Friday, June 29, 2012


This was taken by a family friend--about 2 1/2 or 3 miles from our house. My neighborhood was spared, we are all safe, I am so grateful.
My heart goes out to those I know and those I don't whose lives have been torn apart by this amazing reminder of how life can change in just a moment.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Hi Guys,
We're evacuated here, fire is pounding my family, friends and self. My beautiful state is burning down. Animals are safe.
See you in a few days.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mouthy Monday

Alexis, I gotta tell you, you're a woman after my own heart -- Mugs

Goofy Barrel Horses~
from Alexis

I've been able to ride for the last few weeks. Older kids had played outside while my husband took care of our littlest one. The practice pen was pretty soggy, so I've been long trotting the fence line of our hay meadow. Just building up his air, trying to get him legged up again. He's an easy keeper in more than one aspect. Carry a bucket of feed by him, he'll gain ten pounds. Ride him consistently, he'll get fit and stay that way for months at a time.  Consistent is not always a term used to describe a barrel horse, but it fits him to a T. He had  been turned out for over a year, before I got back on him a month ago. Turns out, sometimes geldings get maternity leave, too!!

He's spastic. Cribs. Kicks the fence or stall wall when he eats, but only if there is another horse too close. Plays with everything, ruins buckets on a regular basis if he can get to them. He has a large "bubble", as I describe it, he likes his own personal space and hates for other horses to crowd him. Whether in the pens or in a warm up arena, he wants his bubble unobstructed. Sitting on him can be problematic for those who don't pay attention...he'll bite, he'll kick. He squeals, curls his lip at other horses that get in his bubble. Most folks wouldn't put up with that much nonsense from a horse, but I do.

 I know I can leg him up, haul him to a jackpot and make a solid run. He'll make the same run every time as long as I do my job. Sit up, hustle. Give him a good pocket, don't pick at his face and let him work. He loves it. I stay off of him until 2 or 3 runners before us, my nerves give me away. Either he picks up on my nerves, or he knows my name when it's called!

A few circles to the left, one or two to the right. This is the only horse I've ever owned that can be warmed up in less than 10 minutes. Anything past the 10 minute mark and he starts to worry. A long warm up scatters his mind, the shorter the warm up, the sharper he'll be when we run. He's quiet as I pick his feet out, put on his boots. No nonsense now, it's go time and he knows it. I tighten my cinches and he begins to get antsy. We stay close to the alley, but don't face it or turn directly toward it. My hands get damp as I listen to the other horses come in and out of the alley, go through the gate. It's our turn. I walk him on foot to the alley to keep him quiet. They call my name and I swing up on his back, screwing down tight. He knows what's up. His heart is beating so hard I can feel it through the seat of my saddle. He tucks his nose when I ask him to collect, but scatters side ways as we go....he wants to leave the world behind and run. 
He straightens out as I bump his side with my foot and aim him up the alley. Those around me probably think I'm nutty as can be, an unbroken stream of words come from my mouth, talking to him the whole time. "Not yet...not yet. Easy babe, easy, easy, not yet, not yet, shhhhhh..." He's popping up and down, not from pain or from being sour, just from the anticipation. 
Three more strides with all four feet on the ground and we're through the gate. Reins as far forward as they go, smooch, kick, hustle hustle hustle. First barrel, tell him "Eeeaaaassssyyyyyy" at our rate spot, sit as deep as I can, push my hand to his ears, leave his mouth alone, he's got this! He digs deep and flings himself forward, reaching for the second barrel, running hard, stretching out all he can, it's a big pen. Rates good, slips a little going into his turn but takes an extra stride and saves us both.
 I can hear my little boy yelling, "Go momma go momma!" 
We turn the third barrel in text book style, a perfect pocket, no wasted motion at all. He hurtles away from the last barrel, running for the thrill of it, because he wants to, not because he's been made to. I keep my eyes up, watching for the timer line, hustling him all the way until we cross it. I ask him to slow down as we cross the line, sitting deep in my saddle, talking to him again. 
He slows to a trot, then a walk. Heaves a huge sigh, then walks back down the alley like we do this all the time. Back to the edge of the warm up pen, I step off. Loosen cinches, unwrap legs and take off boots. I can hear my kids coming. I throw my six year old son up on him, and he cools my horse off for me. Looks are thrown my way that clearly question my motives, but they're misdirected. Now that his job is done, he drops his head and walk off like an old plow horse, uninterested and uncaring. 

