Monday, June 19, 2017

Lateral Flexion - How Much is Enough?


I gave a client a series of things to do with her horse as a warm up or pre-ride check, not only to check to see if her horse with her before she rides but to continue getting her horse softer and more responsive. One of the things was to ask her horse for lateral flexion. I showed her how to ask it for it during ground training while her horse is in a halter, and when that gets good it transfers to when in the saddle, however from horseback she'll have to ask for lateral flexion with the reins, whether she is riding in a bit or a hackamore.

After working with her horse she got back to me with some questions which are likely pretty common so I am including them in this article.

"Why does my horse do well (giving softer to the feel on the rein asking for lateral flexion) for a couple times, then start to be harder to pull around?"   While you want to get to the point that you can barely pickup the rein to get your horse to give laterally (or vertically when asking for that), sometimes in the beginning when you pickup the rein, if he doesn't bend, you will have to bump him (short tugs)  as a stronger suggestion to get him to give. As soon as he gives and is not pulling on the rein then release, but you need to hold until he does give - meaning no tension on the rein.

I like to wait a few seconds before asking again even if asking on the other side. This gives him time to absorb the lesson about giving and getting a release. If you rapidly ask and release, ask and release, ask and release, then there may as well be no release because that's likely the way he see's it.

"How far should I bend him (how much lateral flexion is enough?)"   I know some people want the horse to give all the way so his nose is touching your stirrup or leg. All horse's are different so there are some that this would be physically hard to do. I don't see the point in it anyway. I can't think of anything I do with my horse where I need this over extended flexion. If a horse gives you, say around 100-110 degrees each and every time you ask, then how much more do you need?  In the photo at right, my horse is giving me well over 90 degrees. I can use that much lateral flexion.  In the photo at the top right of this article, the horse is giving me somewhat less than 90 degrees - I need a little bit more than that. 

I know some people are going to write me and say horse's should be able to give all the way so their nose is touching their barrel.  Yep, I see horses bite their sides and do other feats of equine gymnastics all the time, but that doesn't mean I need for them to do that when I'm in the saddle. 

In the diagram below,  I tried to draw a horse display straightness and then lateral flexion - BTW I'm not artist and I know that surprises few people, but if we can't agree that the picture below looks like a horse from above, then we simply can't be friends - anyway in Figure 2 below, it's supposed to show the horse giving to around 90-100 degrees of lateral flexion. Figure 3 shows a horse gives much more than that, somewhere around 150-160 degrees lateral flexion and again, some people actually want their horse's to touch their nose to the rider's boot or the horse's shoulder. While I'll admit I don't ride high end performance horses, I can't see any point to asking for such lateral flexion.  Let me re-phrase that,......I see some trainers really cranking on a rein to get the horse to give laterally as much as physically possible.... I while I can see asking for as much as the horse can give, I just don't see the point in demanding it. 


      




Friday, June 2, 2017

More on a Horse That is Suddenly Spooky



Dinka D wrote a comment on Horses that are suddenly spooky. "I hope you don't mind me posting another question on spooky horses. I have an 8 year old Arabian who is usually bold and inquisitive out on the trail. Not much phases him, but there are times when he seems to check out mentally. I work with him on the ground and I ride him several times per week. I have noticed that he is particularly spooky in the late afternoon, both on the trail and in the sand arena. He can be downright dangerous in the arena. Last night I was forced to up my energy and ask him to gallop around on the lead line, because it was obviously what he wanted to do. His eyes were on stalks as he stared at a couple of children playing in the distance. It was just ridiculous. He worked up a lather and still wanted to spook, but I got him to calm down somewhat. I then rode him, asking for only a walk, since this was the most challenging thing for him. I managed to walk him for a good 20 minutes or more, even to relax his frame and lower his head. Yet he still kept trying to look over to the side of the arena where he obviously felt there was danger. I could not get him to focus properly or to bend his body, mainly because touching him with the lower leg set him off into a jog. Speaking of jogging, on the trail at dusk he will jig jog like an idiot. I have used different methods to cut out jigging in the past, but it seems it all goes out the window at a particular time of day. My problem is, with full time work dusk is often the only time I can ride.. and I am tired of dealing with a nervous wreck. I wonder what else I can do, besides what I've done so far."

