Friday, March 24, 2017

Peter Campbell, Horseman and Clinician - Rest in Peace

My wife just told me last night that Peter Campbell had passed away, 22 March 2017. While we had never met Peter Campbell, it greatly saddened us none the less, for his families loss, as well as for students of the horse who will no longer have him in the flesh to teach.

Peter Campbell was known for his quote: “There are a million different ways to work a horse. For me, there’s only one right way, work from where the horse is at.”

He wrote a book, called "Willing Partners - Insight on Stockmanship", in which he writes about his journey as a horseman, insights gained from Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, and all the lessons Peter has learned. Really a valuable and easy read, everyone should get this book. It's available on Eclectic Horseman's site or through Peter Campbell Horsemanship.

Mr. Campbell produced a series of DVD's as well: Colt Starting (First Touch, Ground work and Saddling, First Ride; Horsemanship - Everyday Basic; Trailer Loading; Cow Working; and Ranch Roping - Beginning/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced. These videos are available from Eclectic Horseman as well as from Carlos Macias at Buckaroo

Western Horseman magazine and Eclectic Horseman Magazine's Horseman's Gazette DVD servies has featured Peter Campbell. I enjoyed reading what he had to say and watching him work a horse on a video. I think most everyone else would too.

God Bless you Peter Campbell - hope you find some good horses.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Texas Panhandle Fires

The Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday 12 March that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has declared six Texas Panhandle counties disaster areas after deadly wildfires there burning significant areas of Gray, Hemphill, Lipscomb, Ochiltree, Roberts and Wheeler counties.

The following information was obtained from 

Four people have died in the wildfires, including three ranch hands — Cody Crockett, Sloan Everett and Sydney Wallace — who were trying to save cattle from the approaching flames Monday. Officials say wildfires burned an estimated 750 square miles in Texas, displacing about 10,000 cattle and horses. This is the beginning of calving season and the fire, smoke and destroyed grass threatened not only newborn calves but the ability of calve to suckle as well as the mother cows to produce milk. The extent of damage, from burns to smoke inhalation, to surviving cattle won't be known for some time.

Abbott on Thursday suspended some permit requirements and transportation restrictions so hay for livestock could more quickly reach ranches. Ranchers and state agriculture officials are working to provide feed and other supplies for approximately 10,000 horses and cattle that fled the fires. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, which is helping organize donations of supplies, said that about 4,200 bales of hay would be needed during the next two weeks as ranchers recover from the fires.

The biggest wildlands fire I ever worked was just over 5,000 acres. With three BLM Cowboys, two of us Range Riders and one two man brush fire truck, we were having a hard time getting it under control and establishing a wet line around the perimeter until a U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew arrived. Looking at the rolling hills off on the horizon through the smoke and haze it was incredible to see a snaking line of about 20 first class firefighters class in their distinctive yellow coats approaching the northern end of our fire and breaking off into two teams to tackle the leading edge of the fire. It's important to get these fires out just as quick as you can, as high winds can push these Wildlands fires across wide dirt roads burning up section after section of grazing land and in some cases threatening or killing horses and cattle as well as the people who are trying to save them.

If you would like to donate to help the families devastated by the fires you can get information on the Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund at the Texas Farm Bureau site.  An update from yesterday, 13 March 2017, say's Livestock Supply Points ask everyone to help get the word out that hay supplies are adequate and they are only taking names of donor contacts in case there is an surge in need in the days to come. Fencing material and financial support were the next important need or hardship they face.  They can always use money!

For general questions about donation or needs, you can call: 806-677-5628, otherwise you can go to the Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund at the Texas Farm Bureau site and donate via the PayPal ink or get an address for donations by check.

Friday, March 10, 2017

New Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, Rides to Work on Day One

Largely from an article posted by CNBC. Well, that's one way to make an entrance. On his first day as Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke rode a horse to work. While wearing a hat. With an escort from the United States Park Police. According to the Interior Department, his ride took place from the National Mall, where the National Park Service has stables, to the Interior Department's main building, located just off the Mall. He was then greeted by more than 350 federal employees. There, a veterans song was played on a hand drum by a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee, who is from Montana's Northern Cheyenne tribe.

Also part of the welcome, former acting Interior secretary Jack Haugrud, greeted Zinke on the steps. Zinke accepted an invitation from the Park Police to "stand should-to-shoulder with their officers on his first day at Interior, the eve of the Department's anniversary," Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said. Zinke, who previously served in the U.S. House and as a Montana state senator, was confirmed by the Senate as Interior secretary on Wednesday. As a fifth-generation Montanan, born in Bozeman and raised in Whitefish, who is also the first person from the state to serve on a presidential cabinet, perhaps it should be no surprise that he's starting off his time at Interior in such a manner.

Zinke was a US Navy SEAL from 1986 until 2008, and retired with the rank of Commander. As a Navy SEAL, Zinke earned two Bronze Stars for meritorious service in a combat zone, four Meritorious Service Medals, two Joint Service Commendation Medals, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, and an Army Commendation Medal. He was the first Navy SEAL to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served as a member on the Natural Resources Committee and the Armed Services Committee. As a member of Congress, Zinke supported the use of troops in the Middle East and has fought against the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulation.

President Trump nominated Zinke to be his Secretary of the Interior. Part of that selection has to be due to Zinke breaking with most Republicans on the issue of transfers of federal lands to the states, calling such proposals "extreme" and voting against them. In July 2016, Zinke withdrew as a delegate to the Republican nominating convention in protest of a plank in the party's draft platform which would require that "certain" public lands be transferred to state control. Zinke said that he endorses "better management of federal land" rather than transfer.

On Feb 28th, 2017, Trump issued an executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers to rely on a 2006 opinion from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for guidance on how to determine which waterways fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the legislation under which the waters of the U.S. rule was issued. The Clean Water Act was intended to prohibit polluting discharges into the nation’s “navigable waters”, and says that the EPA can regulate “navigable waters” -- meaning waters that truly affect interstate commerce. But a few years ago, the EPA decided that “navigable waters” can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer's land, giving them statutory authority to punish farmers and ranchers from collecting rain water run off, repairing or improving dirt stock tanks, and the like. In fact, in one case in a Wyoming, a rancher was fined $37,000 a day by the EPA for digging a small watering hole for his cattle.

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers lost several court cases over their zealous enforcement of their interpretation of the CWA regulation. Part of what kept the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers going back at farmers and ranchers was that there is no punishment or penalties for losing in court. Some of the EPA regulations over challenging the agencies decision relating to fining you for your stock tanks repairs or rain run off diversion was heavy application fees, long wait times all while your fines compounded.

