As I went out to do my chores this morning in the dark, I stepped in something squishy. Darn dogs, I thought, but, my next step went squish too! Enough rain to make mud!! How exciting to finally get some measurable moisture on our parched pastures, .38 inch, to be exact.
Since we live in a hight desert, there are very few days where we can’t get horseback because of muddy or snowy conditions. On a day like this, Amy and I like to find little projects related to the day. For example, we may check out our horses with a slicker. Yes, we did that when we started them but, after a spring, summer and fall with little or no moisture, I wouldn’t want to assume that the slicker hadn’t grown teeth and a tail and may get my horse bothered. A few minutes of checking something like that out may save you from a new knowledge bump!
The other thing we like to do from the saddle is check out how accurately we can direct our horses. Wet sand or mud is perfect for making a track that can be seen easily the second time by. Pick a little project that is appropriate for the conditions. We like to see how pretty a circle we can make, how straight a line we can make, or how perfect a figure eight we can make. Sometimes it takes quite a while just to get those things just right. Of course, we mix it up with a little trotting, a few serpentines, a little riding around on a loose rein, and lots of soaking after a good try.
After we make the first track, we’ll head back over it again. We look for spots where we can improve it. We try to be early on the corners of the horse that are struggling. Our goal is to support the whole horse and help them find softness and balance throughout their whole body. The track lets us know how we are doing. I find myself tensing up as I try to get more accurate. Amy has helped me a lot in this area. She reminds me to stay spongy, spongy, spongy and in the rhythm I want my horse to find with my seat. I stay relaxed and my horses appreciate that!
We hope that you all were blessed with a little moisture too and that you have a safe and productive day!
Amy was re-telling a story she had heard from someone who had ridden with Bill Dorrance quite a bit. The way she remembered it was, this rider was thinking that they were having trouble controlling the shoulders of a horse they were riding. In passing, the rider had mentioned it to Bill and asked him for some advice. All Bill asked about was the hindquarters and how they were working. The rider thought that maybe Bill hadn’t heard what they were asking about so, later brought it up again. Again, Bill asked about the hindquarters and if they were operating freely. The rider was perplexed and not quite sure what to do with the replies from Bill. Later on, the rider was trying to do something with that particular horse that required quite a bit of hindquarter maneuvering and they discovered some stickiness there. When the sticky spot got worked out, much to the riders surprise, the spot with the shoulders was much better too!
I was riding a little blue roan mare yesterday. The same one that I mentioned has trouble loading in the trailer. She’s a nice little mare and really quite sensitive. I checked her out on the ground a little because she was having trouble picking up the right lead, loose in the round pen. I worked on getting her to back in an arc to her left, looking for the right hind to reach out. She had to work at that, it was difficult for her to make it. When she did, we’d just relax and think about how that worked best between the two of us. When she was backing that arc more easily, I turned her loose again and asked for that right lead. She found it on the first try!
Next we worked with me on her back. I wanted to see how free her hindquarters moved away from my leg when I asked. Not too good at first. We’d drift along together with just the slack out of the rein on the side I wanted her to take her nose to. Her shoulder would fall outside the circle but, I didn’t want to use my outside leg to discourage that. Instead, I kept my inside leg pretty active until the hindquarter caught-up with the shoulder and nose and she would drive from behind in the direction I wanted to go. We did that lots with lots and lots of soaking time in between. By the end of our ride, I could look where I wanted to go and change my seat just a little and away we’d go, together. What a great feeling for both of us! So, as you think about how you want your horse to operate, think about the feet and especially how well the hind feet are working for you. It’ll make a big difference to your horse!
It’s always nice to get away for a few days but, for me it’s always better to get home. Ben did a fantastic job of taking care of everything while we were gone so, we don’t stress about anything while we’re gone and we don’t have 10 million things to do when we get home to get things back to “normal”. On this trip we saw people we hadn’t seen for over a year. Steve and Kathy Mecum in Crowheart, WY, Glenn and Renee Taylor in Casper, WY and of course the groom of the wedding Tyler McCann and his mother, Susie Cornwall in Riverton, WY. Amy and I enjoy seeing country we haven’t seen before. On this trip we took a route from Muddy Gap, WY to Casper, WY that took us by Pathfinder and Alcova reservoirs. All of that country looks as dry as we are here and the reservoirs were looking a little like ponds.
