Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scared or Mad:Tally

I wasn't getting a handle on her. We could walk, we could trot, we could lope a few strides. But nothing felt right.

Tally felt like a keg of explosives. It was like riding a horse down the alley way of a rodeo arena before a barrel race, or sitting on a bull in a bucking chute (which I did once, but that's a Mort story). There was a feeling of anticipation while I was on her and not a good one.

When I start a young horse I spend the first rides ignoring the terror hamster running on his wheel in my stomach. The rotten rodent spins that wheel through at least the first few rides, sometimes more, while I find out what kind of ammo the colt or filly is packing.

Then one day, I'll get on to ride and the terror hamster will be quiet. It's the day I know we've gotten through the rough stuff and I know the horse under me. I trust the evil little hamster and I'm careful until he quits running his wheel.

With Tally, the hamster wouldn't stop. The weird thing was, she wasn't doing anything wrong. She was soft in my hands and obedient to my legs. She was eerily balanced and smooth as silk. She was also very, very quiet. She accepted direction and learned quickly.

I felt like she was waiting. It wasn't like she was out to get me. Tally seemed to like me well enough. But tension wove through her muscular little body and wrapped around my shoulders like a wet blanket every time I threw my leg over.

She took tiny little steps and went with her head low. Her trot was almost a pleasure jog, with the same feeling of pushing through deep water. Her lope was barely there. She held herself back with everything she had but kept her back up and her legs well underneath her at the same time.

Tally wouldn't relax and wouldn't increase her speed. Having her follow another horse didn't seem to matter. She would tuck into the hip and go along willingly enough until the horse moved out faster than she wanted to go. Then she would just lag behind.

My inner hamster warned me not to push her past her self imposed limits. My inner hamster wanted me to go screaming into the night. I hauled her out to the Big K's instead.

"What's going on?" he asked me. He looked Tally over with a critical eye. We were standing outside my trailer. Tally raised her head and snorted at K then stepped her hindquarters away from him.

"I can ride her, but it's like riding a time bomb. I can just feel her ticking away," I dragged my fingers through her mane. "She won't move out."

"Have you pushed her past it?"



"Because she's scaring the crap out of me."

"You can't know what you've got until you dig down and pull it out of them," K said. This was something he had told me time and time again.

"I'm not sure I can handle what Tally's got and I sure can't talk myself into going digging."

K stood with his arms folded and looked at my little mare for a minute longer. "You're probably hanging onto her face."

"Probably. Trust me, there's something about her that's not only making me want to hang on, but I'm just about going fetal every time she raises her head."

"OK, I'm going to go saddle a pony horse. You saddle up your mare and wrap her legs. We'll do some digging."

I saddled Tally and tried to ready myself for whatever was coming. I had never been hurt while riding with the Big K and he had talked me through some tough situations. I hadn't been able to explain the wild current I felt running through Tally but if anybody would pick up on it K would.

K rode out on Dill, his tough little Reminic gelding. "Bring her here," he called. "I'll haul her around the outdoor for a bit and try to get a feel for her."

I led Tally to him and he took the lead rope. He moved off and Tally planted her front legs. She stood frozen until she felt pressure on her poll from the rope halter and then she bolted. She shot behind K's horse and the lead rope dug into his thigh and across Dill's rump. Dill whirled away from the pressure and turned to face her. K kicked him forward a few strides and gave himself enough slack to dally.

Once he had her secure K started to push Tally's hip around with his horse nose to tail. Dill was relaxed and good at his job and kept Tally moving without scaring her. She tolerated being pushed back and forth, but every time K would give her a little slack she would try to bolt.

Tally slammed into Dill's side, try to crawl over the top of him, even shoved her head under his belly and pushed, once she picked a direction she would run blind until she was wrestled to a stop.

The Big K looked over at me, eyebrows raised and his eyes wide, with his best, "What the hell?" look on his face.

"You've been riding this?" he asked me.

"She doesn't act like this when I ride her," I told him,"but you're getting what I'm feeling. It's just waiting for me."

He shook his head and worked her farther out in the arena. He continued to push her this way and that with Dill, trying to give her a little slack and a rest every time she complied. After a good twenty minutes both horses had rivulets of sweat running down their legs and foam outlining their saddle pads.

The two horses stood side by side and blew. K leaned over and pulled on my saddle, rubbed Tally's neck and butt and flopped my stirrups around. She stood quiet and relaxed for him. Satisfied, he released his dally and began to pony her around in circles. Tally trotted alongside Dill with a free and open trot. K broke into a fast lope and Tally went along with him.

They came down the arena fence and K grinned as they sped by. "I think we got her," he called. Tally spun and shot off in a straight line behind them. The Big K held on as she pulled him back but Dill scooted forward as his weight shifted and he had to let her go.

He stopped Dill and took off after her. Quick as she was, Dill was quicker and K hooked onto Tally like a cow going down the fence. Dill began to work her up and down the long side of the arena. He drove her hard along the fence, then stepped in front of her, turning her into the fence and sending her out the other way.

Tally seemed to relax into the work and K was able to reach over and gather her lead rope after a few more turns. The horses' lungs worked like bellows and I could see a flash of ribs every time they sucked in another lung full of air. K dallied again before leading her to the heavy pipe tie rail just outside of the arena. Tally came along with plenty of slack in her rope.

He sidled Dill up to the rail and tied her off before he dismounted. She stood quiet enough, at least until the Big K stepped off his gelding and was standing in between the two horses. Tally sucked back and reared when she hit the end of her lead rope. She whipped her head back and forth and squalled like a burned cat. K ducked under the tie rail and began to work Dill around to him from the other side.

Tally leaped forward and tried to clear the rail. If she hadn't been tied she would have come down on top of K. The rope held and she was yanked over backwards just as her front feet cleared the rail. She flipped and crashed to the ground.

