## Learning To Learn

An interesting number puzzle was going around the internet the other day. It was a simple little equation, but it brought out all the different ways that people thought about solving it. Some folks my age went back to their elementary education putting one number on top of the other, adding the right column, carrying the extra to the left column, and then adding the left column to find the solution. Others took the numbers and changed them to round numbers that their mind could see better and then added and subtracted based on whether they rounded up or down. Still, others went through some mental gymnastics that still have me confused. But everyone came up with the correct answer! And, that was with a puzzle that had a finite answer!

Imagine what we and our horses go through in trying to solve the puzzles we encounter every day in our rides together. Even when we and our horse agree on what we’d like to get done, we may be trying to get to the answer in different ways. Take working a gate horseback for an example. I’ve ridden horses that prefer to open and close a gate differently than I do. When I’m trying to get a job done and I don’t have time right then and there to work things out with my horse, I’ll go along with them and get the gate worked. If I’m riding a horse to see what he is and what we might be able to accomplish together, I’ll take the time to see if he will accept my leadership and open and shut a gate like I want to. My goal is to get him to see the gate puzzle as I do. I want him to learn to learn the things that are important to me so we can be partners in solving the puzzles we will encounter in our job.

Often the human puts a lot of faith in another human to tell them how to get along with their horse. I’ve done that. What I came to realize later on is that the humans that made the biggest difference in my horsemanship were the ones that didn’t tell me what to do, they showed me how to work things out with my horse. I learned how to learn from my horse. I paid lots of attention to what happened just before what I wanted to have happen happened. I learned how to experiment safely. I learned how to appreciate my horse trying to learn what I wanted. Just like in the number puzzle, there is no one correct way to arrive at the solution to any problem. And, where the answer isn’t finite, there can be more than one correct answer to any puzzle put before us.

We all need mentors. People we respect and are honored to learn from. Amy and I have had several over the years. Sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. A good mentor can show you those things and then nudge you in the right direction to find answers that work for you. Working with livestock is as much an art form as a science. Each person’s personality and work style factor into the solutions they find for themselves and the stock they work with. Cattle and horses get used to and comfortable with the style they are consistently exposed to. When Amy and I would do day-work for other ranches, we would spend some time early in the process watching the crew more than the cattle. How the crew went about their work was something we needed to match to get along with the crew and the cattle. If we were riding their horses, we needed to do the best we could to match their riding style in order to get our job done without a lot of drama.

## Respect for Commitment

You’ve probably been exposed to some of the statements by Michael “Mike” Bloomberg, Democrat candidate for President, regarding agriculture. Many of us in agriculture have been critical of his simplistic and condescending remarks but, I’d like to take a different approach and thank him for his candor. Based on the latest statistics, we in agriculture make up 1.3 to 2 percent of the American population. That means that about 2.6 million people are working on roughly 2 million farms, ranches, feedlots, and dairies. Compared to the 329 million people that populate the USA, that’s not many folks with firsthand knowledge of what it takes to put food on the table and fiber on our backs. Why then, would we in agriculture expect the rest of the U.S. population to know anything about what we do? We are members of an exclusive group of people blessed enough to work the land, care for God’s creatures and feed the world!

I’ve run across several really well written essays on the internet covering what various agriculturalists are doing in their daily lives to run their businesses. And, a business is what it is. These people are passionate and committed to their businesses and their way of life. We can relate! It takes commitment and self-sacrifice to work in the wide-ranging weather conditions most livestock and farming operations are found. It takes commitment to stay abreast of ever-changing governmental regulations and programs. And, it takes commitment to press on in the face of shrinking margins and increasing expenses. But, are those things very much different than the challenges faced by other small to medium sized businesses? Is there any less commitment from the owners of your favorite restaurant, hardware store, or clothing store? I would guess not. I do know that we have the utmost respect for the people that commit to something and do their best to see it through!