When we have a chance to get into new country, I’m reminded of how many of the horses we’ve ridden over the years really enjoy getting outside the arena and going someplace. Their ears perk up and they get some life in their feet. It’s a new feeling to many riders and can be a bit intimidating. There is a fine line between the horse having life in their feet and staying with the rider and a horse taking over. The tools we develop in the arena to get both to the horses feet and to their mind are invaluable to the rider. Many times a rider will gain confidence outside if they can just get their horse to “check-in” once in awhile. Picking up a soft feel, or lifting on a corner, or stepping a hind foot over while the horse is full of life and wanting to go somewhere really helps us to know if the horse is with us or not.
Take a little trip with your horse once in awhile. It will help you to build confidence in yourself, give you confidence in your horse, and your horse confidence in you!
Amy and I had the opportunity to take a little time off. A young man that we had met through hosting Ray Hunt clinics several years ago is getting married. He’s living in the Riverton, Wyoming area and marrying a young lady whose family has ranched in that area for a long time. We went to help the cook for the rehearsal dinner last night and got to meet the wedding party and some of the brides family. Our friend is over-the-moon happy to have found the right girl and to be doing something he loves. That sounds like me!
Having a little time off reminded me that when working with horses, they like a little time off too. It can be as little as a moment to soak on what’s just happened between them and their rider or as much as the winter off for a 2 year old after he’s had 10 or 15 rides, just to grow up a little. We judge a horses mind by how he is when we get back to him after a little time off. Is he where we left him? Did he forget a little? Did he forget a lot? Is he better than where we left him? Asking those questions causes us to pay attention and be aware of where we left our horse…remember and compare. I judge myself as a horseman by my horses so, during this process, I’m also trying to remember and compare how I went about presenting ideas to the horse and what presentation took and stuck with different personality-type horses. I look for spots where I can improve. It sounds pretty easy until you multiply it by numerous horses ridden in a year. Still, it’s a worthwhile goal and the exercise alone increases my awareness and ability to remember what’s working and what’s not.
Another advantage of time off is that you have an opportunity to recharge your batteries and make a fresh start when you return to your “real” life. Tom Dorrance talks about that a lot. Taking a different approach, and making a fresh start when things aren’t working out between you and your horse. I used to just apply more of the same kind of pressure and expect a good result. It seldom happened. Now when things start to shape up poorly, I try to be early in backing out, changing my approach, and making a fresh start. It works much better! We hope that all of you have some downtime to recharge your batteries before winter sets in and that it helps you take a fresh new look at your horse.
Amy’s Mom turned 85 last week so the 6 daughters had a party for her. Now, I’m not a big party goer because I don’t do well in crowds. I like to visit with people one-on-one or in a small group setting. Our daughter and her husband are the same way so I was teasing them about “deep” we are and that big party conversations tend to be kind of superficial and that’s why we don’t do well there. The truth is, for me anyway, that I get overwhelmed in large crowds and my normally rational, fully functioning brain goes haywire. I can’t remember names, I can’t think of anything to say, and many times when I do talk, what I say comes out all wrong.
I wonder sometimes if horses are the same way. We used to take colts to big clinics to start them and gain experience for ourselves. Amy’s Dad raised Arabian horses and it seems that they are wired a little differently. Many times in a large colt class it felt to me as if my colt got overwhelmed with all the activity and stimulation. Sometimes they would just kind of shut down, other times try to escape the situation by running off. I wanted to learn what was being presented by the clinician so badly that I put the needs of the horse behind my desire to learn. I wasn’t aware, until years of experiences later, of what I’d done. We would take the colts home and ride them more and they would be okay but, I’m not sure that they were ever what they could have been had we gone about things differently.
Please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as a critisism to colt starting clinics. Many a good start for a horse has come from them and many people have had a safe experience getting their horse going in them. I am just wondering out loud, if we were to ask the horse, which way would they prefer to be started, what their answer would be. The answers from horses would probably be as varied as the answers from people. So, in the end, it depends, sound familiar?
