Thursday, June 20, 2019

Some Thoughts on Backing

A common question I receive is on backing horses. The questions "How do I get a horse to back up" or "How do I get my horse to back up better" are consistently common questions. Unfortunately I also get questions pertaining to what bit to use to get a horse to backup.

In the Arena Challenges I run, I always have one or more stations where the competitor has to back a horse straight, or back while pulling a log, or, back up in a "L", Serpentine or Circle. With respects to my competitors, few do backing well.

In my opinion, backing well actually starts on the ground when you are gentling your horse getting him sacked out and giving to pressure, getting his head soft. In the beginning we usually use a light but steady pull backwards on the lead rope to get the horse to back up. It's common to do this when leading a horse and the horse begins to get too close or even forward of your position. This rear ward pressure on the lead generally works if you provide a release when the horse takes a step. This can be refined to giving the release as a front hoof comes off the ground, and even as we are just starting to introduce the horse to backing, giving a release when there is even a weight shift off a foot, as the horse prepares to take a step. Because a horse can brace pretty easy against this rearward pressure, sometimes combining the rear ward pressure while moving his head left and right will often break a foot loose easier and get a step to the rear, where you can give a release and build on that.

However, we are not always going to be positioned on the ground, at his head, to use rearward pressure on the lead rope, or it could be the reins, to effect a backup. The previously mentioned side to side movement of head makes it easier to transition to just wiggling the lead rope which comes in handy when you are in front of the horse and want the horse to backup. This is handy if you are on the ground repositioning a loop on a calf and need the horse to come forward to give slack and then to backup to get the rope taunt. Another situation may be that you are dismounted fixing a fence and horse gradually move up next to you - if you can back them up with a wiggle of the lead, or reins, you can keep him out of trouble with the barb wire. Again, it's just handy to be able to back your horse from the ground. In the last Arena Challenge I ran, one of the tasks was to dismount, stand inside a 2' x 2' PVC frame and stay in that frame while the rider had to back the horse away from the feel transmitted through the reins or the get down rope.

Everyone has seen horses being pulled back with their head raised and mouth gaping. Occasionally I get the question on what bit works best for backing a horse, and, equally unfortunately, at various events I have heard comments like "I need to find out what kind of bit that guy is using, as his horse backs so well". This kind of question or comment exposes the thinking that backing is achieved and maintained by pulling the horse back using pain or the horse's response to avoid pain to get the horse to back.

Watching a horse being backed with his head thrown up and mouth gaping open - it is not only inefficient and frankly, ugly, it is not fair to the horse. The horse's puts additional weight on the front end, where about 60-65% of his weight normally is anyway, and ends up off balance pushing with his front end. It's like falling backwards almost.

I used to do something like this: ask the horse for softness (to break at the poll), sit on my pockets deep in the seat, then apply alternative pressure on the reins, as gently as I could but firm enough to signal the horse to take a step back, and I would use leg pressure on their belly with my calf, heel or spur. The problem with this is that when we are trying to collect a horse with forward momentum, we are doing the same thing - asking them to break at the poll and using our legs to bring their belly up rounding the back and driving the back end underneath themselves. It's confusing to me, then again I'm not known as a particularly smart man, but it has just got to be as confusing to the horse - we are asking the horse to differentiate the different between a backup and collection at forward momentum with only with a slight weight change in the saddle.

So it was only when I started not using my legs on their barrel that I had the desired action I was looking for. You still have to ask the horse for vertical softness, and a slight weight change in your seat as you put some feel into your reins in an alternating fashion. Give the horse a release and build to where you are giving that release on the same side rein that the front foot is coming off the ground.

Working on this timing will help with us with connecting the reins to the feet in other things we do. I do use my feet, but off the barrel, in a wiggling motion (for lack of a better word) which creates energy that the horse can feel. I work on all these cues with a voice command, so that when I am in a position where I can't use my reins or seat to effectively signal a backup, nor maybe even my seat sometimes, I still have a voice command with the energy created by moving my feet in the stirrups to get the horse to backup. I hope this helps someone else.  Safe Journey.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Randy Rieman Horsemanship Clinic El Paso 2019

What do dressage horses, barrel horses, team roping, pleasure and ranch horses all have in common? It was that they and their riders were much better after participating in a Randy Rieman Clinic I hosted on 4-5 May 2019. Randy, who rode with Tom and Bill Dorrance and Ray Hunt, and roped with Bill Dorrance including learning how to braid rawhide from him, came in from cold Northern Montana to 90 degree West Texas heat to work with everyone on their specific problems. Thirteen total riders over 2 days gave everyone plenty of individual attention.