Some wouldn't put up with his nonsense, but I will. Till the day he dies.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Way or the Highway

One of the things that irritates me most about us horse folk, is our tendency to judge other disciplines and styles that we don't understand.

We are a harsh and unforgiving crowd. I have been accused (I admit, rarely on this blog) of hating English riders, Horse+Man+Ship aficionados, and clicker trainers, among others.

The truth is, I hate people and training methods which are cruel to horses. Period. I save a special place under my judgmental eye for those who are cruel through stupidity, especially stupidity hidden under the guise of superior horsemanship skills, defined by a specific method of training. C'mon, you know who you are.

Blanket statements set me off. Has anybody noticed?

So in honor of those stupid people, I've begun the Mugwumps My Way or the Highway cartoon series. We'll start off with three cartoons, just to give you a taste of what's to come, and I'll add another every Friday from now on.

Hope you guys have as much fun reading them as I had making them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spade Bit Explanations

  “Yes, there are many who use the spade with little or no understanding or appreciation for it. But then, you can kill cockroaches with a violin - yet that is not how the violin might best serve us.

   “The spade bit is not a piece of equipment, it is a philosophy. To use it and use it well an entire school of thought must be sought and explored. For those interested in doing just that; welcome to the journey of a lifetime. A human life can barely encompass all there is to know about the mysteries of the discipline.”
---- Gwynn Turnbull-Weaver

   There’s a good explanation of the spade bit and how it works in here. I’ve also compiled some information from my “cowhorse notes” file, that I thought might help some of you better understand what I do.  This file is chock full some of the questions I had as a cowhorse trainer, that came into play when I decided it was time to retire. I’m sharing some of these too. - Mugs

   Reined Cow Horse is a discipline that evolved from the methods of working cattle in California, with its roots deeply in Spanish traditions. Ranching in other parts of the American West was also influenced by the Spaniards through Mexico, like Texas or New Mexico, but it was in California where the Spanish heritage was kept the longest, and where methods and skills and equipment were developed to new heights. California reinsmen and vaqueros were the apex of mounted herdsmen and their way of training and the results they got were unique and incomparable. Any work not done from the back of their reined cow horse they regarded as below their status. Just when they had reached their highest level of reinsmenship is not known anymore today, maybe in the 18th century, maybe in the 19th century all we know is that by the time the 20th century rolled around, those high-class reinsmen were a thing of the past. Whether the few old-timers that were still around had seen, and ridden with, the best of them, or if what they had come to know was while still very good -- already on the decline, nobody knows. We do know though that the fame of the California reined cow horse lasted well into the 20th century.

   The uniqueness of the California reined stock horse was based to a great deal on the training methods, which differed considerably from those east of the Rocky Mountains. The California horses were trained with the rawhide hackamore, then advanced to the bridle, typically a spade bit. The hackamore had its ancestor in the iron Spanish serreta, but is a piece of equipment unique to Spanish America. It consists of a rawhide-braided noseband called bosal, and a mecate, which is a rope made from horse hair that serves as reins and lead rope.

   Traditionally, the reined cow horse was trained with the hackamore until it mastered his job, then gradually advanced to the spade bit, which is a specially designed curb bit the roots of which do not just reach back into Spanish history, but like the hackamore -- even to that of Spain's Moorish rulers. The spade bit's design was developed by California bit makers. It was ridden with rawhide-braided reins, traditionally closed reins attached to a romal, which has a popper at the end and serves as a quirt. These reins have rawhide buttons and were attached to the bit by chains, the buttons giving the reined cow horse a warning, when it feels them slide up on his neck.

The spade bit has a high port in the shape of either a spade or spoon, hence the name. It has a straight bar across the horses tongue, and braces going from the side to the port (spade), and is loosely hinged, not rigid. Its design conforms to the horse's mouth cavity, and it works more as a signal, touching the roof of the horse's mouth with the spade when the reins are lifted. In contrast to what is commonly believed, it is not a severe bit for the reined cow horse when properly designed and used. The ratio of the old-time spade bits was such that it worked less off of curb action and more as a signal bit, that is, the shanks were relatively short.

