Monday, March 30, 2015

Backing in an Circle

When some people start backing their horse in a circle I think they assume since they ride in a forwards circle in an arc,...... with the horse's nose slightly tipped in the direction of the circle and using the outside leg to push the horse around the inside leg,.... that they think they can do the same only going backwards to achieve the backing in a circle.  I sure as heck can't get it done that way.

At some point the rider will usually use his outside leg to move the back end into the circle and because the nose is tipped to the inside this slows the momentum, usually to a stop, and then the horse may make a large movement with the back end sort of like a roll back and his head comes up. The end result is that both the horse and the rider are frustrated as the horse can't figure out what you want and the rider....

When I back in a circle, I'll start with my horse straight then ask him for some softness and back him a step, and as he begins to finish that first step, I tip his head very slightly in the opposite direction of my circle or arc.

It's likely a good starting point to do this initial movement a few times giving the horse a short break in between each time so he understands that's what you are asking. And without much outside leg pressure, you also likely see the beginning of an arc.

In the beginning I had to have a light hold on outside rein to keep his head tipped slightly to the outside and with the inside rein I use pressure and release to get him to back, using my outside leg to apply a little bit of pressure on the rear of his barrel to keep the back end moving inside the arc.

You'll have to forgive my drawing above (I'm only slightly more advanced than drawing stick horses) as well as my narrative on how I back a horse in a circle. It's hard to describe accurately what you do in the saddle,.......probably easier to describe how to castrate a house cat, that's why I shot the video below, it should do a better job at explaining.

In the video below, while my horse is not backing in a collected manner (broke at the poll) as I'm not so much in contact with the bosal on his nose,'s at the end of a long day, but he does have a natural head set and that's okay with me as long as he is not being bracey and keeps his momentum. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Horse Art, from an Eight Year Old

Olivia, one of the children who help us with Christmas Caroling this past December, drew a picture for us a thank you for the opportunity to ride horses and to sing.  I'm not sure too many people would call what we did singing, though.   I really hope that the object in the top right was not a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Young Horse With Gate Anxiety

During ranch sorting the other day there was an rider on a 3 or 4 year old gelding whose first time on cows would be that day. The rider was concerned that the horse would spook and bolt inside the pen. I had the rider and the horse stay right behind me and my horse as we approached the pens from the outside while the cows were being pushed into the sorting pens. As you can imagine the new horse's head was on a swivel watching and reacting to any move from the 12 Corrientes's in the pen. After a few minutes we rode away, then rode back to do the same. And each time that horse got better. He still had some anxiety about those cows, but it was time to get in the pens.

I was planning on using my first 90 second run with the new horse and rider just circling the cows to allow the horse to get some confidence about the cows moving away from him, and eventually did that, but when going to enter the pen through the 4 foot gate for the first time, that new gelding wouldn't get anywhere near the gate. Eventually, one of the ground crew led the horse through the gate and we commenced on our first run.

The new horse and rider did another 4 or 5 runs each time having to be lead on the ground through the gate. During a break I talked to the rider about how well the horse is taking to cattle and saying that I actually thought that little gelding probably had some cow horse bred into him as he was doing so well once he got into the pen, but still the gate bothered him and we should try to fix that. I took the rider and the horse over to the larger arena fence where it was also apparent that the sponsor signs on the fence bothered that little horse.

I had the rider ask the horse to move towards the arena and letting the horse stop when he needed to. The horse, being curious would soon become comfortable and take a step forward on it's own motivation. And while I was explaining that to the rider, the horse moved forward a step much to the rider's delight. Within a few minutes that horse was nosing the signs, licking his lips and starting to look around.

Then I dismounted and demonstrated moving the horse following the lead line between me and the arena fence, asking the horse to roll his backend over and bring his front end across and follow the lead between me and the arena fence.

I was using a Bosal and a mecate, while the rider was using a leverage bit, so the rider retrieved a halter then started doing this exercise with the new horse. And at first the new horse skitted through between the rider and the fence like something bad was going to happen in that confined space. After a few times of back and forth following the lead between the rider and fence the horse became much more comfortable and I had the rider, give the horse a break for a few minutes, then close the gap and continue. Another few minutes and that was old hat to that young gelding.

So then I had the rider ask the horse to stop between him and the fence then to rub on the horse. Then I had the rider continue at a slower pace and stop the horse mid way in each direction and rub on him. There as a big difference in that horse and the rider saw it. I said let's give it a go and see if he'll move through the sorting pen gate on his own. That young gelding moved through the sorting pen gate like he'd been doing it all his life.

The photos below show what I described above in having the horse follow the lead between you and the fence.  You may have to use a flag to help the horse go forward and the horse may hurry through it in the beginning.  Once the horse gets comfortable following the lead, rolling his back end away from the fence and bringing his front end over and going through again, you can have him stop between you and fence.  Giving him a release here.   They quickly become desensitized to the fence.   And in the case of the little horse at ranch sorting who was fearful of the sorting pen gate, the gate becomes a non issue.       

