'll know how to move a horse around by the time you've finished step 97b.

Monty Roberts. Yes I know he's politically incorrect. But he taught me more about reading a horse's body language than any of them.

Julie Goodnight. Smart, sensible and creative. She can teach you to handle your horse in a sensitive manner without going all "mystic unicorn magical puppies and kittens" on you.

Ray Hunt. If you missed him, than read him. Very dull, poorly written (but better than Tom Dorrance) and loaded extremely important food for thought.

That's it for the basic clinicians.

On to the specialists.

Don Murphy. He's the Reined Cowhorse god. No shit. He spent ten minutes explaining how he wanted me to approach my hackamore horse and it changed my entire training philosophy.

Sandy Collier. She is consistently a top ten finalist in all the major reined cowhorse events. The first time I rode with her I understood why. She can place a horse between her reins and legs more effectively than anyone I've ever seen and is very generous with her information. Again, she can help a woman ride from a woman's point of view.

Martin Black. I have just started reading and watching Martin's videos. He is intent on teaching and training true bridle horses. So far, I'm impressed with his approach.

Larry Trocha. A cutter from California, Larry has been incredibly generous with his information over the years. He is Monte Foreman based, so I understood his approach from the get go. He has been a great resource for me not just in cutting, but in reining basics too.

Now that I've gone through the big names, I'll share a few secrets. I prefer to get a group together and approach a local trainer who I admire. They will jump at the chance believe me. We're all horse poor.
I'll get with a reining trainer for reining input, a cutting trainer for cutting, etc. I don't need them to be approved, graduated or certified. They just need to know something I don't. Because I'm like this I have a pretty good range of contacts.

Another money saver is to get the same group together, buy a few tapes from a clinician you're into and study them as a group. Practice their techniques and help each other.You'll save loads of cash and you won't have to buy a single specially designed rope halter. Not one, I promise. If you add a pitcher or two of Margaritas to the mix you'll find yourselves talking about your horses and how to ride them, train them and love them well into the night. That's what I would call a clinic.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm Not That Nice

Georgia brought up a really important point. I don't want you guys to think I gently and kindly found creative ways to tame Sonita. To be blunt, I kicked her butt fairly often over our first few years together. As time went on we got to where we understood each other and I could give her a look or a touch and she would mind. But only because Sonita understood within an inch of her life what the consequences were if she didn't do what she was told. I learned to pick my battles with her. I learned what was important to be fierce about and what wasn't. So I'm going to put Georgia's questions in green, then I'll answer as best I can.

Georgia said - Is there a Ray Hunt type approach for this?

Once I was watching Ray work a single horse and rider in the round pen. His good gray mare kept irking him. I couldn't see what it was she did exactly. He suddenly said, "Hang on a minute," to the rider. Which was ironic, since this guy was sitting on a colt in a halter and lead rope. Like he could do anything but hang on. Anyway, Ray would work people with a stick with a rag tied on the end of it (you couldn't buy them, he just told people to make their own, imagine that!). He proceeded to knock his mare around pretty hard with his flag. She jumped and crowhopped and snorted, banged into the bug-eyed horse and rider a few times and then Ray quit. The mare licked her lips, he went back to work and never did explain himself. As far as I was concerned he didn't need to. I got it.

If you had thought Sonita was just being dominant instead of fearful about new things would you have taken a different approach?
Sonita was incredibly aggressive. She was also fearful. These are two different issues. A dominant horse will still become afraid. A submissive horse can be incredibly brave. I had to learn very quickly to differentiate between the two.

She is well trained. She is aloof, fights all other horses ( never backs off and has multiple scars from this) doesn't have or want a human or horse friend, will snap/bite when being groomed, will try to strike or bite when being blanketed. We always tie her for anything like this cause you can't trust her otherwise.
I'm sorry Georgia, but if you have to tie your horse to stop her from biting you she is not well trained. She is a bitch. You are not safe either. She knows being tied prevents her from getting at you. She will wait and nail you when she gets the chance.
Being aloof and aggressive is who she is, it doesn't give her an excuse to misbehave. Your job is to make sure she understands you don't care if she likes you, you only want her to understand she has to do as she's told. Period.
Sonita had an extremely rigid set of rules (still does). When we stepped in her stall with her feed she had to not only step away, but go to the end of her run and wait. With her ears forward, thank you very much.
I instilled this habit with a dressage whip. I walked in the stall door and proceeded to smack the tar out of her legs, chest and neck until she ran to the end of her run. Then I put the hay in her feeder and stood barring her way. I didn't let her move out of the corner until she dropped her head and pricked her ears.
Believe me, she argued this point pretty strenuously.
When she did submit I simply turned and left.
No "good girl!" (she wasn't), no coaxing tones (I took her food because I could, she had to understand this), I just left.
This was just the way it was, forever, because she really wanted to bully. As time went by she would simply go to the back of her run and wait, sweet as could be, when she wanted dinner.

