I don’t know about you but, as happy as we are for the rain, I sure got way behind on my yard work! I was mowing the grass around the house and got to thinking about Ray Hunt talking about a wheel barrow. Stay with me now! I was thinking about Ray talking about riding horses being like pushing a wheelbarrow because we use that example to help people understand how the horse works when operating upright and balanced. The wheelbarrow is the front of the horse and our legs are the rear of the horse. If our wheelbarrow has a load in it and we drop our shoulder to make a turn, we’re likely to lose our load. If we keep our shoulders square and our back relaxed and move our feet like we’d expect the rear feet of our horse to move, our wheelbarrow goes where we want it to go and with it’s load intact!
The same principle applies to pushing the lawn mower back and forth in the yard. As I went back and forth, I was reminded of riding a serpentine pattern where the hindquarters of my horse reached further than his front quarters in the turn. With my lawn mower I was trying to turn 180 degrees onto a new line and then push straight along a line parallel to the old line. When riding my horse in the serpentine pattern if I look around the corner of my turn for my new line, keep my shoulders square and my back relaxed, the rest of my body will help my horse find our new line. We can then stride ahead with straightness on our new line.
The lesson for all of us trying to improve our riding habits and our communication with our horse is to relax, look where we’re going, and allow what our body does naturally be the first thing our horse feels when we’re making a change in what we’re doing or where we’re going. We can always add more aids to help our horse but, it’s amazing how little we can do and how much our horse feels us change. It’s when we get braced and contorted that we have trouble getting through to our horses. Our advice….relax and allow your wheelbarrow or lawnmower to remind you how your horse likes to work!
We’ve been spending quite a bit of time building new fence around our place. So, I got to thinking about the old saying, “good fences make good neighbors” and wondered if good fences make good horses too? We build fence to keep our livestock or pets on our property and to keep our neighbors pets or livestock off our property. We want our fences to be sturdy enough to do that job but flexible enough to “give” a little should something hit it accidently. Because we fence large areas, we use materials that are designed to do the job, are cost effective, and are relatively easy to install.
So, how does all of that relate to horsemanship? With virtual reality being all the rage these days, if we think about our personal space as being the virtual area we want to fence, how do we build good fences so our horses know where to be? On the ground, we need our horse to respect our personal space. We can’t have them stepping on us or pushing us out of the way. We need to have a fence keeping us safe. But, this fence needs to have gates that are easy to use so that we can go to our horse to create the bond we both crave. This fence we build around ourselves causes our horse to develop respect for us so over time, the area we have fenced off can get a little smaller.
In the saddle we have more tools with which to build our fence. And, our fence tends to be less rigid and more moveable. Think about a one strand electric fence that is moved to allow livestock access to fresh grazing. We create these fences with our reins, seat, and legs. With these aids we can discourage our horse from venturing into a certain area or we can open up our fence to allow them to explore something new. With time and consistency, our horse begins to recognize our fences and respect what they represent. They know when the one strand of electric fence is “hot” and to stay off of it and they can see when that strand comes down and they are free to move into an area.
Good horsemen seem to consistently build real good virtual fences. Their horses are nice to be around because they respect the fences created by the lead rope, rein, and body of the horseman. The fences aren’t built out of harsh materials with the intention of inflicting pain. They are more like rubber band fences that allow for the give and take needed for a horse and rider to find an understanding. So maybe it’s true that good fences can make good horses! Even if they are just virtual fences.
We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz. Because, because, because because, because….because of the wonderful things he does! Remember that from the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”? Dorothy and her friends were off to find the wizard that would help them solve all of their problems and give them all of the answers to all of their questions about life.
Do you ever feel like you’re on that same quest? Following the yellow brick road from one clinic to another, from one clinician to another, trying to find the answers to all of your questions about horses? That’s not a bad thing. Getting information is important. Getting the right information is more important. Getting the right information that fits you and your horse is the most important! Sometimes it takes the right person saying the right thing at the right time for it to “click”.
Our experience was spending lots of time and lots of money being exposed to lots of ideas about horses and horsemanship. We listened, we learned, we experimented, we failed, we succeeded. We didn’t feel like we wanted someone to “give” us the answers. We wanted to use the information we gathered in our own setting and see what worked for us. We stayed with the things that fit our personalities and our abilities. We found that what really mattered to our horses wasn’t the techniques we used but, the feeling that came from the inside of us to the inside of our horse. As we got more sure our horses got better.
As this clinic season begins and you search for the right setting for you and your horse to get exposed to new ideas or refine some old ideas, pay special attention to what it is you want for you and your horse. Whether it’s a safe and relaxing trail ride or running a cow down the fence, the goals have to be yours. When you’re comfortable and confident your horse will be too!