Right off I think there are two main reasons for horses mentally checking out, demonstrated by looking away or not paying attention to the handler or rider, or not taking cues in a timely manner like they usually do. First of all in a new area, like trailering to a new arena or trail head, it would be common for many horses to be curious or outright concerned about the different environment and events around them, especially if there is lots of activity. I was riding a horse the other day who I have had on cattle many times. He was routinely drawn to a fence line with signs, where he could only see the feet and lower legs of the cows on the other side. So when loping circles closet to that fence I had to keep redirecting his head to the inside.  Second, if you are doing the same thing over and over, the horse may be getting bored. It will usually be evident as your horse will be late on cues and dull in gait and speed transitions, and turn arounds. The difference in the first and second reason is that when the horse is bored you will be able to feel and see a lack of body tension and mental tension.

With you horse having issues seemingly only in a certain time of day, like the late afternoon as you describe with the lower direct sunlight, he may have a eye condition. One of these would be Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU), which many people call Moon Blindness, which is an immune response type condition where the horse body's own immune cells may attack eye tissue. These attacks produce signs such as squinting, tearing, "red eye," a cloudy eye, swelling and sensitivity to the sun. Horses can get it from a bacteria infection caused by dirt or dirty water, or a viral infection, and flies can bring in a disease. And obviously any visual impairment could cause a horse to be more easily spooked.  I have an older horse, around 20, who we thought had ERU or otherwise an eye condition which clouded up his right eye and make him spooky on things to his right (blind) side. Many tubes of Opthalmalic ointment did nothing. Later I went though a bottle of Vetricyn eye ointment and ensured he always wore a fly mask when he could. Much to our surprise his condition cleared up. Much of his anxiety with things on his right side (his bad side) went away.  So I would think any eye or vision problems is something you have to look at to rule out.

Something may spook a horse at a specific location, which could have that horse looking for it to happen again until that current expectation dulls with time. I'd make it a point to set up a rest at that location.    

It can be really frustrating correcting a horse who is continually buying into to his own fear.  I would make doubly sure that my frustration is not apparent or otherwise contributing to his anxiety.  I would be inclined to do a lot of things to keep that horse focused on me and what I was asking.  I am not saying to wear him out physically - there is a perception, really a misperception, that a person can work the buck or spook out of a horse through sheer density of his workload, as you need to change his perception not get him head dropping worn out.     

But what I would do is set things up for him to think or search for the right thing.  I think the thing to do or a least to try on your Arab is to get his mind engaged.  After all we're trying to put a thinking pause before that fear reaction.  So I think it's key to give our horse's a pause to learn. An example may be when you ask for lateral flexion and when he gives it don't release. He may likely try to pull his head away, but just maintain that hold.  It may take him 5 seconds or 45 seconds but he'll look to do something else to get the release.  Since his head is bent, it is likely his move his back end away from the bent, and just as soon as he tries, give him a release, a rubbing on his neck, a 10-15 second pause to absorb that lesson before you do it again.            

If I'm doing turn arounds on the fence, after getting it right with a good effort, I may stop and let my horse rest.  I may set it up so the rest spot is the location where he has the most trouble with spooking.  If I'm loping circles and changing speeds (sitting trot to a posting faster trot) and he puts effort into doing that, again I'll stop him recognizing his effort and stop him again at the point where he has the most mental trouble at.  In the beginning he's likely to still have happy feet - showing his anxiety by moving his feet.  I would correct him immediately by directing his feet such as trotting or loping tight circles, or even backing in a circle then offer him a chance to stand again. 