For some riders it was how to give the horse the freedom to find what you are asking for. For others it was a subtle way to ask for lead departures. And for everyone it was asking for a bend, and using more of your legs and being less reliant on your hands for that bend.

While all of the clinic participants said they came away with much more than they expected and thought the time and money they spent was a bargain for what they received,.... two of the clinic participants told me they were hesitant to come and pre-disposed to think it wasn't going to be worth it as they came from very specific uses for their horses - dressage and team roping, but Randy proved to them and everyone else for that matter that no matter what discipline you ride, no matter what breed of horse you are sitting, you can get better performance by putting together willingness and balance.

As good as Horseman Randy Rieman is, I suspect he is an even better man having to get to know him over the span of two clinic in two years. He stayed with me and had but to walk out the back door less than 100 yards to his classroom - my arena. Before and after the sessions gave me plenty of time to pick his brain across a wide range of topics. His insight into what Tom and Bill Dorrance were trying to impart, with understanding and communicating to the horse, was insightful to say the least.

Randy is close friends with Bryan Neubert and Joe Wolter and said more than once that there are no better horsemen then these two. I'll just bet that if you asked either of these two who the two best were, either one of them would put Randy on that list.   And if you haven't heard of Bryan Neubert, Joe Wolter or Randy Rieman it's likely because they are as least commercialized as they come. They do not benefit from the movies, television and magazines highlighting the already well known clinicians on a weekly and monthly basis, nor do any of them market a long line of logoed products. You also won't likely see the flash, smoke and music of a DownUnder style event either. Randy fit his El Paso visit in between his foaling season and his annual clinic tours in Germany and Switzerland where there is a large following of the Californio style horsemanship (that's the term I think of - Randy may think of it as something else), but in any account Randy is carrying on what Tom and Bill Dorrance brought to the public.

Randy Rieman is easier to book and cheaper to host for a clinic than some of the more common names everyone is going to, or watching tapes on. I can't imagine anyone not getting their money worth having Randy sort out their issues with their horses. He will simply make everyone better, and make you want to get better - learning to learn as he said. Give him a call. Put him on your calendar and host a clinic, you won't regret it, and I'll just bet you will come away with at least a yearning to learn more.

Randy Rieman
472 25th Rd NW
Choteau, MT 59422

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cowboy Up

If you are reading this then the term "Cowboy Up" likely means, to you, things like enduring discomfort to get the job done and being loyal to who you work for (riding for the brand) and getting the job done.

In the book, "Cowboy Ethics" by James P. Owen there is a Code of the West which is similiar to what others publish as the Cowboy Code and that simply states:

~ Live each day with courage.
~ Take pride in your work.
~ Always finish what you start.
~ Do what has to be done.
~ Be tough, but fair.
~ When you make a promise, keep it.
~ Ride for the brand.
~ Talk less and say more.
~ Remember that some things aren't for sale.
~ Know where to draw the line.

I can't find much fault with that excepting I would have added:

~ Treat people and animals with respect - especially the eldery, women and horses.
~ Stand up for those who need standing up for.
~ Love the land, this country and respect the law.

When I was in the military it always stuck in my craw when senior leaders would say things like "Don't cowboy this up", or, "Were not cowboys so stick to the plan", and a host of other things that were disparging to Cowboys but not said in disrespect, but from a point of ingorance,.......but irritated me anyways.

Fast forward to today and I saw on the news that the University of Wyoming, whose mascot is a Cowboy riding a Bucking Horse with Hat in hand, is under fire for their their latest marketing slogan which is "The World Needs More Cowboys".  A spokesman for the University said "A Cowboy is not what you are, but who you are."