I don't much like the idea of the Federal Government owning a high percentage of western lands but I am likely more in the Zinke camp as to not being a fan of releasing that land to the states,...just desire better management and much fairer treatment to the farmers and ranchers. I have faith in Secretary Zinke working with President Trump to curtail expansive Federal agency power and regulations and find a good balance between effective federal management and supporting freedom and property rights.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Kind of Horseman Are You?

I have long recommended horse owners to subscribe to Eclectic Horseman (EH) magazine. Published six times a year by Emily Kitching and Steve Bell out of Elbert, Colorado, this magazine covers a wide breadth of disciplines and approaches. I offer a couple gift subscriptions in my annual Arena Obstacle Challenge. I am disappointed when riders sometimes choose hardware over the magazine. As John Lyons said, words to the effect anyway, "Buy knowledge before equipment." Not just knowledge in Eclectic Horseman magazine, but articles that will make you think. You may not agree with some of it, but again much of the content will make you think. Which brings me to the recent edition of EH, Issue No 93, January/February 2017.

One of the bigger articles in EH Issue No. 93 edition was titled - "Not 'Just Getting By': Mastery, and Why Few People Achieve It", by Deb Bennett, PhD. The Contributor bio of EH describes Deb Bennett as "she teaches unique anatomy and short courses and horsemanship clinics designed to be enjoyable to riders of all breeds and disciplines, and all levels of skill. International known for her scientific approach to conformation analysis, "Dr. Deb" has made a career out of conveying a kind of "X-ray" vision for bone structure to breeders and buyers. Her background helps her clearly explain how conformation relates to performance ability." Learn more at

Dr. Bennett's article pretty much challenges the reader to do some self introspection and see if they can find a description of themselves in the categories of riders she discusses, from people who ride for years and never get better, to the rider obsessed with getting better. On those who just aren't progressing, I know several people who would like to compete in the Arena Obstacle Challenges or events I go to, but after several years of riding and instruction they say they aren't ready. I say no time like the present and to treat the event like a training session which it is. After all, there are novice levels in about any local competition be it Western Shows or Dressage, Gymkhanas or Sorting. There are always people who will take the time necessary to make sure you are sacked out on what to do and are safe doing it. Of course, they will be people who like the idea of getting better much more than riding to get there.

She writes about competition and how some people, no matter how much they say they don't care about the results, just want to compete for the training value. Some of these will eventually get consumed by winning to the detriment of their horse.

I also liked, and found useful Deb Bennett's explanation of the learning or improvement plateaus which we all invariably face. In fact, I liked the article so much, well maybe like is not the right term, maybe 'found it educational' is a better way to describe it,...... anyway I'll be ordering extra copies of this EH issue so I can pass them out at the next event I host. There are other very good articles in this and other issues of EH as well - well worth the small subscription cost. And if you are a visual learner, Eclectic Horseman offers the EH Horseman's Gazette, which is a quarterly video with instruction from some of the best Horseman and Horsewomen in the country - also worth the nominal cost.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Three Hours with John Lyons

This past week I have the privilege of meeting John Lyons as he and his wife Jody and crew stopped in Las Cruces, New Mexico for a few days enroute to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and offered to do one of his "Three Hours with John" sessions. In the "3 Hours with John" format, Mr. Lyons addressed questions from a small group, 16 people in our case, and outlined his simple philosophy in training horses, using his 19 year old horse, Preacher. That's Preacher in the photo at right checking out all the stains on my hat.
As John talked, he allowed Preacher freedom to roam around and explore the area at Red Sky Farms, outside of Las Cruces and situated in the shadows of the beautiful and rugged Organ Mountains, calling preacher to lope over to him whenever he wanted to use him to explain a point.   

John, in his engaging manner, really tried to clear away a alot of mystique around horses, their behavior and training, explaining that it (horse training) is really simple which reminded me of the saying "It's simple, just not easy".
I'm not going to try and write about some of things John was explaining because I'll likely get it wrong and it would be a disservice to Mr. Lyons. But I will say that some of what he had to say is making me relook at what I do with horses, and that alone made the whole day valuable. As John was talking he would call Preacher over to him, demonstrating control on the ground of Preacher's head, neck, front and back ends through subtle use of the reins.

You can see the Organ Mountains in the background in the picture of john and Preacher, above left, and those rain clouds relented after two days of rain to give us a very cold, windy day.  As I looked down the line of people there to hear John, about everyone was wrapped in horse blankets - that was a fairly dedicated group. 

The most exciting part, at least for my wife, was when John had my wife stand between him and Preacher and cued Preacher to lope right at wife, stopping right in front of her. Now my wife has stood her ground many times in front of pushy or charging horses, so that wasn't too scary for her, but it demonstrated Preacher willingness to come when called, at any gait, and was a crowd pleaser. The picture at left is Preacher, my wife and John during this demonstration.

My wife and I first came across John Lyons over 20 years and were just not going to miss the opportunity to travel to meet him and listen what he had to say about horses. About 18 years ago I bought my wife John's series of Making the Perfect Horse books to use as a reference and to loan out to her riding students. John offered the usual assortment of books, manual, DVD's and equipment for sale, but made an important point that most people have a lot of equipment, so he always recommended buying knowledge before equipment.

After the session my wife and I talked to John and Jody, two of the nicest people you will ever meet, and promised to stay in contact with each other and discussed the possibility of John doing a session or clinic at our place in the next year. You can go to John's website and look at this schedule for the clinics he does around the country, as well as the knowledge products he offers which are well worth your money.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Can the Horse Train Itself to Trailer Load?

I received this question but am leaving the sender's name off: " Have you heard about backing a trailer up to a horse stall and feeding the horse in the trailer so that the horse has to go into the trailer if it wants to eat? A friend of mine did this and the horse is now comfortable at entering the trailer. I have been told this is a common technique so I was thinking about this safe and painless way to train a horse and would like to know if you have other applications for getting the horse to 'train herself', of course in a safe manner."

Not only I have heard about people, setting things up so a horse has to enter a trailer in order to eat and in effect teaching itself to trailer load, I have seen it several times. I had to shut it down one time when a boarder at a large public stables that I ran, about 15 years ago, tried that very thing and it went for two days without the horse loading itself and eating, so I had to intervene. While I did not see any evidence of it, I suspect other boarders were feeding that horse after hours.
I think if you just have to do this, then place the feed at the edge of the trailer and gradually place the feed deeper in the trailer so that the horse becomes more and more comfortable entering the trailer rather than an all of nothing approach, but I would still recommend getting your horse truly broke to lead.    