   The whole bridle -- spade bit, chains, and rawhide reins -- worked as an entity and were carefully balanced. Transition from the hackamore to the spade bit took place over a period of time at first, the horse was just bridled up with the spade bit, but was further ridden with a bosal (the size/diameter of the bosal and mecate used were decreased as the training of the reined cow horse progressed), then gradually, more and more bit reins were used, too, finally less and less bosal reins, until the finished horse was ridden straight up in the bridle . The idea behind this concept was to save a horse's mouth, to never expose it to any pressure, also, to ride a young horse without anything in his mouth as long as he was still changing his teeth. The horse-hair mecate is felt more by the horse than smooth reins, and aids in the training. Generally, the result of a competent and skilled hackamore training is a very light and flashy reined cow horse.

   When about half-way through the last century there was a growing awareness that a great tradition was being lost, it was actually almost too late to really preserve it. Still, if the group of dedicated people that got together in California to found an association for the express purpose of preserving the California stock horse tradition, that was a bright idea and a well-meant effort and could have worked -- if they had listened to, and sought the advice of, the few surviving old-timers who had had first-hand experience during the tail end of the era of the famous California reined cow horse. Those old-timers, with the exception of one, were very reluctant to part with any knowledge, but they were largely ignored anyway.

   Even so, what they had told about the old days would actually have been enough to expose contradictions with what was being outlined. Instead of true preservation, what took over was American show business, the new association was run by Anglo-Americans whose only ambition seems to have been to create a better market for their horse breeding programs and training services, fashioned after the already well-established cutting horse association and futurity.

    The first futurity put on by the California Reined Cow Horse Association in 1970 made it all too obvious that the old ways of the California Reinsmen were not honored: The contest consists of three parts, the herd work, the reined work, and the fence work. The herd work is basically a cutting, which is a Texan thing and never was typical for California. But because riders can use two hands on the reins, and actually are allowed to use the reins, this herd work is destined to be a mediocre cutting at best, if not an inferior one. Reined work and fence work are typical and traditional for the reined cow horse, with the fence work the most exciting (and dangerous) part. The real deviation from traditional California reined horse training though is the fact that this futurity is ridden with that contraption from way east, the snaffle bit, which never had any place in Spanish horsemanship, or old-time Californian horsemanship. It was, most likely, a concession to the inability of the trainers to train a real hackamore horse.

   The California trainer of the early 20th century may have known the snaffle bit by then, but used it with difficult horses only, usually only for a few days. The reined cow horse association's concept of riding young horses with a snaffle bit for a year, then ride him another year in a hackamore, is in no way consistent with traditional California reined horse training, The horses were trained in a hackamore, not with a snaffle bit, and even the hackamore was not used for a complete year, it was used until the horse functioned well, then the transition was made. The old-timers knew when the horse was asking for the bit . They made the switch to the bit before the horse became dull in the hackamore. The snaffle does not make a reined cow horse in the old California tradition. Yet the futurity of the association allegedly created to preserve that tradition became known as the snaffle bit futurity !

   What is even worse is the fact that, after all, this whole new industry did in no way result in a renewed aspiration to produce reined horses, especially hackamore horses, the hackamore being an indispensable part of the traditional way of making a California reined horse. Horses are usually trained with everything available, may be even ridden in the warm-up pen with some type of curb bit, then shown in a hackamore that is not a reined cow horse, certainly not a California hackamore horse. 

   Paradoxically, in the hackamore classes (for four-year-olds) and bridle classes (five years and older), the herd work is not added, only in the futurity, which would already be very strenuous for three-year-olds without the added strain of the herd work. No other event requires so much hard training to be put into young horses as the snaffle bit futurity. Needless to say, quality is compromised, and the reining horse has been outshining the California reined horse by far and for decades as far as the reining qualities are concerned.

   Some reiners now also enter reined cow horse competitions, and were able to raise the bar there at least in regard to the reined work.