She wasn't allowed to step into me, ever.

If I approached her hip she had to move over a step.

I allowed her to pin her ears, but never at me. Ever.

Had her vet checked numerous times for physical issues -- nothing.
Good for you! Now you can safely assume you need to explain the way the world works to her.

She has an aloof personality for people and horses.I have never seen her in a grooming session with another horse. She will "test" you on a ride (pin her ears and swish her tail and ignore or try to delay a response to a cue) to see how much work she has to do.You have known cranky mean women in your life haven't you? Sometimes it's just who they are. I found that accepting who a horse is has nothing to do with accepting their behavior. I won't let a timid, fearful horse bite or kick me either. I will discipline them the exact same way I do an aggressive horse. I have to fix the behavior before I can help a horse. I'm not effective if I'm waiting to get kicked all the time.

I have tried the tough-line method of slamming her one (to put it awkwardly) if she snaps or bites and she will stop and reluctantly behave. But you can tell she is stewing and a bit pissed that she had to stop, and maybe just waiting for her next chance.
You haven't taken it far enough. When I take on a horse who is trying to bite or kick me I will take a dressage whip or just the end of my lead rope and start swinging. Whatever I use I will make sure it stings. I will whale on the horse until she is really hustling away from me. I usually go after the inside shoulder area (although I don't worry that much about aim) and keep the horses head tipped slightly towards me. This gives them the opportunity to step away from me (which is what I want). This is why I seldom tie an aggressive horse. I hold her on a loose lead rope so I can pull her toward me as I step to the side and into her shoulder and get to whacking. If the horse is tied she may panic and then things will get out of control and somebody can get hurt. If she can step away and submit she won't panic.

The key here is to not stop until the horse submits. I want her to clear her shoulder and be away from me. I want her to lick her lips and look a little, or a lot worried. This usually doesn't take more than 10 seconds, usually two or three.

The next extremely important step is to immediately make it clear all is forgotten and go back to business as usual. Once again, no "Good girl" (she's not) or "that's OK" (it isn't) just be calm and safe and solid. Horses understand those things.

With an aggressive horse you might have to do these things a bunch. With a submissive one you won't. With a frightened horse I usually only have to swing a rope, but the body language is the same for all types.

I am loud, there's a lot of arm waving, rope swinging and if needed, swatting. I follow the horse along until she is doing what I ask, then I immediately stop.

I feel sorry for her that she has/wants no friends, and would like to get a mutually respectful relationship going.
I would like her to like me. I suspect she just doesn't respect me.

The way to get your horse to like you is to make sure she respects you.

In her mind she thinks you just don't get it. She bites and kicks and won't let you handle her. Yet you still persist in talking nice, hanging close, maybe slip in a cookie or two. So she feels she is your boss, but you haven't quite grasped the concept that she wants you to run screaming when she threatens. In her mind, the only alternative is to keep explaining she's the boss.

Instead you have to make it extremely clear she doesn't get to bite you, threaten to bite you, kick or strike, nothing. Ever. Because you are the boss.

I would be working a mare like this on the ground. I would move her hips away from me, her shoulders, her head. I know there are posts some where back there about this. I would work her, establish my authority, then ride. I would make her listen while I rode. Every time she pinned her ears she would get to work harder. Then I would ask her again nice and see what happens. Every time she blew me off she would get to do the maneuver twice as hard, twice as fast. Then I would ask again nice and see what happenes.

She might become your friend when she clearly gets who the boss is. Right now she's not sure, so she's fighting for the boss mare position. As soon as she gets it she'll be much sweeter.

She may never actually become your friend, sometimes they don't. Sometimes you simply have to accept who she is. Which sounds like a pretty cool horse.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sonita - an ode to Ray Hunt, 8/31/29 - 3/12/09

Early on in our life together Sonita decided she would tolerate my nonsense, but she was not putting up with anyone else.
I found this out the hard way when I was showing off my new saddle to my step-daughter, Jill. We were meeting with a group of friends to work cattle and Sonita was saddled and tied at my trailer.

"It looks really nice," she said, "can I sit in it?"

"Sure, you want me to slip a bridle on Sonita?"

"I'll just hop on, I just want to sit in it."

Jill ran her hand down Sonita's neck and reached for the stirrup.

Sonita squealed and struck forward with her hind foot.

"Yow!" Jill jumped back as the hoof whistled past her knee.