At Bridle Bit Horsemanship we are respectful of and committed to the horses and people we work with. We will use the knowledge and experience we’ve gained to help to provide opportunities for learning and growth. We’ll be the first to admit that we are not always successful. We’ve had our share of failures over the past 30 years. The respect we have for our clients and their commitment to their horses is something we don’t often have the chance to talk about, but it lies beneath the surface of everything we do. Even if you don’t participate in the daily care of your horse, you’ve made a commitment to provide for that horse. You find people and places that you trust to care for your horse like you would. And, if you work with us, or someone like us, you’ve committed to becoming the best horseman/woman you can possibly be. As horse owners, we commit resources that we could easily devote to other pursuits to our horses and to our education. We provide for horses that are no longer rideable because they gave so much to us when they were, and they continue to give to us as they are. We’ve committed to make the hard decision of relieving our horse, our friend, from the earthly aches and pains to give them that final peace.

So, it’s a big commitment owning horses. It’s also unimaginably rewarding! For every minute of time and dollar spent, most of us would say that our investment pays back tenfold. We reap the reward of our horses committing themselves to us. They give better than they receive. They are amazing confidants, therapists and guidance counselors. They teach us things about ourselves we wouldn’t learn anywhere else.

If you’re looking for a place that you and your horse will be respected and valued for the commitment you’ve made, give Bridle Bit Horsemanship a chance to show you what we can do to help you on the journey you’ve committed to. We offer different learning opportunities. Hopefully you’ll see something that will work for you. If not, contact us and we’ll see if we can’t customize something that will work!

## We Don’t Have to Get On!

The winter months with cold temperatures and windy conditions make riding one of the things we may want to put on the back burner. But, getting on and riding isn’t the only way to keep your horse and yourself in riding shape, at least mentally. We can all think back to some things that weren’t working as well as we’d like between our horse and ourselves in the saddle this past riding season. This time of year is a great time to check some things out on the end of the halter rope. We can still see what we have for connection and communication with our horse without having to saddle up and brave the cold.

If our groundwork has focused on the mechanical, we can use the winter months to establish or re-establish more of a “feel” with our horse. Seeing how little we can do to cause our horse to do what we’re thinking of him doing is a fun way to spend 20 or 30 minutes on a less than stellar weather day. Amy and I like to see how much we can influence our horse with our bodies and feet by doing as little as we can with our hands. If our horse will follow the feel of our bodies, like a dance partner, we have a better chance of them following the feel of our seat when we are in the saddle. Imagine yourself riding your horse in a circle around a cone or barrel. You become the cone or barrel, the center of the circle. If you are upright and balanced and your horse is upright and balanced, you should feel a float in the lead rope, an arc in the horses’ body, and the horse flowing from hind feet to nose. It will feel good to you and the horse!

We like to feel of the whole horse. It’s good to know what the parts of the horse are doing but, it’s better if we can take-in the whole horse. Focusing on the hind end or the front end or the head causes us to lose sight of what the sum of the parts are. That’s often the result of being mechanical and trying to “make” the horse do what we want rather than focusing on setting things up the best way we know how and letting the horse find the feel we are offering. If a feel following a feel is our goal, we will connect with our horse better by offering a feel and allowing the horse as much time as it takes to find and follow that feel. Each offer our horse finds causes him to search for other offers in a way that he won’t if a more mechanical means is employed.

A good example of our horse following our feel is in the simple exercise we’ve all done many times. Our horse is leading past us in a circle. We ask his hindquarter to reach bigger until he disengages to a stop. Then, we ask the front end to move past us and get back on our circle going the other way. How much we use the lead rope to get the hindquarters to reach can be in direct correlation to how much we’d have to use the rein to get the hindquarters to reach from the saddle. Paying attention to how the hindquarters disengage and noticing if the disengagement starts with the mind or if it’s just an escape from pressure will help us to recognize how our horse is reacting to cues from our seat, legs, and reins when riding. Watching for our horses’ mind to move through from one direction to the other and how his balance and feet follow that thought as the front end comes through to get back on the circle can make the difference between his rushing mechanically and stepping through thoughtfully.

