Saturday, January 28, 2012

Good Horsemanship

I was watching Julie Goodnight the other night (on RFD TV) as she was helping one of her student-instructors get a horse sacked out on opening gates, and I heard Julie say words to the effect that it had been awhile since she (Julie) last attended a clinic. Then she explained that she likes to attend other trainer's clinics to keep herself from getting stale, and that she believes a person can and should learn from everyone. I wonder if Julie knew how important it was for her to say that as it shows not only a humble approach to her horsemanship, but it highlights the most basic of often forgotten requirements to continue evolving your horsemanship, and that is keep an open mind.

We all have our favorite trainers. They are our favorite because they have a way of presenting the concepts or the how's to do something that gets through to us. We have all probably seen students who's redundant reply to an instructor or clinician is "Yeah, but..." as they try to explain why they aren't listening to the instruction. If you follow Julie Goodnight's advice to continue to seek knowledge, and be the best student you can, you can not only expedite your journey to becoming a horseman but it will most likely save (some) pain and suffering along the way.

In the interest of passing information on notable trainers, I ran across a gent named Ross Jacobs in the Eclectic Horseman magazine edition #63, Jan-Feb 2012. Interesting article on this Australian based horse trainer. Ross maintains a pretty good website and horse owners may want to look it up. Instructional videos are available (at a cost) but there is other free information as well,....if you can do the translation, as they ain't exactly speaking American down there. Ross Jacobs is below at left.

If you haven't heard of Eclectic Horseman magazine, you can see what they have to offer at

Monday, January 23, 2012

Training a Long Yearling

Megan wrote: "My husband and I recently got back into horses and bought a Palomino mare in foal two years ago and last year she dropped a beautiful filly. This May she will be two years old. Some friends of ours are telling us that since she is now considered two years old it is okay to saddle break her. Although we are anxious to have another riding horse I am concerned about ruining her. What are your ideas on when you should start breaking a horse? Anything you can tell us would be appreciated."

Megan, your filly is considered a long yearling, coming two this year. While the horse racing industry races non-mature horses in this category, it doesn’t mean it is in the horse’s best interest. I'm sure not to make any racing trainers and owners happy with the statement, and to be sure, the majority of people in the racing industry are straight up and provide excellent care for their horses, but I think this practice of putting physical stress on non-mature horses is not in their best interests. I think horses are raced young, before they are physically and mentally prepared well enough, because there is pressure on turning a profit after years of expense counting the brood mare carrying the foal. Well, I'm getting off track here,...the subject is basically how old is old enough to saddle break a horse. Anyway, good for you that you are concerned with your filly. Be patient and you can have a good horse for decades to come.

I am assuming your filly is halter broke now and actually breaking or gentling your filly has already began if you have handled her and petted on her as this is all good for the horse. You can continue handling her, training her to lead up correctly, getting her used to pressure and release, teaching her to back, lunging her, accepting a paste wormer tube, blanketing her, handling her feet and making her safe for a shoer to trim, and getting her to stand quiet, and, possibly ponying her with the mare are all steps in my mind that lead up to and make her safer to saddle break.

I think it is generally safe (for the horse) to be introduced to the saddle at, or around the two year mark. I don’t suggest that you are out riding her mile after mile, but to get her broke and gentled to the saddle, give her a short ride or two a week, then when she is three years old she ought to be physically and mentally mature enough to handle an increased riding schedule even though she may not be physically mature even then.

Many ranches follow this formula......Breaking the horse to the saddle at two years old and putting some schooling on the horse. Then turning out for the late fall and winter, then come spring the horse is used as part of a Cowboy's cavvy (work string).

This is just my opinion. Others may think different. If you are considerable of the horse as you are patient then you'll be fine. Safe Journey to you and your horse.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Josh Armstrong Clinic

This past weekend we hosted a invitation only Josh Armstrong Clinic at our Red Bird Ranch with six participating riders......Josh Armstrong and Betty, a happy student, at left. Few in the Horse world and nobody in the reining world has not heard of Josh Armstrong and Armstrong Equine Services of La Mesa, New Mexico. Josh is a Top 10 Finisher at both the NRHA and Congress Reining Futurities, and a European National Champion Reiner. He is an author and has made a horsemanship video — The First Dimension — available for purchase at his website. Armstrong Equine Services offers training, boarding, breeding, temporary stays and foals for sale. Among their set of Stallions is the well known Von Reminic.

Josh spent three hours in the arena teaching, demonstrating and explaining how to get a better stop on your horse; walk to trot, walk to trot to lope, and walk to lope transitions; rollbacks and doubling. He spent time individually with each rider helping them on their weakest points. One of his strong points is the calm, common sense way he presents the hows and whys. One of the riders had a pretty high strung Roan Mare. Josh took extra time to help this mare, driving her around (see picture at left), help her find a place where she could accept the pressure and find a release.

As much educational as the clinic was, there was a some funny moments, highlighted when we tied the horses up to have lunch and the Roan mare Josh was working mistook a plastic horse statute as a servicing stud, moved over and stuck her hind end in his face.

Anybody in the greater El Paso, Texas - Las Cruces, New Mexico area would be well served to attend a Josh Armstrong clinic or visit any of the events Armstrong Equine Services hosts at their ranch in La Mesa, New Mexico. It's really a pleasure to watch Josh ride bridleless, getting sliding stops and spins off of his performance horses. In fact, Josh has got to be doing what he does because of his love for it, because he certainly ain't making alot of money with the inexpensive fees he charges.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fieldcraft - Fire Starting

Another field craft skill a back country trail rider or packer needs to have is to be able to build a fire. It’s pretty easy to build a fire when there is no wind or rain lashing your face, but when you’re soaking wet and the wind is honking it’s a different matter. If you are out a long ways from any civilization and get caught in a gully washer then your horse goes lame, getting out of the rain and building a fire may keep you alive if the weather turns cold. Even in moderate temperatures a person can lose enough body heat to become a hypothermia casualty. Another good use for a fire is to signal any rescue crews looking for you. If you are riding with a partner and they fall or get hurt, keeping them warm is in order to push off shock.