I waited, watching to see how the big K would react. He held his position and watched Tally thrash on the ground until she got her feet under and jumped up. As soon as she was up he came towards her fast with his hands raised and she sucked back again.

"Hey!' he yelled and waved his hands some more. She reared again, shaking her head and he stepped in closer, shouting and waving his hands like a banshee. It looked to me as if she was going to jump again, but instead she put her feet back on the ground and stared wild-eyed at the big K, still leaning back so hard she was almost sitting like a dog. I couldn't decide who was crazier.

His arms went back to his sides but he held his position. The seconds ticked by like hours as they faced off. Tally finally stood up and leaned forward enough to ease some of the pressure on her poll.

The Big K gathered up his reins and led Dill over to me.

"I think she'll be OK now," he said. "Go grab your bit."

"Do you want me to ride her?" I was trying desperately to keep my voice from shaking. I looked at her front legs. The backs were raw and bleeding from knee to elbow and she'd lost a chunk of hide from her hip bone. "She's pretty scurfed up, maybe she's sore."

"She did it to herself and I don't see any bone sticking out. We'll go in the indoor and I'll pony her around a little more. Then you can hop on and I'll pony her again. I think she'll shake loose and move out just fine."

K was right. Tally ponied around like a seasoned cutter in a warm-up. K cruised the indoor arena for a few minutes and told me to get on up. I reminded myself to breathe and got on my little nut case. Tally moved her feet a little, but seemed relaxed and friendly. I held my reins, but kept them loose and rested my hands on the swells of my saddle so I wouldn't grab at her.

K started us out with the nose to tail turns he had began 100 years before when I first handed her over.

"She's looking good," K said, "go ahead and use your legs to start our turns, just stay out of her mouth."

"So if I die today will you keep teaching Kidlette?"

"You're not going to die, I told you she was fine."

He led us out of our last turn and started long trotting around the arena. Tally stepped out with Dill, calm and quiet. Her trot was strong and flowing, her cadence was lovely. I told my inner hamster to shut the hell up and started to relax.

"How did you know?" I asked him.

"How did I know what?"

"That she was ready to cooperate."

"She quit looking like she was going to kill me."

"Why do you think she's so scared?"

"You think this mare is scared?" K looked at me with the same raised eyebrow s he had for Tally when she first blew up on him.

"Sure she is," I leaned down and rubbed on her sweat stained neck.

"I was watching her eye through that whole deal out there Janet," K's voice was dead serious. "This mare was 100% pure mad at me. If you're going to get this job done without getting hurt you'd better remember that."

He smooched to Dill and we loped off. Before we were done that afternoon I was moving Tally around the arena without K's help. We went through all her gaits, free and easy and at a good clip.
When we were done K said he was going to skip our regular "beer-thirty" break.

"I'm not in the mood today." He headed to the show barn with Dill, his head sunk low between his shoulders as he studied the ground. His black mood rolled over me. I wasn't sure where I was failing him, but I knew it had something to do with Tally.

I'd just have to chew on it during the long haul back to my barn.

Monday, April 25, 2011

One Step at a Time

One Step at a Time
By Janet Huntington

I have a little dun colt who isn’t particularly fancy. He is a little on the small side and doesn’t have any of the hot bloodlines I’m so fond of.

I am however, very fond of the mare he’s out of and the stud is a very talented cowhorse. The mare was no slouch either. He has a pretty little head and a kind and easy nature.

Since I no longer have the pressures of riding as a professional I have been able to take my time with this horse and have approached his training in a fairly unique way.

I was lucky enough to have him born and raised pretty much the way I prefer. He grew up out in a field with lots of pasture mates and wasn’t even halter broke before he was two.

Other than shots, worming and having his feet trimmed he was pretty much left to do his thing until it was time to start him as a three-year-old.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the different ways we approach starting a young horse. The idea of desensitizing a horse to every single outside stimulus we can think of has bothered me just a bit.

It didn’t at first. The first several years I was training I used a lot of desensitizing techniques. I created quite a few steady, reliable horses. I learned to take my time, teach the horses to accept all kinds of scary things and to stay calm through new experiences. They did what they needed to in a quiet, trustworthy way.

Then I went to work for a Reined Cowhorse trainer. There were a lot of colts to be started and they needed to learn a bunch of technical stuff fast. There was no time for desensitizing them, we had to get on and get going. The colts learned to deal with the stuff the world threw at them as time passed. We needed them working cattle, sliding, spinning and changing leads within their first year of riding. They needed to react fast to our cues and the action of the cattle.

As the years rolled by I started to really think about the two different approaches I had learned to train young horses. No matter how busy I became I still had stalls to clean and there’s no better time to sort out horse training theories than while you’re wielding a manure fork.

The horses I had turned out during the first several years I were easy enough, but compared to the cowhorses I turned out later,
a little dull. The more I taught a horse to tune out things which would normally startle him, the more I seemed to teach them to tune out me.

On the other side of the saddle, the colts we just started riding and training maneuvers to still seemed to build trust and confidence as time went along, but were also a lot more reactive then the horses of my earlier days.

I started thinking about what horses would tune out and what made them react. It kept coming back to repetition. For example, if I waved a plastic grocery bag on a whip around a colt’s head every day for a month, and nothing ever hurt him, he would eventually ignore the flag. He was also learning to ignore me and my whip. I was showing him there were times he didn’t need to pay attention to me.

I began to think about a hard fact of life anybody who has ever trained their own horse has had to accept. A horse never forgets anything.

If your horse pulls back and breaks his lead rope he’s going to remember it and periodically suck back and test his rope forever.

If he learns how to open the chain on a gate and escape, for the rest of his life he’s going to try every gate he comes across. It’s the nature of the beast.

If I teach him he needs to periodically ignore me then wouldn’t he want to test me, at least once in a while, forever?