I fear I haven't been much help but I really hope you can get your horse to quieter place as you have many years ahead with him.  As an Arab he is more hot blooded then say an average Quarter Horse, but I've seen too many good Arab not to know its possible.  Good luck and safe journey.      
    

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Randy Rieman Horsemanship Clinic 13-14 May 2017


My wife and I were very fortunate to ride in both days of a Randy Rieman Clinic in neighboring Las Cruces, New Mexico this past weekend. I had never met Randy before, but had talked to him on the phone about the rawhide reata my wife bought from him for a birthday present to me years ago (my wife is awesome) and about Montana history - my Granddad built a ranch North of Livingston in the early 1900's. Randy is a noted rawhide braider having learned that skill from Bill Dorrance.

 Las Cruces area horseshoer, James Eguires met Mr Rieman in Hawaii while Randy was there starting colts for the famous Parker Ranch on the Island of Oahu, and arranged for the two day clinic. The night before the clinic, James and his wife Ja-Kee, hosted Randy and clinic attendees at their home in Mesilla Valley for a meet and greet with Randy, who after a dinner treated us to a couple Cowboy poems, including 'The Man in the Glass'.


When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.


We appreciate that Randy took eight days out his schedule, six of those were driving days, back and forth from Montana, to come to all the way down here to help less than 20 riders. However, that worked out well for those who attended as Randy gave individual attention when asked and where needed - those are not mutually inclusive. Randy travels all over to give horsemanship and problem solving clinics including travel to Germany and Switzerland.  If he comes to your area, don't miss seeing him.

As James was planning this clinic with Randy, we advertised the clinic to the local West Texas - Southern New Mexico horse community, and were surprised to learn that many people have not heard of Randy Rieman. I did not ask but those same people likely haven't heard of Buck Brannaman, Brian Neubert, Martin Black, Joe Wolter, nor the late Peter Campbell either. These are truly great horsemen who are not going to seek you out through the over commercialization of school, clinics and products but exists to bring us the lessons of Tom and Bill Dorrance, and Ray Hunt. It was the best two days of riding I've had in years.

Right off the bat Randy had us jog circles. I rode like I always do, and tell others to do as well, by using my outside leg to push the horse and my inside leg to get a bend. In other words bending the horse around my inside leg. Randy had me try using my inside leg to get the bend by getting my horse to put his inside back foot underneath his body and in front of the outside rear foot. So from the start he had me changing what I have been doing for years. I'm glad I did not resist doing what he asked as I was surprised to feel my horse moving more relaxed in those circles. Still using your reins to tip the head slightly to the inside, Randy also had us use rhythmic lateral pressure to get the horse to find the middle and drop his nose where he got a release. My horse found that right off. And all of this in the first hour.

Randy helped others discover this as well. And with a rider who's young horse was troubled with somthing, Randy would say "stay with him,....it's always darkest before first light."  A few times Randy would take a horse, like the Palomino in the photos below, a get a change in that horse to underscore a point.   



Randy is a humble man, leaning to "let's both of us see what works with you and your horse" rather than telling you what to do. That's what I call putting the "why" into instruction which is often over looked by some clinicians. 

He mentioned that Bill Dorrance, who at 93 years old, got up each day eager to see what he can learn that day. Randy said he wants to be that guy.....don't we all want to be that guy.  Before Randy left for the long drive back home, I said to him, as humble as he is, that he may not fully understand what value he brings to us, not just in his teaching from his experience working with thousands of horses, but in his inspiration - how he approaches working with a horse.

More Randy Rieman and Bill Dorrance in Lessons from a Legend below.  Horseman Bill Dorrance shares horsemanship and roping lessons with Randy Rieman in this segment from Four Strands of Rawhide.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Riding in Hot Weather


Every year I usually write a reminder on the dangers of riding in hot weather which are primarily dehydration for you and your horse. Dehydration is simply consuming less water than you are expending through sweat. It (dehydration) sneaks up on people in climates with low humidity, such as the desert Southwest where I live, as the Sun evaporates your sweat quickly, but it is a danger anywhere. Absence of thirst is no indicator of being hydrated.