Connecting with our horse and communicating our intentions without unnecessary pressure will encourage our horses to get with us and follow our feel. If we get it on the ground, we increase our chances of getting it from the saddle. We get better so our horse can get better. And, we never had to get on!

## Good Ones!

We made a quick trip to the Cañon City, Colorado area yesterday to pick up some horses that had been getting an education with J & A Horsemanship. The J and the A are Jimmy Cantwell and Autumn Ehler and let me just say that they are horsemen! Amy and I have raised many horses over the years and started most of them ourselves. Age and injuries have caused us to assess the viability of starting young horses. No matter how well prepared they are and we are, sometimes it just takes some grit and athleticism to stay with one that gets bothered during those first rides. Coming off doesn’t do the colt any good and we just don’t bounce like we used to!

We’ve sent 3 fillies to Jimmy and Autumn. All three are nice fillies but, in the wrong hands could have turned out to be distrustful and too touchy. We’d had that experience before; sending some nice but feely horses to a young colt starter who got them ridden but didn’t get them quiet. I’m at the point where my favorite color of horse is gentle. I still like some life and a horse that will feel of me. I’m just not at the place, and really never have been, where I want one that jumps out of his skin when I ask him for something. All of our fillies, and another one we raised and sold to a dear friend, have come back just the way Amy and I would want them. They want to be with the human and they look forward to going to work. Jimmy and Autumn did that!

Amy and I get to deal with lots of people. We see really good and we’ve dealt with our share of bad. Those “bad” experiences have made us wary of being overly trusting in the beginning of any new encounters with folks. People have to show us that they are what they are. We don’t listen to the words much anymore. We watch for actions. We look at results. Jimmy and Autumn are good people. Their two faces could be in Webster’s Dictionary next to the words, honest, trustworthy, and integrity. You would have trouble finding two people more passionate about getting things right with the horses they work with. They have learned early that this journey they are on happens one horse at a time and they are willing to take the time it takes to make the journey.

It’s overwhelming for horse people to sort through all of the advice they run into. You can ask 5 horse people the same question and come away with 10 different answers none of which are the same. Jimmy and Autumn do a great job of translating what the horses are telling them into easily understood actions that make sense to horse owners. Ego doesn’t cloud what they see and say so, you will hear what they honestly believe to be what you need to hear from your horse to get along and be safe.

The bottom line is; if you’re looking for a really nice young couple to work with your horses, Amy and I would highly recommend you get in touch with Jimmy and Autumn. You can find them on Facebook under J&A Horsemanship where they’ve posted some short video clips. Those clips should give you an idea of how they work.

They are some good ones!

## Practice Makes Perfect

The verb practice means to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. Ray Hunt would tell us that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. My questions are, how do I get to the point that I can practice perfectly and if I have achieved perfection in a skill or activity, do I really need the practice?

To be perfect is to have all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics in my activity; getting it as good as it can possibly be. So, recognizing what perfection is will help me to achieve it. In horsemanship, perfection requires both the horse and the rider to be in perfect harmony. Minds and bodies come together to perform a maneuver in complete symphony. It’s beautiful to watch, exhilarating to experience.

What would make perfect practice with my horse? For me, it’s first having a picture in my mind of what I want my horse and I to look like and second, understanding the elements of what I want to achieve. My mentors have done a good job of placing short videos of how I want to ride in my brain. It’s been years of riding and making mistakes that has helped me to better understand the pieces that have to come together to create that video picture. For a long time, I thought that I could “make” my horses look the way I thought they should look. I could hear the words, “set it up and let it happen”, playing in my head but, I didn’t truly understand what that could be. As a consequence, I was still making things happen and putting braces in the horses I was riding. I’m still searching for how good it will one day be but, I’m discovering smaller, more minute elements of some simple things that I didn’t realize made such a big difference to the horse. For example, all of the things that have to come together between the horse and rider to make a perfect circle with no resistance.