Because my colt is kind and mellow I decided to try an experiment with him. I was going to assume he would remember everything I taught him after the first time I showed it to him. Every step, one time. The next time I saw him I would go to the next step and trust him to remember the last.

The trick was going to be to build on each step in a way that related to the one before it. If each step made sense to him I could count on him to be ready for the next one.

It’s been a fun and interesting experiment. I began halter breaking him when we brought all out stud colts in to be gelded. I drove him and stopped, drove him and stopped, in and out through his corral mates, until he stopped and looked at me. Then I quit.

I figured he had learned I could drive him and I would quit when he looked at me.
We went from there.

So far my plan has worked out pretty well. He has learned some pretty decent ground manners, to haul, be good for the shoer and the vet, to walk, trot and take his leads, stop and turn, all from being shown once what I expected from him.

We ran into a bit of a glitch when he learned to run off when I went to catch him in the pasture, but we’ve worked it out. It only took once for him to figure out he didn’t have to let me catch him though, so I guess we’ve stayed on the right path. He also decided he didn’t want to lead anymore, but after one fairly frustrating session with a longe whip he got over it.

Now we’re entering the point in his training where we’re going to have to repeat, because it’s time to begin creating muscle memory. It takes repetition to learn where to put his feet during a spin or how to hold a straight line. Practice makes perfect is starting to come into play.

The nice part about it is I have a cheerful, willing colt who’s interested in what we’re doing every time I get him out. He works hard to figure out what I want and tries to do what I ask instead of tuning me out.

I’m still trying to keep things interesting with very little repetition. I can’t wait to start him in the cutting pen. I can’t help but think the muscle memory he builds by cutting will help him understand his reining and fence work when the time comes.

Working with a cow is different every day and it will teach my colt to think and move without my interference. So far, so good. It’s going to be fun seeing where this experiment takes us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mouthy Monday

This comes from FD CR - I have learned to love, love, love finding holes.Sometimes how we learn to find them can be a lttle unsettling.

Worth Every Penny

Having come back to horses after going cold turkey in my thirties, it’s been a slow process regaining something of the skill I possessed as a heedless twentysomething.

There’s been riding school horses, catch rides, short loans, holiday cover, a bit of backing and schooling and manners instalment, with a summer helping with project ponies for flipping and the occasional happy hack when I can cadge a ride.

Rather hit and miss really. So I was thrilled when an old acquaintance asked if I’d like to ride her horse, Socks, for a while. Just to keep him fit and have a bit of fun.

He’s had something of a chequered history – went GP before he was eight, and then a cycle of injury and recovery and competition, rinse and repeat, and finally a bit of a nervous breakdown followed by a long spell in the field and a short, decidedly inglorious career as a schoolmaster for a riding stables.

In his teens now, but he’s still not a novice ride: somewhat stiff, resentful of inexpert riding, a bit of a termagant and inclined to the occasional air above ground when he feels like it.

Loosened up though, he’s powerful, supple, responsive and sharp; a bouncing rubber ball of energy who throws in changes and passage for the love of it and requires his rider to be a movement ahead always. Of course I said yes.

And mostly we’ve had fun, albeit with a few explosions while we got used to each other. It probably doesn’t help that his owner is 5’10 and all leg and I’m 5’2 (ish) and…not leggy. I had to relearn to sit again; it’s quite horrifying how out of shape I was considering I wasn’t outwardly out of shape.

Mostly, it was working out well. However, he just wasn’t quite as through and swingy and carrying me as he was for his owner. It was all good, nice, obedient, energetic, coherent, even almost elegant (a serious achievement for me, even at my best I was better described as workmanlike!); but not as good as it was for her.

She came and watched, and we agreed that it was so. We ruled out physical causes. I varied his varied routine a bit more, thinking maybe he was bored. (Bear in mind I wasn’t training him; he’s plenty trained. Also bear in mind he’s not a horse to suffer in silence; if I was doing something egregiously wrong, he’d definitely let me know about it.) It did not make an appreciable difference.

I asked the trainer at the barn to give us some lessons; she had us a bit more collected, but again it was all very… nice. I don’t know if it’s the same for others, but I personally am not looking for nice in my dressage (although it’s a start of course). I associate correct dressage more with words like uplifting, thrilling, edge of exploding, riding the crest of a wave feeling. Admitted some horses more so than others, but this is a more so horse.

So, money was laid out on a session with a (very expensive and booked months in advance) trainer. We drove over, with a somewhat excited horse – I think initially he thought we were competing, I’d polished him to such a high gloss. I got on, and went into the arena and he told the owner that he wasn’t interested in hearing about the horse or the problem – I was just to ride as I usually did. Not that he used those words – it was more of a grunt and a shut up gesture and a point and circle gesture at me.

So I warmed up and after about fifteen minutes, he waved me over and wordlessly indicated that I should take my feet out of the stirrups.

I did so. Silence ensued. After a minute or so, (and one minor reprimand to the horse to not paw please) he grunted, then walked around us, still in silence. I must admit I was having second thoughts at this point – I’m not keen on trainers who play head games. Still, not refundable so I kept my gob shut and waited.

He came back over and had me remove my stirrups altogether, and gestured us out onto the track. After a half a circuit, he (still in silence) had us halt again, and he came and repositioned my leg. He sent us off again, and we continued walking. He asked for more walk; we gave it and he said “No!” in tones of great irritation. Halted again, repositioned again – not so much of a movement of the leg, just a twist from the thigh, and said: and “Leg off!” We walked again; again he reminded me, “Off!”

It transpired he wanted me to carry my heel further from the horse. Variations of this repeated through trot sitting and rising and canter. He had us shift from working to medium and to extended and back again, mostly via gesture and “More!” The only movement we carried out was an eternal twenty metre circle. Every now and then: Off! Or occasionally: “Sit!”