Jill stared at me with her mouth open. I pretty much stared at her with the same expression.
My sweet little three-year-old ground her teeth, pinned her ears and snapped her tail.

"Is she always like this?"

"I really don't know. Now that I think about it, nobody else has been on her. Let me untie her and bridle her, maybe she wasn't expecting you," I answered.

I dropped her halter and Sonita took her bit willingly enough. Jill took the reins and put them over her neck. As soon as she put a hand on her neck and took the stirrup with the other Sonita squealed again and struck out with her forefoot. She turned her head slightly towards Jill, her nostrils drawn up and her teeth bared with menace.

"You know, I'll look at your saddle another day. You've got your hands full with this one," Jill shook her head and walked back to her trailer, to collect her own, quiet, mannerly gelding.

I stepped up to the saddle. Sonita stood relaxed and comfortable.

I grabbed the horn and yanked back and forth hard.

She whacked her tail a time or two and gave me a dirty look, but she had a point. As soon as I quit she relaxed.

I got on and we rode to the arena, calm and happy.

I was enough of a trainer at that point I understood the problems a "one-man-horse" was going to give me. First of all, she was going to be pretty tough to sell. Second, a horse needs to have manners and accept the cards dealt to them if they're going to have a chance in this world.

I wasn't flattered or proud of the fact she wouldn't let anybody else on her. I was embarrassed. Somehow I was failing this horse and I had to get her straightened out.

Once we got home I tried a few more times to get somebody on my rotten little filly. Her reaction was always the same. She made it clear she was going to get violent.

The advice I got was always the same.
"You have to let her know who's boss. Put somebody up there who can take her on and let them knock some sense into her."

I am not adverse to making a horse "see the light" if I think it will fix my problem. But I was just beginning to get good enough to understand Ray Hunt and I was very seriously studying his methods.

One of my greatest teachers had been my good horse Mort. I wasn't able to force him to do anything. When I learned to ask, he had given me the world. Finding Ray Hunt had helped me understand why it had worked and given me safe training techniques for almost every horse I had worked with since.

Sonita kept finding ways to remind me I hadn't quite gotten a handle on my equine communication skills. It still didn't seem like the answer was to knock some sense into her.

I just let things muddle for a while and tried to pay close attention to what set Sonita off. Her anxiety levels were through the roof. She hated change. If you moved her feeder she would refuse to eat out of it for days. Although she hated every horse who was stalled next to her, she would go crazy when one moved and another replaced it.

"You need to face facts. That mare's never going to let anybody handle her but you," my boss told me with the eternal smirk he had on his face when he talked about Sonita barely under control.

I chose to ignore him and kept on thinking.

Finally, I came up with an idea. I got Sonita out one day and just ran her through the mill. I worked her as hard as her young body could take. She was dripping with sweat and blowing hard by the time I was ready to cool her out.

"Hey Kidlette!" I called my young daughter, "Hop on Sonita and cool her out!"

Kidlette came running over, excited and proud to get a chance on my horse.

"Get on quick so you don't get bit," I told her.

Before Sonita had a chance to react, I tossed the kidlette up on her back and off they went. Sonita pinned her ears and shook her head, but was too tired to do anything more.

Kidlette walked around quiet, on a loose rein and cooled her out, Sonita relaxed more and more into her.

It became a regular pattern. Before long Sonita learned that riding with the kidlette was a lot more fun than riding with me.

I started to let my daughter warm her up for me. It still went well.

Then I asked my friend and client Crystal to give it a try. Crystal was an adult. She knew Sonita well. She looked at me like I was crazy.

So I started over the same way. I worked the tar out of her and gave her to Crystal. She hopped on quick, not trusting the teeth and they walked off. It went fine. My boss came out and watched them putter around the stable yard together.

"I guess she's not such a one-man horse after all," I said.

"Guess not," he replied. He looked like I'd spit in his Cheerios.

Ray Hunt died a few days ago. He wasn't a personal friend, just a man who spoke to me long enough to influence the way I interacted with horse for the rest of my life. I can't tell you how sad I felt when I read about his passing.

I found this article on the Internet. I reprinted it here, I felt like it said it all.

Ray Hunt by Rob Oakes
March 15, 2009 6:45 pm

We all have our Ray Hunt memories and stories. Mine all go something like this, “I once rode with Ray Hunt, and it changed my life.” Yours might be similar. In fact, many of Ray Hunt stories I’ve heard start in much the same way and conclude in similar manner. In fact, I’ve found that after some repetition that the stories are eerily familiar. They typically involve a “problem,” an old man who watches and listens from a fence, a bit of conversation, and a “solution.” They might happen one-on-one or amongst a crowd of hundreds. But despite their similarities, every recollection is important and tremendously personal.

