Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Ol' Yank N' Spur - Part 3

1. The 10-year-old horse and 40-year-old rider came in for training -

This mare never really got on with her owner. Both progressed over the next couple of years, but the mare was forever impatient and cranky as her owner worked her way towards where she wanted to be as a horseman. The mare was eventually sold to a man who rode trails, but didn't feel a need to become one with his horse. Word on the trail was they did just fine.
The interesting side of this was this woman eventually ended up with a solid ranch gelding and a couple of retired youth cow horses. These three horses drank up her affection and enjoyed her approach. They were all very broke and had been trained to pretty high levels - I can guarantee they weren't trained using the holistic, loving, mind meld stuff their owner used. There was a lot of talk on her part about "helping them escape from their mental and physical limitations" etc.
Thing is, the horses she felt safe and finally had success with came from the very backgrounds she felt were cruel.

2. The Big K and Buck - 

This was the result of wanting the performance of a show horse, but disagreeing with the riding method used to keep him up. I have fallen in this trap myself and am still hashing it out. Buck may have had handling in his past that his new owner disagreed with, but when she bought him, he was a horse who only needed minor tuning to have him show ready. Buck could cheat like only an old show horse can, but consistent, correct riding would show his flaws and they were easy fixes that never needed punishment. Letting him meander and choose his own trail, laughing at "quirks" that were in reality bullying on the part of this wise old veteran, all these things created the mess K had to fix.

3. He appeared at he loading ramp, beating an equally famous stallion with a logging chain. The fight and the beating went on for another few minutes until the stallion submitted, head down, quiet, licking and chewing. -

There are expectations at major shows about a horse's behavior and the trainer's way of handling it. This type of outburst is considered a sign of a weak program and extremely unprofessional. There were many long glances exchanged between fellow pro's (out and out gossip is saved for home) and I didn't see a rush of open riders heading to Logging Chains R Us to buy a similar training tool. 

What hit me was watching the horse licking and chewing. It was the same reaction as a horse who has been let rest from round penning, released after correctly executing a new maneuver, standing quiet after getting whacked with a lead rope etc. 
I had been taught that licking and chewing was a sign of comprehension on the part of the horse. I have heard it described as the sign of a happy horse and the sign of a thinking horse. Watching this stallion use the same behavior after submitting to a beating, severe enough to make him so body sore he flinched when touched the entire week, and couldn't lay down in his stall, made me look at it in an entire new way. 
He was not saying, "Wow, I sure feel better now that you've put me in my place."
Nor was he saying, "I guess I'll never pull that stunt again."
He was saying, "Shit, I'm sure glad that's over."
Licking and chewing is nothing more than a response to the release of stress. The rest? I cry bull shit.

4. A young, decently bred horse was bought by an intermediate rider who wanted to raise and train a horse using Natural Horsemanship methods. The plan was to do it without assistance other than local clinics and videos. 

This is a prime example of marketing success and the loss of easy access to training help. The first book I read on this subject, Lyons on Horses, gave me lots of new insights and the concept of training by getting my horse to work with me instead of for me. Years went by and I continued to improve my training methods by studying Ray Hunt, more Lyons, Monty Roberts, etc. I assimilated some stuff and rejected some other stuff. 

The danger I saw then, and is even clearer to me now, was the sales side of these methods. These books, tapes and clinics encouraged the do-it-yourself approach and gave the impression anyone could do it. Round pens popped up on every five acre ranchette in the country and people with no experience at all started buying young horses. There are many, many unstarted 6,7,8,10, 12, 15-year-old horses going through sales and being loaded on trucks to Mexico.

My friend with the 7-year-old is taking him, and her husband's equally not rideable horse, to a pro in March. Both horses will stay in training, with their owners taking lessons, until they are productive members of the equine world. Yes, it was me who nagged them into this decision.

5. A couple of boarders were trying to load an unwilling horse into a trailer. They had a huge crowd of "helpers." The situation was escalating. The horse was rearing, kicking, falling over know, trailer loading nightmares.

I learned a bunch from this one, brief scenario. Obviously, shut up was the biggest, but there was a bigger lesson here.
Horses learn stuff, even when we go about it in a completely dumb-ass fashion. The horse in this case learned it was easier to load than not load and eventually started to load just fine. There are some really nice horses out in the world who were started by complete numbskulls, because horses are kind, forgiving, magical and wonderful. I know this because I was responsible for a few of them back in the day and they came out all right in spite of me.
I remember these women and their little Arab gelding every time I start thinking my way is the only way.


  1. #1. Reality sucks.

    #2. I've been guilty of making the messes, and having to fix them. I hope I don't do that anymore.

    #3. I'd prefer that everyone knew better than to beat a horse with chains. See #1. I used to show the QH circuit and saw quite a few big name trainers who surprised me in real life. I know you have expressed an admiration for Lynn Palm at one time, when I used to see her at shows she was Lynn Salvatori, then Lynn Salvatori Palm. I never saw her abuse or correct any horse she was on. I rode with her many times in the warm up ring and she was a quiet, well prepared rider. I always tried to emulate her, even if I was just an amateur.