However, people have taken offense to the Universty's slogan. In my mind these are the kind of people who take offense to many things, but I digress. A native American said words to the effect that 'if you are not a white person and especially a native American, then the image of a white cowboy on horseback does not present a good image.' Okay, fair enough. But lets re-live the shameful history of how native Americans were treated. Nobody from that time period is alive today. But we could sure do good to take the work ethic from the 1800's and apply it today.

So is a Cowboy an racist or sexist stereotype? I think not. Some of the bests Cowboys, most unknown but some known by their Rodeo successes, are Black Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans. And some of the best hands on any ranch are women. In fact women likely have the advantage of possessing a higher compassion and the lack of a male ego to burden them. Western Horseman magazine publishes a column each month titled "Women of the West" where they showcase modern women in the ranching industry. I doubt they think the slogan "The World Needs More Cowboys" is sexist or even any bit inappropriate.

Fox News is reporting that Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said ranchers are worried that the dispute may cast “aspersions on a time-honored way of life and work. We are proud of the true image of the real cowboy or cowgirl, often of very diverse race or ethnicity, riding the range on a well-groomed horse while sporting a cowboy hat, chaps, spurs and a rope.”

Sometimes when I'm riding along a road a car will stop and children will pile out excited to see a horse (they ain't excited to see an old guy that's for sure). I enjoy talking to them about horses, putting them on my horse for pictures (I think my horse likes it too) and one will invariably ask "Mister, are you a Cowboy?" and I respond "Who wouldn't want to be a Cowboy? Me? I'm still trying."  And that's true.  I'm not ashamed for what I am working for no matter what some person who hasn't stepped on dirt lately thinks.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Race Horses dying at Santa Anita Park

I've never been a fan of horse racing, or for other futurity competitive horse events where young, physical immature horses are rode. You may think a three year old if mature enough to race or compete in physical tasking events, but that 3 year old began training well before becoming 3 in order to be competitive and therefore incurring damage, sometimes long lasting, or the injuries, sometimes life ending that a immature body can't handle. I don't think anyone wants to break down and hurt horses, but the pressure to get these horses on the pay roll (to earn money for the owners) is great.

Repetitive impact at a gallop with 3 times (or more) the load of a horse's body weight can cause skeletal fractures, connective and soft tissue injuries, such as ruptured tendons, development of painful bone spurs, and inflammation of the tendon endings and stress on the joints (creating arthritis) which will plague a horse throughout his lifetime.

When I ran a large public barn the local race track would call me and ask me to post notices on horses being given away, as it's much cheaper to give a horse away than it is to euthanize it or get it transported to a kill facility. These horses were almost always injured in some way. There was one horse, an older TB gelding who was a companion horse, that was the exception. But the rule of thumb was that there was a hidden reason for trying to home a horse. In one severe case, one of my boarders brought in a free three year old TB who had collapsed suspensory ligaments on his front left leg where the fetlock was set well behind the heel of the hoof - so apparent it was mind numbing that the boarder took him to make into a team roping horse.

The racing industry is well known for using anti-inflammatory drugs so a horse can continue training or even race. Pin firing, to burn a horse's injured tissue and therefore create a more serious inflammatory response to aid healing, can be used legitimately, but it is used when the horse is already injured and in the case of a bowed tendon, it is likely to come back again. The chances of sustaining suspensory ligament damage, soft connective tissue injuries, not to mention other physical aliments that comes with intense training on physically immature frames is just too big a risk for me to ask a horse to accept. So makes me angry when I read a news feed that 21 horses, that's twenty one, have died since Christmas time at Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles, California. It appears that most, if not all of the horses, were put down after sustaining bad injuries. Some of the race track people are attributing the great increase in injuries (and deaths) to the condition of the track caused by excessive rains. Well, those horse's didn't ask to be ridden and trained on less than safe ground. Again human's fail horses.

I am also no fan of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who is protesting for the closure of the race track, but I hope something is done. I would rather there be some organizational self correction where a older age for racing horses is adopted and strictly enforced, something like the Endurance Racing organization use.

I am linking an article from the Washington Post here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Randy Rieman Clinic 4-5 May 2019

We are fortunate enough to host a Randy Rieman clinic this coming May 4-5, 2019.  In fact, I just announced this and we have filled 10 of the available 40 slots for four 1/2 day sessions.