Why? What makes a seriously gruff and short-spoken cowboy so special? After all, he didn’t carry formal education or degrees. He didn’t possess a pristine competition record. Yet nearly every trainer, rider, con man and huckster I’ve ever met will go out of their way to talk about their “Ray Hunt moment.”

The man himself was bold, brilliant, often controversial and occasionally brutal in his honesty or criticism; as he liked to say, “I’m here for the horse.” Everything else was secondary. Sure, helping improve communication and understanding paid a rich dividend, but Ray wanted no misunderstanding: he was the horse’s representative and advocate. And for an individual who sought description or honor like oil seeks water, it was one of the few titles he ever claimed.

What made Ray important were his ideas and vision. A vision composed of thousands of tools, notions or thoughts. Each one, ultimately, a detail that could significantly impact a horse and human relationship. As a result, every Ray Hunt story includes wisdom, cryptic mutterings, and smashed bits of where Zen simplicity met Western practicality at high speed.

“Fix it up and let [the horse] learn it.”

“Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.”

“When a horse is right on his feet, he’s right in his head.”

“Control the life in the body, so then the mind gets it. When the mind understands, then the feet to understand.”

Ray spoke a language that was utterly his own, and it could be irritatingly difficult to parse. After all, what does life mean (beyond the obvious)? If the head gets it, then of course the feet are going to get it. The head controls the feet. The language was philosophical, poetic and far too practical. That is, until deciphered, after which it was simply perfect.

Going to see Ray wasn’t purely an educational experience, but also a social and sometimes spiritual one. Everywhere he went, he attracted the curious, the devout and the desperate in the hope that he could help them solve their “problems.” For those who came in the right frame of mind, the results could be utterly transformational. As the man sat on his horse to speaks, mutter and criticize; a new world might open for those present. A point of view where the horse is treasured teacher, mentor and friend. And while it might have been a profoundly personal, it was something to both see and share.

Today, as we mark Ray’s passing, I find that I already miss the future pilgrimages which will never be. But even though Ray Hunt has left the stage; he is hardly gone. Forty years of travel, teaching and muttering have ensured that the his ideas and legend will never die. The advocate did his job and shared the horse’s message. So while the new “Ray Hunt” moments might not involve old men and fences, that’s okay. There will still be new Ray Hunt moments.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Baby Sliders

This is Darren and "Shiner" stopping in his baby sliders.........

I can't get to the Sonita story just yet, but it's in the works. In the mean-time I want to run with an extremely good question. Redsmom is going to show enough I would think she wants to read this one too.....

Wayfarer said...
My husband is considering putting sliding plates on the not-so-wild-auction-horse, at the suggestion of his trainer/instructor. I'm a bit leery. The trainer (and much Internets) says it will help "preserve" the little mare's deep stops. I'm worried that it's too much like closing the door -- she's still only 3, and we wanted her out in the pasture this summer with the others, and going on trails and casual team penning, just some world experience stuff.

She's not built to be a reining winner. But she seems to enjoy the work, and in particular seems to like doing it for my husband who is learning the discipline. So yes, if she showed at all in the local circuit, it would be in reining.

Trainer says we should get something called baby sliders, or 3/4 plates, or something like that. Said its what the reined cow horse people use, because it lets the horse slide a bit but still grip the dirt to turn and work. So I thought of mugwump and... well? Will putting sliding plates of this type onto my little mare make it harder to do other things with her, ie, cross training? I'm not concerned about jumping, but just the rest of the things people do with horses.
I've very little experience with not just sliding plates, but any shoeing... other than trying complicated therapeutics with one of the horses, all 5 (6?) of my equine charges are barefoot.

First off, I can tell your trainer isn't very familiar with cowhorse events (doesn't mean you don't have a good trainer). We don't call them "baby sliders", we call them "reasonable". Most of the people I ride with favor 1/2 inch sliders BTW. 3/4 inch are big, awkward, and will set your horse up to slide past the cow. The less shoe you have, the less work your horse has to travel naturally.

The theory behind our shoes is to get however much slide we need to satisfy our dry work (or the reining portion) requirements and still be able to insure our horse can dig into the dirt and turn a cow with her toes.

My favorite cowhorse lately is a horse named Shiney Black Shiner. He is ridden by Colorado trainer, Darren Miller.

Darren likes to rein and do cowhorse. Shiney Black Shiner is a five-year-old. His track record is extremely extensive, I just pulled a few of his wins to help make my point. You can look him up for the rest. This horse is dead quiet and easy to ride folks. Not hot, not "complicated", just an easy going guy. My version of the ideal quarter horse.