   Reined cow horses are judged equally on their reined work and their fence work, nowadays also called cow work. The reined work is basically a reining, but patterns are a little different, and the class is also judged a little different, with less emphasis on slides but more on hard, deep stops. The fence work is what really sets the event apart, and is absolutely thrilling to watch if it is done expertly.

    A single cow is let into the arena, which the reined cow horse is to work one-on-one. First it shows dominance over the cow by controlling it on the short side of the arena, where it usually is let in, which is called boxing . Then the rider will let the cow run down the fence, staying closely behind it and a little to the side. After the cow passed the middle marker, he tries to block the cow with his horse, ideally turning her into the fence, or wall, and forcing her to run in the opposite direction. After thus turning the cow at least once in both directions against the fence, the reined cow horse takes the cow toward the middle of the arena and drives here there in such a way that she describes at least one circle in each direction, which completes the run. Taking the cow down the fence and turning her into it is referred to as fencing , driving her in circles as circling . The judge will blow a whistle to mark the completion of the run.

   Spectators unfamiliar with how the fence work is judged should simply observe whether the whole performance looks like the cow is leading horse and rider, determining the direction where to go, or if the reined cow horse looks like it is in control and dominating the cow.

   Breed associations like the American Quarter Horse Association call this event working cowhorse . There, horses up to the age of five years may be shown in a hackamore or snaffle bit in junior working cowhorse , and older in a bit in senior working cowhorse .

   I learned to train for this event in the “show ring” style. Snaffle bit first, then hackamore, then two-rein, then the bridle. During the time I spent deciding my direction as a horsesman I put Madonna back in her hackamore --she had been in the two-rein for a few months—and started Odin on my “one step at a time” breaking method.

    I had decided I knew nothing about using a hackamore, and Madonna would stay in one until I understood it. Odin would progress at the speed he was meant to, not in a pre-ordained time-frame.
   I also needed to learn to cut, I recognized the herd work we did was stressful, non-thinking, and did nothing to prepare our young horses for cattle work. So I started working with cutters, in their sport, using their rules, studying their art form, except Madonna was in her hackamore.

   Another area I was lacking in was honest cattle work. Everything I knew came from inside an arena. I have been learning to control a cow off horseback. Out in the field, in a feed lot, on the range, every chance I get, I work cows. I focus on reading them, finding the air space (called the bubble) between the cow and my horse, and learning to manipulate it to get what I want.

   As far as the training method goes, I have continued to start my horses with a snaffle bit. I prefer an O-ring, but that’s just me.

    The snaffle gives me shoulder control that I haven’t found within my reach when I start with only a hackamore. I leave the nose and poll alone during this phase, letting my horses learn to carry themselves through placement of their feet.

   Once we move to the hackamore, I increase my work on collection, and find the face and poll get where they need to be easily and naturally. I have found my hackamore horses stay safe and solid in the hackamore for many years this way, and am happy with it.

   So traditional or not, I start with a snaffle. Sometimes sticking with tradition is the same as being stuck in the mud. Being afraid to improve on things can easily be hidden behind the word “tradition.” Or maybe I’m just not that good with a hackamore yet.

    I get a lot of my help and spade bit information from a crazy man, Joe Bruce, who is also a master of the spade bit tradition. Big K told me to suck his brain dry before he dies, because it’s packed with spade bit knowledge that is going to be lost forever. So I’m doing the best I can. Joe tolerates my snaffle bit use because I’m a “girl.” Go figure. He is very pleased with the way I handle a hackamore though.

   I still want to show. My beliefs have changed, I’ll never have another futurity horse, but I can show in a snaffle or hackamore until my horses are six-years-old. This gives me plenty of time to show the horses I train in a way I feel is thorough and fair. Plus it leaves all the fun and none of the pressure.

   The bridle classes will be available to me, and I’m hoping to kick some serious butt on horses that have been trained well and know their job.

   We’ll see.

   I'm not there yet, in my Horsaii journey, but that's what makes it so wonderful, the road never stops. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Piss Off a Mugwump - Part 2

Hey Guys-

I'd had enough. Whoever, whatever the Anon. was that thought obscure, poorly thought out, insulting challenges were the way to make friends over here has been told to exit the arena and to take its stick horse with them.

It has been spammed and deleted.