The concept of pressure and release used to build a relationship and train a horse are common place now, thanks to Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt and all the guys and gals that are carrying on that legacy, hands like Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert, Martin Black, Craig Cameron, Chris Cox and many others. But pressure and release is much more than that, as it is how the pressure is applied and particularly the timing of the release is critical. That's were all the aforementioned names likely have the greatest value to us, in trying to teach us the nuances and timing of using pressure and release. I'm living proof that you can embrace these concepts and 20 years later still struggle.
I can see how backing a trailer up to a stall and offering feed if the horse steps into the trailer would appeal to people thinking that the horse controls his own stress and gets the reward of feed once it overcomes it's fear, or maybe more correctly, once it's hunger is greater than it's fear. But later on, when wanting to load and go someplace, how are you going to ask the horse to load? Just throw a flake of hay upfront and hope he goes for it? As far as trailer loading goes, I think a handler needs to be able to lead or send a horse into the trailer.  In the past, I have used butt ropes and even a crop to tap the horse's butt to get him to load, but it wasn't until I heard someone say words to the effect "that if your horse is truly broke to lead then you should be able to lead or send him into the trailer."    

I think the human needs to be a participant in most everything with the horse. I can think of just a few things, standing tied comes to mind, where I would set it up for the horse to explore and learn on itself, then walk away, but I would never be too far away,....the horse is not staying tied for 8 hours or fact, standing tied would be something I would start with a small amount of time on and build on that gradually, about like anything else you do with horses.

I had a lady whose horse was scared of plastic bags that she was using on the end of a stick as a flag. The horse did not like the flag, so she tied a bunch of plastic bags all around a halter then turned the horse loose in a round pen (thankfully it was a round pen!). All I saw on the short video was about 15 seconds of the horse running full out around the pen and I was told that he did it for about 45 minutes. I think maybe the time was exaggerated - a horse running full out for that long,..well, it ain't good. I don't know any other method other than the pressure has to be controlled by the human in order to have an effective timing of the release so the horse has a chance to think and learn. After all you are wanting the horse to do something based on a cue from a human.

The idea of a horse being exposed to something (gradually) and getting used to it is valid and useful. But when applied to something that can adversely affect the horse's health and safety, like eating and gut movement, or the lack of it and subsequent increase in the chance of colic, kinda seems like throwing a 5 year old in the pond so he can teach himself to swim. There are usually some exceptions and I don't harbor any ill towards for my Pa for throwing me in the pond to learn to swim. The fact that he told me there were alligators in there likely shortened my learning curve to swim, but I wouldn't recommend the swim or die approach for horses.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tack Tip: Para-Cord Rein Connectors

I had a question from a reader on connecting conventional reins with trigger or other snaps to slobber straps, which of course you could do, you would just need a connector. No doubt someone has tied a loop with a piece of hay twine to a snaffle bit or to the shank of a leverage bit so they could snap reins into. Some likely did this to make it easy to change reins out, and others probably did it to eliminate the trigger or bolt snap's metal to metal contact with the bit.
See picture at right showing a para-cord rein connector between the trigger snap of the reins and the shank of the leverage bit.   In fact, somewhere I have seen riders using some sort of connector, other than just attaching reins to a bit using the water loops on the reins.

One aspect of slobber straps are to keep from having to connect rawhide or horse hair reins directly to the bit, saving the wear and tear of the reins moving against the bit and the horse's slobber from degrading or discoloring the reins.
Another benefit of slobber straps are that they add weight to the bit when the reins are loose so when the rider begins to pickup the reins the lightening of the weight of the connection between the reins, slobber strap/chains and bit were noticeable to the horse - sort of like a pre-signal. So, while not commonly done, attaching conventional reins with trigger snaps to the slobber straps can be done with a connector.

While I am not using connectors, I can see where they might be needed and can have additional uses as rein extenders for instance. If the reins were just a little short, 3-4 inch connectors of each sides of the bit can give the rider alittle more rein to work with.

I took some para-cord, also called 550 suspension line for parachutes, and went about making some quick detachable/re-attachable and re-useable connectors.  What I came up with is illustrated in the series of pictures below.  
I cut one 20 inch piece, and two 4 inch pieces of para-cord for each connector. I doubled up the 20 inch piece and tied an overhand knot combining the two running ends. I dressed down (tightened up) the knot then trimmed it. I melted the ends with a lighter.  See picture at left.
I took the smaller 4 inch pieces of para-cord and made girth hitches over the doubled up longer section.  I dressed up the knots, trimmed them and melted the ends together so the knot stays intact, but it will slide up and down the long piece of para-cord.  I'm calling these the girth knot keepers.  See picture above.
In the picture at right, you can see the over hand knot placed through the two pieces of the long section of para-cord.  Then you would slide the girth knot keepers up towards the overhand knot to tighten up against it and make a loop.  
You may be able to find beads that could replace the girth knot keepers and slide with enough friction to tighten up and make the overall loop.  It would probably look better too.     
In the picture below you can see how these para-cord connectors could connect trigger snaps reins to slobber straps if you were so inclined to used them.   

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Taking the Buck Out of a Horse


There is an old saying that working a fresh horse or a horse who has a tendency to buck in the round pen or on a lunge line won't take the buck out of him. There's a large amount of truth in this as if a horse wants to buck, he will. Besides why would someone intentionally get a horse who bucks until they get alot of that nonsense out of him. Melanie wrote in with the question: "I ride my horse mostly on weekends so by the time I take him out of his stall he has a bunch of pentup energy from being in his stall. I've been advised to round pen him to take the energy out of him but not only just this seem not to work very well, it takes away from my riding time. What else can I try to do? "

Melanie did not say how her horse demonstrates excess energy. It doesn't sound like her horse bucks or runs off with her, so I suspect that she needs her horse to look to her more as the leader. And warming him up before you rides can serve both - bleeding of some energy and getting him focused on you.   Sure, penning up young horse, or really any horse, for days on end is likely to make him want to go someplace.  And depending upon what you are feeding him - that could contribute a little bit as well.  But it's all going to come back to Melanie making herself the senior partner in this relationship.

Working a horse in a round pen before you ride him can help take the freshness out of him but it is really what you do and how you do it that will make the difference. Before you get him into the round pen, you can do things with him in a halter and lead to get him listening and looking to you. If he crowds you when you get in the stall, move him off; make him drop his head so you can get the halter on; if he gets distracted, bump him back to focus on you; you may want to go 15-20 seconds of lateral flexion while on the ground, before you move off; gets his front and back ends to disengage independently; as you lead him off see how little feel or change of weight in the lead line it takes to get him to move his feet; make him lead up correctly; stop him, back him again on as little pressure as it takes, but a much as you need.

