Monday, September 5, 2011

Taking My Time

I may have retired from training, at least within the parameters of the IRS, but I have found I just can't stop.

I guess it's in my bones, this unending hunger to insinuate my thoughts and will into the mind of my horses and to create a desire on their part to do the work I ask of them.

When I first moved my horses to our "retirement home," I had visions of long trail rides, lazy days reading a book creek side while my horses grazed, and going back to the days of my youth, when just hanging out with my horse was enough.

I don't know who I thought I was kidding. When I chose my barn it wasn't coincidence it was run by a family of professional trainers and competitors. My mouth actually watered the first time I kneeled to check the dirt in the beautifully maintained outdoor arena. The ground was deep enough to work cattle in and smooth enough to create a good slide. The owner immediately offered up his cattle for practice, at a price I could actually afford. This was the kind of facility I could get along at.

I continue to work and train the two horses I have left, and now that I've quit trying to force myself into a life of leisure I'm having a great time.

There is a huge difference in my life now, compared to the unending work, hurry and worry of my days as a trainer. I do have days when I sit creek side and simply enjoy watching them graze. It has to be after we've all had a good work out though, or I'm too edgy to relax.

I also go on long trail rides, not as many as I'd like, but enough to see an improvement in the steadiness of my very flighty mare. The colt is a natural trail horse. He's inquisitive and calm, and has a lovely, move it out kind of walk and trot. I still approach the darn things like a training course though. Hills become exercises in collection, we work on giving hips and shoulders as we wind through the trees, and I work on lead changes as we lope through the nature preserve.

I just can't help myself!

What is different is the lack of pressure. I can think and I can allow my horses to think. I can wait for them to sort out the knots I put in front of them and to find the right answer. It's absolutely luxurious.

My mare is eight-years-old and still riding in her hackamore. She is more than ready to step up into the two-rein, but I'm not in a hurry. I've learned so much about using a hackamore and the feel of a horse truly "broke in the face" that it's hard for me to regret being what would be considered way behind on my mare, if I was training for the show pen we wouldn't be able to compete at all. She's too old for the hackamore and because I showed her once in the two-rein she can't go there again.

I don't miss showing, at least part of it. I hated the pressure, the scramble to get and keep clients, the toll it took on my horses. I do miss the show pen, the butterflies in my stomach until I hear the gate close behind me, and then the intense focus and calm I can feel seep through me and into my horse. I miss the feeling of letting my fellow competitors see my horse, the horse I trained for this complex and difficult event.

I also miss the competition. There is a saying in reined cowhorse. You don't compete against each other, you compete with each other. For the most part, I found this to be true. The competition is between you, your horse, the cow and the judge.I was coached, assisted, joked with and teased by my fellow competitors. Once I stuck it out long enough to show I was serious the other trainers became friendly and supportive. The friendliness stayed once I crawled my way into placing once in a while and became more than cannon fodder.

What I miss most of all is watching a good, finished bridle horse in his work. Being able to see the horses ridden and/or trained by the best in my field and taking notes, what do I like, what don't I like, where are my holes, how are my horses stacking up?

All this being said my time off has opened some incredible doors. I can spend days thinking of ways to work Madonna's sticky right rib.

The hackamore becomes less mysterious and more of an amazing tool as time goes on. The holes in my riding have become much clearer now that I have time to analyze and I'm picking away at myself on problems I would have called insurmountable not too many years ago.

My mare is becoming more correct, more athletic, and best of all, calm and happy in her work. Our lines are straight and our lead changes clean. She doesn't become fired up or anxious when we go to cattle, she becomes thoughtful and calm.

I'm beginning to think the biggest problem with professional training is time. It takes years to develop a good horse and rider. 5, or 10 or 20 or 50. It can't be done in days. Not 60, not 90, not 120. What's the answer? I'm not sure.

I just know I'm grateful my life has forced me to take stock, take time and slow the heck down.


  1. If you were a horse, you would take lots of pre-training work (turn-out, lunge, free lunge) before you could relax into listen.

  2. Amen. It's all about sinking into the space time gives you.

    Life is best lived without a calendar.

  3. nagonmom- boy did you hit that nail on the head!

  4. Loved this post.

    I had to laugh, because I went on a few trail rides recently with the thought that they were just for fun, but that doesn't mean that I can let my horse run flat or crooked. And when it is time to reverse, I cannot resist a turn on the haunches. Bending around trees is a must, as is engaging one's hindend down hills. I am not a retired pro like you, but I still cannot help myself. Thankfully, it makes for an attentive horse.

  5. Good one nagonmom.

    Mugs, lets discuss this again in a year and see if anything has changed. I trained and showed for 30 something years, and even though I only intend to relax and trail ride now, I find myself wanting to train him to do all the things my old show horses could do. I think it's my comfort zone.