    #4 Good for you for nagging your friends.

    #5 I wish people would listen, it could save them a lot of time and trouble. See # 1?

  2. All these scenarios make my head spin; there's some thoughts in there, but I can't grasp them yet. Particularly in the case of #1.

    The licking and chewing thing? That surprised me. And I think I'll be worried now if I see my horses ever doing it. But in that case, what does a thinking horse look like?

    bonita of A Riding Habit

  3. Bonita, there's no reason to worry about it. Release from stress is as simple as -- you follow your horse, horse faces you, you walk away. Walking away relieved the stress of being followed. The horse licks and chews. He also learned that you will back off pressure if he turns and looks at you. Simple training tool.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes to your thoughts on #4. There is no way you can learn horsemanship from a video. But, even when you put aside the slick marketing, I can see how people get sucked in.

    First, we all want to be more than just passengers on our horses. Whether you're looking for a special bond, growth as an equestrian, or even just bragging rights, the idea of training your own horse is attractive. And, both in real life and on the interwebs, there is a certain disdain for horse people who think that riding on a well-broke horse is enough. It's not hard to see the appeal of a claim that you - that anyone - can train a horse, regardless of experience level or natural ability.

    Secondly, let's get back to that well-broke horse I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Even with the glut of horses, a well-broke, easy to handle horse that will work for and teach a beginner is almost impossible to find. I know, because I wanted that horse when I started riding again after several years out of the saddle. Sure, there are a lot of people who don't know what they need, but even those who do are hard-pressed to find it. And, when you're dealing with people who have little to no horse experience, the odds of them getting screwed over by some unscrupulous sellers are pretty darn high.

    And that bring us to Problem #3, which Mugs noted: loss of easy access to training help. If a good horse is hard to find, a good trainer is even harder. Leaving aside the intractable problem of finding someone you trust, if you aren't aiming for a particular sport and don't have a particular breed, good luck. In my area, if you aren't going to work cattle or do breed shows or barrels, and aren't a rank beginner, you can't even find lessons. You can see why a lot of people end up falling back on their own dubious resources. I have a 13 year old very green gaited horse (don't ask; it's a long story, in which I come off like a softhearted, softheaded schmuck), and, even though he's smart and willing, all we've managed in nearly a year is a sort of OK neck rein and the basic leg cues that got us to the sort of OK neck rein. I'd love to send him to a real trainer, but it just hasn't been a possibility.

  5. well, i feel better now about being uncomfortable with the actions of the trainer in #3 with the chain. i didn't realize the extent or severity of the beating, but tried to talk myself into accepting that maybe the stallion did something truly dangerous and needed an immediate correction. So it is black and white and wrong, not some shade of grey.

  6. Oh man. #2. I own a very nicely bred reining mare, with a good temperament and a good mind, a thinking horse who likes to work.


    God, does she have The Sting. She is highly opinionated, gets it from her very nice but extremely opinionated late mama. When we smooth things out and are more consistent, we score well in Trail class, a bit in reining, and even in western pleasure. We don't show much, and it shows in our inconsistency. But do we want to go there? Um, well...she gets cranky about too much dressage-type work. She'll target cones and try to knock them down after about ten minutes (grin). She really prefers to thunder around on a loose rein (okay, I like that too).

    It's a lot easier to keep her semi-tuned up, but that means consistent monitoring. I can see where some folks don't care to do that--but if you're gonna show, even as infrequently as I do, well, keeping the horse semi-tuned up is a good idea. Then you don't have to have the big fighting messes when you're tuning for a show.

    (I also switch out tack as a cue to the horse that Rules Can Be Different. Bareback pad and sidepull are total relaxation ride, for example. But I had to train that. I tend to school in a snaffle or short-shanked curb I use as a Pelham. I switch out bits regularly, depending on what I'm working on.)

  7. anon - " (don't ask; it's a long story, in which I come off like a softhearted, softheaded schmuck)"
    This blog is pretty much a soft headed, softminded schmuck hangout.
    Joyce Reynolds-Ward - I love that description! Got "the Sting..."

  8. You mention a "ranch broke" horse. I was browsing Craigslist the other day and saw an ad for a nice looking gelding that the owners wanted to go to someone who understands "ranch horse mentality". What IS that?

  9. Portia - I'd ask the seller. As far as I'm concerned, a good ranch horse is broke to ride and use for ranch chores. He'll go where you want him to, has a decent handle on him, can be used to gather, sort, and rope cattle, crosses water, loads, stands tied, has lots of hours on him, been exposed to all kinds of different situations and has a good work ethic.He may or may not have arena time on him --

  10. #1. Been there, done that. Still have the horse even though . . .

    #2. I've made messes and had to pay someone to fix them. I try hard not to make those messes anymore. But sometimes I wonder . . .

    #3. If I made the mess, am I a monster for paying someone to fix it using a method that I find cruel? Why is it that horses trained with extreme methods so often learn faster and remember better, and am I a fool for rebelling in my heart against something that often has positive outcomes for all involved?

