Monday, February 23, 2015

McClellan Saddles

Jim wrote: "Hi Brad, I do get a lot of good info on your site. We talked before about the McClellan saddles and I was hoping you could maybe explain the pros and cons about them. I'm still very interested in getting one for my horse. I hear a lot of people say how uncomfortable they are but I tend not to listen to most people. Any info you can share would be much obliged. Thanks and stay sharp Rider."

Hey Jim, good to hear from you again. As you know the McClellan saddle was in use by the U.S. Military since just before the Civil War until shortly after World War II. It was named after it's designer, Army General George McClellan, reportedly after he came back from Europe where he visited foreign cavalry and horse drawn artillery units and likely formed an idea on what he thought was a good Calvary saddle.

The McClellan saddle underwent different modifications in the 90+ years of use. In fact, there are several modern military units who continue to use the McClellan or a variation thereof, not including many civilian endurance riders who started in a McClellan only to give way to modern endurance saddle designs, sometimes these modern designs originated with the McClellan.  The 1904 McClellan, above right, was made by Shawns Custom Saddles and Tack.

The success of McClellan saddle was due to it's simplicity and light weight.  While I have only sat in McClellan saddles, and have never ridden one, I think I read somewhere that for many of the cavalrymen from the 1800's, and likely U.S. soldiers after the turn of the century, their first exposure to horseback was in a McClellan saddle.  My Grandpa probably rode in a McClellan from 1878-1880 and my Uncle as well, 1915-1917.  All my saddles have hard seats so I'm pretty sure I could get used to a McClellan pretty quickly.   I would probably have to change the stirrups, as I like wide Monel type stirrups.    

The McClellan saddles will have several attachments points, usually three on the swell in the front and three on the cantle in the back. These are oval holes through the saddle tree that straps with buckles are fed through to attach items. Calvary soldiers would use these to tie coats, slickers, blankets, and bedrolls to. They can also be attachment points for carbine scabbards. The Cavalry mostly used what they call carbine buckets, like a donut for the barrel of the carbine to rest in, as opposed to full up carbine scabbards. You've heard of saddle ring carbines?  The issue carbine had a ring on the side that was used to attach a tie it to the saddle. Many lever guns, usually the shorter Trapper models, have this same saddle ring.  Another way for carrying a carbine was a socket, like a loop, that the carbine sat in.  The 1928 McClellan saddles at top right, were built by American Military Saddle Co.  

It is common to have a year associated with a McClellan saddle to note the modifications.  Some of the models had English saddle type fenders.  It's probably accurate to say that the newer McClellans were built on a wider tree to accommodate bigger and wider horses. In the early 1900's adjustable riggings was incorporated on McClellans.  The saddle at left was made by Evolutionary Saddles

One of these days I'll likely own a McClellan, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be main saddle, or if I didn't have a saddle, it wouldn't be the first one I'd buy as I don't think I could get by without a horn.      A quick google search shows that there are several saddle shops making McClellans. I did not contact any of these saddle shops to even see if they are still in business.  More research will likely yield additional saddle shops making McClellans. Good luck to you, and send me a picture if you get a McClellan.

Border States Leatherworks

Shawns Custom Saddles and Tack

Evolutionary Saddles

American Military Saddle Co.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Unbranded - The Movie

Unbranded” follows the story of four young cowboys, Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover, Ben Masters and Ben Thamer as they travel more than 3,000 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, through the deepest backcountry in the American West. The pack trip will take more than six months and wind through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Mustangs, born and raised in the wild, will be carrying these four men and crew on their journey. This is a story of the partnership between horse and rider, a testament to the hardiness of mustangs, and a tribute to the early explorers whose spirit remains today. This will soon be a movie which should debut soon, and you can see a trailer for the film at the bottom of this article. You can sign up for e-mail notifications concerning Unbranded the Movie as well as receive posts from their blog.

You can also order the book, in soft cover or hard cover through the main 'Unbranded the Film' website.

During the journey, a running account of the adventures of these four cowboys was kept up in another blog hosted by Western Horseman. The pictures alone make this worth looking at.  With young men like these four, this country is absolutely in good hands. 