All of this is reminding him that you are the leader. You can think of these things as pre-ride checks. I do them all of the time, every time. It also helps me gauge where the horse's mind is - they have bad days too you know.

The purpose of working a high energy horse in a round pen or on a lunge line before you ride him is not only to bleed off some of that energy, but more importantly to get the horse responding to you, seeing you as the leader. You do that by moving his feet, not by just letting him move around at whatever speed and direction he wants. This is important. As I help riders correct things like a horse drifting of as they mount or really most bad habits you can think of, I have them move the horse's feet. Almost everytime in the beginning, it's like the rider is just meekly asking the horse to move...... you need to think of it as insisting that they move their feet.

Rider's who previously kind of passively handled their horses will see an immediate change in their horses as they start insisting on things. Sometimes you may get an initial dose of resentment, but they are just trying to figure out if you really mean it and if they have to do it. Same as in a corral with other horses. You'll see ears pinned, teeth showing, necks stretched out and one of the horses will move.

Almost everytime I ride, I'll warm a horse up. In the round pen free lunging, or on a lunge line or using the lead line of my mecate reins. This serves to warm the horse up and let me look for any elements of discomfort and lameness, and also gets that horse looking to me for direction. I change direction often; I'll bump them on the lead if they distracted with something else; I have them stop and roll the back end back over (disengage the backend); I'll have them face me up and back up on vibration or slight shaking of the lead line; and, I will have them change speeds. And in everything, I try to work on as subtle as a signal as I can. Start as soft as you can, but use as much pressure as you need to, otherwise that horse is going to learn, and you can't blame him, that he doesn't have to comply or just comply with the least amount of effort. Kinda like your children when you get them to police up wind blown trash along a fence line.      

Lastly, if your horse is high energy under saddle, then re-direct that energy doing something. Make him move his feet. Back him with energy. Do circles. Double him against a fence. I think if you try all of the above you'll see a big difference, but understand being penned up for days on end is not the best thing for him mentally. Good luck Melanie and let me know how you are doing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Riding Better Circles

Riding your horse in a good circle, not necessarily a perfect circle, but a circle where your horse's foot falls are reasonably on top of each other is pretty hard to do for most riders and so it is always a good exercise to work on. Carol thinks so so she wrote to me asking: "I am having troubles doing a circle on my horse as she always wants to cut the circle so it becomes a curly cue. Any suggestions would be appreciated."

Circles is a tough thing for me to do well too, Carol. The first thing I'd look at is my riding posture. I have a tendency to slump rather than ride upright with a straight back, fact, I've been told I look like a hung over monkey when riding. But leaning, especially when doing circles or making turns is a more common issue.  
In may appear in the photo at right that I am leaning inside the circle, but if you draw a straight line from the horse's back, up the center of the cantle it should go through my head.   I am looking forward where I want to ride to and through.    
 It is easy to lean inwards towards the inside of the circle when riding circles. A horse will compensate when the rider is leaning. And although it would seem that leaning inside of the circle will push your horse to the outside, sometimes a horse will compensate by trying to move under the weight.
Just make sure that you are upright and centered over the saddle. It may help to have someone watch you or even video you so you can eliminate posture or balance as a problem.

It may help to use a ground aid such as traffic cones to mark a circle. A couple other ways to mark a ground circe would be to mark a circle in flour or even use a stake with a string tied to it and a stick on the other end to mark a circle on the ground. Any method will give you a ground reference on maintaining a circle.
 In the photos for this article, I am using a barrel in the center of my circle. The problem you may find using just a marker for the center of your circle, such as my barrel, is that you may tend to look inwards toward it and inadvertently give your horse a cue to cut the circle towards the center as looking inward will shift your hips, even slightly, and your horse can feel that change in your seat.
When I ride circles I try to tip my horse's head to the inside of the circle just enough so I can see the tip of his inside eye. My inside rein is slightly higher than my outside rein.  On the photo at left you can see my horse's head just tipped inside slightly so I can see the tip of his inside eye from my position in the saddle.
My outside rein is a supporting rein to keep my horse's head from tipping too far inside, but it is common for a rider to have the outside rein too tight so it retards the horse's momentum, or just tight enough so that when the horse's head dips with his stride he gets intermittent bump in the mouth through the bit and may raise his head - I'd watch for these things as well. 

I use my outside leg to give and maintain my horse's forward momentum while my inside leg is basically in neutral. A way to think about it is that your are trying to ride your horse around your inside leg getting a slight bend.
You would use more pressure on your inside leg if your horse's starts to cut the circle. Just like you would use pressure with your left leg to ask your horse to make a side pass to the right. 
At the photo (right) you can see my horse's inside rear foot (his left rear) stepping inside and forward of the right rear.  This is because we are cutting the circle - the problem you describe - and I am using inside leg pressure to push him back outside onto the circle.  It may also help to  slightly bend his head inside so that maybe you are seeing the entire inside eye rather than just the tip of it.         

One thing you can do to work on controlling your horse's barrel or otherwise getting some lateral movement during forward momentum is to ride your circles and intentionally expand them using inside leg pressure.  
Riding alongside a fence, like in the arena, and practicing small and larger circles ending back on the fence where you began is a good way to judge how decent your circles are, absent of having a ground circle to ride around.  And finally, just make sure your horse isn't cutting the circle because it's the most direct route back to his pen.  Good luck and safe journey.      

Friday, December 30, 2016

What to do about a Jiggy Horse

Samantha wrote to ask what she can do about her jiggy horse, "Hi. I was hoping you could help me with my horse Ulysses who just cannot walk or trot at a slow pace. When I take him out on the trails he walks very fast and when I turn around and start to come home he continually breaks into a trot. Please don't tell me to trot circles because I have done that and he just gets all sweatty and never walks. He does this when I ride alone or with friends so he is not buddy sour. He makes riding such a chore and I know he is not having a pleasant experience either. " 

Hey Samantha.  This issue of a horse wanting to set his own gait and speed has been one of the tougher problems to address for me trying to help a few riders with that issue. One of the reasons it is tough to address is that the horse is anxious and feels the rider's anxiety or frustration combined with the rider who usually maintains contact with the bit, maintaining tight reins, with further aggravates the horse.  Another reason is the rider is just a passenger and has not established any leadership over that horse, which is likely the primary reason and what fuels the rider's anxiety and therefore the horse's. 

Many of my horse will want to increase his speed at any given gait on the way back home, but I've really only had one horse who, when he was young, would constantly break into a trot from a walk.  He was around 4 years old and I was still building a relationship with him. What I did on him was ride him alot, going out on a long straight dirt road 13 miles long. When first heading out when he would try to break into a trot, I would stop him, back him with some energy then offer to let him stand on a loose rein. At first, I only had him stand for a few seconds before I picked up on the reins and cued him to move out.  At first you may only ask him to stand for two seconds; then 3 seconds, etc.   The idea is that you are trying to set him up to succeed, so don't ask him for more than he can give. 