It was disturbing how much that minor change in position destabilized my position. It was even more disturbing and humiliating how much of a change that minor change produced in Socks.

Light became lighter, and sharper and more responsive; he was keyed in and listening and anticipating my every breath. Supple became swinging and he lifted so much through his back in the trot I was unable to sit it again and had to keep rebalancing myself. The less I did the more I got; it was a case of getting out of his way.

After a bare forty minutes I was exhausted and Socks was getting sweaty, but we were finally moving between the paces without that nagging stickyness that had been present between us from the start. We called it a day, and went out and washed down a perky, pleased with himself horse and left him tucked up on the lorry with a hay net. We walked, (well, Sock’s Mum walked, I wobbled) over to pay at the office and say thank you. His groom offered us a coffee and we watched him working with one of his students. I was relieved to see he was wordless with them too!

He came over – I am not sure but I suspect I was rather woebegone – I’ve rarely had such a crushing object lesson delivered in so few words, and he said: “Not to worry – a clever horse – he’d rather you try than him.” He nodded, took his coffee and walked off.

So I have had a salutary reminder about how easy it is for my body to lie to me and how the real proof of my correctness is always in the way the horse goes. I have another lesson in three months time and something to work on with Socks in earnest and a new (old) mantra to remember: Less is more. And also a new desire to work on my abdominal and thigh muscles, because I seriously couldn’t walk the day after.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Good Day

Just a quick hello.

The yellow peril went about her job just the way I needed her to yesterday. I wouldn't say she was calm, but there were no wild spooks,just simple starts at a few crackly, shadowy spots. She whinnied once, her tail stayed in a fairly horse like position and we stayed in a fast, but steady walk.

She glanced down at Rosie and just kept on trucking as we rode by her pen on the way home.

I rewarded her behavior by keeping the ride short and ending the day once she walked through all her go and blow spots without trying to plant me like a lawn dart.

There is hope on the horizon!

As far as pics, I'll see what I can do. I don't take many.I'm off to ride...later.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Yellow Peril

My yellow mare and I are at war.

I am not amused and she isn't either, so I'm guessing she feels like we're at war too.

She has always been kind of a fart. She's complicated and dramatic and would love to pull everyone around her into her version of how life should be.

This year she has decided she is afraid of everything from a blanket thrown over a fence to someone coming out of the indoor from 100 yards away. I know I'm supposed to feel sorry for her and go back to colt starting 101 with her, but I don't have the patience. Because the little snot bucket is not afraid.

She has just amped up her drama to get her point across. Part of her problem is she's not in training anymore. She doesn't spend half her life tied to a rail, most of the other half standing in a box stall, with just a little bit of turn out and about 45 minutes of butt busting work a day. Now she hangs with her best homie, Rosie in a big pen, with lots of sun and food and clean water. She gets a proper warm up before she works and doesn't have to do a bunch of hock busting, ligament stretching exercises anymore.

My little yellow piss ant has decided she very much likes the non-pro life, but would prefer to eliminate all riding except working cows. She has been trying to get me to see the light in ever increasing dramatic scenes.

The way she has pointed out her preferences in the last few weeks has been a combination of becoming completely buddy sour with her pen mate Rosie and adding the previously mentioned spooking at air. She first tried to get my attention by spooking like a bunny at every flap or clunk or dust riffle she could find. I ignored her and started getting her out alone more often.

She added wild, anguished whinnying when I didn't seem to get her drift.Rosie helped by crying her little heart out too. I continued to try to ignore Her Highness and figured more work would help her get her mind back between the reins where it belonged.

She begged to differ. Since I continued to tune her out she decided she should clarify her position and started trying to buck me off when she firmly felt I just wasn't getting it. It went down like this. I got on the yellow beastie and headed out on the trail. She has been improving on our solo rides and knows I'll leave her be as long as she walks and trots where I tell her to.

She has also learned to keep her feet moving while flipping her bug-eyed head around and screaming like she was just thrown in a well at the same time. "Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!Wheeeeeee!!!!!," Madonna shrieked. She stalled out, shook her head and got a little light in the front. I settled into my seat, pushed my calf into her side and picked up my reins, and got ready to kick her hip out.

Little Darling knocked it off, returned to a fast, yet civilised walk and continued on our way. No discipline from me, I just relaxed and let her go.

"Aheeeeeeee!" the butt munch suddenly wailed and jumped 20 feet to the side as an elderly gentleman and his basset hound came around the corner and headed towards us on the trail. She kept snorting at the basset. Couldn't really blame her. I mean I'm sure it smelled like a dog, but it sure didn't look like any dog she's ever seen before. I hustled her past and we continued on our way.

Her anxiety seemed to be increasing, but she was trying to settle into a steady walk, so we headed home.We had probably covered maybe half a mile at this point. Our trail home takes us along a road above the stable. At one point Madonna can look straight down a steep hill into her pen. She and Rosie began to scream like a couple of banshees, Rosie bucked and blew around the pen at a good clip and Madonna tried to come undone. I kicked her hip around and we got into some fairly serious leg yields. She pulled it together and we continued down the road. When we dropped down into the open on our way to the barn she went for it.

When Madonna bucks she comes up in the front first. It's not really a rear, think of the Lipizzaners and a levade.While she's hanging out up there she lets out a little "Eeeeee!" and shakes her head, attractively mussing her white mane. Then it's a leap, spin and buck!

Not as hard to sit as it is unnerving. She can't really buck, if she decides to go for it there's not much to worry about, but that's not the point. The point is, she is 8 years old and IT IS TIME TO FREAKING KNOCK IT OFF! Ahem.

So I pulled her rotten little chin to my knee and kicked the crap out of her to the left for awhile. then I pulled her by her chinny chin chin to the right and kicked her around that way for awhile.

