It’s one of those mornings where I woke up pretty tipped-up. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve had a day where your spouse avoids you, the horses run to the other end of the corral when you approach, and your dogs lay in their beds and stay very, very quiet. I’m one of those people that attempts to stay pretty even tempered. I try to avoid allowing myself to rise with the highs and fall with the lows. I fail miserably, and often, but, nevertheless, that’s my goal. I’ve found over the years that it’s just easier for me to try to maintain the facade so I and the folks around me don’t have to deal with the goofball on a high or the man in the dumpster on a low.
The facade works pretty well with most people. It doesn’t work well at all with most horses. The horses I’ve spent time around have a keen ability to know exactly what’s going on inside me. Sometimes they alert me to things going on inside that even I had failed to recognize. I’m not educated in psychology but, after spending a good bit of time helping people with their horses and seeing the horses improve as the people improved, I know that there is a real connection between the inside of a human and the behavior of the horse.
We have the opportunity to work with a therapeutic riding program horses, instructors, and volunteers. One of the big issues in a program like that is that the horses take on so much of what clients bring both physically and emotionally. The horses get burnt out. Not from the physical exertion of walking or trotting around an arena but, from the things that are going on inside the clients. The horses are healers. They are willingly taking the “stuff” from inside a client into themselves and find a way to deal with it. Some are better than others at dealing. We try to find ways to help those horses having trouble find an outlet for letting go of the “stuff”.
If we allow ourselves to heighten our awareness of our horses’ reaction to us, we have a better chance of recognizing who we are at that moment. If we recognize who we are, we have the opportunity to make changes for the better. Our horse is the most honest reflection of who we really are. The good new for people like me is that I don’t have to remain who I am today. I can work on me until my horse says, I respect what you’ve become. Let’s go for a ride!!
We had the opportunity to ride with some really great folks this past Saturday at our Winter Series, Refining Our Horsemanship Clinic. Everyone was trying hard to understand what their horses needed from them. Sometimes it was a doing a little more to get a horse to search. Sometimes it was doing a lot less to give the horse the opportunity to show how much they can do for us. We worked on becoming aware of when we had succeeded in getting our horse to think about what we wanted. Then, we worked on the timing of our release for that thought.
When we rode in Ray Hunt’s clinics he would talk about how to look and feel for what it takes to get the horse to understand what we’re asking. He talked about how sometimes it would take all we had to get our point across but, other times, it would take the littlest thing and they’d be right there. To us, refinement in our horsemanship has taken the form of seeing how little we can do. Looking for ways to get our thought to become their thought. Changing their mind and then getting out of the way so our horse can do our thing their way. We’ve worked on becoming aware of our horses feet and how to get in time with them.
At the clinic, I watched Amy ride a horse that was struggling with his right side. This gelding was always wanting to look left and pushing his shoulder and rib cage out to the right. He is 10 years old and had been in this frame for quite a few years. When Amy first began her ride she thought it would take quite a little time to get him out of such a strong habit. But, to Amy’s and our surprise, the gelding came through after just a little bit. Amy’s timing must have been fitting to what the he needed. She must have felt what the gelding was thinking he needed to do and changed his mind. The straightness that Amy offered must have felt good to the him because once he knew through Amy’s release that it was okay to travel that way, he stayed there on his own. Amy’s experience helped. She knew what she was looking for. She would allow the gelding to run into his own pressure when he wasn’t right and would release as the gelding thought about getting right. Amy’s timing was good…..according to the horse!
Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt showed us years ago that feel, timing, and balance were the keys to creating good communication with our horses. It was true then, it’s true today. We don’t need to look for anything else!
One thing that will keep you from getting into trouble with your horse is if you “ride the horse you have today”. When we look back at a bad day with our horses, we may discover memories of signs that, had we paid attention, could have prevented our unpleasant encounter. Being that horseman that has good situational awareness and adjusts to what is rather than what we wish for can mean the difference between a good ride and a bad one.