When I'm offering the horse the chance to stand after backing, all pressure was off. The reins are loose and my seat is neutral.  Your timing has got to be good. As soon as the horse stops when you ask him, he needs to get that release. Or maybe think of it as 'as soon as he is stopping - meaning you can feel his momentum and feet slow, the reins should go slack'.

When he decided to increase his gait into a trot, I would repeat the process. Basically, I would not let him pick his own speed or gait. The best horseman out there call this "making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy." After a few time at this, I would cue him into a trot and we would trot sometimes a couple miles or so until he decided he wanted to walk, and when he would break gait (transition down) on his own, I would cue him into the trot again for maybe 50 more yards then stop him and offer him a chance to stand on loose reins. I would give him some time at the halt - maybe even a minute. But again, not letting him set his own speed or gait.

Sometimes if he broke into a trot from the walk, I would trot him in circles off the road onto the soft shoulders with deeper sand - more of a chore for him picking his feet up, therefore more work for him. If he slowed during these circles I would cue him to maintain the trot, until I was ready to stop.  These are the circles you are preferring not to be told to do!  The difference maybe is that I just did not turn my horse into a circle. I rode him with some energy in a circle.  It was my idea.  Then when I asked him to stop, that was my idea.  Then the standing with a loose rein was a rest for him.    

It wasn't all riding either. Alot of ground work too, so he experienced many chances to understand and do what I was asking of him where he was rewarded with a release of physical and mental pressure,....... and alot of rubbing, too.  He was one of the taller horses I've owned, at 15.2 hands, and seemed to be all legs and maybe part of his habit of picking his gait and speed problem were associated with his young age and his half Tennessee Walker, half Quarter horse breeding, but the bigger end of things changing had to do with him accepting that I was the leader .

I was riding out a couple weeks ago with a lady whose horse also had this problem, like yours of walking fast then breaking into a trot whenever he felt like it. So I had her do like I described earlier. When he was walking, try to rate his speed not just using the reins but with your seat and rhythm.  Not using the reins by pulling on both of them as the horse will usually just get bracey and push through it, but changing the angle of the reins.

When this woman's horse he would break into a trot, I had her stop him, back him with some energy then offer to let him stand. At first, only letting him stand for a second before cueing him to move out at a walk. If he tried to move off before she gave him the cue, I had her stop his forward momentum and back him again, with energy, several steps then repeat the offer to stand. The problem she was having was that she tried to back him slowly where her horse would be inclined to stop on his own.

Another problem was that the rider would not give a timely nor complete release when she stopped her horse, and also allowing her horse walk off before she cued him. All of this was diminishing the control and leadership she needed to build with this horse. When a horse decides to pick his own speed or gait, you just can't think "That's okay, I wanted to trot anyway." - it has to be your idea and he needs to respond to your cues.

When you do ask him for a trot, I suggest you do make circles and serpentines, therefore having him respond to your control. It would be important that if he did try to break down, then to cue him back to where you want him, then make it your idea to slow or change gaits. When you do offer him a chance to stand, there has to be a complete release - put slack those reins, and make sure your timing for that release is particular.

Much like some horses that need to bolt once or twice to understand that they don't need to run away, some horses need a lot of work to appreciate a break through a slower gait, or stopping and standing.

When you get back to your home stables, don't always take him straight to unsaddling. This is going to be a release for him and therefore he will seek it and be jiggy on the trail...wanting to get home and get that release.   Instead do some work on him when you get back and do it with some energy. In fact, you can ride him out a short distance, and bring him back and if he is jiggy then do some work to get him to associate going back home isn't always associated with a release.  This is much like what you would do with a horse in the arena who was always wanting to move to the gate - make being close to the gate associated with a lot of work, and make away from the gate where you give him a break.

Trying what I am recommending is going to wear you out in the short term. You may not fix it totally, but you should be able to make it much more acceptable and certainly more acceptable than riding a horse that just picks his own speed and gait.  Because if he does so, he is being allowed to do so, and you are really not a rider anymore,..... you are just a passenger   Safe Journey.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Keeping Horses Healthy in the Winter

We're pretty lucky here in the Tularosa Basin as it is a rare winter, and really only short parts of it, that provides a challenge to managing our horses. Mostly it's keeping water lines from freezing and ensuring the horses have free access to fresh water, but that's not the only thing they need.

If you keep horses stabled in the winter and you are subject to bad weather, or just weather too cold for you to ride in, it is easy to over look the exercise needs of your horses. It isn't just about physical exercise, either,....horses that don't get ridden, turned out or even exercised on a line or a walker are more susceptible to mental issues. We all know that horses get fearful, and I think they get depressed as well and there's nothing like being confined for long periods of time to create that.

I see too many horses spending virtually their entire lives in small pens and that saddens me greatly. If you happen to be one of these owners, then please take a moment to look at your horse's life from their perspective.

Maybe being too cold to saddle up and ride out is a blessing as it can creates short blocks of time where we can pull a horse and do some ground work: Backing off a slight feel or vibration in the lead line; coming to you with a slight tension in the lead; getting your horse to side up over to you like you are on a platform and want to mount; sending your horse in a straight line; sending him into the trailer; doing half circles with forward momentum; turning a horse who is okay about having his feet handled into a horse that is very good about his feet; sacking him out on a flag, or a tarp or really anything that he may be fearful of; and the list of things you can do in short sessions just goes on.

If you do ride or exercise your horse then remember that he still needs an adequate period of cooling off before you give him access to feed and water.

I know some of you are looking at national weather reports and thinking that "Boy, those folks in the desert Southwest have it easy with relatively high temps" and you would be right, and we are grateful for not breaking ice everyday. This week's national weather map showing 15 degrees in Minnesota and 7 degrees in Southern Idaho making West Texas at 34 degrees this morning seem pretty tropical, but you add in a 20 mph wind and the wind chill factor makes it 24 degrees. Sometimes that wind just cuts through to the bone. So consequently a wind break for the horses, such as a three sided shelter, will help keep your horses warmer and more blood in their system going to the digestive tract rather than the legs and neck to warm them helps lessen the threat of colic.

I not big blanketing fan, but don't hesitate to using the appropriate blanket when the temps or weather conditions warrant this. I get sent a lot of questions asking for guidelines, but the horse's age and overall health have a lot to do with a decision to blanket, so that question is hard to answer. All I can say is that on my thin haired horses, I'll blanket when the temps are in the high 20's, sometimes the low 30's,  most of the time.

