Thursday, July 30, 2015

Square Pen Work for Horses

I have been keeping my geldings in a 70x130 foot corral with a 12x32 foot pen in case I needed to separate one of the horses to heal an injury or whatever reason. I decided to reconfigure this arrangement so that each horse has it's own pen, so I have been building rectangle pens, 25x45 feet each.

After I had three of these pens configured and waiting on the boys to start the overhead covers, I got it into my head to ride in one of the pens as the square corners offered something different from my round pen or the oval arena.

I was mildly surprised by the amount of things we could work on in a square or rectangle pen. I started on trotting to a corner to work on not allowing the horse to anticipate stopping or slowing down and we practiced backing straight using the rail as a guide.

Then we worked on trotting into a corner then making a turn on the back end (turn on the haunches) pointing the horse to the next corner. At this point we are off the rail by a few feet. Then trotting to the next corner and doing a turn on the fore hand, swinging the back end towards the rail, putting us up against the rail.

We continued this until on one of the turns, either on the fore hand or haunches, you could turn in the opposite direction, then repeat the pattern, albeit in the opposite direction. There are many other things you can do, such as stopping further away from a corner and making an 180 degree turn, again either on the fore hand or haunches, putting you going into the opposite direction. Doubling on the fence is another good drill. Also using the fence as a obstacle to practice side passes. You can do the same exercises in an arena, but in most cases we tend to stay off the arena fence. The diagram below just shows a few things you can do in a square or rectangle pen. The diagram below is just a couple things that you can do.

In the video below, hopefully I can give some of you an better idea, than just a diagram, for working a horse, especially young horses, in a square or rectangle pen. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Arena Obstacle Challenge - September 2015

I have received many requests for ideas and videos on arena obstacles for training horses to be better trail horses. Most of the ideas for obstacles I use come from what I have seen Craig Cameron use in his clinics, or from the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA) races, or obstacles from American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) events, which are Competitive Trail Challenges (CTC's) or Arena Obstacle Challenges (AOC's).

ACTHA provides a governing body for CTC's and AOC's, approved obstacles and evaluation criteria, awards, and a point system for regional and national awards. Competing in ACTHA events is a good way to meet new horse people and get a horse gentled - making a better trail horse - in a pretty informal type of competition. ACTHA has several divisions to cover the skills of the rider and experience of the horse, from novice to advanced riders.  

Competitive Trail Challenges or CTC's are a six mile or longer trail course where riders encounter an obstacle each mile and negotiate that obstacle for a score. An example of an obstacle is a rope gate - see picture at right - a simple gate is made from rope running through PVC pipe and anchored on one end to a T post and to the other end with a loop or something that allows the rider to open/un-latch it and move the horse through, then re-latching the gate.  You can imagine the coordination and support needed to mark trails, build obstacles and provide transportation for judges to and from.

Arena Obstacle Challenges (AOC's) are conducted in an arena where a horse and rider enter and complete 6 to 10 obstacles. If you have seen an EXCA event, then you can imagine an ACTHA AOC as a much slower race where while there are time limits to complete an obstacle, time in not factored into the score.

You can go to the ACTHA obstacle page to see the list of approved obstacles.   

Because of the lack of local ACTHA or other obstacle type events in my area, I am hosting an Arena Obstacle Challenge on Saturday 26 September - I'll be posting an article and video in early October on this event. We going to try a slightly different format with a obstacles clinic on one ACTHA approved obstacle in the morning prior to the the AOC competition. This will be an obstacle that the rider's will not encounter during the subsequent AOC. After the last rider competes, the arena and obstacles will be open for riders to work on any obstacles they and their horses need to work on. I'm doing it this way so competitors can get more of a training value out of the AOC.

All ACTHA events give back to a charity. ACTHA give 20% of their proceeds to the designated charity picked by the ride host and the ride host (that would be me) gives a percentage of the entry fees to the charity. Our designated charity for the September AOC is Perfect Harmony Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization based out of Chaparral, New Mexico.

There is also an ACTHA blog with articles on ACTHA competitors and ideas for obstacles and training.

You have to be a ACTHA member to sign up for and ride in an AOC or CTC, ACTHA has a 30 day trial membership for basically $10 per person.  Otherwise annual membership is $35 per year for an individual, $50 for a family of two, or $85 for a family of four.  ACTHA membership information can be found here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mecate Safety - Being Safe Using Mecate Reins

I see more and more riders using Mecates in both competitive and pleasure trail rides as well as ranch sorting. That means they are using a bosal or a snaffle bit which I think is more benign on the horse, especially for fast paced competition.  Sure you can cut a tongue on a snaffle, but you can't get the leverage that you can on a bit with shanks.