A “bad day” story may sound like: Yeah, ol’ roanie was a little hard to catch that morning….I pulled him off the best, greenest pasture we have and away from that mare he’s so fond of. There was a little ear pinning when I cinched him up but, when I rode him 3 months ago, he was fine. He did walk off from the tie rack with his tail swishing and a big ol’ hump in his back but, when I moved him around a little he only kicked at the cinches once or twice. Come to think of it, he did have a big ol’ brace on that left side….not good remembrances from a convalescent bed!
A “bad day” turned into a “good day” may sound more like this: Yeah, ol’ roanie was going to be a little hard to catch so I took my time and made sure that he was catching me before we left the pasture. A couple of days ago I noticed he was getting pretty attached to our mare so, I moved her to another pen hoping that would help today’s ride go better. It had been most of the winter since we last rode so, I took some extra time with the grooming. I kept ahold of roanie so I could move him around me and my brushes hoping he’d get a feel for me again. When I put my saddle on his back, I took a little time to rub on him and I did a double check on how things were fitting since our last ride. I brought those cinches up easy and just tight enough to keep the saddle from rolling and then I moved him around me a little to see what he thought about things. I noticed a brace on that left side so, I took some time to work that out and make sure that left rein was working on that left hind foot. By the time I was ready to step on, ol’ roanie had blown two or three times and yawned. He looked like a horse that wanted to go with me. We had a great ride!
As we all get ready for Spring, now may be a good time to start assessing our tack, our pastures, and our horses. Getting back into the habit of thinking about what kind of situations we want to try to create to make our riding season one of the best ever! Looking forward to seeing all of you soon!!
We like to remember. We remember our first good friend, our first teacher, and our first love. We remember the folks that have helped us along our way and the folks that have not. We hold on to those memories. Sometimes they are in the forefront of our thoughts, triggered by an event or a song, smell or something familiar. Other times our memories are hidden somewhere in the depths of our minds like an old friend we lost contact with.
Horses remember too. They remember everything! That’s why a good start in the halter leads to an easier start under saddle and a good start under saddle leads to a more confident horse in any discipline. Horses remember how things feel. They also remember being scared from a bad experience, over confinement, or from the over use of force. They remember how to fight when their flight response is taken away from them.
The good news is, most horses are very forgiving. We know from working with hundreds of horses that have had less than a perfect life. When these horses are offered something that feels good to them, something they understand, they find a way to bury the past. They don’t forget, they forgive and bury. If we offer them the things they understand in a way that makes them feel safe, they will choose to react in a way that helps us do our job.
A good horseman will do their best to forget any unfavorable encounters with the horses they work with. We need to have confidence in our ability to learn from our mistakes and create better learning environments for our horse partners. If we applied pressure in a way that caused a blow-up, we need to think of ways to get our job done without crossing that line again. We look for the subtle signals from our horses that allow us to expose them to things they need to know and still stay on this side of trouble. We also need to forgive and trust that given our new knowledge, everything will work out for the best. We need to leave the past in the past.
On a day when the high temperature is in the twenties and snow is in the air it’s hard to believe that Spring will be here soon. Spring brings with it the promise of new life and new beginnings. Foals and calves are born, flowers pop up from once frozen ground, and tree buds open to show us this years leaf crop.
Yesterday, we brought in the yearlings we’ll be running this year. That represents a new cattle beginning for us this year. Last years yearlings did their job of growing and getting bred. They’ll go on to become mother cows bringing new life to this world each spring. I went to the ranch that raised the cattle we bought to help them haul the cattle to our place. It was an opportunity to get a second look at the cattle we were purchasing and, even better, an opportunity to meet more of the people that cared for the cow herd and raised the calves. That’s where I met Kathy and her husband Ron.
Kathy and I got to talking about horses….imagine that! She has been riding her whole life. She was getting along fine but, attended a clinic given by a well known clinician who traveled to our area. She said it was like starting over. I know what she means! When Amy and I first met Ray Hunt, he could have been speaking Latin for all we understood. Kathy and I got to talking about how interesting it was that even an older horse could understand what we were saying when we got onto speaking their language. It was like a new beginning in our relationship! Kathy was experiencing that with her older gelding. The new language she was learning made sense to her gelding and he was liking the way she was talking to him. It doesn’t matter how old we are or the age of the horse we are working with, it’s never too late for a new beginning!