About then the barn owner Jay drove by laughing his butt off. "Having a good ride?" he asked sweetly.We walked into the yard with her tail curled over back like a malamute, head straight in the air and wailing her wacky little heart out the whole way.

The next day I came over at lunch, towed her sorry little self out to the creek in the trees where she couldn't see any other horses. I tied her high and safe and left her sobbing her buggy little eyes out. Jay said he'd put her up when he fed that night. I thanked him and went back to work.

The next day I did the same thing. Except after work I met my friend Kathy and we loaded the girls up and went to go cut. When we unloaded, Miss Prissy Pants decided it was time to make herself perfectly clear. She began to spook and jump and whinny like a fool and Rosie was standing right there.

She hollered at the dog. She hollered at the cuttin' guys horse, she screamed at the cows. When I got on her she spooked at the back of the truck, the arena, the arena fence, the shadows and the sunny spots. While we warmed up she shrieked and skittered and spooked some more.

I know what some of you are thinking. "Is she sore?" you might ask. "Is she in season? Has she been eating loco weed?" To which I reply, "No, yes, no and it really doesn't matter."

Any trace of sympathy went out the window when we walked into the pen to cut our first cow. Now she wasn't worried about a thing. The fun was about to begin.

Madonna lowered her head and ghosted into the herd. She waited and watched while the cows swirled around us. As we pushed three or four ahead of us her head dropped a little more and she snaked at them a little, getting them out a little farther. I could feel her hindquarters gather underneath her like she was going to spring as we held our choice and let the other two skitter back to the herd.

One heifer kicked her heels as she went by.My eye started to follow her, but my mare was so intent on our quarry she didn't even flick an ear.I yanked myself back in the game just as the cow spun and bolted toward the wall.

Our first turn was clean and sharp and we had control of our cow before it made it across the pen.I had dropped my hand three strides in and Madonna's head dropped even lower. We turned and turned and turned again. She held her line straight and true, I had to use my legs only a few times and my hand once.

She brought the cow to the middle and we held her there until she quit. I rubbed her neck. "Now I remember why I've got you!"

"Eeeeee! Eeeeeee!" She spooked at a folding chair against the arena wall.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mouthy Monday

I didn't get to comment on this one. I was blocked out of th internet at work and had to sneak this story in quick. This one came from GTTYUP, whose blog, Life on the Rough String is one of my favorites.She is living the life I deamed of having as a kid. And as an adult.

Rumors about Mud Holes are True!
gtyyup ~ Life at the Rough String

Growing up with horses and riding for what seems forever, one of the things I always remember being told is: “Watch out for those water holes that you can’t see the bottom of.” My friend Kris and I learned firsthand how true this statement really is.

Our annual trek to Duncan Butte in the Ochoco National Forest of Central Oregon in July was just as pleasant as previous years. The weather was perfect, the wild horses visited us and were on their best behavior, the water trough was full of cool, clean, fresh water, and the grass was green and tall for grazing our horses. This is one of our favorite places to explore during the day and relax by the campfire in the evening after a fire-broiled steak and baked potato. What more could you want!

On our third day, we decided to take the two-track at the end of the road to see where it went. Exploring new trails is our favorite pastime. So with map, GPS, lunch and water in our saddlebags, we hit the trail. As we left the road and began the slightly downhill two-track, we could see a ridge to the right of us on the other side of the draw that we thought might make a nice loop back toward where we rode the day before (backtracking is a last resort for us). After riding about half an hour through changing vegetation with some small water crossings, we saw a well-used wild horse trail off to the right. Thinking about it for a short time, we decided to give it a try. Our experience has been that many times the wild horses like to go from point A to point B and then we get to where we want to go, but not this time. The trail dwindled out and after some very steep hills and brush beating we gave up and had to go back the way we came. Darn!

So back on the original trail, we started out again. The sun was shining and a gentle breeze made for perfect riding weather. As the trail skirted along the south side of Duncan Butte, we were still gradually going downhill and it started to feel like we were heading more eastward and would soon intersect with the trail going up to Lookout Mountain. The trail opened into a small clearing and we noticed a pool of water on our right within a tight group of trees. There wasn’t a visible incoming water source, so we figured that the water came from an underground spring. The pool was almost perfectly round and about 12 feet across. One side had an easy approach with the other sides banked more steeply, and it was quite obvious that the wild horses use this as one of their watering holes. The water was pretty muddy looking, so trying to skim some water from the top with a canvas bucket didn’t seem like it would work. We decided to let the horses wet their lips just a little.

My cattle dog Cowboy was the first to test the waters; as usual, he has to get into every puddle, pond or lake we come across. As he walked across the pool, he was up to his belly in a dark, silty sort of mud. It stuck to his legs and belly as he came out of the pool. I took my gelding Toby up first for a sip knowing that my intention was to only let him get a sip of water and not let him step into the pool. He drank a little and I backed him away. Then it was Kris’ turn for Dixie.

As Kris and I are talking about not letting the horses step into the water because of the unknown bottom, Dixie sniffs the water and instead of taking a drink, she begins to paw at the water. Before Kris could back her up, Dixie had one foot into the water and the other making a big splash and Dixie is sucked into the pool literally head first and comes up in the middle of the pool with her legs folded underneath her and Kris still sitting on her back with her right leg caught under Dixie. It took only a split second and the horse had literally dove head first into the pool and had the silty mud in her ears, eyes, nose and mouth. Dixie couldn’t see through the mud in her eyes. She struggle for only a few moments and realized that she was stuck and waited for our help. The saddle was totally covered, and Kris was up to her waist in the pool. Kris’ first thought was that she was going to lose her horse in this mess!