For the most part, you can get away with tying the lead rope end of the mecate around your saddle horn or coil up the lead rope and tie it to the saddle using the saddle strings, however when you are in the sorting pen and using roping cattle like Corriente cattle with horns, I think there are some prudent safety considerations to what you do with the lead rope end of the mecate.

The traditional method for carrying the lead rope of the mecate is to make a bite in the rope and tuck it underneath your pants belt or the belt on your chinks or chaps. So if you get thrown from your horse, you have a chance to grab the lead and retain control of your horse, or if you can't grab that end of the mecate, it will pull out from the belt and keep you from being drug as the horse runs away.

The end of the mecate, making a lead rope, is real handy when you dismount as you have a lead to control your horse. On competitive trail rides, points are sometimes given to riders who also carry a halter and lead, usually bridling the horse over a halter and carrying the lead. With a mecate you don't need the halter or lead as you already have something you can lead the horse with while on the ground.

During Ranch Sorting and Team Penning events, I have seen riders configure the lead rope end of their mecate so there is no quick release and if a Corriente gets a horn through the lead, it could a wreck. I've been at the gate during sorting and have disrespectful cows push through a small gap between the panel and my horse and it wouldn't take much for a horn, or a head for that matter, to snag the hanging mecate. The only good news is that it would be exciting.

A common ways to make it less than safe when using a mecate, is to dally the lead end of the mecate several times around your saddle horn. Some people may even clove hitch it around the horn. See the photo below:

Another way is to carry the lead end of the mecate is tucked underneath your belt in the traditional manner, however then flip the mecate lead over the saddle horn to keep it out of the way. This appears to be safe as you still have the quick release under your belt, but horn wrap (especially rubber) will put friction on the rope if a cow gets their horn or head underneath the rope and it won't provide slack fast enough not to cause a wreck. If you do ride this way, you need to remember to move the lead end of the mecate off the horn before dismounting.  I often ride with the mecate looped over the saddle horn to keep it out of the way and I'm embarrassed to say I've dismounted more than few times without flipping the mecate off the horn.  But I won't get in a pen with cattle with the mecate lead end running over the horn.  See photo below.

One more way to riders to carry or secure the lead end of the mecate is to coil it and tie it to the saddle using the front saddle strings - see picture at left.  This has the same safety problems as looping it over the saddle horn or tying it to the saddle horn.  When I work a horse from the ground I'll often tie up the lead end of the mecate this way, and sometimes after ground work, I'll leave the lead end tied up if I ride, I but won't enter a pen with cattle or otherwise work cows this way.  

So really the traditional method for carrying the lead rope of the mecate, making a bite in the rope and tuck it underneath your pants belt or the belt on your chinks or chaps, is pretty much the safest method for most riding with a mecate, just be sure the loop or bite in the rope is small enough so the end of the mecate can't accidentally find it's way into the loop and create a knot. Things won't go good if you come off the horse with that lead knotted to your belt to say the least.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Trailering Horses Using the Functional Tie Ring

I have had several people purchase my Functional Tie Rings then write me to ask if they can use the Functional Tie Ring to tie horses in a trailer. It dawned on me that I did not do a good enough job in early videos or articles on using the Functional Tie Rings so I made this video on how I use the Functional Tie Ring in a safe manner to trailer my horses.

There are any people who may think tying horses in a trailer in a solution to a non existent problem and there was a time I did not tie horses in a trailer. I'm sure you can certainly be safe not tying horses in a trailer and I have loaded horses side by side in stock trailers without tying, but these days I'm all about reducing potential problems so no longer will I trailer horses who are not tied, and by tied I mean using the Functional Tie Ring.

The problems with hard tying horses in trailers, especially horses that are not good about riding in trailers, is that they can pull back and break snaps or halters then their head flings up into the trailer roof which can prove fatal to the horse. I have had a horse or two do that, but thankfully not hit their head very hard. But I also know people whose horses have died from an accident of this type.

My trailering steps, as shown in the video below are: 1 - load the horse with is lead rope through the Functional Tie Ring as normal and snapping the Functional Tie Ring into an inside trailer D ring. At this time I do not do anything with the excess lead rope except get it out of the way and where I can reach it from outside the trailer. If the horse pulls back before I can shut the slant load partition or can shut the trailer door, he'll get his controlled release from the Functional Tie Ring. 2 - I close the slant load partition (if necessary) and door. 3 - I move around to the side of the trailer then I normally daisy chain the excess portion of the lead rope to keep it out of the way of the horse. 4 - When I get where I'm going, I reverse the steps, first untying the daisy chain, then opening the trailer door, unhooking the horse then backing him out of the trailer.