I like to have as open a policy as possible in the comments, but this is not FHOTD. There's a reason I left there, it was because I felt the comments, and therefore the blog, were run by a few, loud-mouthed, boorish, idiotic, arm chair, self-titled horse experts who ruined the potential for the many other readers.

It's not happening here.

Ask questions, disagree, question methods.
That's how we work at Mugwump Chronicles.
Do not insult, berate, or cover your ignorance with bluster.
I do not owe anyone space on this blog.
Behave or go.

P.S. - Arm chair experts, with something to say that matters, are not only welcomed but considered valuable additions!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How to Piss Off a Mugwump

Kathy was holding my bridle in her hands, studying the reins with a worried look on her face.

I transitioned Madonna down to a stop and waited.

"Uh oh," she said.

After thirty-five years of friendship and countless hours at the barn, I know this is not a statement I want to hear.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I borrowed your halter to tie Rosie, it looks like she chewed your reins."

Sigh. "Is it bad?"

"Well, they're chewed pretty good on a couple of places. I'll buy you a new pair."

"You don't want to do that Kath, those are my good reins.Let me see how bad it is."

I studied my reins, they weren't chewed through, just scarred.

"A little oil and they'll be, well chewed up, but they'll just be ugly, not useless.." I told her. "I have to admit, I'm a little surprised you left my bridle hanging where she could get at it."

"Well, I figured you wouldn't leave your bridle there if a horse could reach them."

"I didn't have a horse tied there, just my empty halter. You've had Rosie her entire life and watched her chew her way through thousands of dollars of equipment, I'm thinking you might have figured she'd go for my bridle if you used my halter."

"Really, I'll replace them," Kathy said again.

"Serious, you don't want to do that. I paid $90 for these about 15 years ago. They're broke in about perfect."

There was a long pause.

"Now, why would anybody in their right mind pay $90 for a pair of reins?" Kathy was truly irritated with me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ears Wide Open and Mouth Shut - Roping Donkeys

I have read a lot on the blogs about the abuse of donkeys used by ropers for roping practice.

I had never been around the practice before, but the stories I read made me pretty much agree it is a horrible thing to do.

Here are some excerpts from some of the reading I had done.

" I’ve personally witnessed donkeys who were victims of roping abuse
who came to my ranch for gentling and training.   Unfortunately once again, there’s no easy “fix” from this abuse.   Although the donkey is removed from the environment which it lived in pure fear and pain,the memories will live forever in their hearts and mind.

 A huge surplus of standard donkeys in Texas and nearby states has led
to inexpensive donkeys used for practice roping.   For a mere $10.00 per donkey at many livestock auctions, some cowboys can’t seem to resist cheap donkeys to practice their roping skills on.  Once the donkey is so highly abused to the point it hunkers down in the practice pen, the donkeys are  returned
to the auction yard waiting for the next cowboy to bid on them.  And the abuse continues.   
 In some cases, ranchers don’t even bother to haul the spent donkeys back to the auction yards. Many simply drive a trailer load of donkeys to a remote location in Texas and turn them loose to fend for themselves."

   l“Horse-riding ropers used Giuseppe to practice roping. They're called either 'headers' or 'heelers,' which means they use the donkeys to practice roping cows, either their back feet or the head. Most of the donkeys used this way are crippled for life, especially if they’re laid down and stretched out. You can easily break the animal’s back,” she told me."

 One afternoon I saw a couple of donkeys in the holding pens behind the cattle chutes. 

 Uh oh. I do board my horses at a roping training facility. It looked like I was going to see firsthand the mistreatment of roping burros.

Here's what I witnessed.

There were four burros. All of them were intact jacks. Their feet were incredibly long and they were wild as Mach hares. They were extremely thin. 

The burros spent a month eating. They were roped, thrown, wormed, inoculated and had their feet done.Then they were left to eat until they had some fat on their ribs.

Once they were healthy they began training. the entire process took less than a week. The burros were herded into the arena one by one and taught to lope a large circle. This was done by having the ropers drive them in the circle them at the hip and whack them with their ropes when they tried to go off circle.

Was this nice? Well, no. Were they hurt? Nope. No rope burns, no broken legs, just driven in a circle. It didn't take the jacks long to sort things out, they are pretty darn smart.