I’m sitting on Toby only 20 feet away and couldn’t believe what had just happened. Kris had done all she could to keep Dixie from getting into the pool. But there they were. I quickly tied Toby to a bush and by the time I got to the pool, Kris was able to get off and out from underneath Dixie and climb out of the mud by grabbing at some small branches. Dixie was trying to look at us through the black silt that coated her eyeballs. Twice Dixie started to struggle but was easily calmed when asked to whoa; we knew she couldn’t get out by herself. We quickly got ropes attached her breast collar; Kris had opted to ride without the halter on this trip for vanity reasons as she had a new bridle for Dixie, a choice not recommended by her or I. Dixie was facing the steep back side of the pool and would not be able to get out that direction, so we first had to get her body turned 180 degrees. With a few heavy tugs and some encouragement, Dixie repositioned herself almost all the way around. She looked so pathetic and helpless, but still put her trust in us (she did outweigh both of us by 900 lbs). Then, using a nearby tree for leverage, we started to pull her, but she was beginning to tire out and wasn’t going anywhere. I took another rope and started swatting her on the hip to get some forward motion. With a couple of lunges from Dixie and some hard pulling she got her front hooves on solid ground and out she popped!

What a relief, but what a sight Kris and Dixie were. By then Kris had just about as much mud on her face as Dixie and they were both shaking pretty bad. My heart was racing, and I could hardly believe what had just happened over the last 5 minutes. It seemed dreamlike (actually more like a nightmare). Poor Dixie still couldn’t see through the mud. We pulled out our water bottles with squirt tips and did a pretty good job at flushing out the mud and dirt from her eyes. Dixie’s eyes were as red as strawberries but she was soon looking for fresh mountain grass to munch on. What a trooper that horse was. Knowing that there could have been puncture wounds, bruises, or even broken bones, we could hardly believe that there weren’t even any nicks or scrapes, just mud everywhere.

Finally, Kris and I looked at each other and then started laughing, we take pictures of everything and Kris was giving me a bad time for not taking her picture. It really wasn’t very funny; it was a really serious situation that could have had some devastating consequences, but we must have needed to relieve some of the tension.

Well, we looked down the trail we had just come and up the trail to unknown parts. Deciding that it was best to leave the unknown for another day, we headed back to camp the way we came (as you know, backtracking is a last resort). This adventure would be good enough for today, and it would be enjoyed by many around the campfire in the years to come!


Dixie was purchased by Kris 4 months prior to this ride; she had not been ridden for 3 years and needed a good home. Dix was not the horse of her dreams, but as she was ridden more and more the old saying, do not judge a book by its cover was proving to be true. During and since the mud hole experience Dixie has proven she is a most dependable, reliable trail horse and the bond and trust between horse and human is immeasurable.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Everybody Knows Sumpthin'

I know I've been gone a bunch. But there is something volatile and horse related brewing around here. I am seriously P O'd and will be writing about it soon enough, bear with me.

Everybody Knows Sumpthin’ About Sumpthin’ By Janet Huntington

When I was a kid there were two styles of riding. You could ride Western, or English.

Since I first came in contact with horses on a regular basis at Mark Reynor Stables in the Springs I learned to ride Western. This meant I bobbed along in a heavy western saddle with a saddle horn and a string cinch. I learned what a curb bit was, how to ride with my left hand and to sit a trot. When our drill team rode in the Pikes Peak or Bust Parade and Rodeo we wore cowboy hats and spurs. We were really cool.

As I grew older and wiser I found out there were different kinds of western saddles. There were barrel saddles, roping saddles and fistula creating saddles made in Mexico. I learned to ride in a ring snaffle and with two hands.

I developed a liking for local horse shows. I discovered the difference between “morning events” and “speed events.” I liked to insist the speed events were cooler, but I secretly wished I could be better at the pleasure, halter and horsemanship classes that made up the morning events. Those horses and their riders seemed so calm and composed.

Periodically I would hear things from English riders along the lines of, “Western is fine for beginners, but real riding is done in an English saddle.” This made me defensive and mad. Then I got an English saddle and learned to post, ride my horse with contact and pop over a few jumps.

I developed an appreciation for close contact and free swinging stirrups, but found I got the same ride from my Monte Foreman balanced ride western saddle. I liked jumping bareback better too. So I was back in the western world before I learned about different types of English saddles and this time by choice.

The years went by and I discovered the difference between pleasure horses, gymkhana horses and happily for me reining horses. Reining was the event for me. It was cool. It was classy. I still got to go fast. Yeah baby. I learned about reining saddles, correctional bits and movable shanks. I rode with 8-foot split reins, with no knots tied in them. Slide stops and spins? Best thing ever. I started to appreciate finesse.

The art of dressage began to play a part in my world. By learning to use my legs and seat more than my hands I was able to improve my riding and my horse’s ability. But wait, wasn’t this close to the same theory I had learned from Monte Foreman? It was pretty darn close to Ray Hunt’s approach too. I still didn’t need to give up my western saddle. I just needed a close contact saddle and some common sense.

Then I found the world of cows. Reined cowhorse, Vaquero riding and cutting. Those aren’t called bosals, they’re hackamores. Bosalitos, mecates, spade bits, romel reins. More equipment, more layers of cool. I found the best contact I had ever had with my horses when I invested in a quality, custom cutting saddle.

By this time I had come up through many layers and levels of horsemanship. Which was better? Which was THE way to ride? The more I learned the less I knew. What trainer was right? Which method should be the one I adopt as my own? It turns out the best trainer is the one who knows more than me and is willing to share information.

The best method is the one slowly forming in my mind and my muscle memory as I keep learning and trying new things. I never skip an article in a horse magazine because it’s about a different riding discipline. I try to understand weight distribution and placement of seat bones no matter what kind a saddle is on my horse. Did you know the stirrup length and seat is identical for a person who rides dressage, cutting or reined cowhorse? Dressage folks look a lot straighter and not quite as dusty as the cow folk, but the shoulders, hips and heels align and hang the same.

