Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Handguns for Horseback

Jason wrote a comment on a previous article "Functional Horseman's Saddle Guns" where he recommended "a handgun in 44 caliber or 10mm if a semi automatic". Ralph P. sent an e-mail "cautioning me that revolvers were hard to shoot and therefore semi-automatic handguns were best suited."    Okay, lets talk about semi-automatics as a horseback gun. 
When a cartridge is fired in a semi-automatic handgun the gun powder in the case is turned to gas which propels the bullet from 0 fps to 800 up to 1400 fps, depending upon what caliber and cartridge you are firing. This is a controlled explosion which not only propels the bullet downrange but actuates the slide of the semi-automatic pushing it rearwards so the extractor can grab the empty case and as the slide reaches it's final rearward position, an ejector hits the empty cases knocking it away from the gun. The slide under spring tension then moves forward stripping a new cartridge from the top of the magazine and chambering that cartridge (aka round) into the chamber of the barrel and the gun is ready to fire again,...and repeat that cycle. 

When semi-automatic handguns are designed, they are made to function (operate reliably) when the frame of the handgun is held in a relatively tight grip. A loose grip on the handgun, especially so when shooting one handed (often called "limp wristed shooting') can often not provide a tight enough grip for the slide to actuate fully against and often results in a malfunction.

The issue for shooting on horseback with a semi-automatic is that it most often has to be done one handed and bad habits are magnified when you are shooting from a moving platform - a horse. 

The picture and sub-set above right show bad habits that retard the movement of the slide of the semi automatic handgun and can therefore more likely create a malfunction.  These bad habits include shooting with a less than firm grip on the gun and with a bent elbow.  Shooters will often bend their elbows and bring the gun's sights closer to them thinking that it will help them get a better sight picture, when the opposite is the case.  With a bent elbow you also reduce your ability to control recoil and muzzle rise.  The picture in the sub-set also shows the shooter leaning off his horse's centerline.  I can shoot off this horse, but if surprised by the gun shot he may move his feet alittle and if I am leaning as he moves, it will be harder to get a accurate second or third shot off. 


The picture above, shooting with an extended arm (elbow locked) and shoulder raised (like hunching your shoulders) provide a firm platform for the handgun to recoil against and operate as designed, and allows the shooter to control the recoil and muzzle more effectively.

Semi-automatics will have a much less trigger weight - the amount of pressure it takes to pull the trigger - than a double action revolver.  Another bad habit is to keep your finger on the trigger while trying to control your horse using the reins in the other hand.  There is a condition call "para-sympathetic reflex" where under stress if you pull or grab with the off hand, the gun hand may also contract and can pull the trigger causing a unintended and negligent discharge of a round. 

When I worked as a Conservation Law Enforcement Officer I carried whatever handgun I wanted as long as I could qualify with it.  I chose a Double Action Smith and Wesson Model 686 revolver  in a 4 inch barrel in .357 Magnum caliber. When our agency later mandated we carry Beretta Model 92SF semi-automatics in 9mm, I spent some time educating our agency management about the pros and cons of semi-auto versus revolver.  I lost the case and to further handicap us, management also mandated we use lanyards connecting the gun to our belts via a elastic telephone cord type of get up.  While it may make sense for some people on horseback to have a lanyard for their handgun, the last thing I or my fellow Range Riders wanted was another rope like doodad to get hung up on when mounting or dismounting to riding through heavy brush.  Gun retention can be solved by a quality holster and training.       

I have worked with other Law Enforcement Officers helping them get their horses sacked out to shoot from and virtually all of them were required to use an agency specified semi-automatic handgun.  Eliminating bad shooting habits became important, especially for Border Patrol agents along the Mexico-U.S. border who potentially face heavily armed drug smugglers or bandits each shift.     

I'm sure we can agree that not only does a handgun have to be able to be used effectively by a rider - and this is a training issue - the gun needs to be reliable and the cartridge sufficient to do the intended job.  The needs of a horseback law enforcement officer, who works mainly in a people populated area are likely different versus a back country guide exposed to dangerous game like mountain lions or grizzly bears.  And both maybe be somewhat different from a recreational rider carrying a handgun for personal protection or for snakes. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tack Tip - Expedient Bareback Pad

One of my readers wrote to ask about riding bareback and how much of that would or could be detrimental to the horse. 

I would be concerned about too much bareback riding particularly on an older horse with the lack of back muscle that would support weight concentrated on a smaller area that would come from bareback riding as opposed to a saddle with bars to support and spread out the weight.