One jack was aggressive and willing to bite. He was kicked back to the pen and not used anymore.

The next phase of the training was to rope them.

The burros were roped around the head. They were drug around until they stopped and faced the rope horse. Then they were given slack. This was a very short lesson. The burros knew to stop and face the ropers within 15 or twenty minutes.

Next the hind feet were roped, one at a time. The jacks kicked and squalled, the second they stopped they were given slack. They were not thrown. They learned to stop when their hind legs were roped even faster than they learned to face off the rope horse.

The aggressive jack went to the sale barn.

The other three spent the summer teaching colts to track, get in position and the basics of roping. Because the donkeys stopped as soon as they were roped the colts learned they could control them without having to feel much pull from the rope.

I did notice one of the Jacks got his legs scurfed up. He was put away until he healed. There wasn't any scarring, no broken bones and he healed clean legged.

By the end of the summer the burros wouldn't play anymore. So they were halter broke, then saddle broke, taught to tie, have their feet done etc.

Then they went to the sale and sold as saddle broke. They had been bought for between $5 and $25 dollars and sold for between $150 and $200.

Here's a few interesting facts I learned while I was watching all this.

BLM burros are diverted to other states and sold at public auctions by the hundreds. I'm not saying the BLM is doing this, but I don't know who else has truckloads of unwanted burros handy.

If you halter break a burro before you rope break it, it won't work. They have to be taught to be driven instead of led first.

The roping burros were very good with their feet and not spooky.

They were broke enough to periodically be tied to the cars of various people in town, all of them victims of the odd sense of humor of my barn owner. The burros were gentle and friendly enough to be led back by the very non-donkey savvy victims. 

I'm having trouble considering this practice barbaric. It seems to me, these ropers give the burros a rare chance to have a life beyond the holding pens of the BLM.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Soft Hands - Soft Mouth

There was an interesting question posed on the Equine Mind Meld. The rider was wondering if his hands were too soft. He figured he rode without bit contact about 97% of the time. I really couldn't come up with anything better than, "It depends on if you're getting the job done."

The thing is, how often the bit comes in contact with the horse's mouth has nothing to do with how soft the horse or rider is. Under the previous definition, a dude horse who will do his trail route with his reins hanging and some screaming little kid on his back, would be considered soft mouthed, and the kid, who's doing head stands and riding backwards, but never picks up his reins, would have soft hands.Until he tries to take the dude horse off the trail. Then, when the horse's head goes down, he starts to eat, and no amount of hard handed yanking by the kid will get his head up, he's hard mouthed, because he'd rather let that rough handed kid rip his mouth bloody than miss out on another bite of grass.

This kind of logic would also imply that riding disciplines which rely on contact are harder handed than those that don't. Which is nonsense.

One of my riding gods, Ray Hunt, spent a lot of time teaching riders to get their horse to respond off the softest cue. He encouraged his students to find the softest, lightest, gentlest touch they could to work their horse. The reasoning was perfect. A horse can feel and respond to the tickle of a fly on his flank, so why would we kick them in the belly when we cinched them, or yank their heads around to turn them, or kick them fifty times to trot when a shift of our seat could do the same?

This seemed to set off a mindset of,  how soft can I go? Which is great, but only if there is an actual understanding of what makes a horse soft-mouthed and a rider soft-handed.

If anybody ever went to a Ray Hunt clinic they probably saw what would happen to one of his well broke horses if they quit listening. Ray got their attention, fast and hard. Whip, spur, bit, whatever it took to clarify his position, he was using it. His misbehaving horse would go scurrying back to soft obedience as fast as it could. Because Ray made the wrong thing very, very difficult if his horse knew better.

Horses don't become soft if they don't understand there's a consequence for not being that way.

They need to understand the gentle touch of the rein or leg will be followed with a much firmer reminder of what's needed.

My approach to my horses runs this way.
1. I ask with a whisper (actually, it's a touch, I'm not much on whispering). Once.
2. I say what's required with a firm explanation (using legs and hands). Once.
3. I make it happen. No matter what it takes, I make it happen.
   Then I take a breath and go back to step one.