I tend to remember the first three sentences of everything I read, but nothing else. This makes me really good at Trivial Pursuit and terrible in World History. It also has helped me pick up handy tips from different disciplines, no matter how far they run from my own preferences.

I learned from a barrel racing article to watch the tips of my horse’s ears through a turn. If they aren’t level the horse’s shoulders aren’t either. I found this applies to circles, spins and fence turns.

I was recently reading an article on hunter jumpers. It was about take-off points for proper jumps. The suggestion which stood out in my mind was to draw a three foot box in front of your jumps and try to place your horse’s front feet in the box before take-off. This would be a great exercise while setting up jumps for western versatility or Extreme Cowboy Races.

I know calvaletti exercises are great for flexibility and drive, something we could all use on our horses and a fun way to break up a routine.

Pleasure riders pointed out to me if I ride with my tongue on the roof of my mouth I’ll hold my head up straight.

Basic dressage, from theory to practice can be applied in all areas of reined cowhorse. I try to read and understand about everything to cross my desk about dressage.

I am not a fan of “Natural Horsemanship.” Or maybe it’s simply the term that bugs me. There’s nothing natural about us riding these horses. So let’s quit kidding ourselves. BUT! John Lyons taught me repetition is for my sake more than the horse’s. Ray Hunt taught me to keep the feet moving. The Australian guy taught me it only works to lope some horses down. Sometimes getting them tired gets them hysterical. I have to apologize to the spirit of Mr. Hunt for lumping him in with those other guys, but you catch my drift.

Over the years my education in the equine world has gone beyond saddles, leg position and theory. I’ve learned to be patient, I’ve learned to be open minded and I’ve learned to listen.

Even when I think whoever is telling me about the new and only way to train, is full of horse cookies, if I keep my ears open and my mouth shut I generally will pick up something to think about, something to try, another way to approach the world of horses.

Does anybody know anything about chariot racing?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mouthy Monday on Tuesday

Whew, this is an exciting one. OneRedHotRuby sent this story about my favorite things...Horses, cattle and family. http://www.oneredhotruby.blogspot.com/

Well, I’ve got my second ranch branding under my belt and this time I got to experience it from the back of my sweet Ruby. It’s amazing how much difference it makes to be riding a horse that you trust. I couldn’t help but mentally compare everything we were doing to my experience last year while riding Breeze and know that this time I was able to find a calming confidence in the ability of my horse.

We arrived at SCR Thursday evening and unloaded the mares. Both came off the trailer and took deep breathes of the northern New Mexico air. I’m sure they were finding comfort in the smells that spoke of home to them, as it had been for the first six years of their lives. Dad and I took some good natured ribbing from Grant for the braided manes and tail bags. Didn’t we know we were coming to a ranch and not a parade?? We settled the mares in a pipe pen next to a set of geldings and the girls immediately started winking and teasing the poor boys. The turmoil they were causing was a reminder of why the cowboys prefer an all gelding crew.

At the house we sat in the kitchen and visited with Grant and his wife, Connie, as she finished making a new pair of leggings to wear in the gather the next morning. Their two boys, Trey and Sterlin, were in the living room watching a movie and would wander through the kitchen periodically to playfully punch Dad or me. They would both miss school tomorrow so they could help gather. Trey is in second grade and Sterlin in Pre-K. After a while Dad and I made our way over to the bunkhouse for the night.

Since this was a small gather we didn’t have to be loaded until seven thirty so Dad and I left the bunkhouse the next morning at six fifty to saddle. Grant was already at the barn and his horse stood by the trailer ready. He asked me to saddle both of our horses so Dad could go with him to catch the boys’ mounts that were still in the pasture.

Ruby and Snakebite both blew at me when I came in the pen. Their flared nostrils indicated that they were back on ranch duty and would be a little stubborn about catching this morning. Ruby ran around the pen twice with her neck arched and a few dolphin bucks thrown in to show me how good she felt in the crisp morning air. I smiled at her good mood and then stepped to her head. She came to a stop and stood as I approached her. Though her theatrics were at an end, she still vibrated while I slipped on her halter. With Ruby caught Snakebite was easy to get haltered and by the time Dad and Grant were back I had the girls saddled. The maligned braids were gone and their manes and tails now hung in waves and kinks that I’m not sure were much better, but they would have to do.

The three of us readied Connie’s and the boys’ horses and loaded the six into the long stock trailer, geldings in the front and mares in the back. Kiowa, a cowboy on the ranch, came from the show barn and loaded the two young horses he would be riding into a second trailer. There would be two other men meeting us at the pasture; a young cowboy from a neighboring ranch and a friend from town and his young son that was Trey’s age.

Comanche pasture was the furthest one from the house. When we reached the fence that bordered its corner we started looking for cows to get an idea of where they were. On the rough road of the pasture we made our way to the windmill and Grant ran the siren to see if we could get the cows moving in the right direction. We continued on to the back fence where we stopped and unloaded. It was cooler here than it had been at the house. The wind whipped around the hills and cedars and cut through the layers of clothing we were wearing. Grant paired us off and assigned areas of the pasture for each pair to cover. We would work from the back fence and zig-zag through our part looking for cows and their calves. Dad and I worked together, splitting off and then meeting in the middle periodically.

Ruby and I moved at a brisk trot as we made our way through the maze of cedar trees and cholla. Fallen branches littered the ground and Ruby never blinked as she stepped over them. Her breathing grew strong as we topped the hills and I let her regain her air while I looked down in the valleys between to check for cattle. Often, I felt an unconscious smile form on my lips as I reveled in the beauty around me and the sweet courage of my little red mare. This was the place of her birth and the land she had roamed and was ridden in until she came to be mine. She was savvy to the way to handle her body and place her feet as we ascended and descended the hills. She knew to watch were she was going so as to avoid the varmint mounds that cropped up. Just last year, when she would make an adjustment to miss the holes the sudden shift would unbalance me. This year I sat with a solid seat. Ruby has given me confidence. I’m in love with this time in my life, and with Ruby. Every so often I ran my hand down her neck to let her know she was appreciated.