  6. Val. What you said, that's what I meant. It's hard to break old habits.

  7. Amen for hackamores! My first pony who came to me with a mouth of iron in his early teens ended up being super responsive and happy in a short cheek hackamore. I could even take him to small cross country/hunter trial events in it.

  8. Ha! Went on a trail ride today on my green gelding, and totally intended to just relax. He needs work on using his right lead - used to be a trail horse, always used his left lead - so when we came to a nice open stretch, I could not resist asking him for his left lead, then halt, then right lead, then halt, then left lead...just for a little bit.

    You get the idea :)


  9. Jill- when I talk about hackamores I mean's one of those hickspeak things...

  10. It takes years to build a good horse and rider combination. You don't have time to do it if you're on a show schedule.

  11. Boy, I sure do envy you and your complete joy in doing what you really love to do. I applaud you! I hope to someday be so lucky. Way to go! You've earned it!

  12. In my youth I was very competitive I was into jumping,showjumping cross country & in the end team chasing.I went in things to jump at the beginning,but then as winning became the norm I only went to win which spoiled it really.As I got older I realised that the biggest thrill of all is teaching a horse something new even if it takes time.I was 65 this year my poor pony was 18 & I decided we needed a new challenge so have gone western ( well reasonably western haven't got as far as sliding stops ).We are both enjoying it & I can't believe how well my old boy goes in a bosal he's really responsive.
    Can never rush into anything as he wants to warm up slowly & throws tantrums if I try to do it quicker.I go into each session wondering what we'll improve on now & we hack out 3/4 times a week for his fun.Just wish I'd gone in for this earlier as it's so much more relaxed & way more fun. Thing is nowadays I've got time as I don't compete anymore so get more out of it.

  13. You got it anon. I love solving the puzzle of teaching my horses. Taking all the time I need means each puzzle piece is in place before I go on to the next one. What luxury!

  14. great moral to your post, for everyone at all stages. I'm just starting my career, but I want to have the same attitude with horses as if I were retired- take my time, appreciate the process, and aim for a happy horse, not just a finished horse. Corinna

  15. ya know.... If we don't keep teaching our selves and our horses they and us would get bored. Improvement isn't just for show, it's for life. Love that mugs has the time to share the details and the thoughts behind the thinking.
    Thanks mugs, and everyone wlse in this community.

  16. Personally I think that's the whole issue with the show industry right now- doing too much in too little time. It encourages shortcuts that aren't healthy.

    How lucky are you and your two horses to have gotten this opportunity to take your time!

  17. What if you had a client for whom time was not an issue (it follows that $$ was not an issue). Client has conservative expectations, horse is sound, fit, athletic, none of the issues you hate to have dumped on you. Client would LISTEN and could ride a bit. What if Client didn't give a #$@% about the industry and just wanted to ride against her/himself and have fun and progress. How would you handle it? Could you shrug off the pressure of the industry? (Sorry :)! Let's hope Corinna can hold that thought. There are clients like this. Rare, allbeit, but how do they find a trainer with the same philosophy-THINK ABOUT THAT. They are not so easy to come by!

  18. ack, well, I've ridden him in a bosal as well. My mum picked it up at a tack auction somewhere. Because I'd used the hackamore, he was fine with it. Not bad for an English (Welsh) horse.

  19. sweetlillena- I wouldn't fall to the pressure, the CLIENTS were the ones who did.
    They can always find another trainer to convince them moving faster won't hurt their horse.

  20. Mugwump I have a question about bosals...I have a reining mare that is now semi retired and enjoying being a mama but I still work her 3 or 4 times a week. I was thinking about backtracking and taking her out of the full bridle and into a bosal to get more softness and response. Is this possible? and I have no idea how to start doing this. She has never ridden in a bosal and if I'm going to be honest I've never used one enough to know how to use it correctly or fit it. My other reason for wanting to learn how to use a boasl is that I would like to use one when training her filly in 3 I've got time to figure this out :) Thanks!

  21. penny33- I'd say try it. Dick Peiper has a great bosal video and so does Martin Black.
    Thge only way to learn is to work at it and a nicely broke horse is the perfect way to figure it out.

  22. Mugs-LOL we are saying the same thing. I know YOU wouldn't fold but the pressure is so tough and there are very few trainers out there that are tough enough to just say no.

    I couldn't be the client wanting it to happen faster, demanding that. It is an alien concept to me-horses are like kids-individuals, and they learn best at their own pace (and God forbid they have to unlearn stuff).

  23. I'd be interested to read a bit about your development with the Hackamore and where you are with it now.

  24. My 18-year-old QH mare rides in a bosal too - she likes it, I like it, and we don't show, so I don't see why we should go in a bit just because everyone else does.