If you typically go to sleep at 9:00 pm at night then get up around 4:00 am, drink a cup of coffee then get to work. You are very likely dehydrated to start the day.  You have been without water for 7 hours, then drank a diuretic - something that will make your urinate but will also remove essential electrolytes as well. One thing you can do to ensure you start the day hydrated is first of drink a large glass of water before you have your coffee.

You need to protect exposed parts of your skin from the Sun. In the picture at top right, it is 96 degrees. I am pretty much completely covered up from the Sun.  Direct sunlight evaporates water from your body faster and the elevated temperature of your skin forces the body to send more water to maintain cellular and skin health, further dehydrating you faster. Sunburns can, over time, change the structure of skin cells and bring about skin cancer, such as Basil Cell Cancer and worse yet, Melanomas. Even though I have routinely covered all body parts, even my hands, at 58 years old I have had eight spots cut off my body, from BB size to quarter sized, thankfully all Basil cell cancer - the lesser of the skin cancer evils.

Don't save your water - drink it. Not alcohol, not soda pop, but water or water products such as flavored water drinks or Gatorade type drinks. Gatorade and Powerade also have electrolytes such as sodium, potassium in Gatorade and sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium in Powerade to replace the electrolytes that are again lost when you sweat, and through normal metabolism. Both companies sell liquid and powder products.

If you become dizzy or have blurred vision, or get the beginnings of a headache then chances are virtually certain you are dehydrated. My daughter will forever remember coming to me and saying "Dad, I have a headache" and my reply was always "drink a big glass of water and see if it goes away in 20 minutes" and her reply was, "you always say that!" and my reply was "Yes, I always do because lack of water is the likely cause of your headache and drinking water is the easiest and fastest way to see if that was the problem in the first place".

Military and other organizations will often implement a "mandatory drink" policy where someone is responsible for making a periodic announcement to the group to drink water.....say, every 30 minutes the drill would be to drink 6 ounces of water. To drink water you need to have some with you. I always have a canteen of water with me when I ride out. Sometimes I also wear a hydration pack - CamelBak makes the best ones - which allows me to maintain a pace without stopping or slowing to drink from the hydration pack tube and bite valve. The two most common sizes of hydration packs are 70 ounce and 100 ounce. I like the ones with the external fill hole so you can fill the bladder of the hydration pack without removing it from the carrier. If you think that wearing one is bulky or heavy, you would be surprised to learn how quickly you forget you are carrying it. See the picture at the top and note how compact the CamelBak is.  And the advantage of wearing a hydration pack is that if you are thrown or otherwise on the ground and your horse runs away, you still have a source of water with you.

I sometimes teach tracking classes to Search and Rescue (SAR) teams, both government and civilian volunteer. I advise both types to invest in buying the Hi-Viz 70 ounce Camel Baks for each member. The rescue orange and reflector strips on the Hi Viz Camel Bak allow for the search and rescue teams to be easily spotted from the air or ground by other search teams and this would be especially important if you became injured and the SAR focus became you! Look at the picture above left and you can see how well the Hi Viz Camel Bak stands out.