Monday, March 16, 2015

Army Scout - Tom Threepersons

Unarguably, Tom Threepersons would be considered a Lawman well before his service as an Army Scout would be mentioned. However, it is beyond any doubt that Tom Threepersons and his accomplishments should be considered as legendary. Threepersons, born into the Cherokee Nation on or about 1893 and moved with his father and a friend (sometimes reported as his brother) to Alberta Province, Canada around 1908 to start a ranch.  My Grandfather lost his ranch in Montana in the early 1900's and also moved to Alberta to ranch taking my father and his two brothers. So I've always felt a kinship with Tom Threeperson's story.

Threeperson's father was soon killed by raiders. After the killers were released by the courts, Tom Threepersons killed both raiders in a gunfight.

Tom then joined the famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and as a Mountie tracked criminals and raiders across the very rough and remote territory of the Canada-U.S. border. It was during his service with the RCMP where Threepersons was in gunfights resulting in more than 10 criminals killed or wounded, and Threepersons himself was wounded at least once.

Threepersons cemented his legend as a Canadian lawman by also working the Canadian- Alaska border where he tracked and killed kidnappers as well as tracking robbers for over 200 miles back on the U.S. Canadian border before capturing these men. Another manhunt led to the death of his partner, which Threepersons avenged days later, killing both remaining suspects.

Knowing his way around a horse and riding in local rodeo circuits in his teens, gave Threepersons a reputation as a capable Cowboy, which he proved in 1912 Threepersons won the Saddle Bronco event at a rodeo in Calgary that would be known worldwide as the Calgary Stampede.

A few years later, at about 21 years old, Threepersons moved to Arizona where he cowboyed and raised horses. He volunteered to serve as a scout for General Black Jack Pershing’s Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa and later served at Fort Bliss, Texas before being discharged in 1920.

Threepersons then served as an El Paso Police Officer and a Federal Probation Officer before leaving to run a ranch in Mexico. In Mexico he reported killed a couple of rustlers then returned to the U.S. where he became a Mounted Customs Inspector.

Later on he served as El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy and here he designed a holster, built by the S.D. Myres Saddle Co., which became known as the Tom Threeperson's Style. This holster is still in manufacture by El Paso Saddlery which bought out S.D. Myres in 1969. The Threeperson's holsters are shown at right.

Leaving law enforcement, Threepersons moved to Gila - Silver City area of New Mexico, ranching and guiding the rest of his life. Tom Threepersons died on April 2nd, 1969 and is buried in Silver City, New Mexico.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Positive versus Negative Re-enforcement

J.K. wrote to ask about an old article I wrote about Discipline your horse, as opposed to Correcting your horse,....."I remember reading an article you wrote about disciplining being the harsher side of training. While I don't ride much anymore, I was having a debate with my friend about horses being like children, neither doing well, in general, with disciplining. Can you send me or re-post that article? Thanks, I found your site enjoyable and informative."

That older article you mention was titled - "Correcting Your Horse Versus Disciplining Your Horse " - and is available here. I had a hard time writing that as I do writing this, as one person's discipline is another's punishment. We define things in order to communicate better with each other, but some terms just have very broad meanings across a group of people.  Consider the phrase "breaking a horse".  Many people, who in the best forms of "natural horsemanship", still use this term when what they do with, and how they train horses is anything but breaking them.  I think the frame of mind and the methods used by each individual define what they are doing.   

Discipline connotes some sort of consequence, usually punishment, for what a horse or a person did wrong - or a different way of looking at it - what they didn't do right.   I also call this negative re-enforcement training. An example may be lunging your horse and whipping it on the butt when the horse isn't transitioning into the gait you want. An example for people may be a football coach making one of the players do sprints up and down the football field for executing plays incorrectly. Negative re-enforcement often creates resentment, anxiety and fear of trying.  Horses can be fearful enough that when we burden them with punishment it usually has the opposite effect we were seeking. Took me a long time to understand this much to my shame. 

Correction implies fixing something that wasn't done correctly. It likely can't be done with recognizing or rewarding what was done right, but focuses on fixing what was done wrong or wasn't done completely right. This would be positive re-enforcement. Maybe you're trying to get a horse to soften his face, asking him to drop his head and tuck his nose. Once he drops his head or maybe just tucks his nose slightly, you release the rein pressure you were using, and you rub on him and let him stand quiet for a moment, before asking again. This is also what is meant by "rewarding the slightest try", a phrase that came out of the horse training methods of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. 

A human example of positive re-enforcement would be teaching someone to double a horse but they consistently are pulling back on the reins affecting the horse's ability to bring his front end over in the turn. So first concentrating on what they are doing right, maybe you comment on how well their seat and balance are, then you say "you may get your horse bringing his front end over smoother if you put your hands a bit more forward and give him more slack in the rein that becomes your outside rein.   