Is it possible that Ray was trying to get us to search for perfection in our practice not to actually achieve perfection but to discover more about how our horses are? When we bury our ego and give ourselves to our horses, we get closer to feeling what our horses can give back to us. When we “turn loose” and allow things to happen between ourselves and our horses, we get one step closer to the symphony of movement in our practice. We feel more about how our horses move and are better able to get in rhythm with that movement and then influence that movement in a way that makes complete sense to our horse. It becomes more natural for the horse to come with us and for us to go with them. It’s perfection! For a moment.

In answer to the second question I asked about needing to continue to practice; the answer for me is YES! Just because I become better with my horse doesn’t mean that I’ve achieved perfection. I never will. The wonderfully frustrating part of having and riding horses is that they will always keep us searching for something better. It’s just a part of the journey. Isn’t that just perfect!?

We lost a horse a few days ago. She was a mare that we had raised and spent some good times with so, it was hard. Her death got me to thinking about this crazy life we lead and love and just how things fit together. One of my thoughts was that our life in agriculture is made up of good years with bad days that cause us to reflect and be grateful for the good ones.

A calendar year is made up of 365 days. We would have to have more than 183 bad days in a year for it to be a bad year. While I know there are people who have had years like that, fortunately, we have not. We’ve lived through years where things just didn’t go our way. We’d get hurt more than normal or have more sickness in ourselves or our livestock or not have the business run as smoothly or profitably as we’d like. But, in the final accounting of that year, we still had each other and we still had the ability to move forward and do our best to make the next year better.

Amy’s Dad would say that with horses, dogs, cats, and cattle, “If you’re going to have them, you’re going to lose them”. He was good at taking a bad situation and putting it in perspective! He chose to focus on the good days he had on the ranch and took the bad days in stride.

As we work with people and their horses we see that the people who choose to see the good things in their horse and pay less attention to the bad things, tend to get along better with their horse. The folks that think about their horse by remembering the time, five years ago, when a duck flew out of the ditch, spooked the horse, and he dumped them; have more trouble focusing on the good in their horse and he feels it.

We have the power to make things better. That’s one of the really miraculous traits we humans have. We’ve worked with many horses over the years that, for one reason or the other, just weren’t getting along with the humans in their world. By focusing on what good there was in that horse, believing that he could find the good in humans, and taking the time to let things come together, we were able to make positive changes in that horse and that horse inevitably would make positive changes in us.

It’s our choice! We can choose to let the troubles that this world will always throw at us define our years or we can choose to focus on the love and laughter that is always around us if we look for it. Hard days and hard times will find all of us. If we choose to call those days “bad days” and begin to look for the next “good day”, I believe we will have more good days that will make good years.

The next time you spend time with your horse, look for the good within him. I think that the more I look for the good in my horses, the more my horses look for the good in me. They probably have a harder time finding it in me than I do in them. Nevertheless, by searching for the good, we are likely to make more good days and many good years together!

## Riding

I’ve been riding horses for about 40 years now. Most of that time I don’t think my horses were too impressed. As I go back over the riding I’ve done, most of it was an attempt to “control” my horse through mechanical means. I didn’t spend enough time trying to go with my horses so that they would want to go with me. Ray Hunt was phenomenal in his ability to go with his horses. He didn’t appear to have any fear. In my memory I hear him talk about how the horse couldn’t do anything wrong in the first few rides and that we needed to get with them, so the riding felt good to the horse. Most of us don’t have what Ray had so, how do we take what he taught and make it work for us?

Learn what your horse feels like when it moves out. I think most humans need to know that they can protect themselves. Just like the horse, we operate with a degree of self-preservation. To ignore that or try to push it aside is not allowing ourselves to be human. Having a plan for what we would do if our horse activates our sense of self-preservation is good. That’s why the one rein stop is a good tool to have in our tool belt. But, if all we think about is how to shut our horse down, we begin to obstruct our horse’s ability to move out without being worried. Taking the time to learn what our horse feels like just before he moves out may help us to be less concerned and go with him. We gain our horses trust and our horse gains our trust as we learn to move together.