Organizations, private and public, can contact Marisa Williams at CamelBak to get organizational pricing on CamelBaks.  Marisa Williams, phone 800 767-8725 x 9227 or e-mail at - mwilliams@camelbak.com

Individuals can purchase CamelBaks virtually anywhere - check with Amazon.com

You need to be considerate of your horse when riding in hot weather.  Horse's generally do well and don't drink as often as we do.  Know your horse's routine and feed your horses early enough so they can finish eating and get a drink before you pull them for a long ride.  When you get back from a long, hot ride horses will eat if you give them the chance.  I like to put my horses back in a pen with access to clean water, after they have cooled downed, for a good period of time before I feed them, so they can drink.  Know how to check your horse's skin (skin rebound test) and gums (gum blanch test) which are both capillary refill tests to check for potential dehydration.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Obstacle Preparation Clinic


I did a demonstration for a Horseman's Association Expo a few weeks ago, talking and demonstrating how one may go about preparing a horse for an obstacle challenge. I posted a pre-event article on the basis for the demo and mini-clinic.  As I began, I said most of us have came to understand the process called desensitization and while some people don't like the word desensitization (I'm not sure I do after all these years) as it connotes dulling a horse, but I asked everyone to think of it as not taking something away from the horse, but instead giving the horse some time - just trying to put a pause in the fear reflex.

We go about desensitization through use of Pressure, Release and a pause in between before starting to apply pressure again. I went about explaining that the pressure we put on a horse is usually physical but it's always mental pressure as well. That's just fine because what we are trying to do is to get through to the horse on a mental level, to get him to think - again a pause, in between receiving a stimulus and acting out of pure instinct which is usually to be wary if not outright fearful and sometimes that results in spooking or bolting. And the timing in the release is critical to getting the horse to understand what he did in order to get the release, and a pause after the release of pressure is critical as well for the horse to understand that lesson.

One easy way to explain pressure, the release, the timing of that release, and a pause to get that settled in a horse is though getting a horse good about handling his head and dropping it on cue. On a halter broke horse it only takes a minute or two to see a big difference in the horse and that's something observers can understand pretty quick as well. This keeps their interest while I can get horseback and demonstrate asking a horse to drop his head - get his nose vertical. I ask for softness a couple times showing an accurate timing of the release then explain that if the release wasn't timed right the horse won't understand how he got that release.

Then I ask the viewers to watch what happens when I don't give a release. So I'll ask the horse for vertical flexion again and stay in contact with the horse's nose (or it can be the bit if you are using a bit - I was riding a hackamore). Most horse's not well acquainted with vertical flexion will root their nose out. If that happens I'll release contact and ask what the horse learned, and that of course was that he can root his nose out to escape the pressure. Then I ask the horse for vertical flexion again, staying in contact, and even if the horse gives at some level I don't give him a release and make him search for the answer.  Usually horse's will start to back out of the pressure.  I release then then ask again what the horse learned. Obviously the horse thinks that backing is the right answer - that's where he got the release.   One more time I'll ask the horse for vertical flexion as he tries to root his nose out then backing to escape the pressure.  I'll stay in contact, he will eventually stop backing and seeking the right answer will drop his nose to some degree - that's where I'll give the release.  I explained I'll give him 10 seconds or so to think about it and try it again a few times, each with a pause in between, and have the crowd watch closely as the horse rapidly gets better about getting soft when I ask him for it.  I think is a effective way to demonstrate pressure and release.    

I explained that it is common problem where people are handling horses to put pressure on a horse and when they get a different reaction then they want they'll release the pressure to get a better position or to choke up on a rope or reins, only to not realize that they have already began getting the horse to learn something wrong.

It's helpful to demonstrate lateral flexion as well in the same manner as vertical flexion.

Overall I spent about 90 minutes demonstrating how pressure, release and a pause may be used and I went into initial rope training a halter broke horse; introducing a slicker to a horse; getting a horse to accept something draped across his head blocking his vision (blindfold training); crossing a ground tarp' and dragging a nylon bag full of tin cans. I spent some time explaining that before you go about dragging things, the horse has to be good about the feel and friction of ropes across his butt, hocks and heels.

All along I thought that most of the people attending the Expo would have heard about Pressure and Release at some point, and have their own opinions on desensitization.  I thought that I would likely be just presenting a slightly different way to look at it and just maybe some methods they could use, but the amount and type of questions I received afterward as people came into the arena made  me think that the foundations of natural horsemanship still have a long way to go before they are common knowledge for average horse owners.

