Thursday, October 23, 2014

Know Your Equipment

I was in a piss poor mood. K was mad at me, the wind was up, weather was rolling in and I was three horses behind.

I had a client coming in to ride, and she was bringing an out-of-state friend, Pat, with her for a double lesson. Normally I enjoyed working with Elaine. She was a trainer and riding instructor, rode a nice horse and was fun to talk to.

Elaine had gotten her start as a trainer by completing Richard Shrake Resistance Free certification program. When she brought a friend, it was usually one of her fellow graduates. When I had two of them to work with, I usually ended up on the defensive, which was fine most days. Today, I just wasn't up for it.

My mood slid from dour straight to bitch as I watched my new student get ready to ride. She unloaded a decently built cremello 3 or 4-year-old QH gelding. I don't know why, I the majority of cremello owners I've met over the years have an odd, misplaced pride in their horse. I guess I should say in themselves. It's like there's a secret cremello club out there which elevates both horse and rider to a higher level of horsemanship than the rest of us.

Pat was clearly a member of the club.

She took so long to groom the horse's gleaming coat, Elaine had already loped her warm-up circles and was getting down to business before Pat made her entrance in the arena. Her horse was dressed to the nines in his Richrd Shrake pre-signal sweet-spot bit, a Circle Y Richard Shrake equitation saddle, and a conglomeration of rope and pulleys called the Richard Shrake Rhythm Collector. Pat wore a Richard Shrake baseball cap and a Richard Shrake Certified Trainer Jacket.

Elaine and I continued to work as Pat led her gelding around the entire football field sized arena. She showed him every single place he could spook for the rest of the session. Finally, she got on. She rode him along the arena fence. The colt had a good attitude and he obligingly spooked at every place she had showed him. She leaned forward and patted him after every spook, cementing the lesson.

I sighed.

"Elaine, what have you done to me?"

"Give her a chance," Elaine said. "She's actually pretty good."

Finally, Pat decided to join us.

"What can I help you with today?" I asked.

"Oedipus has trouble picking up his left lead."

I slowly went deaf and blind as Pat went into a twenty minute explanation of how he refused to give his rib because of a stiffness in his back and....I don't remember the rest, I was thinking about lunch.

I came to when I felt a long, awkward silence growing to epic proportions."How long have you been riding him?"

"120 days."

"How long have you been loping him?"

"We just started a few weeks ago."

"OK. I'll tell you what. Take all that shit off his head and I'll have you on the left lead in five minutes."

"What do you mean? This is a Rhythm Collector."

"I know what it is and I know that Richard never, ever intended it to be used on a colt that can't lope. While you're at it, lose the drop noseband too."

Pat dove into her theory about why she needed Oedipus' mouth tied shut, poll locked down and a death grip from her hands. I wondered if the diner would still have any French Dip left by the time I got there.

When I came to I stared at her for a few seconds. I had a very brief internal debate on the pros and cons of explaining my training methods.

"Look. I can get you on your left lead. I can only show you the way I do it. I'm assuming you're here because your translation of Shrake isn't working out for you. My way takes a horse wearing nothing but  a ring snaffle, a saddle and a rider. I'm not interested in any other way because it works for me. It's up to you."

I turned my back and started working with Elaine again. Pat sat her horse for another ten minutes, dismounted and took him back to the trailer.

"God Janet, who pissed in your Wheaties?" Elaine asked.

"Richard Shrake. Now, try spinning two turns left, then trot out right, we'll see if she'll re-balance her shoulders."

OK. Here's my disclaimer. I am not, in any way, bashing Richard Shrake. He has some good ideas and has helped many a rider.

Why Pat had me so riled up was her complete lack of understanding of her equipment. She had no idea how her bit worked, what her weight was for or what that sweet little gelding was mature enough to handle.

She chose to address it by adding a piece of equipment she had absolutely no clue how to use. She instinctively knew she could trap him even tighter between her hands with it, which the was polar opposite of how I trained.

Plus, I was in a mood. I mentioned the tussle between me and K, right?