Learn how to ride your horse with feel. One of the things we’ve utilized over the years that really seems to help people “feel” their horse is to teach them how to feel their horses’ feet rise and fall. When we know when the foot is leaving the ground, we can place it in a way that makes a lot of sense to the horse. The more we operate our horse in a way that helps him help us, the more together we get and the less defensive we both become. It’s hard to believe but, a horse feels your seat through the leather and wood that make up your saddle. They really are that sensitive to what we’re doing. It just stands to reason that an animal that sensitive doesn’t need to be pushed, pulled, or drug to get a job done. If we’re working to help them understand what we need, we’re more likely to have a partner that helps us get our job done.

Ride with balance. The more upright and balanced the rider is, the more upright and balanced the horse is. If I’m not leaning forward, backward, or side-to-side my horse doesn’t have to work to stay underneath me. If you’ve ever carried a child on your shoulders, you understand how just a little lean from them can cause you to adjust how you’re travelling. There have been folks that have focused on helping riders understand how to stay balanced horseback. Learning what they have discovered and incorporating that into our riding will really help us communicate effectively with our horse. If we learn what our horse feels like beneath us and allow our bodies to blend into theirs naturally, riding with balance can be achieved most of the time by getting rid of some old, bad habits and replacing them with habits that cause us to feel more secure in the saddle.

These things and more are what Amy and I cover in our clinics and private lessons. We’ve found that as riders take what we offer and make it their own, they become more confident and secure in the saddle. As a rider becomes more confident, their horses get better at following their leadership. A true partnership can be formed because each party is allowing the other to do what they do best. After all, the best we can get is our horse doing our thing their way. If we don’t have that, maybe we’d be better off walking.

## Come Ride With Us!

Dave Stamey has a popular song entitled “Come Ride With Me” that really gets to the essence of the feelings many of us have when we’re horseback in this beautiful country we’re privileged to ride in. Amy and I went to see Dave at the Livermore Community Center this past Sunday where he performed that song along with many others. It was a nice break from our usual routine. Dave is a great performer and really engages with the folks that have come to see him. We would recommend you go see him when he’s in your area!

We had given a horsemanship clinic on Saturday with a small group of enthusiastic riders. We’ve come to enjoy those types of clinics, small and intimate, because we get to really engage with the riders and their horses in a way that a larger clinic just doesn’t allow. Our clinics are different than others for a variety of reasons; size, scope, attention to riders, and a focus on what’s important to the participants are just a few reasons why people return.

People seem to find like minded people. I believe that the folks that come ride with us are seriously looking for ways to improve their connection to their horses. And, even though we want the learning to be fun, we try to create an environment that will allow a level of focus that causes participants to retain the information that’s important to them. It’s like trying to achieve “balance” in our horsemanship; easy to talk about, harder to accomplish!

We truly believe that in order for our horses to get better, we need to get better. We lead our horse to better refinement by becoming more balanced riders and by finding ways to get them to want to be with us. We want them to do our thing their way. To do that, we often just need to get out of the way!

Come ride with us! If any of this sounds like a nice change from what you and your horse are doing together, we’d love to ride with you! With Fall weather approaching, Amy’s arranged for an indoor facility that will nicely accommodate small groups of riders. Check for upcoming events. See you down the trail!

## Sam

I met a horse yesterday that touched my insides in a very special way.  Let’s call him Sam.  He’s around 10 years old and lives in a boarding facility in a beautiful part of Colorado.  He has good living conditions; a herd, pastures to graze, and people that love him. I met him because he began bucking with his riders so was turned out for several years.  When his people became interested in working with him again, they did all the right things.  They worked with him on the ground to get him more comfortable with people doing things around him.  They introduced him to the flag, ropes, and the ground work exercises they know. Still, he remained tight and suspicious of new things.  When they saddled him for the first time after all those years of turn-out, he reared and bucked.