    #4. The more I baby my horse, the more often she acts like a baby brat. It took me three years to get my wild three year old broke, and yes, I finally hired a trainer for most of the under saddle work. Is it terrible that I don't regret any painful, frustrating long minute of it? Could we have the same relationship if I'd actually known better and sent her straight out for 90 days?

    #5. I know my horse learns both because and despite me. It gives me a little courage when I falter, a little forgiveness when I need it, and a little faith when I despair.

  11. The idea that the licking and chewing thing is strictly a sign of stress relief and not a sign of submission or understanding or yes I love you, you were right! is a revelation for me. SO many of the "natural" trainers teach that we should be thankful for the licking and chewing because it means understanding. I always thought that idea had a little skunk smell to it but didn't know why.

  12. I don't think it's the extreme methods that make a horse learn fast but the hard boundaries. Hard boundaries CAN be used with softer methods. I think the problem falls with the handler, lack of confidence or thinking that something you do will "hurt" your horse (feelings) or some other attribution of human qualities to the equine mind. This is where understanding of the horse for itself comes in... horsaii.

    At times, I'm totally guilty of the lack of confidence, well and the other too. :)

  13. I thought I'd post a link to this for Australian readers, I know there's a few on here.
    I can imagine Fugly eyerolling at this one in the olden days, but the difference here is that the horses are really good ones with interesting old bloodlines. If anyone's in Oz (dk the state, sorry) and on the lookout for a worthwhile project.

    Cudglebar Bint Cazala would be my choice - what a stunner! but I'm not cut out to ride Arabs, sadly :-)

  14. (Sorry to go O/T, would have put it on an open thread if there was one.)

  15. When Mr. Lyons first hit the scene with the round pen and the idea that you could get on a colt in two days, I had a trainer friend who took her TB colt to a clinic. She took the colt home after successfully riding him at the clinic and got along with him okay for a few days, then wham ! he dumped her hard and fast and completely threw her for a confidence loop. I am NOT NOT knocking Mr. Lyons, but what falls through the cracks in the self help programs is the awareness that these horses are not broke = at least not yet. They kind of get shocked into submission dealing with so many new ideas that they can go along quietly for a little while, then all of a sudden, ding ding, a little light goes off and the animal realizes "Oh we're going to do this again - I want to change it up". There is no substitue for consistent background work and people don't get that. There have to be tools in the toolbox that the rider and the horse can go back to as a reference point to keep themselves out of trouble. (Uh oh - I'm not sure that I have said this well - this may make no sense whatsoever. Sorry)

  16. LOL at Anonymous, I'm not laughing AT your comment, I'm laughing WITH it. We've seen a lot of colts with a solid foundation, get through the first 3 or 4 rides without an issue...It's right when you think you're out of the woods that they get creative and decide this riding thing isn't all it's cracked up to be! (And this is colts that haven't had everything thrown at them in 2 days. So yes. Definitely need those quiet and easy exercises to return to during/after the yeehaw bounce, duck, spin, hop moments!)

  17. We always called it "the third ride," even if it was the 5th or 10th. Sooner or later, all the youngsters decided this riding deal was not for them,it averaged on the third ride. How that ride was handled had a lot to do with how the rest of the training went.
    And you're right Anon, clinician don't like to mention the third ride, because then they'd have to work through Monday...

  18. Lol! I wish we could "like" comments. Your last comment had me giggling, Mugs, "...because then they'd have to work through Monday..."

    I like John Lyons, I really do - but you have to have some amount of "horse sense" when you're training a horse, and that is about as common as "common sense" - and both are so rare they ought to be declared super powers!

  19. Dang it, I hit publish too soon. I meant to finish with:

    and most people can't learn either - you either have it or you don't. Trying to learn it from a video is just silly.

  20. Back in the late 90's somewhere, I read something a person wrote in which she questioned the standard "knowledge" about horses licking & chewing. Her contention was that it simply showed that pressure had ended. It might be the tiniest of pressure or major pressure. She took a licking on the list but it got me thinking & observing. I came to agree w/her fairly quickly. Noticing the licking/chewing can be a useful tool. I've had horses who are very sensitive & a tiny bit of pressure does motivate a change in thought but then they need some time to release the pressure themselves, even after I've released the pressure. So I wait for signs of that to move on. But I do not think of it as the horse is thinking or processing. It is another way to help judge the horse's state of mind.

  21. Those mustangs are really pretty. The ones we have around here are pretty small and not so great looking.

  22. I seem to be in the minority, which is not unusual, but the story that bothered me the most was not the stallion/log chain story, but the Big K story. You usually describe him as a thinking man, but in this scene, you described him as in a fury. IMHO, anything done to a horse while in a fury has the potential to be abusive. The stallion/logging chain story, while horrendous, seems to have a smell of understanding to it. Stallion did something egregiously unacceptable, I am willing to believe potentially life threatening to the handler, and a "come to Jesus" meeting was held. It was held with an impliment not likely to break a bone, or even break skin, due to the blanket, but obviously got stallion's attention.

    In reality, I'd probably be more likely to be guilty of Big K's abuse, and be upset about the stallion and the logging chain, but some of that has to do with the "volume" of theause abuse.