I think what patience and correction is, as opposed to discipline and punishment, is one of the foundations for what most people refer to natural horsemanship and what is attributed to the methods of horsemanship brought to light, again, by Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt and continued by many exceptional clinicians today. Although, I also think if you ask 20 people what natural horsemanship is you'll get 30 different answers....such is the difficulty in defining these terms like this as well as concepts of discipline and correction. They just mean different things to different people.

But, I wouldn't worry about what they mean to others. What it means to you and how you use it is what is important.  Speaking about the difficulties in defining terms, you may like this article, called "The Myth of Natural Horsemanship", which is a chapter in book by Tom Moates called "A Horse's Thought - a Journey Into Honest Horsemanship".  It is an exceptionally well written article and is thought provoking.  For a man like me, who some - like my wife - call dim witted, this article is challenging.

Good luck J.K.  I think you are approaching horses from a good angle when you say they re like children.  A firm hand and correction as opposed to a heavy hand and discipline will likely be a safer and happier journey.              

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Halter Broke

Justin wrote to ask "Thanks for writing the information and videos.  They help me fine.  What exactly is meant by a horse being halter broke.  I am looking on classified ads for horses and I see ads saying the horse for sale is halter broke."

One of the first things you notice Justin, is that the more people and horses you are around, the greater the differences you'll see in definitions. We all make fun how people use terms to describe their horses, especially if they are selling them. But the term "halter broke" certainly competes with them all for the widest description.   The bottom line and the best circumstance for an ad describing a horse as halter broke, is that it is a very green horse, it is not gentled to ride.

But your question brings up a good topic - what is halter broke?  While fueling up last year in late winter, I ran into a rancher I knew from my Range Rider days when I worked a gather in the grazing unit he leased from the BLM. He told me he had several horses who needed to be halter broke so when he brought cowboys in at springtime, they could ride and gentle them. Apparently the person who previous halter broke his horses had moved on. He said he pay me $100, $20 more than he paid the women, to halter break four horses, ranging from coming 2 to 4 years old, which pretty much told me his idea halter broke was pretty much just getting, and leaving, a halter on the horse.

While I had to think about it. I thought maybe I could show him a good way, and make it easier on the horses when some young men got ahold of them in a few months, but I had to say no.....I now wish I would have asked him what he expected from those horses once "halter broke", but I'm pretty sure his idea halter broke was pretty much just getting, and likely leaving, a halter on the horse.

If I would have taken up his offer, I would have planned to spend a couple days with these horses, getting them used to a halter going on and coming off, accepting a rope or a lead touching them all over especially on their backs, legs and hocks, and under their barrel.   Then progressing to leading.  I just can't associate being halter broke without being broke to lead.

One of the first things I do when the horse is accepting of the halter is to get it used to giving to pressure on the poll (behind the head).  The pictures at left are me applying a little downward pressure on the halter heel knot with my left hand and using my right hand to put a little downward pressure on the poll.  I'm not applying a lot of pressure, just giving a suggestion to the horse.  Once the horse gives me anything (dropping his head), I release that pressure and give him a moment or two to think about it. Then I'll try it again. 

Each time, if your release is exact and complete, the horse will give you more (drop his head more) and they'll be quicker about it too.  This is teaching him pressure and release which is going to be the basis for you continuing on to gentle him to lead in hand - that is leading him on the ground by a lead rope connected to his halter.

Progressing to actually leading starts with giving to pressure from the lead line,  I first start out asking a horse to give to off line pressure and giving me a step.  By off line I mean you are of to the side of their head,  then taking the slack out of the lead and having them give me a step.  When they are good with this pressure from the front and having them get soft and giving you a couple steps at a time is good progress.   If you can get all this down on a green horse, then I think you can move on to actually leading, but I wouldn't call it broke to lead until the horse can lead up properly without being pushy or invading your space.   He should stop when you stop and still be paying attention to you.  I think broke to lead would also include having a horse follow the lead so you can direct him past you which comes in handy loading in a trailer or going through a narrow gate.  

Just because I get a halter on a dead broke horse, I don't take him having basic manners nor believe that leading up right foremost in his mind. When I get a halter on a horse, I pretty much always get them to give to poll pressure, not lead off until I'm ready, disengage the front end then the back  Then I'll usually ask the horse to back.   I have the horse lead off a few steps then have them stop.  I pay attention to them giving me attention, and if they get distracted, I'll gently remind them to give me both eyes.

I have heard professional clinicians say that "if you can't load your horse in a trailer, then he ain't broke to lead".   I not going to argue with my betters, but I am sure there are horses functionally broke to lead well enough that still have problems loading, but you can't get to trailer loading until the horse is halter broke and that means broke to lead safely.