Thursday, January 23, 2014

Conversations With My Horses

There are holes in my training. Always have been, always will. I see more, feel more, and understand more, with every passing year, and I've become a pretty decent hand (pun intended), even in my current, crippled, wobbly state, but the holes are becoming clearer too.

My personal horses do really cool stuff. They are soft, responsive, quick off your leg and even quicker off your hand. Horses I trained for other people were shaped to fit their rider. They tended to have a little less handle and much better manners than my horses.

There's a reason for that. If my clients could stay with horses as feely and emotional as mine, well, they'd be riding with the Big K, now wouldn't they? My clients wanted to ride better, get a handle on a tough horse, or work on their own fears. Some wanted to show cowhorse, but if they did, they came to me to fix the other stuff first. Some stayed, some dumped me and moved on to K, it was all good. Those who stayed learned what they wanted, and often, what they needed.

My own horses appear gentle, calm and quiet. I have been told, by those who don't quite know me and my horses, they are boring. Nice,"but I like a horse with a little more fire." Which in many ways is very, very funny.
K liked riding horses I started or fixed, and he liked working with riders who had been through my process. It made me feel successful, during a time in my life where I felt little success.  

***Spoiler alert***What I'm about to write is VERY POLITICALLY INCORRECT. Please remember, I'm relaying a private conversation, a moment in time, a description that fit the situation, that does not represent my actual opinion about, well, anything, except that moment.

"When I'm riding a horse, trained by a client, who was taught to train that horse, by me..." I said.

"Yes?" K asked.

"It feels like I'm riding one of my horses..." 


"if it was my horse's 'special ed' little brother or sister."

"Snort." K shook his head and studied his saddle horn.

"You, know, everything is there, but slower, duller, not quite right."

K looked at me, with his I-can't-believe-what-rattles-around-in-your-brain look.

"So, it got me thinking," I said.


"Do you feel the same way when you ride mine?"

"Well, not quite."

"Oh. Good."

"They might have been held back a grade or two."


I have come to understand I have a running conversation with my horses. Not verbal, but physical. They talk to me with their ears, their eyes, how high or low they are holding their head. They tell me things with the tension in their bodies, the swish of a tail, whether their feet are on the ground or in the air and what they do with each one.

This isn't that big of a deal. Any solid horseman is aware of these very same things. I have the habit of digesting everything my horse tells me. I read it, think about it and then respond. I might react, with a correction, an explanation, or a yee-ha! I might ignore what I'm being told, because it doesn't go long with my program, but I still listen.

This creates a horse with an opinion. They tell me when they are frightened, cranky, angry, excited, or just plain ready to go. They expect me to hear them, and respond with a touch, a scratch, a tightening or relaxation of my body, or a slap on their ass, and I do. I work them with the goal of getting them ready for the task at hand by dealing with their mind-set. 

This may sound to some like a true, horse whispery kind of communication. Maybe it is, but it sure as hell can wreak havoc with getting the job done.

I'll give you the best example I can, a comparison of me and K doing a fence run during a horse show. Here's Madonna and I last year. It was our first NRCHA show in five years. Every time I watch it, I want to scream,"Sit back!" We were out of shape and rusty, but I was happy and we got a check.

Me and Madonna

Next up is The Big K and Spart Plain Pep (Rain), kicking butt at the World's Greatest Horseman.

Essentially, what's going on in my video is this.
Me: Let's go.
Madonna: The gates over there. (0:05)
Me: We're not done yet, knock it off.
Madonna: Who's that guy? (0:30)
Me: The cow guy, get back to work.
Madonna: Are you sure? (0:33)
Me: Quit worrying about it.
Madonna: Let's blast past her! (1:16)
Me: Get back here, I want a long fence run.
Madonna: Dammit!
Me: Don't quit me! (1:48)
Madonna: OMG! Where did that tarp come from? (1:51)
Me: You just now saw the tarp? Get back to work!
Madonna: If we weren't behind we wouldn't be stuck on the fence.
Me: Dammit!
Madonna: Here you go --pretty, pretty, pretty.