The top two events listed below are HUGE shows we have here. In that one week this horse dominated the junior reining. He got his ROM and qualified for the AQHA Worlds several times over in just the Pre-Denver. All in his "baby sliders".
Then he went on to smoke in the cowhorse.

2008 AQHA Pre-Denver Show Junior Reining Circuit Champion
2008 Denver National Western Stock Show Junior Reining Reserve Champion
2008 NRCHA Paso Robles Derby Open and Int. Open Finalist
2008 NRCHA Drought Buster Derby Open Champion (Winner Open Rein Work)
2006 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Int. Open Preliminary Rein Work Co-Champion

See my point?

As far as protection for the horse, yes, most definitely.

Sliding your horse repeatedly with bare feet will end up burning the heel bulbs on your horse. While it won't kill him, it will hurt and your horse won't slide anymore.

The sliders have to extend past the heel bulb to protect it. I usually extend my sliders 1/4 to 1/2 an inch past the heel bulb. I get plenty of protection and all the slide I want. I don't want more trailer on my sliders because it will interfere with his legs when he digs in his toes to turn the cow.

The reason you want the smooth plate instead of a traditional keg shoe is to eliminate drag. There's two reasons for this. The first is to get your horse to slide farther. The second is to lessen the wear and tear on your horse's joints. If the drag is gone there is less pull on the horse's legs.

My shoer regularly puts my favorite 1/2 inch sliders on rope horses who compete in AQHA roping events. Seems there's a trend (sigh) for the roping horses to look a little "reinery." He says the half inchers make the ropers happy and the horses seem to handle them. That says a lot.

With my half inch sliders I rein, cut and do cowhorse. I trail ride, pop over logs and do whatever. I have never had a problem.

Except once. I went riding up a steep mountain trail with a friend in late March one year. Both our horses were wearing sliders. As we went up we came into more and more snow.

We decided we were being stupid and turned around to head home. Our horses, (Sonita and James) tucked their butts and started to step down the hill.

We were suddenly skiing. Both horses got their front legs running and we got down the mountain much faster than planned. We whipped down the trail, horses mad scrambling and Crystal and I alternately whooping and screaming for our mama's.

Suffice it to say, that was the last time I went trail riding in the snow with sliders on my horse.

Other things to consider. Is your horse physically and mentally ready to slide stop? I start sliding mine at three. But not hard or often.

If you have him in pasture is there a chance he'll kick another horse? Shoes make a big difference in the damage a kick will do. A horse in sliders can slip and slide in mud and ice. They can lose control and slam into the fence.

Sliders don't last as long as regular shoes. They are thin. My daughter regularly rides off a set of sliders every three to four weeks in the summer.

If your husband wants to pursue reining than I would definitely listen to your trainer. He needs the sliders if he's going to slide. Just shoe as minimally as possible and you'll be fine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cross Training vs. Genetics

SlowPassinTime said...
Cross training is something that should be done more often... My pleasure horse does the usual pleasure horse events - showmanship, pleasure, horsemanship and we're working on trail. We also do English Pleasure and English Equitation at local shows. When we feel like a break, he also (surprisingly) trail rides, can dabble in games like barrel racing, and even plays polo. He does it all quite well, really - his only problem ever is not being able to relax enough to really perform.

SlowPassinTime had other questions about self-carriage, but that subject is HUGE , will take lots of thought on my part and could go on for days, so I'm ducking it at the moment. But the subject above caught my eye and my A.D.D. brain. So I've been chewing on that one for several days.

I'm thinking about the muscle development we achieve in our horse through training for a specific discipline and how it affects performance elsewhere.

I know that a well-bred pleasure bred horse will hit the ground carrying his head level and stepping deep with a flat kneed swing. His muscles are longer and flatter than other horses.

A cowhorse is compact and agile. She's born with a lightening fast response to outside stimulus. As a weanling she will put her head down and cut back and forth with her siblings, sit in the dirt and slide or roll-back like a champ, just for fun. Her muscles are bunched and strong, developed for explosive forward movement and sudden stops.

My daughter has a cutting bred foundation colt. His parents are cutters and so is every generation behind him for about ever. He naturally travels with his neck extending dead level from his short back. His hind legs step way underneath himself and he'll track anything she puts him on with his nose in the dirt and his eyes straight in the eyes of whatever he's after (Yes, he's totally cool). His lumbar muscles are heavily developed and his semitendinosis is extremely long and developed, reaching well-down into the back of his leg.

All of these horses are developed further by the type of training done on them for the sport they were bred for.