Randy, based out of Choteau, Montana, is fitting us in during the beginning of his foaling season and just before his annual trips to Europe to conduct clinics.

He came down two years ago to neighboring Las Cruces to give us a two day clinic and demonstrated why he is highly sought after a Horsemanship, Stockmanship and Ranch Roping clinician.

Not only is Randy known for his horsemanship, but he is a noted Cowboy Poet, performing at events like the annual Cowboy Poet Gathering in Elko, Nevada, as well as being a renowned rawhide braider crafting Reatas and San Juan style hondos. Randy learned to braid rawhide from Bill Dorrance and produced a two DVD set called "Four Strands of Rawhide" with Bill Dorrance. He also conducts Rawhide Braiding schools for those interested in carrying on this old cowboy tradition.

Check out Randy at his website to learn more.  His DVD "Four Strands of Rawhide" is available through Eclectic Horseman.

The Randy Rieman Clinic location will be 17 miles East of downtown El Paso, Texas.  If you are interested in riding in one of Randy's clinic sessions, text or call me, the sooner the better, at 915 204-7995.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Horse Trade

Cowboy poetry is one of the purest American forms of entertainment and really is actually an art form. Hope you will enjoy Cowboy Poetry Cowboy poet Ross Knox reciting "The Horse Trade", by Sunny Hancock, at the 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on February 4, 2012 in Elko, Nevada.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Backing and Drawing a Horse from the Ground

Why might you want or need to back a horse from the ground? By this I mean the handler standing still and moving the horse back using a voice command or a feel of the rein. Why would you need to be able to drop the reins and have your horse stand still while you walked away a bit? And why might you need to draw or bring the horse towards you using a voice command or a feel of the reins?

In the annual arena competition I have hosted for the past four years, this year I had a task where the rider had to dismount, step into a 2x2 foot box and ask his horse to back. Riders could use their reins, get down rope, the lead end of a mecate or even just a voice command to get their horse to back but they had to stay in the box. Then the rider had to drop the reins or get down rope and walk around a barrel maybe 20 feet away, demonstrating the horse's ability to ground tie (even if it is momentarily), then walk back to the box, pick up the rein and draw their horse to them. The riders had the option of tying the reins up after they dismount and solely use voice commands if they wanted.

There were 42 entries in this competition and I believe only 3, maybe 4 riders/horses could do all three - backing the horse; horse ground tying and not moving off; and drawing the horse back to you. No offense to the competitors, but a few of these tries were not pretty. Horse's flying backwards with head's high and pushing with their front end; horse not ground tying even for a moment; and even a few horse's not wanting to come back to their rider having the reins jerked to get them to back up. I didn't see alot of jerking on the reins but even once is too much and I'm going to address that in a different article.

The reason for not doing these things well is that some riders don't have a use for their horses to do this. While I consider it an extension of being broke to lead and necessary for my horses to stand still as you dismount and move forward, move to you on command or through the change in feel of a rein, and back up on command or through the change in feel of a rein when you have a loop on a calf and have to dismount to reposition the loop needing slack on the rope then having it re-tightened.

Backing a horse on the ground comes in handy when leading a horse to a gate and it opens towards you so you have to back the horse up. Or when you are throwing feed and the horse wants to hang his head over the feeder. Or when you are on the ground and checking someone else's saddle or bridle and don't want your horse pushing you into the other horse.....and there are dozens of other situations.

Having a horse ground tie is very handy when you are changing bridles or have to dismount to do something like check on a float valve. It is just a natural follow on from having your horse lead up well. In the video below I brought out a horse towards the end of a session with some riders that we were filming and one asked me if I could show her how I get my horse to back, ground tie and come to me on command. Getting a horse to back away from you on a lead line, or rein, is the easier part. Having them stand still - stay ground tied, and drawing them towards you on the change of feel on the lead/rein is just a bit more difficult. Young horses will want to come to you before you ask them. Don't make it federal offense if they come before being asked, just back them up and ask them to stand again. When drawing the horse towards you, try to see just how little pressure or difference in feel of that lead or rein it will take to get that horse to come to you. As with everything, reward the horse's beginning of that effort - don't give the horse a pause between your asking so he can absorb the lesson.