And here's how Big K rides a horse.

Big K: Do it!
Rain: I'm on it!

You can see where I get in my own way. I don't ride my horses, I ride with them. We chat back and forth, and I like it. Except when we need to keep our eye on the ball, er, cow, and we're arguing instead. K has some good insight on this. He doesn't consider my approach a problem in itself, it's how I implement it. I'll dive into this tomorrow.


  1. Okay... I definitely am more Mugs than K.

    I hate pictures and videos of me riding with a fiery flaming hatred. Crooked slouched over sack of potatoes. So don't feel bad.

    I know I'm not hard enough on my horses. I ride soooo softly and I claim it's because I want them responsive for all those 10 yr old kids who ride them, but I've always been like that, long before I thought of training riders, or even really understood how to ride well. My goal for the last couple years is to feel out their hesitations and second thoughts so I can keep them where I want them instead of correcting them after they do something wrong. So basically, keep riding. Don't let my brain wander and therefore let them do their own thing. (That conversation? Sometimes it's out loud. Don't know how effective that is... )

    So in your video my first thought was that you seemed cautious. And that I, on any horse, would have made you two look like you had rockets strapped to your butts. Maybe we just have to think less? In any case, damn damn damn your horse is pretty. I'm a little blinded by that...!

    I don't ride enough horses to compare my training, and I never train for others, so this is interesting.

  2. Your timing with the post is impeccable...for me anyways.

    Just went to my first ASHA clinic with the old runaway paint. Basically everything that was taught was way over our heads....literally. But still at least one of us had a great time (that would be me- not my horse)

    I love the "conversation" theory/approach/what ever ya wanna call it.

    We have that too. Ours goes more like this.

    Me: Its our turn
    Him: So what are we doing?
    Me: I'm not sure.
    Him: Well then I'll decide for you.
    Him: Lets go home.
    Me: what about the cow?
    Him: cows are overrated.

    My new goal is to be the leader of the team. I'll let ya know how it works out for us.

  3. haha! I wish I was the Big K. Because I know they know what to do and I still want to train and hold them back. You can see in my videos where my horses are literally like woman sit, ride, and push and I'll take care of the rest.

    That's my goal for this year. Sit.
    Quit Training.

    I run barrels by the way.)

  4. Wow, that made me miss showing cow horses. Your circles sure were pretty with a calf that was being difficult the one way.
    I have always said that my gelding and I have an on going conversation. He is welcome to offer his opinions and suggestions I take them, or not depending. He has taught me many things and has saved my butt more than once, as a team we do great. He tells me he doesn't like to rope or show I don't ask him to. He loves moving cattle and is a hot but dependable ranch cow horse.
    I am glad to hear that I'm not the only one that does this. Would he be more responsive and less rotten if I didn't let him talk? Maybe, but for me he rides perfect, I enjoy our conversations. With other horses I like to think it is less conversation and more of them listening, not at a mugs level but maybe someday.
    Please do more clinics, one of these days I will be done with people babies and start over with another horse baby, I will show/train again (picture Scarlett O'Hara here). Someday.

  5. What a blast to watch you ride Madonna!

    I started listening to my horse's opinion after I read a book by Mark (?) Rashid. We don't compete at anything but our rides are much better.

  6. I have Zero experience with riding a cow horse. I have a tiny bit of communication experience.

    To me the difference between your communication style and the Big K's is rooted in the chromosomes.

    So in the short ride like a girl. Which is not a bad thing in my opinion.

    Looking forward to reading what the Big K has to say about it all in the next installment.

  7. I used to be a "do it!" kind of rider, but right now slower, duller sounds pretty good.

    The first mare I ever trained myself was very spooky. She liked to do the drop and rollback move right out from under me. Once I learned to ride that we could have a conversation, and eventually it was very very subtle. I would feel the slightest twitch on her side (I'm outa here!), and I would slightly increase my leg pressure
    (We're going forward). No one even knew she was still spooky.