The friction from your pants or chaps sliding around on his back couldn't be good for him. But I think it all depends on how much and what type of riding you are doing. I have a hard enough time sitting a horse in a saddle to think about challenging myself riding bareback. I don't ride bareback much and haven't been bareback for more than 20 minutes over the past 20 years. And that would be cumulative minutes! But I recognize the training value of learning a bareback seat before moving to a saddle and some people, either because a lack of time or whatever, just like to pull a horse from a pen in halter and get in a quick bare back ride.

I thought of the John Wayne movie "Big Jake" where John Wayne's character's son was getting ready to mount a horse bareback and John Wayne said "put a blanket on that horse".  The son replied "I don't need a blanket", and John Wayne said "It ain't for you, it's for the horse!"
I have a very well made bare back pad which I bought at a Craig Cameron clinic for my wife - the picture at right. It's a contoured bareback pad made from suede leather stitched onto a 1" thick 100% wool felt pad. It has D rings and a latigo for securing the bareback pad to the horse's back, and a hand loop near the withers for safety. I would recommend anyone who rides much bareback should have a quality pad such as this one. However, it does cost $250 and that's alot of money to some especially if you don't ride bareback much.

An expedient bare back pad can be made from a old felt pad (a contoured pad likely works best), a cincha and a latigo - see picture at right.  I'm sure you can use other type pads, but a contoured pad stays in place better, less so on mutton withered horses.  A blanket covered wool pad would be my next choice, but again a contoured pad will work the best. 

Simply place the pad on the horse, configure one end of the latigo to one of the D rings on the cincha - you can see that connection in the picture above, then drape the latigo over the pad and connect to the other cincha D ring buckle on the other side - see picture at right.

You may have to punch new holes in the latigo to secure it to the cincha buckle.  Your latigo will likely have a lot of excess.  You can double it up and store it in the keeper on the cincha, or you can cut the latigo to a more manageable size.   

Once you use the expedient bare back pad, you will have an idea on what you need to do to make it more safe and/or easier to use. If you want to get fancy on it you could sew a latigo or an alike strap over the pad, and you could fashion an hand hold with a section of old belt or another latigo strap on the pad near the withers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Any Problems with Switching between English and Western Saddles?

Ed wrote: "I have learned so much from your blog and it has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of owning and riding my horse, and made me a much more responsible owner. " "Now, I have a specific question for you. When I purchased my horse he had been trail-ridden almost exclusively with western tack, which I got with the purchase. However, eventually I bought a used English saddle, mainly as a decoration; I never really planned to use it. What I did not expect is that when put it on him for the first time, it really seemed to suit me! It felt so right that I have never had the western tack on him since--four years now. But, there are times when I would like to use the western saddle, especially for trail rides or when using saddle bags, etc." "My question is, will it confuse my horse, or compromise his ability to function in English tack if I use the western saddle from time to time, for trail rides or just casual hacks? Should I use the same bridle and bit (D-snaffle) that I always use for foxhunting, or is there some functional difference with the more basic western bridle? Most of our riding is foxhunting, which to the horror of my purist friends, I usually do on a loose rein. He just seems to know what I want him to do most of the time, and any instructions are generally just simple touches of the rein and bit. I don't want to ruin that! Thanks in advance for your wisdom and perspective."

Hey Ed, good to hear from you again and thanks for your comments, although wisdom is something I do not associate with myself.....just ask my wife. Good for you to have such a good relationship with that draft cross of yours. You may ought to look into Cowboy and Western Dressage as well as regular dressage with that horse. My take on western dressage is that it is basically dressage with a western saddle. I believe Cowboy dressage on the other hand stresses riding on a loose rein or anyway not always being in contact with the horse’s mouth. I have to say up front that I know nothing about fox hunting and only ridden a english saddle twice (that I'll admit to) and at least one of those times may have been an alcohol induced incident, so really someone who rides both english and western should be answering this question, but since you asked I'll give it my best shot of making sense.    

As long as your Western saddle fits well, it should present no problem to you or your horse going back and forth from fox hunting or eventing to western pleasure or trail riding. Even though I use the same saddles on the same horses for years, I always check to make sure they are not hurting my horses. Horse's back confirmation can change, just like we do. Fat deposits build up, muscle tone diminishes, and arthritis may become an issue in an older horse.

Many people are now switching saddles, from English to western, back and forth.  In fact, I'm sure some start off with English saddles for dressage, then switch to a western saddle for western dressage test on the same morning. I know several ladies who are primary dressage riders, but who throw a western saddle on their horses and compete in ranch sorting and obstacle competitions,...and do well too.  All this cross training has to be good for the horse.

