Saturday, February 18, 2017

Three Hours with John Lyons

This past week I have the privilege of meeting John Lyons as he and his wife Jody and crew stopped in Las Cruces, New Mexico for a few days enroute to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and offered to do one of his "Three Hours with John" sessions. In the "3 Hours with John" format, Mr. Lyons addressed questions from a small group, 16 people in our case, and outlined his simple philosophy in training horses, using his 19 year old horse, Preacher. That's Preacher in the photo at right checking out all the stains on my hat.
As John talked, he allowed Preacher freedom to roam around and explore the area at Red Sky Farms, outside of Las Cruces and situated in the shadows of the beautiful and rugged Organ Mountains, calling preacher to lope over to him whenever he wanted to use him to explain a point.   

John, in his engaging manner, really tried to clear away a alot of mystique around horses, their behavior and training, explaining that it (horse training) is really simple which reminded me of the saying "It's simple, just not easy".
I'm not going to try and write about some of things John was explaining because I'll likely get it wrong and it would be a disservice to Mr. Lyons. But I will say that some of what he had to say is making me relook at what I do with horses, and that alone made the whole day valuable. As John was talking he would call Preacher over to him, demonstrating control on the ground of Preacher's head, neck, front and back ends through subtle use of the reins.

You can see the Organ Mountains in the background in the picture of john and Preacher, above left, and those rain clouds relented after two days of rain to give us a very cold, windy day.  As I looked down the line of people there to hear John, about everyone was wrapped in horse blankets - that was a fairly dedicated group. 

The most exciting part, at least for my wife, was when John had my wife stand between him and Preacher and cued Preacher to lope right at wife, stopping right in front of her. Now my wife has stood her ground many times in front of pushy or charging horses, so that wasn't too scary for her, but it demonstrated Preacher willingness to come when called, at any gait, and was a crowd pleaser. The picture at left is Preacher, my wife and John during this demonstration.

My wife and I first came across John Lyons over 20 years and were just not going to miss the opportunity to travel to meet him and listen what he had to say about horses. About 18 years ago I bought my wife John's series of Making the Perfect Horse books to use as a reference and to loan out to her riding students. John offered the usual assortment of books, manual, DVD's and equipment for sale, but made an important point that most people have a lot of equipment, so he always recommended buying knowledge before equipment.

After the session my wife and I talked to John and Jody, two of the nicest people you will ever meet, and promised to stay in contact with each other and discussed the possibility of John doing a session or clinic at our place in the next year. You can go to John's website and look at this schedule for the clinics he does around the country, as well as the knowledge products he offers which are well worth your money.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Can the Horse Train Itself to Trailer Load?

I received this question but am leaving the sender's name off: " Have you heard about backing a trailer up to a horse stall and feeding the horse in the trailer so that the horse has to go into the trailer if it wants to eat? A friend of mine did this and the horse is now comfortable at entering the trailer. I have been told this is a common technique so I was thinking about this safe and painless way to train a horse and would like to know if you have other applications for getting the horse to 'train herself', of course in a safe manner."

Not only I have heard about people, setting things up so a horse has to enter a trailer in order to eat and in effect teaching itself to trailer load, I have seen it several times. I had to shut it down one time when a boarder at a large public stables that I ran, about 15 years ago, tried that very thing and it went for two days without the horse loading itself and eating, so I had to intervene. While I did not see any evidence of it, I suspect other boarders were feeding that horse after hours.
I think if you just have to do this, then place the feed at the edge of the trailer and gradually place the feed deeper in the trailer so that the horse becomes more and more comfortable entering the trailer rather than an all of nothing approach, but I would still recommend getting your horse truly broke to lead.    

The concept of pressure and release used to build a relationship and train a horse are common place now, thanks to Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt and all the guys and gals that are carrying on that legacy, hands like Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert, Martin Black, Craig Cameron, Chris Cox and many others. But pressure and release is much more than that, as it is how the pressure is applied and particularly the timing of the release is critical. That's were all the aforementioned names likely have the greatest value to us, in trying to teach us the nuances and timing of using pressure and release. I'm living proof that you can embrace these concepts and 20 years later still struggle.
I can see how backing a trailer up to a stall and offering feed if the horse steps into the trailer would appeal to people thinking that the horse controls his own stress and gets the reward of feed once it overcomes it's fear, or maybe more correctly, once it's hunger is greater than it's fear. But later on, when wanting to load and go someplace, how are you going to ask the horse to load? Just throw a flake of hay upfront and hope he goes for it? As far as trailer loading goes, I think a handler needs to be able to lead or send a horse into the trailer.  In the past, I have used butt ropes and even a crop to tap the horse's butt to get him to load, but it wasn't until I heard someone say words to the effect "that if your horse is truly broke to lead then you should be able to lead or send him into the trailer."    