My horses have a choice. They can work off step 1, 2, or 3. It's amazing how willing they are to go from step 3 to step 2. Then, they go to step 1 and usually work pretty hard to stay there. But once in a while, they all test. Just in case you aren't capable of making them do their job that day.

My responsibility to my horse is to know how much to ask.
It can be just the flick of an ear from a range a colt or a mustang.
It can be a clean round in the cutting pen from my seasoned show horse.
Thousands and thousands of questions asked and answered take my horse from range colt to show horse.

So, if I want my horse to ride with only 3% contact, then I have to make sure he understands everything I expect of him during the other 97%. He has to know if he doesn't respond to my question, I'll explain it once, then make him comply. There would be contact during the compliance, because I would want him to desire my whisper. I would want it to be very important to my horse that he doesn't need contact from me. He needs to know his safe place is when he's listening and I'm not touching the reins.

A horse ridden with contact, say a snaffle bitter, will be asked the exact same questions. The difference is only in the communication. My snaffle bitter will be every bit as soft to handle, within the limits of his education, as my bridle horse will be.

The soft mouth is not created by soft hands. Every horse is born with a soft mouth. It hurts them when we pull. All of them. From the flighty three-year-old to the been-there-done-that dude horse, it still hurts to get yanked on.
Timing and communication is what creates a soft mouth. Feel. The ability to tell when the pressure being exerted has accomplished it's goal and to quit.

Desensitization is what creates a hard mouth. Yeppers, the very self same learning tool embraced by round penners everywhere, teaches Old Ironsides to tune out your spurs, ignore the big wonkin' long shanked bit you've got hanging from his face and do whatever his goal is, not yours.

When there is no purpose to the yank, the pull, the whip or spur, then a horse is going to tune it out. He can't make any sense of it, except that it hurts and it happens on a regular basis, so he learns to ignore the pain. He doesn't try, because trying doesn't do any good. He doesn't think about it, because that hasn't helped much either. He just shuts things out and gets on life as best he can.

I have always felt that most hard mouthed horses are pretty darn good natured. Mainly because they tune their riders out instead of trying to kill them, which they probably deserve. The choice was pretty much this -- become dull or become a murderer--and these sweeties chose dull.

Here's a couple of very simplified version of how hard mouthed happens:

Scenario #1: Horse and rider go down trail. Horse wants to trot, rider pulls on mouth. Horse speeds up feet and tosses head, rider doesn't understand. Rider hangs on mouth. horse tosses head. Rider hangs harder. Horse veers into brush. Rider hangs harder. Horse spooks. Rider hangs. It hasn't occurred to the horse he should slow down because the rider has explained nothing, only hung on his head. He doesn't want to slow down, he wants to go home, to his stall, where nobody pulls. Rider obviously doesn't get it. Nothing the horse does works. goes home. The only way he can think of to get the rider off his mouth.

Scenario#2: Rider pulls as a cue to the horse. Pulls to turn, pulls to stop, pulls to guide. The horse leans on the bit to brace against the pull. The neck and shoulders go into blocking conversation instead of working with the rider. Rider uses increasingly harder cues or stronger equipment. Horse tunes out rider with equal strength.

Scenario#3: The rider gives up. Cues once, cues twice, still doesn't have a response, and releases while thinking up another approach. Comes in with more firepower, but all the horse remembers is the release. If he waits, the pulling will stop. So he waits.

Desensitizing is essentially teaching the horse to tune out stimulus that distracts them from us. If you look at that horrific video of the Big Lick trainer beating the crap out of a horse to teach it not to react to pain you see desensitizing  taken to a terrifying extreme.

The thing to remember is, you can dull a horse to anything through repetition, if the stimulus is without communication or reward.

I know there is no such thing as a "hard mouth." One of the benefits of being a mid-level horse trainer was I got to ride lots of schlock in order to keep my business afloat. I found I could teach the most closed down, hard headed, 20-year school horse veteran to respond to the lightest touch. It was hard getting through sometimes. I had to ask very little, tiny questions. I had to accept minimal responses. But by God, when the light when on, those horses welcomed my communication with everything they had. Because horses are the coolest, most forgiving animal on the planet. "It's about time!" they seemed to shout.

So, back to the original question. Can a rider have too soft of hands?

Depends on if you're getting the job done.