Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cowboy Humor: German Still Spoken in Texas

Unless you have studied Texas History you may not know that Texas was populated and tamed, such as it is, in part by German immigrants. In fact there is a town called Muenster (image that) where there is still a section of the population that speaks German.

Well one day, a local rancher driving down a country road noticed a BMW parked off the side of the road, then he noticed a man in the pasture kneeling at the edge of a stock pond using his hand to scoop water to drink.

The rancher pulled off the side of the road, rolled down the window and shouted: "Sehr angenehm! Trink das Wasser nicht. Die kuehe haben darein geschissen." Which means: "Glad to meet you! Don't drink the water. The cows have pooped in it."

The man shouted back: "I'm from New York and just down here campaigning for Obama. I can't understand you. Please speak in English."

The rancher replied: "Use both hands."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Question on Round Pens

Randy L sent me an e-mail and said he has never had use of a round pen but was thinking about buying a round pen and wanted to know what size (diameter) and what manufacturer would I suggest?

Round pens are a great tool to have. No corners such as a square or rectangle pen for the horse to get himself in trouble with, the round pen also allows the horse forward momentum which of course is necessary.  I think the little bit of freedom a horse has in the round pen quiets the troubleness in him sometimes.

You can do so much in a round pen. Start to build the respect from the horse to you, and vice versa; first exposure to a pressure and release to a un-broke horse; the round pen is a safer place to saddle and ride him for the first time; you can use the panels of the round pen as a barrier or a reason to learn to side pass; exposure your horse to a lariat and to a rope around his feet so he can learn that he doesn’t have to panic.

My round pen is indispensable to me. As far as diameter of the round pen, I have used as small as 35 foot round pens and as large as a 75 foot round pen, but I prefer a 40 foot to 50 foot pen. My current round pen is 45 feet, although one time I put a wild as a bronc paint horse in the round pen overnight and the next morning I had a trapezoid shaped pen. The picture at right is a round pen manufactured by Red River.

The cost of round pens, that come in panels you lock together, has greatly increased in the last five years. I think you will hard pressed to find a quality one under $1,200 now. If you need to have a paneled or solid round pen you’ll probably pay 3 to 4 times as much. Solid round pens with walls the horse can’t see through help keep the horse from getting distracted by events outside the pen. Having solid panels that the horse can’t put this hoof through are safer as well. I was lunging a horse one day and all of sudden he got it into his mind to take off about as fast as he could go and after a couple rotations he stepped out too hard and put his foot through the round pen panel. It stopped his momentum causing him to somersault. Ever see a horse somersault? It ain’t a pretty site. I imaged had a broken leg at a minimum. We both were lucky as hell as he stood up, shook off the dust and was okay. He ended up breaking a stirrup strap on my saddle however. In fact this paint horse is the one in the picture at the top of this post. The picture, upper left, is a paneled or solid walled round pen from Centaur.

Here are some, not all, round pen manufacturers:


Powder River


Red River Arenas

Trition Barns

Friday, April 13, 2012

Reader Questions: Mounting and Horn Wraps

I am having a hard time answering questions that come across as comments on the Functional Horsemanship YouTube channel, so I'll use this forum to answer a couple of short questions from readers.

Ladyirish1860 has made a comment on Correcting a Horse that Moves when Mounting.wmv: ”My horse does the exact opposite of what most seem to be asking about. He backs up!!! How do I correct that? Backing him more? Walking him in circles? Learn to jump into the saddle fast like Ninja? This is really the only problem I have with him. Thanks!

I’ve tried that Ninja stuff once without any luck. I think that your horse backing up when you mount is the same bad manners or avoidance behavior as moving away. When a horse moves away from you when you are trying to mount, the idea of pushing him around in tight circles causes him some pressure, then you can stop and offer him a chance to stand still, which is the release. When you move him around put some energy into it making him move, again this is the pressure. He gets his release when you stop and offer him a chance to stand and when he stands still then you can mount.