The cowhorse will travel uphill from tail to poll and her back, belly, hindquarters and neck will develop accordingly to make this easier.
The pleasure horse will develop strong abdominal obliques to help him carry his long low frame while maintaining correct drive from the back and lift through the shoulders.
I'm certainly not saying cross training won't work. I am saying that if I develop my cowhorse's muscles to work like a cowhorse, she will be extremely uncomfortable trying to frame up like a pleasure horse. Not to mention she'll look like crap.
If I try to take a seasoned pleasure horse to a cutting I will lose my entry fee.
They are not bred or conditioned to cross over.
So I guess my thoughts are along the lines of, what is fair to expect of our horses? Is SlowPassinTime nervous and high headed because he isn't physically capable of everything being asked of him?
Could the arena anxiety and spooking come from not knowing what's expected? Could he have actual discomfort from being asked to perform in ways he just isn't meant to?
I'm not picking on you, Slow Passin Time. I don't know your horse well enough to really form an opinion, I'm just thinking out loud.
I do know Pleasure is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally.
So now I'm throwing open the discussion. Let me go get my popcorn.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Had To Start Somewhere

Pepsi was the first horse I trained at my new job in Green Mountain Falls. Up until I met Bob and Pepsi, I was giving lessons, riding the stud who stood at the barn and getting the word out I was working in the area.

My boss, Jim, came into the arena and handed me a phone number. "Call this guy, he's got a horse for you."

"Do you know anything about the horse?"

"She's a two-year-old mustang/arab cross. She's been started, but her new owner is green. I guess she tossed him pretty good and ran home, now he can't get her out on the trail."

Visions of a tiny, elfin, two-year-old filly lugging some green dufus down the trail flitted through my head.

"Two's pretty young to be riding on the trail, don't you think?" I asked.

"I don't know anything else, but call him, he's going to board here if things work out."

I called the owner and talked with him a bit. It turned out he was the third owner of this mustang/arab. She had come out of a breeding program at a dude ranch who which was planning on breeding the ultimate dude horse. Pepsi had flunked out of the program. She had refused to stay in line behind the other horses. She kept busting loose from the pony horse and heading home. So she had been sold to family for a 10-year-old boy. After she had thrown the boy and bolted home a few times they sold her to poor, naive Bob.

"I took her out on a ride and she threw me and ran home," he told me, "I ended up in the hospital with a bunch of broken ribs. If you can't fix her I'll have to get rid of her."

"How old is this horse again?" I asked.

"She's two."

"I'm surprised she's big enough to ride, much less cause all this commotion."

"Oh, she's pretty big."

What a gomer, I thought, and we made arrangements to bring her to the barn the following week.

I pulled into work and was surprised to see my boss waiting for me. He was leaning on the door of the indoor arena. The smirky grin on his face made me wary.

"What's up?" I asked.

"You're horse is here."

"OK." I couldn't figure out the grin at all.

I stepped past him into the arena and stopped cold. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light I made out the silhouette of a horse tied to the rail. I looked around for another horse. This couldn't be Pepsi.

Mustangs in Colorado tend to be small. Many of them don't ever clear 14 hands. Arabs are not known for their height. I had forgotten that in World War II there had been an influx of draft horse blood mixed into the mustang herds.

The horse I stood staring at was a sharp reminder that somewhere, somehow there had been a heavy dose of draft horse blood crossed into at least one herd of Colorado mustangs. She was a 16hh behemoth (Stop laughing you warm-blood riders you, 15 hh is big to me, this thing was a moose). Her head was enormous, her neck upright and short. Her barrel was deep and her back was short and strong. Her legs were as long as a thoroughbreds, heavily feathered and surprisingly refined.

She had a small, but kind eye and a great roman nose. Her heavily muscled chest was broad enough to push her elbows out and her toes in.

Jim stood behind me, his hands in his pockets.

"This is Pepsi?" I asked.

"Poor little thing, hope you don't hurt her tiny self riding her around." Jim burst out laughing and left the arena.

I spent a week on the ground with Pepsi. She seemed friendly and intelligent. She wasn't particularly co-ordinated, but her sheer size and young age explained a lot. She was easy to saddle and was quiet to sack out. Someone had done a decent job of starting her. I began to have a little hope.

The first day I rode her I had my assistant, Kathy, near by. She sat on the fence, a bored look on her face. Pepsi had been quiet enough to work with and Kathy wasn't expecting anything fun.

I stood in the stirrup, one hand on the horn, the other on the cantle. I was really high in the air. Normally when I stand over a young horse for the first time they shift around, trying to balance me. Pepsi stood like a rock. I bumped her with my knee. She moved away from the pressure, steady and solid.

"Here goes," I said.

I swung a leg over and sat in the saddle, letting my off boot dangle outside the stirrup. Pepsi stood quiet. She turned and sniffed my boot. She seemed relaxed and happy.