Amy and I take a holistic approach the “problems” we encounter with the horses and people we encounter.  Amy has an amazing understanding of the horse/human biomechanical connection and is now an experienced practitioner of the Murdoch Method which helps horses find better balance and connectivity with their body.  When we were first introduced to Sam, he was wary and tight. We needed to make friends so he would trust us enough to evaluate what was going on with him.  We suspected some soreness in his back and neck was causing the tightness and the discomfort with the saddle.  He wasn’t too sore, just a little in his neck and shoulders.  The Murdoch Method employs pads placed under the horse’s feet, so we went to work checking out how his feet handled.  They weren’t as soft as we like but he wasn’t dangerous so we introduced Sam to the first set of pads Amy believed would help him accept the process.  Sam began to let down.

We asked the folks that had been working with Sam to show us a little of what they had been doing with him. It was all good stuff except that it wasn’t working for Sam in a way that caused him to want to connect with them. And, these folks were concentrating on what they were doing rather than on how what they were doing affected the connection with Sam.  It was like watching two people on the dance floor going through the dance steps without once looking each other in the eye.

When I had the chance to take the lead rope my only goal was to connect with Sam in some meaningful way. Meaningful to him.  I wanted him to feel like being with me was exactly the right place to be.  Somehow through the fog of things done to him and years of little contact, Sam came out of his shell and found me.  We danced together, looked each other in the eye and really connected.  It was euphoria for me and looked like it felt really good to him as well.  The trust that came through that connection allowed Sam to be saddled and moved out without a bobble.  The connection with one person who felt their way through the troubles and concerns inside one horse allowed that horse to let down and come into the human world with just a little more trust that everything could be okay.

That kind of connection makes for a good day.  Continually seeking those connections makes for a good life.  Agree?

## Do You Hear What I’m Trying To Say?

It’s probably just me but, I find that, at times, what I think I’m saying to someone is not what they are hearing.  I take full responsibility for the miscommunication and any misunderstanding that results.  I’m coming from a set of perceptions and experiences based on the life I’ve lived.  The people I’m talking to often come from a very different set of experiences that cause their perceptions to be very different than mine.  Our paradigms are different so, when we are talking about a particular subject, a word or string of words may have a very different meaning to each of us.

Imagine how the horse feels!  The young horse is just getting exposed to the confusing world of humans.  The older horse comes with a set of experiences that make the human a good thing or bad thing.  Both horses are trying to hear what we are saying and respond in a way that makes them feel okay.  Humans have a tendency to do too much which activates a defense mechanism in the horse.  We also ask the horse to do things that are unnatural to them in their world but, that are necessary for them to thrive in ours.  Given all of that, it’s amazing our horses hear anything we are trying to say to them.

We’ve helped several horses over the past couple of months that were having trouble coping with the horse trailer.  The horse trailer is one of the most unnatural places for a horse to want to go.  Yet, if we offer them a chance to follow us into one, often times they will go and stay and cope.  When they don’t, things can get bad very quickly.  I think that putting a horse into a trailer is one of the best places to test how good our feel, timing and balance really are with that particular horse.  When we think our horse is as light and soft and willing as it can be we should try and load him in a 2 horse straight load trailer to ask him what he thinks!

Avoiding a bad experience at the horse trailer is the best way to avoid having trouble at the horse trailer.  Just like the best way to keep a horse from bucking is to never let him learn how.  If we recognize how unnatural it is for a horse to load into a trailer and do things to help him have enough confidence in us to try, we have a chance.  Sometimes it’s as simple as being aware of what bothers a particular horse and what makes him comfortable.  We will have the best chance of having our horse hear what we are trying to say if we pay attention to how he responds to the offers we make and then adjust those offers accordingly.

We were successful helping the horses we worked with get more comfortable loading and unloading into and out of the trailer.  We were also successful in helping the horse owners better understand their horses and how to help them through the rough spots that can appear with or without a trailer involved.  It’s a good day when you walk away thinking, “they actually heard what I was trying to say!”