Anyway, the bit and bridle is the same as well. There is no reason you cannot do everything in a D ring snaffle, nor is there any reason you can't change from a snaffle, to a curb bit, to a correction bit,....although I have yet to figure out what problem a correction bit is correcting.   For the past few years I have had no reason for using anything but a bosal or a snaffle bit, although I did start to use a snaffle with a roller in the center connecting the bars as I thought it would serve a particular horse better. And I prefer a fixed O ring or egg butt snaffle, but that's just my preference and maybe so because it's simple.  Note:  I am often called a simpleton, and for some reason I am not associating that with a compliment.    

Changing bits or riding sometimes in a bosal can give a horse a break from time to time. On my hackamore horse, I have three different bosals I use, changing the pressure up to reduce the chances of soreness and such.

Many top hand clinicians have said words to the effect that dressage is no different than any other riding, and riding is riding and horsemanship is horsemanship.  I think the same principles of horsemanship apply, just the competitive rules may make it seem these disciplines are worlds apart.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jog versus the Trot -What's the Difference I'm Asked?

Teresa wrote in to ask about differences between the jog and the trot: "Hello, I was watching a friend of mine taking lessons and her trainer was telling her to extend the trot and was telling her in a repetitive fashion to lift and lift. When they were finishing I asked the trainer what the difference was in the jog and the trot and she replied that they don't jog as it is not a recognized gait? I know people jog on their horses so can you clarify what the difference's are between the jog and the trot. Thank you in advance. Teresa."

I use the terms jog and trot interchangeably. Both are a two beat gait, where the horse's right hind foot and left front foot hit the ground together, then the left hind foot and the right front foot move together. Or it is usually explained as a two beat gait with diagonals. See diagram below.

Sometimes describing the two beat diagonal gait as a jog or a trot is dependent upon what discipline the rider is. But that is not necessarily true all the time. Like I said I use jog and trot interchangeably. I have friends who are dressage riders who also use both terms.

Within this two beat gait, there can be what you may consider different speeds. Sometimes the speed of a horse in the jog or trot can be related to the speed or quickness of their feet (the diagonals) coming off the ground, and sometimes it is the length of the horse's stride as in what you see on the dressage court with horse's trotting with suspension or a delay in the diagonals coming off the ground and re-planting. I think what also impacts the jog/trot and the speed or length of their strides is the individual horse's breed and conformation.

I'm sure people have different terms for the variances or speeds of the jog/trot like "working jog" or "extended jog'. That's basically the terminology I use, correct or not. If I going some place at a working jog and want to get there sooner, I'll just ask my horse to pick it up to an extended jog.

As far as the trainer from your story telling your friend to "lift, lift, lift", that is likely a que to help your friend post the jog/trot. Posting is when the rider's pelvis rotates forward as one of the front diagonals is coming up off the ground and rotating back as that foot hits the ground, and continues that rhythm. If your friend was riding a circle or a big oval, the trainer was likely saying "lift" as the horse's outside diagonal was preparing to come off the ground to que the rider to post on the rising of the outside diagonal - called posting on the outside diagonal.

Most of the time when I am riding a horse at a jog/trot, I will be posting or what passes for posting. Some would say I look like a monkey investigating a football, when I post, but I try to rotate my pelvis forward, keeping my shoulders in the same position and try not to use my feet and legs to raise my body.

Do not be confused with what is sometimes called the "working gait" - that would be the jog/trot. A good cow horse will spend much of the day in the jog/trot, getting his breaks as the Cowboy dismounts to open a wire gate, check a water valve or float, stop to eye ball the country he is traveling to or to locate cows.

As I received Teresa's original question, I thought it would be easy to answer. But it wasn't as simple as I thought. Teresa's story reminds me when we went in to taste some wine and we asked "to try a sip of wine" and the proprietor look down her nose at us and coldly stated "one does not sip wine,......one tastes wine." I'll just bet that some people would see me, a hairy uncouth individual, riding at an un-refined jog on a loose rein with my horse's head at a natural headset, and declare that I was certainly not riding at a trot as my horse's neck was not rounded or his nose vertical, back rounded and back feet underneath himself, nor would I be in contact with his mouth.

While I think a rider should be able to control the speed of each horse's gaits (walk, jog/trot and lope/canter, I think a horse and rider can have functionality, not to mention fun, without getting wrapped up into performing these gaits in narrow acceptable description. It doesn't mean you can't work on getting your horse framed up and collected especially if you are in competitions that seek that type of refinement.