At the end of September, 2013, a couple of weeks after finishing the 3,000+ mile ride, Ben Masters auctioned off Luke, his Mustang Paint, at the Mustang Million contest in Ft. Worth, Texas. The winning bid of $25,000 went to the Mustang Heritage Foundation to promote Mustang adoptions.

As Ben wrote: "The mustangs are in a bad spot right now. There are nearly 50,000 wild horses in holding pens and long term pastures that will live out their lives unused and in captivity. Your tax dollars buy their hay. Legally, the Bureau of Land Management is mandated to maintain the Mustang population in the wild to 27,000 animals. This number has already been exceeded, possibly to 40,000, but the BLM cannot continue gathering horses because there is no place to put horses that are rounded up. Too many horses can cause rangeland degradation that negatively affects native wildlife, plants and rural communities that depend on range health. Currently, the only method of reducing the numbers of horses in holding facilities is adoption."

"I put Luke up for auction because I want to see more wild horses get adopted. The O’Brien family (who purchased Luke) donated $25,000 to see more wild horses get adopted. The non-profit Mustang Heritage Foundation’s sole purpose is to get more wild horses adopted. Adoption gives these horses better homes, reduces taxpayer expense, and alleviates western rangelands of potential ecological harm. What can you do to help?"

"The BLM, Mustang Heritage Foundation and other mustang organizations have different ways to acquire gentled, formerly “wild” horses. A lot of mustangs are really good horses, especially for people looking for ranch or trail horses where a good mindset is more important than a timed event. They really aren’t that hard to train. People train mustangs all the time. It takes time, dedication, and a lot of hard work but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience that you have to experience to believe."

"Can’t train, adopt or buy a mustang? Dive deeper than a Google web search and learn the facts about the impact of the wild horses, different methods of population control and the options available to correcting a bad predicament. The Mustang issue, which is growing daily, is an incredibly emotional debate. People connect with horses more so than any other animal, except possibly dogs. Lots of people allow emotion to overpower rational thinking, and they value the momentary happiness of an animal over the long term ecological health that the future of that animal depends on. Get educated, learn the issues, they’re your horses on your land."

The Trailer for Unbranded The Film. Subtitled: Four cowboys ride 16 Mustangs 3,000 miles through the wildest terrain in the American West to inspire conservation efforts and prove the worth of 50,000 wild horses and burros living in holding pens.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Speeding Up a Slowing Walking Horse

James wrote to describe his slow walking horse and ask what he can do to get his horse to move out quicker,...."I have a 9 year old gelding who I've been riding lately. He's got a good head and pretty stout, but that dang horse walks slower than any horse I've ever had. Doesn't matter if he's in a group or if I'm riding him by myself. If I'm riding with someone he always falls behind and when I urge him to go faster he always goes into a trot. I'm looking for any recommendations on how to get him to walk faster."

Hey James, sounds like your horse is not barn or buddy sour at least - that's a good thing. But that ain't much comfort when your on a aggravatingly slow walking horse. Nor it is fun to ask your horse to step out at the walk and then he breaks into a trot all the time.  I don't spend much time correcting a slow walk, nor have I been very successful at changing a slow walking horse into a faster one. I've had a couple horses who were naturally faster walkers, but on the slower ones if I need to get someplace I'll be going at the trot or canter anyway. But I would try these things:

Eliminating any chance that you are contact with the horse's mouth and inadvertently giving him a signal that causes him to slow his momentum. I think it's actually common for riders to think they are riding with a loose rein but as the horse steps out with a front leg, the rein tightens and they get a signal, however slight, that slows their momentum. So make sure you aren't doing this.

The horse at a walk moves in a four beat gait. If the rear left foot is moving forward and is placed on the ground, the front left, then rear right, then front right in that order. You can try getting your horse to walk faster by squeezing with your same side leg as the horse's front leg is moving forward and being placed on the ground. You would squeeze in the forward position behind the elbow rather than squeezing or rolling your heel into the horse's barrel. The idea is the horse will bring that extended foot back quicker. This is pretty awkward, especially if you try to squeeze on both sides alternatively in rhythm with the front feet.   I would suggest just using one leg.  The picture at right shows where I would use my leg in a forward position to squeeze as that front leg is being placed.  Again, a little awkward and I don't get consistent results this way.  

