Timing

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!

Make It A Good Day!

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!!

The Past Is The Past

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.

It Matters How You Get There

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!

Common Ground

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.

Attention, Attention, can you hear me now?

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.

Mother’s Day

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!

The Certainty of Change

I’ve heard that the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes.  I’d like to propose that a third certainty is change.  In our lives, we’ve seen a lot of changes and I’d bet that most of you have too.  We’ve changed some big things like having children, where we live, and what jobs we’ve had.  We’ve survived or enjoyed changes in the weather and changes of season.  We change little things like where we shop, what we eat, what we wear, and what we drive.  The net result is that very few things stay the same.

Change, even good change, is stressful.  If it’s planned and the timing is good it’s much less so but, if the change is sudden and the timing of it is poor, stress levels can soar.  Stressing livestock is one of the things that we try very hard to minimize.  Weather stress, the stress of weaning, or any other stress brought on by sudden changes can lead to sickness in young livestock.  We can use good management practices to lessen the stress caused by those changes but, the stress still exists and needs to be recognized and dealt with as it shows up in each individual.

Our horses feel the stress of change.  Changing what they eat, where they live, or how they are worked with can add to their stress levels.  We work to make changes with our horses as gradual and accommodating as possible.  Preparing a horse mentally and physically for change makes the change easier.  Feed changes made over several days or a week, short trailer rides in preparation for a longer trip, stalling a pasture horse for several hours a day a few days before they are to be confined for longer times, and working into a training routine a little at a time are all things we do to help a horse transition.  As we change riding habits or change riding gear, we might make shorter rides with more frequent breaks to allow our horses to soak in the changes.  Giving ourselves and our horses time to make a change reduces both of our stress levels and provides an opportunity for a better outcome.

This week, we saw some significant changes coming to our operation.  The owner of the barn we are using for our training, lesson, and clinic business has decided to go back to being a boarding barn with guest clinicians and trainers coming in at her invitation.  It’s a relatively big change for us because of the timing of it all.  We get pretty busy this time of year so, Amy has had to scramble to rearrange horses, lessons, and clinics that had all been scheduled based on using that facility.  Fortunately for us, we had seen signs that changes were coming and we had done some preparation to position ourselves for a transition.  We will be bringing some horses to our place and will be using various facilities in the area to conduct lessons and clinics.  We feel blessed to have the ability to travel to so many really nice facilities in this area and to work with so many great people.

Between changing schedules and getting projects related to the change completed, our stress levels rose just a bit this week.  Knowing that we have a plan and the tools to accomplish that plan, reduces that stress some.  Doesn’t that sound a little like what we try to do with our horse?

Did You Feel That?

Tom Dorrance was the man credited with first talking about feel, timing, and balance being the three key elements in horsemanship.  He passed it on to Ray Hunt who took it to the world with his demonstrations and clinics.  In some of Tom’s writings he talked about wishing he could cut the top off of his students’ heads and pour in what he felt.  Feel was the thing that he wanted people to have but, couldn’t teach.

In preparation for this latest Spring storm we had moved a group of younger mares into a pasture with more shelter than their home pasture.  This new pasture is closer to the house so we could catch glimpses of the horses from the kitchen windows.  The storm didn’t materialize on the timeline that was predicted and the mares had grown restless searching the shortgrass pasture for little nibbles of green poking-up along the fence lines after they had consumed the hay we fed.  Four or five of the mares had drifted to the northwest corner of the pasture.  As if on cue, their heads came up, tails flagged, and the whole group raced toward shelter bucking and kicking-up their heels the whole way.  There was no visible sign of rain or snow and we didn’t see or feel the wind increase.  The horses felt and reacted to something that we didn’t; probably a pressure change.

Amy’s Dad used to use the horses as a barometer.  They could predict the Chugwater, WY weather better than any man-made instrument he had.  His horses’ knowledge of their environment and their sensitivity to changes in that environment were valuable to him.  He could tell by their behavior when the storm was likely to arrive and just how bad it might be.  The horses could feel the changes long before we did.

We used to have to check cattle along the creek during the summer months.  The bugs were terrible.  Mosquitos and Deer Flies were prolific.  When the wind was blowing, we couldn’t feel those little devils land on us until they were taking a bite but, our horses could.  Their hair and hide were sensitive enough to feel those bugs land.  Tails would swish them away or heads would swing around and chase them off before they could bite.

Even the horse that has learned to become dull to the human is sensitive.  Some are more sensitive than others but, our experience has been that all of them are more sensitive than we are.  They are more in tune to their environment and read body language better than any human I’ve been around.  They feel us much better than we feel them.  We tend to do too much.  Our brains must tell us that we need to dominate and control the horse.  We do need control but, we can gain that control better by working with the horse and its sensitivity rather than by attempting to desensitize it.

We are constantly working on ourselves to improve our awareness of the horses’ sensitivity.  When we feel of our horse and work with his abilities, our movements flow better.  His legs become our legs, his feet our feet.  As we become more aware of our horses sensitivities, we can allow our horse to teach us better feel.  As our feel improves our timing gets better. As our timing gets better our horse becomes more responsive and refined.  I think that’s something we could all strive to feel!

Going Home

One of the happiest and yet saddest times of my year are the times that horses leave our care and tutelage.  Happiest, because, most of the time, it means that the horse and I have reached enough of the owner’s goals that the owner can ride safely to do what they enjoy.  Saddest, because, it also means that a piece of us is leaving.  The bond that we develop with each horse requires us to give of ourselves in a very personal and special way.  In return, most of the horses give a big piece of themselves back to us as trust and confidence.

I often wonder what the horse is thinking and feeling when they first arrive.  If they are anything like me when I’m thrown into a new situation, they’re unsure, a little anxious, and looking for a friendly face.  The wonderful thing about most horses is how highly adaptable they are.  We see horses in all kinds of living and working situations and, unless they are starving or being abused, most seem to adapt to where they live and how they are handled pretty well.  It’s the horses that adapt less easily that we seem to see most often.  A big part of our job is to get the horse to become more secure in who they are so they can deal with change in a more appropriate way.  Getting the owner to recognize the unique characteristics of their horse and make some changes in their behavior to reinforce the horses’ new-found confidence is the other part.

Because we see our job this way, Amy and I strongly recommend that the owners be as much a part of the “training” process as possible.  We believe in preparing for the transition in all phases of our lives.  Proper preparation makes the transition simple and easy.  Preparing properly may mean that we start the process of transitioning the horse back home the first day he arrives.  Having the owner be a part of the discovery of who her horse is, and can become, is a good part of that preparation.  Preparing both horse and owner for the next transition seems to give them both the confidence needed to make that transition smoother.

I don’t look at horses going home as another success for our business.  Instead, I hope that a happy horse going home to a happy owner is more about each of them learning how to give to the other in a way that inspires confidence and trust.  Amy and I are such a small part of horses’ and peoples’ lives when compared to the sum of what they are and what they experience.  But, if we can leave them with something good to work with and build upon, that little piece that we give to each one can grow into something really special.  We sincerely hope it’s that way for you!