Dad and I didn’t find any cows in our part but when we met up with Connie we helped her bring in her five head. We all met at the windmill: Grant with Trey, Richard and his young son, Guy, Connie, Dad and me, and Kiowa. At some point, Sterlin had gotten colder than his little cowboy toughness could stand and Connie had taken him back to the truck. Now that the cows were gathered she doubled back to get him and bring the trailer around. The eight of us formed a sort of “V” behind the cattle and began pushing them toward the highway. We would push them through a water gap under the road and into the trap pasture on the other side where they would stay until the branding tomorrow.

When we neared the water gap Kiowa rode his colt ahead to open the gate. We placed our horses so as to squeeze the herd through. Cars whizzed by above us and the sounds echoed in the concrete tunnels. With some whoopin’ and hollerin’ we got most of the herd by until only a few cows and babies remained. The cows went through but five scared calves balked at the gap. Without the comfort of their mothers they begin to panic and race wildly between the open gate before them and the “fence” of horses behind. Cute as they were, the little calves were dumb to how this whole driving thing works. One calf squirted out between horses and Ruby and I took off with a lunge. We crashed through brush to get around the calf and brought it back.

After several failed attempts to push the calves through, Grant took down his rope and built a loop. The horse he was riding was young but he managed to rope one of the bigger calves and get him stopped. Richard and Grant climbed off their horses and wrestled the calf under the gap to the other side. We managed to get three more under and had only one tiny calf left. The little guy had lost all sense and ran wildly into the fence several times before finally crashing through the wires and onto the highway side. I followed the calf, me and Ruby on the inside of the barbed wire fence and he on the outside while cars flew past oblivious.

By this time Connie had caught up to us with the truck and trailer and drove through the end gate and onto the highway to stop traffic. Grant got off his horse in the pasture and climbed through the fence. He hollered at me to stay with the calf and made his way to the trailer to unload and mount Connie’s horse on the highway. We followed the calf down to the gate until I could ride Ruby through. With Dad and Connie stopping traffic Grant and I were able to get the calf across the highway and into the pasture trap with the rest of the herd.

The gather hadn’t quite gone according to plan but it was done. Although I had been afraid for the little maverick calf’s life, the end result was a satisfying one. The entire episode was fun and exciting to me and only served to further strengthen my trust in my red Ruby mare.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Theories and Specifics

I am notoriously conflicted about different ways to approach our relationships with horses.

When I call myself a mugwump there is a reason for it.

I see the value and enjoy the ride of a highly trained cowhorse. I am disturbed by many of the training methods used to get there. I want to have a relationship with my horse. I don't think 7 games, or 20 games for that matter, are necessary to attain it.

If you're a regular reader you all know you don't want to get me started on clinicians. But then you'll read me another day and I'll be telling you a clinic is where you should be. I think anything a horse owner does to better their understanding of their horse and how to ride it is a good thing.

I can't even knock the guy with the orange stick, well, yeah I can, but I'm fine with it if it gets people out in the barn with their horse. But clinicians irk me for some reason.

I have not been able to quite put my finger on my problem with clinicians. Jealousy? Oh yeah, as I’m envious of anyone who figures out how to make a buck in the horse biz. I almost ate my arm when I read that Stacy Westfall got to be on Ellen. C’mon! I’ve wanted to have lunch with Ellen my whole life! It’s so wrong…. So I jab and tease and fuss, hoping I can eventually come close to what my problem is.

I hit on it big time this past week. I was perusing a well- known horse magazine which regularly gets advice from a major name in the clinic world. The question was about correctly setting a horse up to spin. There was a photo of said clinician spinning his horse. A nice little explanation went along with the photo. On the next page there happened to be a photo of a major player in the reining world. He too was spinning. Same shot same position. Whoever laid out those two pages in the magazine will most likely get a big WHUP on the side of their pointy little head from the editor once they get an angry phone call or two from the famous clinician.

BECAUSE… He has his weight dumped over, he is looking down at the horse, his shoulders are tipped, he has the incorrect hand lifted higher than the other and his horse is over bent (parelli flop anyone?). He is very effectively blocking the horse’s shoulder, which stops his forward motion. I can't be the only one to have seen this.

When you look over at the famous reiner, it becomes glaringly obvious.

His horse is a spinning motion machine. The rider is looking where he wants the horse to go, his weight, hands and posture are perfect. The horse has plenty of elevation through his turn and is settled securely over his hocks.

I am aware the clinician is on a green horse. How do I know? Because the horse is wearing parachute cord mecate reins. The fact the horse is dumped on his front end, over bent through his neck and has his rib poked out is all rider error. Correct weight, legs and hands don’t change between green and finished.

I was looking at these two photos wondering who decided clinician boy should have all the answers when it hit me. Out of the blue. I don’t have a problem with what most clinicians teach. I have a problem with the notion a clinician knows the correct way to everything. Sometimes it's not about being partners with your horse, sometimes it's mechanics.

Clinicians are selling concepts, some good, some bad. Trainers are selling specifics. A reiner will sell slides and spins, a cow horse trainer will sell his turn on the fence.

The two are very much apples and oranges.

If I’m with a clinician, I’m going to go after theory, philosophy and basic approaches first, then see if I need any of their specifics. With a trainer I’m going to look at specifics and then keep an eye on their theory.

With both of them I’m going to ride my own horse and make my decisions I think will work for me and my horse. I can’t believe it took me that long to sort that out.

I still want to have lunch with Ellen.