I recently helped a woman who horse was moving forward when she was trying to mount. Same thing. I had her put some energy in moving her horse around in a tight circle for three or four rotations, then she offered him a chance to stand. She had to do this a couple times, but within a few minutes her horse got the idea and it was easier to stand still and stood still for her to mount. Then her horse wanted to move off before she cued him, so I had her back him a few steps quickly, then offer him a chance to stand still until she cued him to walk off.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Horse Training – Wrapping Your Saddle Horn": ”Can I modify this and use sheet rubber? I don’t plan on using it for roping; I tore up the leather on the horn of my aussie saddle (long story) and hoping this would keep the leather from deteriorating further.”

Many team or tie down ropers will use rubber wraps on their saddle horns as this not only protects their saddle horn, the jerk on the rope when dallied is slowed down by the rubber compressing. If you would rather use rubber to wrap and protect your saddle horn, then I suggest either using the store bought horn rubbers or getting a bicycle inner tube and cutting it into a long strip to wrap much like you would with a conventional horn wrap.

I prefer the cut strips of bicycle inner tube. You can wrap these around the horn then feed the end through wrap, or wrap in the conventional horn wrap method.

National Ropers Supply offers many different rubber horn wraps. One of their products is called “The Better Dally Wrap” and another is the “Dura-Wrap”. You may it easier to use the Better Dally Wrap as the Dura-Wrap is like a giant rubber band and the last wrap is tough to get on the horn.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Aging Sign and Seeing Shine

I was contacted a few months ago by Texas Monthly magazine to help with an article on Sign Cutting appearing in their regular column “The Manual”. It was a little difficult to discuss or explain sign cutting and tracking over the phone, but Texas Monthly did a good job and the article appears in their February 2012 issue. At least they didn't make me out to be a bigger idiot than I already am.

I was also riding in the desert with a group of ladies (much preferable to riding with men) and we came across Oryx tracks. If you have never seen an Oryx, google Oryx or click here. The Oryx is an African Antelope imported decades ago into New Mexico to provide a exotic game for hunters. The Oryx doesn’t have a natural predator here,...maybe Mountain Lions, so they do very well.

The soil underneath the top layer was fairly moist from a rain about a week earlier, so the toe of the Oryx’s hooves left a very sharp and deep pressure release. Combined with deeper and softer sand a few yards away I estimated that the Oryx prints were about 3 or 4 days old. The ladies were asking question on what I was looking at when determining the age of a track, so I explained that a pressure release softens and rounds over time. Comparison to other parts of the pressure release, the rounding or dispersion of the toe dirt kicked up with forward momentum and the evaluation of the same tracks in different soil will let you determine the rough age of sign.

While the photo to the right are horse tracks rather than Oryx, the single set of tracks on the left hand side of he photo are 7 days old. The horse tracks on the right are fresh. While the discoloration isn't too different or not different enough in lieu of the seven day difference, the tracks to the right depict a large amount of toe dirt and a deeper pressure release because the natural element of the wind has not degraded or reduced that yet. The horse that made the tracks on the left was walking slow and dragging his feet up from the soft sand - see the drag marks leaving the pressure release?

When I was discussing sign cutting with the Texas Monthly writers I talked about losing sign then changing the distance and angle from your eyes to the sign would allow you to see sign you may miss being over the top of it. Sometimes you can look in the general direction the tracks are going then see an obvious shine or color change, which may allow you to jump forward quickly (leap frogging) to save some time or to make up time. If an animal crossed through grass, even a suburban lawn, often the bruising of the grass or dispersion of any moisture will leave a tell tale path visibl from the shine.

You may have to change your distance and angle from the Sun to the tracks to see it. Look at the bottom of the photo to the left and find the disturbed ground, then carry your eyes up to towards the top of the photo and you would see a different in the shine or texture of the ground caused by the displacement of the natural ground.

The photo above shows one week old and two week old horse tracks. In the one week old horse tracks, A depicts the degraded walls of the pressure release caving in and gravity displacing that soil to the bottom of the pressure release; B shows the still evident pressure release of the frog of the hoof; C shows the deeper part of the pressure release indicating direction of travel; and D shows the degraded toe dirt after substantial displacement by the wind.  The two week old track is heavily filled in by wind blown sand and gravity.  The wind even blew some small sticks that settled into the pressure release, however the deepest part of the pressure release is still visible indicating direction of travel.    