I went ahead and asked her to walk on. She was supposed to be started after all. Pepsi cruised around the arena. Her back was relaxed, her tail quiet. She guided left and right, no problem.

I settled deeper into my saddle and asked for a trot. Pepsi moved off in a big, shambling trot. She took eight, nine, ten strides and suddenly spun 180 degrees and bolted.

I watched her thunder across the arena, her tail clamped and her eyes wide in terror. She had spun out from under me slick as snot and left me flat in the dust. I couldn't believe it. I sat up and studied Pepsi as she trotted off her nerves. I had pretty much figured out the problem. That elephant could move. Kathy caught her up and was nice enough to keep her smiles to herself. I dusted myself off and crawled back on for round 2.

Pepsi didn't get me again, but I had plenty of respect for her after that first ride. She got to where it was time to head back outside.

I had no trouble with her on the trail as long as we went out in a group. She was incredibly strong and sure-footed. I was pretty pleased with her. Her owner, Bob, took regular lessons on her and was progressing nicely.

"I want to take her out alone," Bob told me.

"I'd work on that one a little at a time Bob, she's coming along fine," I replied.

"The whole point of you training her is to get her out alone."

I was beginning to doubt my chosen profession.

"OK Bob, I'll start taking her out."

Big words from the trainer, especially since I couldn't get her past the arena door if she didn't feel like it. She was powerful and quick, at the same time such a klutz she would fall to her knees finding her way down a gentle slope. She was a knot of anger and fear and a friendly, willing mount. She could spin and bolt like a startled gazelle, but couldn't hold a lope around the arena. Her head, measured from nose to poll, was 2 inches longer then her neck, poll to withers. When she set it against me I couldn't make her do anything she didn't want.

Her huge head coupled with her short, sticky neck made her impossible to stop if she got away from me. She could bull into my hands and take me wherever she wanted. Which was home. Pepsi would whip herself around and take off for the barn whenever she got worried. She would mow over other riders, stomp dogs, topple aspens and run through a parked car or two, nothing phased her.

I felt like Tarzan on the rogue elephant in a stampede. Except Tarzan could stop his elephant.

I was stumped.

I remembered a book I had read once about a Colrado horse trainer back in the 1940's. He was an arrogant blow hard, but a fun read. He had an interesting story about how he cured a barn sour horse. I decided to try it. Pepsi was only two. She was going to just get stronger. That head was going to get bigger.

I took her out one day and we rode to the corner of the barn property. Pepsi began to shake her head and fight. I kept pointing her down the trail. We fought and jumped and bolted and started again. Finally I got her to a spot about fifteen feet farther down the trail than usual. I got down and drug her another ten feet to a shady spot under a tree. There I gave her the 1/2 can of rolled oats I had stashed earlier in the day. I loosened her cinch and led her home.

The next day I took her out and she went pretty willingly to the spot where I had fed her the day before. I got down, loosened her cinch and led her another 25 feet down the trail. Where I had another 1/2 can of oats waiting. I let her eat and we headed home.

I planted oats every 50 feet or so down the entire two mile loop by our place. Every day she had to go a little farther to get her oats. Pepsi got to where she was pretty willing to go wherever I pointed her. I kept it short and sweet.

Bob started keeping her oats in his saddle bag. He would ride her until she got anxious. Then he would ride her at least 25 feet past where she was starting to act up. If he got scared he would get down and lead her, but they still headed out a ways. Then he would give her some grain and head back.

As time went on he would make her go farther and farther to get her oats. Eventually he quit taking the oats. Her reward became a rest, a loosened cinch and some grazing time.

It worked. Nobody got hurt. Pepsi forgot her fear. I was credited for fixing a renegade. Bob didn't sell his horse. As a matter of fact, Pepsi and Bob are inseparable. She is about 17 hh and 1300 pounds. She can pack out an entire elk by herself during hunting season. She and Bob became champions at black powder target shooting from horseback, or some crazy ass thing. The two of them trail ride like maniacs all over the mountains. She has to be 15 or 16 by now. Last I heard her head wasn't any smaller and her neck wasn't any longer, but it doesn't really matter anymore.

I prefer just to get on a horse and tell them to get. Most of the time that works for me. But I have used my "hidden surprise" method to get a horse down the road more than once. It's never let me down.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cross Training

 For whatever reason, I am completely unable to just ride. I have to either be training, think about training, or planning on training. It's a knee jerk reflex at this point.
I am still on my quest to successfully show my horses, train them myself and kick some butt. I also want my horses to be happy and healthy, enjoy their life and get plenty of the Big Four.

As I was trotting up the steep hill behind our barn I was thinking of ways to incorporate trail rides with training to improve Pete's performance.