When I was a young man being schooled by my father on the finer points of applying for and interviewing for my first jobs, one of the things that he would invariably point out was the importance of being on time. To him that meant being at least 5 minutes early. And, he was right! Being early took some of the tension out of the situation I was placing myself in.
Tom Dorrance was big on being early with his horses. He mentions the value of being early with just the right amount of pressure or relief. It meant a lot to Tom and he thought it meant a lot to horses. So do I!
We were on a trail ride this morning with a group of 9 riders on pretty gentle horses. Amy had us working on getting with our horses rhythm, feeling their feet, and feeling for what happens just before what we wanted to have happen happens. Part of the trail was up and down. Some of the horses wanted to hurry up the hill, some wanted to hurry down. When a rider was late in feeling that hurry spot shaping up and tried to fix it in the middle of the hurry, they had poor results. When they got onto what it felt like just before the hurry would start and gathered their horse up early to help them stay collected and balanced in those up and down spots, the same horse would go up and down pretty as a picture!
We had a good day! The temperature was just right and we learned some things from our horses about feeling of them, being just a little earlier in our timing, and staying balanced in our approach to traveling with them over varied terrain. We hope your day went as well!
Yesterday we were getting a new horse in for training. She was to arrive early afternoon but, we got a call from her owner saying that she wouldn’t load so we offered to go pick her up. Trailer loading is something that can be really difficult for the horse. We’ve done hundreds of them and each one seems to present just a little differently. We like to use the trailer loading as a “test” of how well we have our horses halter started because if we’ve left any little holes, the trailer will cause them to show up. This mare’s “hole” was that her feet would get stuck in the ground and then she’d rear up, almost to the tipping over point.
This mare is 15 years old but has been hauled very little. She did not appear to be scared, she did appear to have a spot where she wanted to take over and have things go her way. Yesterday, her way was to stay out of the trailer! We have a stock combo trailer 8 feet wide with 20 feet of livestock floor, plenty of room for one horse so we were hoping that the claustraphobia part of the loading equation would not be a factor.
To us, a big part of anything we do with a horse is a confident presentation of what you want to have happen and then adjusting to how the horse reacts to that presentation. So, in loading this mare, I was confident that she’d walk right in the trailer when asked and that’s how I set it up. She made it in with her front feet before deciding that was enough and set back against the lead rope. Feel is really critical in these situations. Too much pressure and you’re replacing a section of trailer roof and calling the vet, too little pressure and you’re not making yourself clear. I waited until she cleared the back end of the trailer before applying enough pressure to the halter to set up a change. The change was the mare standing on her back legs trying to twist away and get the angle on me. It didn’t work. A couple more attempts on her part, a consistent set up on my part, encouragement from Amy and VIOLA a horse in the trailer!
Now she’s safely in our barn preparing for the next phases of becoming the horse she can be. We have a pretty good idea of where we need to start. I hear Ray Hunt hollering, “it’s the feet!” We hope your feet stay unstuck today and that you have a great day doing something you love!
All of us that have livestock or, for that matter, a place of our own, have little repair projects from time to time. I had one of those projects this weekend. Our pasture grass is getting short and I want to save what we have left for the horses. That means moving the steers we have to another pasture where they will need some hay supplementation. That means getting the new area in shape.
I don’t know how your projects go but, mine are always a series of preparation steps, followed by what I think will be the main project, followed by more preparation steps I forgot about or just discoverd, followed by the main project, followed by the clean-up and the 4 other projects the main project reminded me need to be done too! There was a little pile of composted manure that needed to be moved. It looked like maybe 15 tractor bucket loads. 30 bucket loads later, I had it moved and the ground beneath it smoothed out. Oh, and in the meantime, I stopped, for 2 hours, to fix 2 other things I hadn’t noticed before. Next, I needed to get the hay feeders shaped up. There was some old hay in the bottom that need to be piled and burned and the feeders repositioned to accomodate the new situation. As an aside, it was really painful burning hay in a market like this!