I always carry a magnesium fire starter in my saddle bags. It takes up very little room and is much easier for me to light a fire compared to a store bought butane lighter, especially without burning your fingers in the process. Besides the plastic housing on a butane lighter can break and leave you without fuel. Lint from your dryer rolled into a ball and carried with your magnesium starter is a great aid to catching sparks and starting that first little flame.

If you forget the lint, maybe you can locate a bird’s nest to use, although bird feathers don’t catch very well – you may have to remove all the accumulated junk from the nest to leave just the dried grass. Some ticking from your socks, vest or coat will usually also work as a tinder as well.

Building the fire in a hole helps protect it from the wind until it gets going good. Be sure to stack all the kindling, twigs and bigger than twigs, branches and logs nearby so you can feed the fire to a point where it will sustain itself before you go looking for more wood.

There are other things you can do such as building the fire against an embankment, dirt mound or rock wall to help reflect heat. Ensure you have adequate ventilation if you build a fire in a semi–full enclosed space like a cave. Safe Journey and safe fires.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Horse Won't Stand Still

Sam wrote....”I have a quarter horse that I have ridden for 9 years, since he was a 2 year old. Lately I have been attending ACTHA rides. He is calm on the trail and calm during the obstacles, but impatient while waiting for the other riders to complete their obstacle. I took some criticism for circling him last weekend, when he was tossing his head, fighting me and wanted to move on. He even squealed a little. I see this as kind of a spoiled brat behavior and I am not sure how to deal with it. I admittedly did not ride him a lot this year, but he has these moods where he is impatient and might even nip at me when I am leading him. I am considering a vet workup but I think if pain were his issue he would not only act this way when standing still under saddle. Thoughts on how to deal with this?”

Hey Sam, thanks for writing,….actually a problem with the horse not standing still when asked is more common than you would think. Some times it’s feed related. Some times it’s a pain or discomfort issue with the horse relating to bad saddle fit or a physical problem with their hooves or back or instance. A vet check is a good idea, especially if you suspect something.

It is more likely to be a problem that may be alleviated with a lot of wet saddle blankets, or time in the saddle, and, standing tied for awhile to have him teach himself patience. I am not talking about using a snugging post for hours on end,….. I’m simply saying having him tied for 30 minutes is not an unreasonable way to begin and you can go from there.

He may be simply a little buddy sour thinking his herd is moving on without him. I wouldn’t let the criticism bother you. I would think the ACTHA judges are there to judge how you and your horse negotiate an obstacle and not any pre-obstacle schooling of your horse. Of course, if you are standing close to other horses and riders, it is really annoying to have your horse moving around pushing into our horses. But, circling a horse in small circles, or moving his hind end around quickly then offering him a chance to stand still (pressure and release) is a common way to handle a horse who can’t stand still.

If you don't ride him a lot, say only once a week, I think you would see a big difference in his handle by adding a couple of short sessions each week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cowboy Humor - Jackpot Roping

One of my old friends called me the other day telling me he was putting on a jackpot roping and was asking me to enter.

I told him that I hadn't team roped in years and didn't think I had the time.

He then told me that it was a charity roping for handicapped kids who were blind.

I said "Handicapped kids? Are you kidding me? Then sign me up. This is one I have a chance at winning!"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mecate with a Snaffle Bit

Denise asked I'm interested in riding with a mecate reins on a snaffle and am unsure how to do so. I like the idea of having a integral lead rope.”

Denise, thanks for your question. I’ll answer it mostly with pictures and a short video. This question has cropped up several times in the past few weeks. I attribute it to more people interested in trail riding and the popularity of the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA). The Mecate, also called McCarthy reins due to the Anglo pronunciation of the Spanish word, is one continuous rein, usually 20-24 feet long, made from either yacht line (braided rope) or a horse hair rope. When used with a Bosal, the Mecate reins are connected to the Bosal just above the Heel knot. Sometimes a Bosal and Mecate will be one piece where the Mecate is braided into the Bosal.

When a Mecate is used with a snaffle bit, it is common to use slobber straps to connect the reins to the ring of the snaffle. The slobber straps are pieces of leather that connect the reins to the bit. Like the picture to the left showing the off side slobber strap and how I secured the end of the Mecate to it. If you tie your Mecate to the slobber straps in this manner make sure you leave enough tail of the rope and point it downward.

A friend of ours, Arden, was looking for a Mecate so I took a 21 foot length of half inch braided rope, braided a leather popper in one end and wrapped some waxed flat thread around the rope where the center of the reins would be for a eight foot continuous rein.

The running end of the Mecate is looped through the near side slobber strap then you half hitch the Mecate so that the remaining length, in this case about 11 feet, runs downward. The near side is where you would adjust the length of the reins to suit yourself. The remaining 11 feet is now a get down rope. To keep it out of the way until you need it, you can clove hitch it to the horn, which is not my preferred way, can coil it and tie it to the near side saddle strings. Or, a traditional method it to get a bit near the end of the rope and tuck it under your belt. That is the bit of the remaining Mecate is pushed underneath your belt from bottom to top. If you came off your horse (it happens) you would have a rope to keep your horse from running away. If the horse ran away before you could get ahold of the rope, it would feed out from under your belt keeping you from being drug.

Anyway, Denise, I hope this video and post helps you rig and be safe with your Mecate.