At Elaine's next lesson, she told me she smoothed Pat's ruffled feathers on their trip home. The same afternoon she coaxed her into trying my way to get a horse on its lead. Elaine knew my methods well.

It took her 10 minutes to get the left lead.

I guess this is more along the lines of The Tenets of Mugs, or Mugwumpian Philosophy....or...?

Anyway. Here goes.

Know Your Equipment

1. I officially don't care what you ride with. English, Western, or Bohemian Chic, it doesn't matter to me. I don't care if you choose to spend your life leading your horse around.
If you're happy with the relationship you have with your horse then so am I.

2. I can only teach what I know. I can't help you use a piece of equipment I'm either not familiar with or have rejected, because it doesn't fit into my program.

2. I do care if you don't understand how your equipment works. If you want to ride in a mechanical hackamore, go for it. It is your obligation as a responsible horsaii to understand how it works, what it can do and what it can't do.

3. Learn how to use your saddle. Where is your balance point? What is it used for? How does it fit? How long should your stirrups be?

4. Know how to properly use your add-ons.
Please remember, if I say I hate running martingales, it doesn't mean I hate you.
I can tell you why I hate them, what I think happens when they are used, and why they work like a crutch with a wobble.
You may disagree and reject my thinking. I'll still respect you. Unless you don't have a clear mechanical understanding of what the martingale is for and why you want it.

Then, I will mock you. Lots.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mugwump Finds a Mission Statement

I'm going to be frank.

Having my life yanked out from under me, crumpled up like a piece of tin foil, run over by an eighteen-wheeler, and then handed back to me to flatten out best I can has been an education.

I've learned that life, although chock full of surprises, is definitely recyclable.

I used to joke that the only way I would ever finish a book, or seriously get back to my art would be to put me in prison, preferably solitary. Then, once the boredom, frustration and anger passed (because of course I'd be innocent), I would finally settle in and get to work.

I haven't been incarcerated, but I have been penned up, and it's not looking too good for parole.

I spend roughly 24 hours a day caring for my husband, who suffered two strokes during surgery for a blood clot going on four years ago. This happened about a year after I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and most of you know about the one armed thing.

Good grief, if my life isn't a country song, I don't know what is.

I get a break on most weekends. My step-kids come down to visit their Dad and I get a few hours furlough. On the days my body and the weather is cooperating I get in some horse time. It's kind of a crap shoot.

I get to work my dog with the Cool K9 crew on Sundays, which is a sanity saver and then some.

It's been hard to write, especially about horses and the life I built and lost. I still write my weekly food column, but struggle to meet dead lines. It's amazing how busy I can be within the confines of these walls. Mindless chores are exhausting, worry without answers is more so.

I haven't quit the horses though. I can't. They run through my dreams at night and their hoofbeats drum in the back of my mind during the day. In the half light of early morning I think about bending, flexing, hoof placement and how to get more, with less.

My thoughts spin and take me to further research, daydreaming and theory. I find myself questioning and challenging my thoughts and motivations when it comes to myself, my connections with people and for the most part, my philosophy about horses, training and how it shapes every nook and cranny of my ever changing position in this world.

It's pretty cool, this clarity of thought.

Today, I'm sharing it. It will probably morph some more,and some of you may find yourself scratching your head and thinking, "Well duh, isn't that what you've been saying all along?"

Buts it's new and clear and exciting to me, so shut up and let me lay this out.

First off, I need to set something straight. For myself as much as you guys.

I have always represented myself as a middle of the road horse trainer with moderate success in National Reined Cow Horse Association competition.

The moderate success in the NRCHA is true. I earned enough money as an open (professional) competitor to knock me out of a bunch of the fun stuff as an amateur. I did not earn enough to make much of a stamp in the record books, or hire barn help.

I am, however, a damn fine horse trainer. I worked hard,  studied hard and  rode with an open mind. I thought long and hard on the best way to educate the horses and riders who passed through my care. I developed some kick ass feel and learned to create well mannered, well balanced horses with a light handle and reliable behavior. Some of those horses were really rank bastards, some were physically, mentally (or both) inferior to the tasks set before them, but I got the job done. Shit guys, I know stuff.