We were flipping through channels yesterday, trying to catch-up with what is going on in the rest of the world. We like to learn from other’s perspectives. On one of the Sunday morning talk shows a U.S. Senator was being interviewed. He was asked about a lot of different things. His answers were straightforward and appeared to be from his heart as well as his mind. I don’t even remember what the context of his remark was but, what he said was profound and could apply to a lot of different areas of our lives. I’ll paraphrase here because I don’t want to misquote him. I heard him say that, it’s not always about winning; it matters how you get there. Wow! Something we truly believe coming from a sitting Senator!
We’ve lived our lives on that pretext. It really does matter how you get there. It matters how you treat the people that come into your life and it matters how you feel about things happening around you. It matters how you deal with the good and the bad. It’s not about winning the contest, it’s how you play the game.
It matters to our horses how we get there. Because they live what they learn and learn what they live, each moment of the journey with their human matters. For them, it’s not about winning because it’s not about a contest. It’s how the offer is made, how the problem is presented, and how it feels when the right solution is found. There is enough struggle between horse and human in trying to understand each other without making working with our horse a contest. Learn how to live in the moment, deal with the present, and enjoy the way you get there!
Sunday, after chores, we made our monthly trek to Cheyenne for groceries. I like to shop at the Sam’s Club up there because I’m not overwhelmed by too many choices of each item we need.
One of the items we needed this trip was toothpaste. That’s a product that has changed considerably in just my short time here on earth. When I was a kid, we were told that we needed to brush our teeth so they stayed healthy and didn’t fall out. We needed to maintain healthy gums and teeth by brushing twice daily. As we stood there looking at our choices and trying to remember what we had bought last time, we were struck by the marketing message on the toothpaste and how it had changed. Now, instead of, brush your teeth to save them, the message is brush your teeth to make them whiter and your breath fresher.
We understand that if we want healthy teeth, brushing versus not brushing is not a real question. But, it got us thinking about how we think about brushing versus how other folks might think about it. I need to have meaning and purpose behind the things I do each day or I don’t see value in doing them. Both Amy and I think about the foundation of our projects and how it will support the look of that project in the end. Putting a shine on our teeth without supporting the health of our teeth and gums just wouldn’t make sense to us.
Our horses thrive when they are given the chance to build a strong foundation. Holes in that foundation, like cavities in our teeth, weaken their chance to lead healthy, productive lives when interacting with humans. Trying to put a “finish” on a horse that doesn’t have a good start is like trying to put a shine on a rotten tooth. It might look good for a while but, pretty soon it’s going to fall apart. That’s why we’re always going back to check our horses foundation and filling in the holes. We want a horse that shines from the gum to the crown!
When I was a young guy eager to learn the ranching business and the cowboy trade, I had the opportunity to work around some older hands who taught me a ton. I grew up in town and had just enough of a taste of ranch life through an uncle and some summer situations that I wanted more. I looked for chances to spend time around livestock people. I’d go to the Arizona National Livestock show held in Phoenix each year, I’d spend time at the local feed store and the stables in our area and I’d talk to anyone who didn’t mind visiting with a green kid about horses, cattle, and ranching. Even though I didn’t know much, my wanting to learn and their willingness to teach gave us something in common.
Yesterday and the day before I spent time with the Double Diamond Halter Co. crew setting up a booth at the Western English Sales Association Show held at the Denver Merchandise Mart. The owner, Pete, his wife, Sharon, and a friend, Nancy got the booth set-up, put product out, and looked at ways to promote Double Diamond’s product line. They make the best halters, leads, reins, dog leashes, and tons of other things useful to horse owners like us. We’ve used these products for more than 20 years and found them to work well and last a very long time.
Pete cowboyed, rode colts, and shoed some horses as a young guy. Sharon and Nancy help run businesses or departments and have spent a good amount of time around horses and livestock. Even though their lives are different than mine we have common interests of cattle, horses, and business. We have some common ground that we’ve built a friendship around. I enjoy spending time around Pete, Sharon, and Nancy because we have things in common and we work to reach a worthwhile goal for a couple of days each year.