I think the human needs to be a participant in most everything with the horse. I can think of just a few things, standing tied comes to mind, where I would set it up for the horse to explore and learn on itself, then walk away, but I would never be too far away,....the horse is not staying tied for 8 hours or fact, standing tied would be something I would start with a small amount of time on and build on that gradually, about like anything else you do with horses.

I had a lady whose horse was scared of plastic bags that she was using on the end of a stick as a flag. The horse did not like the flag, so she tied a bunch of plastic bags all around a halter then turned the horse loose in a round pen (thankfully it was a round pen!). All I saw on the short video was about 15 seconds of the horse running full out around the pen and I was told that he did it for about 45 minutes. I think maybe the time was exaggerated - a horse running full out for that long,..well, it ain't good. I don't know any other method other than the pressure has to be controlled by the human in order to have an effective timing of the release so the horse has a chance to think and learn. After all you are wanting the horse to do something based on a cue from a human.

The idea of a horse being exposed to something (gradually) and getting used to it is valid and useful. But when applied to something that can adversely affect the horse's health and safety, like eating and gut movement, or the lack of it and subsequent increase in the chance of colic, kinda seems like throwing a 5 year old in the pond so he can teach himself to swim. There are usually some exceptions and I don't harbor any ill towards for my Pa for throwing me in the pond to learn to swim. The fact that he told me there were alligators in there likely shortened my learning curve to swim, but I wouldn't recommend the swim or die approach for horses.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tack Tip: Para-Cord Rein Connectors

I had a question from a reader on connecting conventional reins with trigger or other snaps to slobber straps, which of course you could do, you would just need a connector. No doubt someone has tied a loop with a piece of hay twine to a snaffle bit or to the shank of a leverage bit so they could snap reins into. Some likely did this to make it easy to change reins out, and others probably did it to eliminate the trigger or bolt snap's metal to metal contact with the bit.
See picture at right showing a para-cord rein connector between the trigger snap of the reins and the shank of the leverage bit.   In fact, somewhere I have seen riders using some sort of connector, other than just attaching reins to a bit using the water loops on the reins.

One aspect of slobber straps are to keep from having to connect rawhide or horse hair reins directly to the bit, saving the wear and tear of the reins moving against the bit and the horse's slobber from degrading or discoloring the reins.
Another benefit of slobber straps are that they add weight to the bit when the reins are loose so when the rider begins to pickup the reins the lightening of the weight of the connection between the reins, slobber strap/chains and bit were noticeable to the horse - sort of like a pre-signal. So, while not commonly done, attaching conventional reins with trigger snaps to the slobber straps can be done with a connector.

While I am not using connectors, I can see where they might be needed and can have additional uses as rein extenders for instance. If the reins were just a little short, 3-4 inch connectors of each sides of the bit can give the rider alittle more rein to work with.

I took some para-cord, also called 550 suspension line for parachutes, and went about making some quick detachable/re-attachable and re-useable connectors.  What I came up with is illustrated in the series of pictures below.  
I cut one 20 inch piece, and two 4 inch pieces of para-cord for each connector. I doubled up the 20 inch piece and tied an overhand knot combining the two running ends. I dressed down (tightened up) the knot then trimmed it. I melted the ends with a lighter.  See picture at left.
I took the smaller 4 inch pieces of para-cord and made girth hitches over the doubled up longer section.  I dressed up the knots, trimmed them and melted the ends together so the knot stays intact, but it will slide up and down the long piece of para-cord.  I'm calling these the girth knot keepers.  See picture above.
In the picture at right, you can see the over hand knot placed through the two pieces of the long section of para-cord.  Then you would slide the girth knot keepers up towards the overhand knot to tighten up against it and make a loop.  
You may be able to find beads that could replace the girth knot keepers and slide with enough friction to tighten up and make the overall loop.  It would probably look better too.     
In the picture below you can see how these para-cord connectors could connect trigger snaps reins to slobber straps if you were so inclined to used them.