I hope this helps someone be a little safer about using the Functional Tie Rings and/or trailering horses using any tie ring. Drive safe and give your horses a safe trailer ride.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Purchasing a New Horse

Beth wrote to say a couple weeks ago she was talking to a lady about buying a horse but she felt she was given conflicting information. "Hi, a few weeks ago I as texting back and forth with a woman about her horse she was trying to sell. It was an eight year old mare. She told me that she used the horse for barrels and poles and that her daughter could even ride this horse. In her Facebook ad where I first saw the horses, she listed that the horse 'trailers, stands for a farrier and for washing, and was gentle enough for children to ride'. I was looking for a well broke pleasure horse as I am not a trainer so I thought the horse's description sounded very suitable. The woman said she could bring the horse to me if I bought her. I wanted to look at the horse first so I made an almost two hour trip to see the horse. When I arrived at the farm the mare was standing in her stall and there were about 10 other horses in stalls as well. So the woman led her out. The mare, kind of a spotted white and cream color, had a pretty big scar on one of her back legs although she did not walk in anyway in a odd manner. But the big thing that made me decline to buy the horse, yes a wasted trip, was that while on the lead line that horse would not stand still and did not appear to be broke very well. The woman said I could ride her if I wanted, but I declined and left telling the woman I would have to think about it. I felt almost like I was deceived and am wondering what I can do and what questions I could ask to eliminate more wasted time. Thanks!"

Hey Beth, unfortunately the words "buyer beware" are pertinent to trucks, horses and mail order brides. Buying a horse is no small undertaking as I'm sure you know with the purchase cost often being the small end of the expense train. You have to be good about reading between the lines and seeing what is not being said - and that's only to get through the first gate so to speak. In your case the woman said "(the mare was) a horse that her daughter could ride - not that her daughter did ride the horse.  I reckon there are some people who make the first priority of downsizing their herd and the second priority being completely upfront or matching horses with prospective owners.

When my wife or I go to assess a horse to buy, we talk with the owner, trainer or whoever has been riding that horse. Usually we're asking: what the horse has been used for; how does he lead; how the horse performs; what his idiosyncrasies are such as bucking or being cinchy; does he stand to shoe, wash and clip. And why are you selling this horse?  We do this before we ever make a trip to see the horse.

Like you found out when that mare was on the lead line, the most important thing is to let the horse tell you what she is about. Talking to the owner, trainer or rider doesn't necessarily prepare you for how the horse is, and the owner's opinion is often better served by telling so you can figure out why that horse is the way he is.

It would likely be a good thing if the seller could send you a video on the horse being ridden before you make a trip. The video wouldn't need to be a full length feature movie, but seeing the horse under saddle, stopping, turning, backing and such would help you evaluate if you should go her the horse in person. Even then I have seen many horses being ridden in local Gymkhanas and other events that are simply not well broke to a lead rope.  The good thing is that this can be assessed up front and usually fixed if you take the horse home.  

I'll usually bring a 14 foot lead line and attach that to the owner's halter and ask the horse to lead up. To see if he can follow the feel of a lead rope, stop when I stop and how much attention he is paying to me. On someone's else's horse, I won't try and correct too much, maybe just a short bump on the lead when the horse's attention goes elsewhere.   Why wouldn't you do this before you get into the saddle?

I'll lunge a horse around in a small circle. If the horse takes off immediately at a lope it doesn't mean too much initially to me. He may have been not handled too recently and is full of it. Maybe he has never been lunged. But a saddle horse will figure it out very soon and you'll see a change pretty quick. Asking them to disengage their back end, stop and face up and the horse's body language can tell you some things too - whether he is paying your attention.  Will he follow the lead and walk to you?  Can you back him up on the lead?

If you are riding a horse as a prospective purchase, the owner will usually put a saddle on him and bit the horse up. Notice how he/she does that. It may account for some behaviors of the horse especially if the ears are mangled when bridling, or the bit is seated way too deep where the horses can get any release or carry the bit comfortably, or even if they are using a harsh bit or the bit is pinching the horse's mouth.  All not so uncommon, I think.   

I am not saying that you lost an opportunity to get a good horse because I wasn't there. But when I bring in a new horse, I'm not going to assume he knows anything. I'm going to start the horse all over on the ground. We may progress pretty quickly, but again it'll let me see what the horse tells me about how he has been handled.