I left the crowd with asking them to never to punish or jerk on our horses for spooking or having fearful behavior - they are just doing what they think they need to, and that we all owe it to our horses to give them the time to necessary to accept things. In the long run it's going to make a better, more confident and safer horse.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

US Border Patrol Horse Patrol Seizures of Marijuana


Border Patrol agents with the Ajo Station (Arizona) Horse Patrol Unit on Sunday, March 12, discovered 340 pounds of marijuana that smugglers had abandoned near Ajo.  According to a news release from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, agents conducting surveillance saw 10 people walking in the desert, and the horse patrol was dispatched to the group's last known vacation. Agents found eight bundles of marijuana worth more than $170,000.  

The smugglers were not caught.  This time they did not shoot at the agents as they ran away.  The marijuana was taken to the Ajo Station for processing.  And the Border Patrol still will be using horses, mostly Mustangs gentled by Federal Prisoners, to access remote areas in the desert that are inaccessible to motorized vehicles or restricted as is the case of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Horses continue to fit a niche in patrolling where vehicles cannot go or observation devices cannot see.  Horses are quiet and can be intimidating once a horse patrol encounters a group. 
 
Smugglers, both illegal immigrant and narcotics smugglers, exploit remote and rugged areas, sometimes taking days to cross the border and access a series of safe houses, transportation cells including pre-arranged load ups on Interstate 10.  See the solar panel in the photo above right?  Helps re-charge cell phones for communications between groups and transportation cells.  It is common for now for illegal aliens being smuggled to be made to carry a burlap bundled load of marijuana made into a backpack to help pay for their trip and increase smuggler profits. 


The majority of the American population has no idea of the situation along the Southwest border.  Rampant corruption along governmental officials in Mexico, from local to federal law enforcement, to municipal and state governors continue to set up an environment that is conducive and prosperous to smugglers.   There is a corridor between Tucson and Gila Bend Arizone running North to Interstate 10 and further into the Case Grande and Phoenix areas that are highly active.  See map at left. 
 
Arroyos (dry river beds), hills, heavy cactus and brush all providing concealment and cover for smugglers, as well as narco scouts reporting on law enforcment presence and activity in the area all conspire to make it very difficult to detect and interdict illegal activity.  This is where the thick boned, hard footed Mustangs excel and earn their feed.
 
 
Bandit crews, preying on illegal alien traffic as well as ripping off drug loads are active in the area as well.  These bandit groups are heavily armed and have no compunction about shooting at American Law Enforcement officers as the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.   In fact, the 5th and last bandit responsible for killing Agent Terry was apprehended by Mexican authorities a few days ago. Hopefully he'll soon be joining his criminal partners in a U.S. prison soon.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Preparing Your Horse for an Obstacle Challenge


On Saturday 8 April 2017, if you are in the area please join me at Livery Arena, 898 Horizon Blvd, Socorro, Texas, where I've been invited by the Lower Valley Horsemen's Association (LVHA) to give a demonstration of Preparing Your Horse for an Obstacle Challenge. I'll pretty much be following what I've written below.

If you don't like the word "desensitization" then you can substitute it for "just getting the horse used to something", because that's all it is, but like most anything it can be overdone.

Obstacle challenges can be conducted in an arena or field - hence the name Arena Obstacle Challenge (AOC), or on trail courses like the Competitive Trail Challenges (CTC's) ran by Equine Trail Sports (ETS) or the now defunct American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA).

The Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA) also has a form of obstacle challenges however these are time based, as well as a score on horsemanship and performance, evaluated by judges, and are not really a forum for novice riders.

Not all the things you have to do on horseback at an Obstacle Challenge is associated with a physical obstacle like a tarp on the ground, or bridge or any other horse eating apparatus. Some of the tasks may be a maneuver such as demonstrating a turn on the fore hand, or side pass a certain distance, or even demonstrating a walk to trot transition.