I have an enclosed 18' x 14' brood mare stall, which doubles for a hospital stall as well for any horse recovering from an injury or illness that necessitates that. I have to be careful to ensure the accumulated ammonia from horse urine and the dust isn't a health hazard. I have a wide vent all the way around the top of the brood mare stall to help with the ventilation and therefore the horse's respiratory health.

The winter months can actually increase feed requirements as your horse burns more calories to stay warm. We usually throw extra grass during the cold winter days to keep the horses gut moving and give them something to do to reduce boredom. So just a reminder to be conscious on your horse's body condition in case he starts dropping weight.

Most people reading this hopefully know better and this serves either as a reminder or to just take up space.  Besides already knowing something has never kept my wife from telling me again,.....and again. Hope everyone' post Christmas is peaceful and blessed. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas to everyone from Functional Horsemanship and the Red Bird Ranch. Last weekend we did our annual Christmas Ride, with horse back riders, truck and hay trailer, tractor and wagon delivering Christmas cheer and candy bags to anyone we met along the route - then back to the property for Chili and Tamales around a fire pit.

There's a saying to the effect that bringing joy to others is good for the soul,...and if you can do it on horseback even better. We halted often to let parents get pictures of their children in the saddle and of course, with Santa Claus.
 The best thing is seeing the smiles from children and adults alike when they get up close and are able to rub on a horse. Again this year we had a little boy waiting on us who had such a hard time keeping his thick, heavy eye glasses on his nose...just waiting in the chilly afternoon for a chance to hug a horse.

I hope everyone has a peaceful Christmas and gets to spend it surrounded by family and friends,....and good horses. There are many Americans away from home serving this country who wished they could be home - please think of them, as we honor their sacrifices and celebrate Christmas as a joyful time, as we are the most blessed people on this earth, being given the gift of Christ. God Bless and Safe Journey.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Laying a Horse Down and other Gentling Methods

Martha wrote to ask about trying to get over the hump on a real anxious horse. "Dear Sir, I was in a clinic watching a trainer laying a horse down onto the ground on his side to get the horse to trust him. One of my friends said that you can do the same thing with draping a towel over the horse's head so it can't see and has to learn how to trust the person. I have a horse that is always being hyper and can't hardly stand still and was wondering if laying him down on the ground or doing the towel training with my friend's help would help. Sincerely, Marta."

I've laid a few horses down and am ashamed to say the first few times I did it, it didn't need to be done. In other words laying the horse down was for me and not for the horse. In fact, it is likely it did some good only once. One time it took me 20 minutes from start to getting him to lay down. This was about 10 years ago and once I got started and I couldn't just stop and allow that horse to understand his resistance was successful. I remember hoping nobody saw me. Not that I was embarrassed about taking so long, but just embarrassed because I realized I was doing this just for me - that the horse did not need this at this point, nor really ever would benefit from laying down.

So I have to say that laying a horse down is not something I would suggest unless I was there in person to see the horse and the issues with the horse and even then it would be a high probability that I would recommend against it.

As far as what you mentioned on 'towel training', I have used a shirt to do blindfold training so the horse would allow me to have control on the ground, leading him with a shirt wrapped over his head. I was doing this so I could do it again if I had to lead him through smoke or a fire, or to cover his head to protect him from hail during a storm.  It came in handy a few times, actually.

What I found out was that this helped the horse mentally quite a bit, making him more soft and accepting, so there is some merit or use to your described towel training, however my primary motive was to prepare him when I needed to cover his head.

You do have to have an element of trust with your horse when you can drape a cover, like a rain slicker in the photos, and lead him on the ground or ride him.

 His steps will be tentative as, of course, his sight is taken away, his sense of hearing is somewhat degraded and some horses will have to gentled in handling their head and particularly their ears before you can start....but all goods things for the horse. But I don't think it's going to replace laying a horse down, when that is necessary, because when laying down a horse his flight ability is taken away.

There are some other issues that can contribute to a horse appearing to be what you call hyper-active: Excessive feed and/or high sugar content in feeds; horses not being ridden much.  You have to teach him through pressure and release, what you expect of him. Sometimes I have started of with a horse that can stand quiet by working him with some energy (this is the pressure) then offering him a chance to stand quiet (this is the release).  Sometimes standing quiet will only last a short time, but if it is an improvement, then take it and build on it.

Now I want to be real clear on this next point as it is just my observation and I mean no offense to anyone................Most people I work with are ladies. The issue with ladies is that a much larger percentage of women have more empathy for their horses than men have for their horses. But women are more likely to let their horses get away with behavioral issues perhaps viewing their horses as equal partners, as opposed to being the leader of the team.  In some cases this contributes to the horse being non-respectful such as moving his feet anytime he wants to, or pushing into the handler's space, and pulling on the lead line or reins.
On the other hand some men just seem to have too much ego, some of the time, wrapped up into horses, taking non-compliance from the horse personally, and are more likely to see the horse as a replaceable tool.  I used to be that way, and frankly, like an alcoholic, am always cognizant that I likely have the personality where I can still regress to that.    

There is no doubt that some of the best horse people are women and I have no doubt there are thousands of women who are a better horsemen than I am or will be.  What I can't understand is that generally women have no problem telling men what to do - my wife sure doesn't.  So  an example is putting the toilet seat down - so  I know ladies have it in themselves to be the boss of a partnership.  It doesn't mean being unfair, just means being in charge.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

National Day of the Horse - 13 December 2016

National Day of the Horse, never knew this existed until I started getting e-mail feeds from tack shops and suppliers on deals commemorating today. A quick google search brought me to Dennis Reis' site, Reis Ranch, where an article said that Dennis and Deborah Reis were the sponsors and authors of the 2003 National Day of the Horse. On November 18, 2004 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 452, recognizing December 13th as the National Day of the Horse.

The National Day of the Horse encourages the people of the United States to be mindful of the contribution of horses to economy, history and character of the United States. You can go to this link, Reis Ranch National Day of the Horse post, and read the legislative sponsors and co-sponsors as well as those in business and media who supported this effort.

There is a Facebook page supposedly dedicated to the National Day of the Horse. I haven't looked at it, but here is the link - Facebook National Day of the Horse.

I am grateful on a daily basis for being able to own horses, if owning is the best term for it. I am aware that there must be some people who sometimes see horses as a burden. I hope I am never one of those people. As most of us spend too little time in the saddle, comparatively speaking, I'll have to remember the blessing of just sitting there on a rail fence and watching them eat or interact with each other, or smelling their breath after eating hay - both are remedies for most ills. And sometimes on a cold day, I'll just press my face into a horse's neck and enjoy the warmth of their soft hair.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Hammonds and the Heavy Hand of Federal Land Management

One of the biggest political issues in the Western United States is Federally owned and managed land as it pertains to use by the public for recreation and by ranchers who lease Federal lands, often adjacent to their own private property, in order to graze cattle and other livestock.