Both of us are out of shape. Pete has a tendency to hollow out and string his hind legs behind him as he goes.

I stood up in 2 point position, or at least as close as my creaky boned, bad postured self would let me and encouraged Pete to really trot up the hill. He began to drive very effectively with his rear and picked up his back nicely the last half of our climb.

We sat at the top and aired up while I thought. Driving up the hill got him working his legs and back the way I wanted. Putting myself in a 2 point position got me out of his way and worked my legs and core. It was much more interesting than being in an arena for both of us.

So how else can I take advantage of being out of an arena and improve my show performance?

I began thinking about some of the discussions we've had recently. Spooking came to mind. Just being out alone, making my horse travel in the gaits I choose and picking a straight course along the way will help teach my horse to just go where I point him. Very simple, no tricks or buttons being pushed, no shoulders in or out, just git. As he becomes more willing to trust in my decisions he will become less reactive in the show pen.

As my ride progressed I worked on how I handle a spook in general. Because Pete really doesn't spook much I had plenty of time to think about how my horses react, how I react and what's the best way to handle both of us.

It occurred to me that a horse who is looking at something in the distance raises his head. Just because my horse stops and raises his head doesn't mean he's going to spook. It just means he's looking. Since I ride in an area rife with coyotes, bears, mountain lion and the last of the 60's era psychedelic crowd (wild Manitouites), it doesn't hurt for me to look with him.

I practiced dropping my rein hand when Pete stopped to look. Just to be on the safe side I rested my hand on the swell of my saddle to stop any reflexive rein clutching. I made myself relax. All he did was look. It was great.

In my thoughts I went a step farther. I thought about my yellow mare. I know exactly what she would do in the same situation. She would stop, look, not feel me responding and then she would scream, "OMG,OMG,OMG!!!!" She would flip her platinum mane, spin a few times at a high rate of speed and take off with a buck and a bolt.

Keep in mind, she wouldn't really be scared, it's just how she is. A molly-coddled arena baby.

I went back to our discussion on rollkur and other dubious training methods. The reining trainer in the photo I showed you was after a horse who would keep his head low and level, stay off his bit and continue to drive from the back. I did not feel this was a cruel or inhumane training method. It was an effective approach to teaching the horse to keep his head and neck level and his face supple.

At the very informative website http://www.sustainabledressage.com/ I had seen an interesting chart on how a horse's vision is affected by different head positions. By lowering our horse's heads we are limiting what he can see.

A reining horse will have to trust his rider to direct him through a pattern because if his head set is correct he won't be able to see much of the arena. He can't spook at what he isn't looking at. The horse will learn to depend on his rider, not himself, for his safety.

Which will help create the good reining horse AQHA defines as : To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control. All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of or temporary loss of control, and therefore faulted according to severity of deviation. Credit will be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority in performing the various maneuvers while using controlled speed.

Great for reiners, not so great for cowhorses. We need them to see. They need to track and control a cow at a high rate of speed. They need to think. With us or without us. Somebody back in the comments said something about muscle twitch response? About it being higher in our twitchy little cow horses than in other horses. I would like to know more about that one.....It explains a lot.

So, my thoughts went on, if I could get my yellow mare out on the trail, give her time to look, but trained on her in a way that would limit her sight when I didn't get the reaction from her I wanted (as in deal with it), could I teach her to trust me to work through something scary by lowering her head and driving her? Hmmmm.

I do know, if I could get a conditioned response on the trail of take a look, then keep on going in the needed direction or I'll work you like a reiner, I would about eliminate all my arena problems.

About then Pete got bored so we went up a few more hills. In a few weeks I think I'll practice driving him towards his bit for a few strides, on then off, as we go up the hill. I'll take his face from side to side and soften his body when I don't like his behavior. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

In my thinking on just that one ride I rifled through the file I'm building in my mind from the things I'm learning on this blog. I thought of riding simply with a purpose like a roper, driving with my legs and head position from dressage, keeping my horse light and responsive with almost no weight on my bit like a good spade bit horse and threw in the two point just for grins.

I would like to keep going with this thought process. I would really like to know the purpose behind some training methods, without getting into the abuse. I mean, is rollkur abusive in any context? Or can it be a tool used in moderation to benefit the horse? Can I use some pleasure horse training methods to get my horse to pick up his back? How else do I use the trail to train for the arena?

You guys now have a peek into my wacky brain. I can be a total pain in the ass to ride with because I'm like this most of the time.

My question right now? How can I use hill work to become better in the show pen? If we all get in on this it could get really fun.

HorseofCourse- What kind of shoes are you using on your horse? I saw pictures of you working in the snow on a shod horse with no snow-pack, what gives?