You will likely have the best results using your seat moving in rhythm with your horse then increasing the tempo and therefore the horse's walking pace. You can add a squeeze with your legs and with your seat. What work best for me is increasing the tempo with my seat and squeezing three quick times in rhythm with his foot placement.  If my horse breaks into a trot, I don't immediately correct it, nor do I get all worked up about it.  I'll let him go a few paces then ask for the walk again and start over.    

Whatever you do that helps your horse move out a a little quicker at the walk, you have to repeat often in the beginning and hopefully less often as your horse better understands what you are asking for.  What I think would be frustrating for the horse, and you as well, is to go out on the trail and work on a faster walk for a lot miles.   I would try asking for a faster walk for a shorter period of time then build on that.    

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

More on Using Treats to Train Horses

Megan wrote to ask about using threats to train horses....."Hello. I am under the perception that using treats to train or reward horses is a big thing to avoid. However, it makes sense to me as other animals like dogs do very well with understanding commands using treats as an incentive. A friend of mine said she watched a television program where a woman horse trainer was using treats with good results. Can you write about this?"

Bear with me Megan, as I'm going to get to your question in around about way. I would be lying if I said I don't give my horses treats by hand. Several times a week I'll stand among my horses and cut up a carrot or an apple and give them pieces. It wouldn't be uncommon for a horse to get pushy for a treat. If one of my horse's does this, I'll just back him off and make him wait, before I ask him to approach and get a treat again. There are some who despise feeding horses by hand saying that it spoils them and teaches them bad habits. I think that it certainly can spoil a horse, and the more you do it the more likely the horse will become spoiled. But I also think they'll become spoiled only if you let them.

I'll also give my horses cookies from the saddle or let them drop their heads to eat when I want them to eat if I'm in the saddle for several hours. This is another thing that is highly opinionated as some will absolutely refuse to let their horses eat when they are saddled or especially so when they are in the saddle. My practice has been to allow my horses to drop their head and grab some grass when I give them a cue. I don't like horses, especially when moving, to try and grab as something.  I correct this immediately. But, I think it's good to keep their stomachs moving when you can, especially when you are out for a long day.

If you give horses treats by hand from the saddle, you'll have to be aware of your horse stopping on his own, looking back at you and expecting a treat.

I like to say that horse's only think about one thing,.... Feed......but they think about it in two ways: where to get it and how not become it. If you are always giving your horse treats then the more inclined he is to look for them. If he's looking for cookies, then he's thinking about cookies,.... if he's thinking about cookies, he's not thinking or prepared to respond to you and what you are asking him to do.

There is some research or belief that when horses eat, they release endorphins producing a calming or sedative type effect. Some think that even when a horse drops his head, to the ground searching for feed, that they will get calmer. I have a head down cue for my horses, the same cue I use to let them know it's okay to drop their head and graze. It has come in handy when I've rode upon something really spooky for the horse. I'll ask my horse to drop his head. And while his head may go down and come back up quickly, it'll generally stay lower and longer after subsequent asking. As much as anything it gets him focused on what I am asking as opposed to the spooky thing.  But if you try to use treats to calm your horse, I think you'll only generate a horse who looks for treats. 

As far as using cookies or treats to train your horse, I guess the idea is to reward the horse with a treat once he performs as you ask. While I don't intentionally use treats to train horses, it probably has its place. I suppose if you got into the habit of giving treats out to horses in a corral or a pasture, at some point these horse would be looking for you and approaching you to get a treat. May come in handy if you don't want to walk that far to collect up a horse or if you have a horse who are a little narly when it comes to catching.

I have spent a lot of words and space not really answering your question, Megan, because I don't know enough about training with treats to really give you a good opinion. About the only time I can think of giving treats as somewhat of a training tool was asking a horse, who was 30 feet away from the trailer, to go into the trailer and stand. I did that more out of being happy with him picking that up so quick, than using it as a training tool, if that makes sense. The bottom line is that I think the best reward for a horse is in the release of pressure, whether it's mental or physical pressure. The release of pressure isn't a subtle release or a 50% release. It is a total release. And it pays to give the horse the time to think about what just happened when he has earned that release. This is the way I try to approach my horses.