It give me no pleasure to write derogatory comments about the US Government or it's agents. I was once a soldier and later a Federal Conservation Law Enforcement Officer and worked with various Federal Law Enforcement agencies and State game law and land management agencies including the BLM, all of whom I got along with well and thought highly of. The BLM office I worked with always struck a balance between helping the ranchers who won grazing bids and performing effective management of the grazing units.

Most of us either have a passing knowledge of, or have seen news coverage on the Bundy standoff in Southern Nevada as well as the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Central Oregon, where in January 2016 where armed men, one of them Ammon Bundy - son of Cliven Bundy the central figure in the Nevada BLM standoff, did what they did in order to get a platform for their views that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies are constitutionally required to turn over most of the federal public land they manage to the individual states. This group (referred to as militants in most news media) believed they could help their cause as well as protest the government's prosecution and sentencing of the Hammonds, two Central Oregon ranchers convicted of terrorism through federal land arson, even though the Hammonds publically stated that they did not want their help.

I am not writing about the Bundy's, the Nevada standoff nor the Malheur Refuge occupation. I am however writing about what I think is a much clearer cut version of injustice - and that is what happened to the Hammonds.

Dwight and Steven Hammond own the Hammond Ranch which is reported as 13,000 acres surrounding by State and Federal land, some of which the Hammonds leased for grazing rights. In 2001, the Hammonds conducted a controlled burn to mitigate an invasive plant species from taking over, and in 2016, set a back fire to protect their private property from a huge wildlands fire that was on federal property heading towards them. Both fires combined, burned less than 150 acres. While 150 acres may sound like alot, I assure you that while any fire is a concern due to it's potential to rapidly expand and threaten resources and life, 150 acres is a pretty small fire. I have been on crews of less than 6 men working much larger fires, so I know that smaller fires can be effectively and safely managed by two men. Men, I might add, who had an interest in seeing the land managed efficiently, and protected effectively, as their very livelihood rested on it.

Anyway, the Federal Government brought criminal and civil charges against the Hammonds, charging them under 18 USC § 844, the penalties section of 18 USC Chapter 40 - Importation, Manufacture, Distribution and Storage of Explosive Materials, or often called the "Anti-Terrorism Act" which was designed to prosecute terrorists targeting infrastructure.

18 USC § 844 (Penalties): Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or any institution or organization receiving Federal financial assistance, shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years, fined under this title, or both.

In the criminal case against the Hammonds, the presiding Judge evidently understood what the intent of the law and penalties were for, and reduced the minimum sentence for Dwight and Steven Hammond to 90 days and 366 days, respectively.

The BLM and the Malheur Refuge Land Manager appealed the "short" sentences to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco,...sentences that really should have never occurred in the first place, which resulted in harsher sentences of five years for each and a large fine - in the area of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the Hammonds had to agree to offer their ranch to the government first if they ended up selling out.

There are several things that will bring more perspective to what most people would already see has a transgression of justice:

~ The Hammond Ranch has been planned for acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under their future planning processes, showing desire and intent to obtain the Hammond Ranch even though the Hammonds had no intent to sell. Look at the map and you can see why the Hammond's ranch is desirable by the Government;
~ That the BLM manager and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Manager, both who represented their respective local organizations within the federal government, in appealing the Hammond's earlier shorter sentences in favor for longer sentences, are a couple, married or otherwise - this is what the FBI calls a "clue", and in this case a conflict of interest;
~ The Federal Government offered to drop the, basically trumped up charges, if the Hammonds would give the government their private land;
~ The Hammonds Grazing Permit is being challenged by the BLM and has not be released to the Hammonds;
~ The most conspiratorial views would think the government initiated a thinly veiled blackmail threat - threat of prosecution and imprisonment, or land sale. The Hammonds elected to bow up against the government, standing for their rights,......they paid a price.

I think that no matter what your views are on grazing or land conservation, or politically, whether you are a liberal or a conservative, I just think that most people would agree that the intent and sentences under the Anti-Terrorism Act were not meant to punish ranchers who were just, in the absence of proper government land management, ended up using common practices to decent land management and protection goals. I am asking all readers of this site to take a moment and send an e-mail to their House and Senate representatives asking to remedy this.

There is a bill introduced by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) on 14 July 2016, titled - H.R.5815 - Resource Management Practices Protection Act of 2016, that would prohibit what happened to the Hammonds from happening to other law abiding hard working ranchers, by barring prosecution under 18 USC § 844, in certain cases such as: the damage or destruction, or attempt to damage or destroy, by means of a fire that is set by a person to property owned by the person to prevent an imminent threat of damage to that property; or as part of any other generally accepted practice for managing vegetation on timber, grazing, or farm land; and it (the fire) does not pose a serious threat of injury to any individual or damage to any building, dwelling, or vehicle of the United States; and does not result in death or serious bodily injury to any individual.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Horses Need Salt All Year Long

I was at several cow horse events recently at different large horse facilities and as I walked around I noticed none of the stalled horses had access to a simple plain white salt blocks. It's true these horses could be getting electrolytes or salt dressed in their grain or pelleted feed, but not likely. Maybe the owners or barn managers thought that since the hot weather is gone so is the need for salt.

The lack of Sodium, or what most of us just call salt, can result in poor performance in horse speed or athletic events; make it more likely that a horse's muscles will get sore and stiff - referred to as tying up; or even affect the horse not being able to sweat adequately which is part of their evaporative cooling system. A lack of salt in the horse's diet can aggravate dehydration as it could cause a horse not to drink an adequate amount of water,.....and drinking less water is a factor for colic.

As with about anything related with a horse's nutritional needs and feeding programs, a person can go crazy trying to balance nutrients, electrolytes and minerals. A friend of mine used to keep a large tray of loose salt for horses' free consumption believing that a salt block couldn't provide was the horse needed because it was too hard to lick. He had to keep that salt tray out of the weather, inside the covered portion of the horse's stall, and as I remember, it collected a lot of dirt and sand.  And I have tried adding powdered or granulated minerals to my horse's feed only to have them get adept at eating around it.     

My horses are on dry feed, as pasture is hard to find here in West Texas. I choose to feed both grass (coastal Bermuda) and alfalfa for several reasons: 1 - I don't believe my horses need that high of percentage of protein in their feed as alfalfa is around 18-20% protein (grass hay is usually around 10-12%; 2 - the grass hay is usually in longer stems which slows down the horse eating, and provides good roughage; and 3 - the grass and alfalfa mix maintains a good ratio of Calcium and Phosphorus in the diet.     