Of course, we’d love to have the opportunity to work with you and your horse! Helping people find answers that fit them and their horse is one of the pure joys in our lives. We may not be the wizard you’re looking for but, we’ll always be honest about what we share with you and kind in the way we present it. Get more information about us and our clinic and lesson schedule at http://www.bridle-bit.com. We look forward to riding with you!
How many times have we finished a project around the ranch and thought to ourselves, “I wish I’d taken a picture before we started”. It’s nice to see the end results but, the end result would mean all that much more if we had captured our starting point. We have our memory of what was but, that memory gets skewed by time and more recent events.
When working with horses, Tom Dorrance encouraged his students to remember and compare. Remember where you started and what you did so you can compare results. Knowing what happened before what you wanted to have happen happened and knowing what happened before what you didn’t want to have happen happened will help you decide what presentations are effective with a particular horse and which presentations you want to stow away with that horse. Remembering where you started, what you did, and what the results were allows you to develop better judgement through experience.
The other day we had a chance to work with some people and horses we hadn’t ever worked with before. The people were nice and the horses were good too. One horse in particular was the kind we like. He was smart and sensitive and not one to put up with much nonsense. He had come from a racing background but, his new job was on a cattle ranch. When we first got our hands on him he acted like he’d rather be in charge and tell us how things were going to be. His head was up, he led and pushed with his shoulder and he was tense from the tip of his nose to the bottoms of his feet. We should have taken a picture! After a little while and a little bit of offering a different feel, this horse just melted. His head came down, he accepted our leadership, and he got soft and willing. It made us feel good to be able to help him find something he was more comfortable with! Of course, we got a picture of that!
Yesterday, we Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb. He triumphed over death and in the process of crucifixion, death, and resurrection, gave us a pathway to a personal relationship with God. Without His sacrifice, our sin was in the way of that relationship.
I wonder how we can use that message and example in our horsemanship and in our lives in general. How many times have we felt that we have failed in something that we cared about. In essence we lost something. Maybe our confidence, or passion, or drive? Maybe it was a friendship or other relationship that we thought was solid until an event caused it to end abruptly? No matter what it was, no matter the cause, I wonder if part of the message of the resurrection isn’t, how do we resurrect what we lost?
Each of us will deal with that question in our own way. We need to allow ourselves to struggle through that process and find solutions that match our personality and situation. To me the important thing is that we get up each day and struggle. I believe that we find the answer that is right for us through faith that struggling will show us the doors that are closed and the door that is open. Without that struggle we wallow in a quagmire of doubt. By embracing the struggle, we find a sense of purpose. We develop a work ethic and confidence that there is an answer and we will find it! We turn the loss of something important to us into a new and important purpose. We resurrect our loss into something as good or better. Trust in your ability to go through the process. Have confidence that the answer is there to find.
Some of our horses are the same way. They have lost their confidence. Our job is to resurrect that confidence. We allow them to struggle through a process where they learn to find answers. We start with easier questions so they know they can find solutions and work toward the more difficult. We show them that we have faith in them. We show them that we have confidence that they can make it. Our faith and confidence in them will one day translate into a belief in themselves. What a great way to build a personal relationship!
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!
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!
This weekend, we took some time to attend the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering held in Golden, Colorado. Music and poetry that is rooted in our lifestyle appeals to us. To have the opportunity to relax and listen to a bunch of it, all in one place, in the dead of winter, was too good to pass up. We had never been to a cowboy poetry gathering before. We didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a room full of artists and fans that had the love of the western United States and the tales that have sprung from it in common. There was a real comradery amongst all the attendees.
The amount of talent possessed by the artists was phenomenal. Guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, bass fiddle and voices blended to weave a tapestry of tales that drew us into the songs and poems. These artists are good. They are masters of their craft. They had obviously put in the time and miles to get really good at what they love. Their love of what they do was the only thing that outshone their talents. In spite of all of this talent, we saw no ego. We saw people that believed that they needed to keep “working on it”. The artists roamed the halls between performances visiting with the spectators. If we hadn’t known who the artists were, we couldn’t have told you who was who.
For us, egotistical people are not people we would choose to spend a lot of time around. We believe that you can master your craft, and pass on some of what you’ve learned, without ego. We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to do what we love to make a living. That has given us more time to spend with horses and cattle than the average horse owner. We’ve tried to use that time to get better at what we love. Not to be better than other people but, to be as good as we can regardless of what others are doing. Being quietly confident in what we do is not the best way to attract large groups of people to our business but, at least we have a business that matches us and what we believe. We hope that when we have the opportunity to help someone with their horse or their horsemanship, we leave them with the same feeling we got from the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering. A feeling of having spent quality time with people we can relate to, doing something we really love.