The process of getting your horse sacked on obstacles is, in my mind, pretty much the same as preparing them for a safe trail ride. However, I think the purpose for working a horse to accept an obstacle is lost on some people. If I set up a big blue tarp on the ground and work my horses on crossing it willingly, I am not, at least primarily, preparing them to cross blue tarps anywhere I ride - I am instead working on getting them to think instead of just reacting to their survival instinct, which is pretty much fine tuned to a razor's edge. It's how you go about doing it that makes the difference.

One process is basically to wait on the horse, building on small levels of acceptance or tries. If I'm riding a horse towards something that is giving them anxiety or making them nervous, it will be evident because of the horse's slowed gait and head set (head goes up) and ear position (ears are forward), the stiffness in his body from the head/neck and throughout his body. The horse will almost always cease forward movement at some point. Sometimes the horse will lower his head and maybe snort, may be looking left and right nervously or even turn left or right to get away from the scary object.  The rider first has to remain relaxed,....ready but relaxed,... because of the horse will pick up on your physical tension if you become scared that he may spook or bolt. The rider at this point needs to keep the horse faced to the offending object. Don't let the horse turn around and put his butt towards the object - this is defensive behavior.  I'm not too concerned about him backing up.  If he backs up and I can keep him straight, pointing towards the object, then we'll just start from there.       I know, easier said than done, but move the horse's front and back ends independently to keep him as straight as you can.  

The horse will, at some point - maybe 10 or 30 seconds or maybe 2 or 3 minutes which should make no difference to you - will get more comfortable with where he's at. You'll feel his body tension reduce, his ears will rotate around, he will look around - this time not looking for an escape route. The mistake riders will make is to misjudge the horse's comfort level at this point and urge him forward before he's ready. If you are sure of the horse beginning to accept the object then you can ask him to move a step or two forward, but don't insist.  The horse will usually move forward when his curiosity is bigger than his fear, just open the door for him.

As the horse moves forward, if he stops again it is because he needs to, let him do so. Rider's will get frustrated at this point then push him forward when the horse is not ready. I've done this many times, much to my regret, as bullying the horse across an obstacle does nothing for him. If you fore him across the horse will not think "Oh, I was worried about nothing!", instead he will think "Whew, that was a close one - I almost got killed!"

The point about letting the horse stop on his own, and proceeding when he is ready, is getting the horse to think rather than to react. Give him the time to think and to absorb that lesson - this is one meaning of waiting on your horse. Another example of waiting on your horse is in the picture at left, letting the horse descend on a short hill at his own pace. I asked him to walk down.  He hesitated, then moved sideways with short steps trying to figure it out.  I let him do so.  My reins are slack and he doesn't have to contend with any pressure created from me, only the task in front of him.

Another way to get a horse comfortable with an obstacle is at the early outset of the horse showing some anxiety, ride around the obstacle in a circle, or riding back and forth in a line parallel from the obstacle.

 When you turn or change directions, turn the horse into the obstacle. Do this back and forth with some energy stopping the horse at the closet point to the obstacle after you have turned him to face it. Then do circles or back and forth again this time a little closer, repeat the stopping and facing at the closet point. He'll discover that his rest point is closet to the obstacle and start getting used to it.



A common obstacle for challenges is dragging a bag of noise making tin cans, see pictures above. It is the rare horse who has never done something of the sort to accept a rider pulling a noisy bag towards them or dragging it behind them.

From the beginnings of getting a horse halter broke, I begin spinning lead ropes around a horse as I am leading them on a halter. Even the spookiest horses will soon get comfortable at this. Start as far away as you can then get gradually closer based on the horse's acceptance. A mistake people make is to stop spinning the rope if the horse spooks. Or they stop whatever they are doing.  You are then teaching the horse that moving away or avoiding it makes that pressure go away. Instead, once the horse stops his feet moving then reward him by stopping the pressure of the spinning rope. Give him a minute to absorb what just happened then begin again. As you go along, ask for more. More maybe asking him to show signs of relaxation - head drops, ears relaxed, body tension gone, cocked back foot, etc., before you remove the pressure.   