Wouldn’t it be great to find some common ground with our horses through a worthwhile goal? Getting our ideas to become their ideas and then allowing them to do our thing their way? When we are working with the horses mind, we create a goal and attempt to reach that goal as a team, as partners. Learning and practicing the tools that allow us to communicate clearly with our horse and then offering them a chance to help us reach our goal would put us on some real solid common ground.
We were at a meeting tonight. As part of the proceedings, an entertainer was hired to well….entertain. He was very good. He had songs that related to the groups interests and had humorous stories that we all could put ourselves in. In spite of this fellows talent and topics, there were several in the crowd that were more interested in listening to themselves talk than to listen to the entertainer entertain. For those of us who seldom have the opportunity to hear this kind of thing it was very, very annoying.
I was helping a lady today whose horse was a little like those folks at the meeting we went to tonight, he just would not focus on the entertainer. He is a nice horse. He’s gentle, sweet, kind and totally uninterested in what the human has to say. I get that! There are plenty of folks we run into on a daily basis that use a lot of words to say very little. Our goal with this gelding was to let him know that what we are saying is important to us, therefore, important to him. We needed him to make plans to help us. And, without listening to us, hearing what we had to say, he had no way of knowing what was happening with us right now or in the near future so, he wasn’t getting prepared to help.
We needed to make ourselves more interesting. We couldn’t do what we had been doing and expect him to get more interested. Changing how we presented our ideas and working at keeping things fresh seemed to help him help us. To me, that’s a big part of what horsemanship is all about.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you hard working, dedicated mothers. Raising young ones is one of the toughest, most frustrating, most rewarding things to undertake on the planet. Our daughter, Liz, is a new Mom and celebrated her first Mother’s Day today. Liz has a great example in Amy of what a mother can be. She’s her own person and a great Mom in her own right; doing a fantastic job of raising Ella. I don’t know what the ideal mother is but, I imagine she has to be tough as nails in one moment and soft as silk in another. She must struggle to find the balance between being the supporter of trying new things and attempting new challenges but, the keeper of common sense and the compass that keeps her youngster from straying too far from acceptable boundaries. I don’t pretend to have a good grasp of all that entails, I just know that our kids are adults that I really enjoy spending time with and that’s a result of what Amy did and does as their Mother.
We’ve been blessed with three little fillies this Spring. They are all healthy and seem to be doing really well. We are firm believers in allowing the mare to raise their young. We insert ourselves into a foal’s life just enough for them to know that we mean them no harm and that we can be relied upon to be comfortable to be around. Whether for good or for bad, we want the mare to raise her foal to be a horse. We don’t want our foals to be confused by too much human interaction at an early age. I know I’m prejudice but, I think that the horses we allow our mares to raise and then we halter start are well balanced, well-adjusted horses that know where they stand in a herd of horses and where they stand with a human.
Over the years and recently we have had horses come in for training that don’t have a good feel for the human. They don’t have the respect for a human we expect a horse to have and as a result they are not good on the end of a halter rope and are tougher to get started under saddle. We feel bad for those horses because in order for us to be safe around them and to get them safe for their owner, we have to rock their world. Many of the habits they’ve developed have to be changed or eliminated. They have to stop ignoring the human and begin to focus on what they are offering. It sounds simple and easy but, for the horse it’s very difficult. They’ve learned what they’ve lived and they have settled into getting their own way. They have little regard for what the human needs or wants. Learning to respect the leadership of the human is a whole new concept to them. Creating enough pressure for the horse to look for a different answer is sometimes very challenging for the human.
As we all celebrate the wonderful mothers that gave us life and direction we would encourage you to think about allowing the mothers of your foals to raise their young to be good horses. Give those foals the chance to know what you are without influencing too much what they are. The time will come soon enough for those weanlings to get a glimpse of what the human’s world has in store for them. But, by then they will come into our world knowing well the world they come from. Happy Mother’s Day!