Friday, April 6, 2012

Horse Performance Not Consistent

Jennie wrote and asked "I took my horse Hamanuri (Hambone) to a show and he was just terrible refusing to do this he has done over and over. Nothing in his routine was changed. I used the same snaffle bit and headstall and same saddle. It's not like he is a mare and has his off days, lol. This is the first time in over a year that I had a really bad day with him and I can't stop thinking about it. What should I be doing to correct him or the problem?"

Jennie, thanks for writing. It makes for long time between your bad ride and the next good one. I think horses can have bad days just like we can, and those bad days aren't just for mares. I wouldn't worry too much about it and carry that fretting into your next ride on him. I doubt that your horse did anything that he didn't think was right for him.

Sometimes just the change of location, which usually requiring a trailer ride, can be enough to get your horse off wrong. And I can tell you that doing things over and over at the same place does not mean that your horse will do that same task as well, someplace else.

I have a horse that goes willingly over bridges all the time but the last time I took him to a new place, that he has never been before, it was like he has never seen a bridge before, although he was very good at everything else. You have to appreciate a horse like that with the instinct to mistrust things or see them as a potential danger. I think the overall goal is to develop respect and trust between you and your horse so they can think through a problem and not just react instinctively,……. so that when you do ask him to do something that he'll won’t have so much over powering doubt and fear, and do as you ask because his trust and confidence has been built up and his past experience, built over time, is that everything turned out alright.

One thing that I think hampers horse owners is gaining the trust of their horse is respect from the horse to the owner. I have seen some owners, who in my opinion, equate trust with compassion or otherwise trying to get the horse to like them. I think the relationship between an owner and their horse should be more comparable to a parent and children. I do not think you can build trust before there is respect. I can’t help but think that your horse refusing to do things he has done before under the same circumstances may be disrespect in some aspect.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Building Simple Bridge Obstacles

One of the obstacles I sack my horses out on are bridges. I have three bridges on my trail course, all made from railroad ties and 2x6 inch slats. These are very durable, but basically once you have them built, only a truck can move them around. The bridge is a good obstacles to train your horses on and not just to accept walking on a bridge, but to develop trust in you not to put them in a bad position,....... to get them comfortable with having to step up which could be onto a rock ledge or a curb.  It is simply good for horses to have to pick their feet up and step onto or over obstacles.

At the request of my wife who wanted some easy to re-locate bridges and bridges more alike what you would see at some of our local American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) competitions, I built some lightweight bridges out of common wood pallets. I say lightweight because a person can drag them someplace where you want them, however one person will sure get a workout at any distance over a couple hundred feet. Yet they are easily pulled from horseback.

I started with a common 40 inch by 47 inch wood pallet. Dimension will vary among pallets but this is close to being a common size. I drilled a 3/4 inch hole in the middle of the pallet support board so I could feed a 14 foot length of rope through and knot one end, so I had a line to drag the bridge around on horseback. I intentionally did not make a loop as I did not want an excuse for a horse to put his foot through it. Instead, it's just like dragging a log.

I used one eight foot length of 2x4 inch wood, cut to two 47 inch pieces. I used these two 2x4 inch pieces to insert in the pallet to strengthen it. I used 1 1/2 inch wood screws to screw these boards to the pallet. This give it the strength necessary for 1,000 pound plus horses to walk on it.

I cut a 40 inch by 47 inch section out of 1/2 inch plywood, then used wood screws to secure to one side of the pallet and this will be the side the horses walk on. I used wood putty to cover up a couple of the screws that I could not drive below flush on the plywood. I did not want anything that could catch a horse's shoe.  The picture at the top left of this article shows the completed bridge.  You can push the drag rope in between the pallet once you have it in place.   Another good exercise for a small square type bridge is to put your horses front feet on it and side pass all around the bridge keeping the front feet on it. 

Your wooden bridges are going to require some sort of treatment from weather sealer to paint, careful not to make them too slick. The bridges to the right are one I made several years ago (top) and another I recently made.  Before anyone thinks about commenting on my lack of carpenters skills, aware that I am not proud of myknow my rudimentary skils. It was my Pa who first brought this to my attention telling me, "Boy, there are two tools in the barn that I don't want you to touch,'s a paint brush and the other is a hammer",....and if that wasn't clear, he would say, "Boy, you're so damn smart you must have two brains, the size of a pea and the other a little bitty thing."