Horses also need other minerals and it's hard to get all the minerals in dry hay. A mineral block is often suggested as an alternative, when pasture can't be accessed, but I have yet to have or even seen a horse who will lick a mineral block.

There are solutions other than a standard mineral block - which you find in your local fed store's as a trace-Mineralized block. Redmond Equine offers a rock shaped salt block that is advertised as containing over 60 minerals. I have one of these in each of my horse's feeders. I hope that the horse's will lick on it from time to time or have the movement of the rock in the feeder wearing minerals off the rock as it gets moved around with the hay. I can't say that any of my horse's lick these rocks, but at least it gives me alittle peace of mind that's it there. You can always topdress your horse's grain or hay with Redmond Crushed Rock loose mineral salt supplement, but again I have not had much luck in getting horses to like loose minerals crushed or not.  

I also feed a pelleted feed, now feeding about 2 lbs of Standlee mixed Timothy Grass - Alfalfa pellets in the evening which really just provides an additional source of dry, compressed hay, but the Timothy hay is different than the Bermuda I feed in bulk. It also keeps my horses used to that pelleted feed in case I have to feed more of than because of a lack of availability of hay for trips into the mountains. Pelleted feed is also handy for using it to introduce supplements which I have one horse on a hoof and joint supplement.

My mainstay is that throughout the year I ensure each horse has a standard white salt block. I leave them out in the open exposed to the rain and dirt, so I have to routinely clean them which only takes a few minutes once a week or so, if that.

The bigger issue I have with salt blocks is the holders in which I place them. I have several types of holders, some without drain holes and others with drain holes underneath the salt block so that the block doesn't allow them to drain water.

And if they can't drain water then the accumulated sand and dirt builds up and makes it difficult to clean. I resolved that problem by drilling a bunch of holes in the bottom and sides of my salt block holders. See the picture below of the salt block holders I drilled more drainage holes in.

I think that if you are unsure what to do, consider at a minimum providing your horses with a white salt block as this is an easy and cheap solution to provide adequate sodium into their diet. Some horses, likely not the majority of them, will chew on the salt block out of boredom.  And while horses generally have a high tolerance to excessive salt, if you have a horse that appears to eating or biting of large chunks of the block then I would remove it until you can talk to your vet about it with an idea on how much the horse is digesting.  You may notice the horse drinking a lot of water and there may an excessive amount of urine in the horse's stall. This habit is generally because of the horse being bored.   

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How do I choose the right bit for my Horse?

Jessica wrote to say "I have a new horse and she is four years old. I have been riding her in a halter but I need to put a bit in her mouth. What should I be looking for when I try out different bits, so do you think there is a particular type of bit that I should be using on her? I want to start right and go slow so I don't have any problems down the road with her. Thanks, Jessica."

Generally horses are started, which means their training begun, with a snaffle bit. Training really begins much earlier upon the first time the horse is handled, and continues into ground work and all the things you do to prepare a horse to accept a saddle and rider. Since you can ride your mare in a halter then you are doing something right, and your plan to go slow and do it right is certainly the right approach - good for you.   

The snaffle bit is a non-leverage bit that it broken (or what you may think of as hinged) in the center of the mouthpiece. The snaffle bit works by providing a signal on the horse's tongue, bars of the mouth (space between front teeth and molars), and/or the corners of the mouth depending the mouthpiece of the bit, how it is seated or fitted to the horse, and of course how the rider handles the reins. Pressure applied by tension on one rein also has a pulling effect on the other side of the mouth through the snaffle bit.
While a rider can certainly begin a horse to neck rein on a snaffle bit, the snaffle bit is generally used through a direct rein. The picture above left is a typical snaffle bit.

The snaffle bit, not having a lot of leverage like a shanked bit, can be more forgiving to a horse's mouth on a horse, who for the first time, has to carry it and to the rider who may have quicker of harsher hands than is necessary.
Two things about the snaffle bit that riders sometimes do not understand are that the broken mouthpiece of snaffle bit can pinch the horse's tongue - even cutting it, and that the broken mouth piece can "tent" - making a peak and poke the roof of the horse's mouth causing a lot of pain.
 Sometimes a horse will accept or be more comfortable with a snaffle bit that is connected in the middle with a short piece which can be a roller or dog bone shaped, hence the name "dog bone snaffle".  See the picture above right. I like the copper roller for one of my mouthy horses - it also keeps his mouth moist.    

Snaffle bits, being non-leverage bits, do not provide much control on a run away horse or a horses in speed events like barrel racing.
Leverage bits have a shank that the reins connect to providing more leverage for the rider on the horse's mouth and also by activating or tightening the curb strap or chain under the horse's jaw.  Could have a nut cracker effect if the curb chain is too tight when the reins are loose and the rider pulls harshly.   
The picture above left is a broken bit with shanks, or you can think of it as a leverage bit with a snaffle mouth piece. In fact some people call this an Argentinian Snaffle.
Pretty much all the bits I have bridled up right now are snaffles and the lone leverage bit with the broken mouth piece.  I have several medium port solid bits but haven't used them recently. 
I guess what I am trying to write is that all bits can cause pain if used incorrectly.  I winch when I am at an event and I overhear someone saying "Did you see the way that horse stopped?  I've got to find out what type of bit he is using."  What I saw was the horse's head flying up trying to escape the pain of the bit pulled quickly and harshly in his mouth.
The idea is to use bits in such a manner as to signal the horse before that pain is applied. It's not the bit that creates the pain, it is the rider's hands. I hear too many comments from rider's that suggests a false understanding that when your horse is not performing right then you need a more severe bit. What is usually needed is a different approach. So I really can't suggest a bit for you and your horse other than a snaffle is a good place to start, but don't fall into the trap of continuously going to a different bit hoping to solve your training or performance problems.  I've been there and I would like to forget I was that guy.    
Another place to start would be if you buy a horse then find out what bit he has been used with and maybe start from there, but again, it's going to be the rider's application of the bit and the relationship he/she establishes with the horse that is going to make the difference.

I would highly suggest attending all the clinics you can, even just auditing the clinics. Horse's aren't born knowing how to understand what a human handler wants, nor are humans born capable of understanding and communicating with prey animals. So it is the human who must adjust and help the horse.  One of the coolest things is to see a horse try with the slightest pressure then see that horse demonstrate he accepts and understands what you are asking by giving more and doing it quicker.  I wish my wife would appreciate the subtlety of my efforts as I try to do with a horse.....week by week I am getting closer to getting honey-dos done.