Then you can proceed to flip the rope over his body, around his front legs, around his butt and back end all desensitizing the horse to this feel. This is really necessary in case your horse turns as you are dragging or pulling a object and the rope pulls taunt across his butt or hocks. I've seen a rider start to drag a bag towards them only to have the horse turn into the rope placing it across his butt causing him to bolt forward and rider get un-seated. This type of desensitizing is also necessary to prepare your horse for getting caught in wire - you sure don't him blowing if that happens.

One method for helping a nervous horse overcome fear or anxiety on a drag bag or similar object is to have someone pull the object walking away from you so you can follow along on horseback. This helps to build the horse's confidence. Just like you would do when exposing a horse to cattle for the first time, as cows will move away from you just like horses in a herd will move away from a dominant horse. As you follow the dragging object you can get closer and closer, have your helper stop so you can let him approach and drop his nose onto the object. It may take several stop and go's, but you'll be able to tell when your horse becomes relaxes, even becomes disinterested, understanding that the bag is no threat. I would do this first before I would attempt dragging something towards him.   

Much has been written about building a partnership with your horse. I have no doubt it is a partnership, where you develop a level of comfort between each other, and contrary to what some people believe, actually mutual trust.   It is a fragile thing. You have to protect it. But it is not an equal partnership. You have to be the leader. In the absence of a leader, the horse will step up and assume that role. And if you ask the horse, he will always reserve that right! As this pertains to doing obstacles, one description of leadership is to get someone to think your idea is theirs then get them to execute like it was their idea. I think this is kind of leadership most, if not all, horse to human relationships need.



Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 Road to The Horse


Just in case you haven't heard about Road to The Horse (RTH), it is a colt starting competition were chosen clinicians or trainers select a ranch bred 3 year old, and start that horse in front of a large live viewing audience.

Called the World Series of Colt Starting, this event started in 2003 and is unique as the horses are started, and taken to where they can be ridden in an obstacle course in just a few hours spread over a couple days.

Past winners include many of the top hands whose names should be familiar: Clinton Anderson (2 wins), Stacy Westfall, Chris Cox (3 wins), Richard Winters, Craig Cameron, Guy McLean (2) & Dan James, Jim Anderson, and Nick Dowers.



The 2017 RTH event was dedicated to the Cowgirl therefore all four competitors were ladies - Sarah Dawson (daughter of Richard Winters), Kate Neubert (daughter of Bryan Neubert), Rachelle Valentine and Vicki Wilson. Barbara Cox, wife of Chris Cox, was chosen to participate but could not due to back surgery. We wish her a speedy and successful recovery.

Vicki Wilson, who is from New Zealand and a English and show jumper rider, selected Boon River Lad, and won the 2017 title. That's a picture of her at top right - courtesy of Road to the Horse. See the picture at left of her riding Boon River Lad through the obstacle course - photo from the Wilson Sisters.

She won even after suffering a shoulder dislocation in the first round. Putting that injury behind herself is not surprising coming from a trio of sisters (Kelly and Amanda) who are apparently well known for their work with New Zealand's Wild Horses, the Kaimanawas, as well as Australian Brumbies. You can find out more about these ladies at The Wilson Sisters - New Zealand

And, Kate Neubert won the Jack Brainard Horsemanship Award.

For more 2017 RTH photos go to: Road To The Horse Photos 2017

If you missed the event in person or the live broadcast, RFD Television may produce a televisied version or you can go to the Road to the Horse website and order the DVD.

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,....to 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 Gear.com

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 AgriLife.org. 

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 equinestudies.org

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 so......in 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.