Unfortunately, I had a blind spot that truly crippled me as a pro.

I'll have to go with example here.

"Ol' Spanky has a crappy lead change. He can do everything else, the slide is awesome, spins are right there, he really looks at a cow, but I can't count on the change. I've taken him to trainers X, Y and Z, they all told me to sell him."

There I'd be, looking at some bony, wormy poorly bred piece of ...well, you know, and my brain would click in one one solitary thought. The horse needs to change leads.

I would begin. The bigger the mess the more excited I got. I would work and experiment and breakdown each movement. Sticky stifle? Club footed? Out of balance? Draggy hind end? I'd find it and work on it. Most of the time, I'd get it done too.

Then I'd start in on the client. I was always surprised and a little sad if they weren't as excited as I was. I'd drill 'em, and balance 'em, give them exercises both on and off the horse, make sure they understood rhythm, collection, leg sequence, front end vs. back...Most of the time, they'd get it too.

Then we would head for the show pen.

Most times, they'd get through. A shout would go up from those who knew of this horse's struggles with his lead change, a few of my fellow trainers would give me a "good job" head nod, my client would beam and complete their pattern. The score would be well out of the money,but by God, the damn leads got changed.


When the pressure was on, Ol' Spanky would fall back to his old ways, dump his inside shoulder to the north, hollow out his back and swing his hindquarters due south. He'd fling his head, snap his tail and show the world a mouth full of yellow teeth and a waggling tongue. For some reason, the client would panic, forget to hold him up with the inside leg while adding gentle intermittent pressure with the outside leg, hold the reins with just enough pressure to offer support, but not so much to slow down the horse, drive with both legs to encourage collection and ....

You guessed it. Said client would grab the horn with one hand, start to jerk the crap out of Spanky, drop their weight to the inside stirrup to make it easier to spur the shit out of the squalling bolting mess on the outside and go to town.

Either way, there were two end results.

 The client would sign on with another trainer. A much more savvy trainer. Kind words would be said about the kick ass job I had done getting Spanky to change leads.The new and improved Spanky would be sold for a good price. My ex-client would buy a very nice horse from the new trainer, one with a point and shoot lead change. The trainer would get a commission for selling Spanky, a commission for finding the new horse and charge my ex-client $200 a month more for training. Client would go on to win stuff and I would have yet another horse I trained making big wins an the local riding club.


My poor client would catch the fever from me, and head back to the drawing board, as hooked with my obsession to take Spanky farther than  life or Mother Nature had ever intended him to go. Those were the clients I kept for years.

I never learned what the more successful trainers in my field already knew. A bad-leaded horse can learn to change leads but they will still be bad-leaded. In the cow horse world this creates more work for the rider, who will have to carry the horse through his changes forever. Unless the run is flawless, you're looking at point hits every time.

A bad-leaded horse is going to have other problems, from a creating a rough picture, to a potential safety hazard. When I'm doing a fence run or changing directions while circling my cow, I don't want to be wondering where Ol' Sparky's feet are.

While my peers worked with the knowledge that to have a healthy forest you have to trim some saplings, I was so focused on that single tree, I ended up carving a totem pole.

But I'll tell you what, I can teach just about anything to change leads.

Guess the Mission Statement will have to continue tomorrow.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Draw Reins and Dressage - Who'd a Thunk It?

 This picture is from the FEI World Cup Dressage Final for Young Riders Show, Frankfurt, Germany Dec. 2010. Yes, this is a class. OK, very minimal research tells me this must be the warm-up arena. My first clue would be the fact that dressage is not a group class, the second would be the leg wraps and the third (I hope) is the butt-load of crap hanging off the horses head.

From what I understand, these are junior riders actually competing in a class. Not your neighborhood 4H, either (which of course would never allow their youth riders to compete IN DRAW REINS), but the FEI World Cup for Young Riders.

The next time somebody tells me about a horse that's been "cowboyed," I'm sending them this.
Better cowboyed than dressaged I'm thinking.

Truth? There are stupid people in every discipline. It isn't the saddle that makes the horseman.