  8. I liked this! It might be the dressage rider in my, or the old eventer rattling around somewhere around my toes, but I like the conversational style. My thoroughbred gives me constant feedback and questions during my ride, and takes constant reassurance, adjustment, and the occasional boot to get where he needs to be. I don't see it as a lack of "control" on my part, but more of a leadership role in the partnership than a demanding leadership. Eh?

  9. You and Madonna remind me of myself and Sandy (Sandy even looks like Madonna).

    There is a whole lot of "you know what I'm asking you to do" from me, and a whole lot more of "but I'm pretty, so I don't have to, want to, etc." from her.

    And we just trail ride. I couldn't imagine actually trying to do any type of work with her. We'd kill one another.

  10. OOooooh.

    I really like MichelleL's input. That got my brain firing.

  11. Oh man that looks like fun!!!!!

  12. Totally get everything you are going though! And Madonna is pretty. I really think that the big K is much more aggressive than you (or I). I feel that he's not so much having a conversation with the horse but telling. Both ways work, but in different ways... stuff to think about for sure.

  13. Hmmm, I much preferred the vid of you and Madonna. My Dad worked stock most of his life and always said it took a good stockman to handle animals quietly, and that any idiot could yehah around and stir up a lot of dust. :) I'm pretty sure he'd have approved of your ride much more than the other one.


  14. Ah, but Clancy, "the other one" taught me and teaches me. If it wasn't for his understanding of the way a horse thinks, feels, and responds, I never would have become the horseman (woman,equestrian,whatever) I am today.

  15. Mugs, why does K ride with his free hand up around his shoulder? I have never worked cattle and was trained more along the lines of riding for equitation either western or hunt seat keeping my hands low and quiet. I found his free hand waving around distracting. I loved that he bent down and patted the cow at the end of his run though.

  16. Our event isn't judged by visual effects, but through scores on the job at hand.
    All I can offer is the assurance that he wasn't dinged for distracting the audience on the way to a 6th place finish at The World's Greatest Horseman Competition.

  17. Training and raising children are so much alike.

    When working a new horse, I’m like K, ‘just do it.’ Once I get a handle on a horse, I’m more the conversationalist. However, ultimately I want my horse to know I will make the finally decision.

    Out on the trail I do want my horse to think, and to let me know what he is thinking. If there is a mucky spot on the trail, a swollen water crossing, a downed tree (yellow jackets anyone?), I want him to think. I certainly do not want to get bogged down, swept away, or stung. I know his senses are more acute than mine. So I listen.

    When in the arena training/taking a dressage lesson I lean more towards the ‘do it’ way.

    When my children were toddlers, there were no conversations. As they grew and matured, I liked the conversation, encourage it so they could start to navigate this thing called life. I converse with the boys, my husband tells the boys.

    I do believe woman are the conversationalists, and men are like Nike, just do it.

    Glad I am a woman; I like conversation!

  18. This is off topic, but I keep seeing a new post titled "Donuts" on other blog's blogrolls, but when I come here, the first post is still "Conversations.."
    ? :(

    Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that you've been posting more again, but I'm greedy, I want to read the "Donuts" post! :)

  19. Horseyhabit - "Donuts" isn't done yet. I pushed the wrong button...

  20. Ah... Well, that explains it!!

  21. Mugs, I have a question. How does that World Champion mare the Big K was riding do out on the trail/out of the arena?

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Half Dozen - she's a delight. K uses his horses on the ranch...for anything and everything. She's a youth show horse holding her own on a working ranch.

  24. Hmmm...well, I was wondering because in my experience a lot of the "yes sir" type of horses (or horses trained that way) can't think for themselves out on a trail ride and aren't reliable. (I'm thinking of dressage "arena babies" mostly). I should have known better! I'm sure the Big K would turn out well-rounded mounts. :)

  25. Hmmm...well, I was wondering because in my experience a lot of the "yes sir" type of horses (or horses trained that way) can't think for themselves out on a trail ride and aren't reliable. (I'm thinking of dressage "arena babies" mostly). I should have known better! I'm sure the Big K would turn out well-rounded mounts. :)

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