The new hay supply was some rough hay left over from last year not suitable for the horses. This part of the project required some bale sorting and some more burning of parts of bales with foxtail grass in them, ouch! Long story short, the hay feeders have cow hay, the ground is smoother and not as smelly, and the burn pile has quit smoldering. Success! Now on to the other 4 projects this project reminded me of.
Amy and I hope that all of your winter prep projects go well and that they don’t take too much time away from your horses! If you’re thinking about building or remodeling a horse or livestock facility and need some help with design, give us a call or shoot us an email. We’ve been around lots of facilities and have seen what works well and what doesn’t. Enjoy this cooler weather!
“There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill. To me, and I think many other horsemen and women would agree, there’s something more about the inside of a horse that’s good for the inside of me. I started riding later in life than Amy. I think I was 19, Amy was 3. So, when I first started I was very interested in the physical things that would help me stay on. I needed tools to control the outside of the horse, I wasn’t much interested in what he thought about those tools. Obviously with that attitude, I had some experiences that led me to develop some better judgement in regards to the outside of horses. Fast forward several years and Amy’s Dad takes her and I to see a guy named Ray Hunt. Ray had a way with horses unlike anyone we’d ever seen before. But, I was still looking at what he was doing with the outside of them. I struggled and struggled to copy what Ray was doing and I learned lots of things about what worked and what didn’t but I never really got IT. For the past 6+ years I have been working at different jobs and Amy was running Bridle Bit and really refining her horsemanship. I still don’t know how she got on to it, other than she’s a genius, but, she found that when she worked on the inside of the horses she rode, she got better results with the outside. I’m trying to catch up on that piece of my horsemanship because I’m seeing just how important it is to the horses I ride.
Tom Dorrance talks a lot about the spirit of the horse. I’m a Christian so I believe that the Holy Spirit resides in me. In my world, all life is created by the same maker, God, so why wouldn’t there be a spiritual connection between me and the horses He puts in my life? I believe there is, and the more I tap into that connection, the better things work out between my horses and I. We find that place where I just think it, feel it, and we are there together. What an awesome place to be!
I would encourage you to take some time, each time you and your horse are together, to really get together. Stop concentrating on the physical cues, tools, aids, how do I sit, which leg do I use, where should my hands be stuff. Be like that little kid who just went out to the pasture with a string in her pocket and a bucket of oats so that she could climb on bareback when the horse put his head down for a bite and rode off with just the string to guide and the biggest smile you ever saw! Amy survived it, you can too! Our horses are a reflection of us, the real us. If you like what you see, great! If you don’t, look inside you first for the changes that will ultimately give you the perfect horse partner. Have a super day!
Back in the 1980’s I worked for a large corporation in quality control. Our department dealt with some behind the scenes, scientific data that made a difference in the quality of product we produced but had very little outward value to the people making the product. One of my jobs was to make the scientific data mean something to the rest of the plant I worked in so that they would want to do things the “right” way. Because very few of the people I was working with had any background in the subject, I soon found that I had a big challenge on my hands. One day in frustration, I complained to my boss, “These folks don’t even know what they don’t know.” The solution, of course, was to create a desire in my fellow employees to know more, to learn about something they had not previously been exposed to.
I think about that when working with horses. Young horses haven’t been exposed to much, older horses may be in the same boat or they may have been exposed in a way that left hard spots in them. People can be the same way. Some are “green” and haven’t been exposed to very much information on how horses operate and think. Others have been exposed to lots of information but, have had diffuculty sorting through what will work for them and their horse and what won’t. The fun part of teaching is to create situations where either a horse or a student develops a desire to know more or search for an answer and then watch the “light bulb” come on when they find that answer!
I remember Ray saying, “The horse knows when you know, and he knows when you don’t know.” If you were to compare what I know about horses to what Ray knew, you’d conclude that I didn’t know much but, Ray gave me the impression that he felt the same way. It’s a learning journey, horsemanship is, and if you’re willing to strap yourself in and go for a little ride, it’s a fantastic journey full of twists and turns and new stuff everyday. Look to the horse and the teachers you trust to expose you to the things that you don’t even know that you don’t know, yet. What you find today may be the key to a fantastic breakthrough tomorrow or ten years from now. It doesnt’ matter when it happens, what matters is that you’re searching!