To Make or To Offer

Because Amy is a level “Three Hoof” Sure Foot® Practitioner and one of just a few in the Western United States, we’ve had a chance to get around people that don’t know a lot about the horse training style she’s developed over the past 5 or 6 years. The Sure Foot® program helps horses discover the ability to self-govern while creating awareness in posture, balance and movement. It’s an amazing program that has created and additional benefit to the horses we’re working with to help recover from injury, surgery or laminitis. The program has also been helpful with horses we have in training that need a little more help than traditional training methods offer

These new folks Amy is helping often come from different training styles than we offer. Often those styles lean more on the “make” the horse do it philosophies. Our style is more about “offering” the horse a good deal and let him decide to take the offer. Not taking the offer results in the horse running into some kind of pressure until he decides that the offer was better than the alternative. By allowing the horse to decide, we develop a more willing partner. A partner that will often help us get a job done better than we could if we were forcing him to help us. If you’re a Ray Hunt fan, as we are, we are trying to follow his advice of making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.

Because our lives are based on the viewpoint of being able to weigh the facts, make the decision, and live with the consequences; much of the recent government action making us follow a certain course of action has us upset. Much like a young horse snubbed to a post and made to accept a saddle, we feel as though our ability to accept circumstances based on rational thinking and facts has been abridged. Instead of being given a chance to weigh the risk to ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, and neighbors and making good, rational decisions about our business and our personal lives; we are being forced into confinement. Think of your horse being put into a similar situation. Do you think you’d develop a trusting, willing partner using these methods? Or, would you have a horse ready to fight with you at every turn?

Our horses are living, breathing, thinking, feeling beings as are we. They need to be given the opportunity to weigh options and then think and feel their way through situations, as do we. Throughout our many years of working with livestock and livestock handlers we’ve found that those folks that work with their livestock to help them make good decisions get the job done without as much dust and disgust as those that force things on their livestock. People should be much more aware of, and particular about, what’s being pushed on them. They should be given the chance to be informed and make decisions for themselves, not forced into compliance through threats.

I know that as a person, I like to have the ability to choose my path. I think horses appreciate that too….something to think about.

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.

So, as the weather warms and you get ready to ride more and more, think about how you might present things to your horse in a way that causes him to want to learn from you. It won’t be the way that Steve or Amy or Joe or Brian or Buck does it and that’s good. You and your horse will work together to find the solution to the puzzle that makes the most sense to you as partners. We are always honored to be the people that help you on your horsemanship journey. We can offer you tools to build your confidence and a format that will help you learn to experiment safely with your horse to learn how to learn from each other.

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!

The Little Things

I’m not one for big gestures or big presents. I was raised to be practical and frugal. I haven’t been able to shake that raising yet. I believe that doing little things on a consistent basis is my way of giving to those I love.

This time of year we give gifts to those we love. Sometimes it’s big gifts, sometimes small gifts. We attempt to show those in our lives that they are important to us and to our lives. Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of Christ. For we Christians, it’s a celebration not only of the birth of the Savior of the world but, a celebration of the biggest and best gift ever given. It’s Gods gift to all mankind. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. Christ went on to give us an example of how we could live our lives in service to those around us. He showed us how to love one another, to be kind to each other, and to have respect for those placed in our lives.

Amy and I pray that in this Christmas season and in the coming new year, your life is filled with lots of the little things that let you know your loved and show your love. We can never match the grand gift God gave us but, we can spend what time we have here on earth giving a little to each other each day.

Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!!

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!?

Thankful!

It’s Thanksgiving Day. A day set aside to acknowledge where we are in this grand adventure we call life and to be grateful. As I’ve grown older, I’m thankful more for the people and places that I’ve been able to experience and less for the things I have. That change may have come as I want for less. Amy, Ben, and I live in a beautiful part of the United States of America. We have plenty to eat, clothes to wear to keep us comfortable no matter the weather, vehicles to take us where we need to go and a little money to make it all work. It wasn’t that long ago, when Amy and I were first starting out, that we didn’t have many of the things that make life easier. We learned how to make due with what we had and tried to be thankful for what God had provided. After all, we were still better off than most of the world because we had been blessed to be born in the USA. As I look back, the blessings were in the struggle. We learned how to do without things we thought we needed and in the process, learned that the only things we really needed were each other and faith that we could make it.

Maybe it’s because we’ve lost people that we cared for that we’ve concluded that it’s not the things we accumulate in life that we should be most thankful for. The things are left here on earth after we depart. The journey and the memories we leave in others hearts and minds live on after we’re gone. We have a chance to be that someone who makes a difference in another’s life. If we live a life of gratitude for all things we experience; we set an example of how complete life can be here on earth.

So, thank you, for being a part of the ride that we are thankful to be making! Our lives are a finely woven saddle blanket intertwined with people and places and horses and cattle and all of the other things that make that saddle blanket our prized possession. It may be a little dirty and sweaty. There may be some horsehair imbedded in the fiber. It may even be a little ragged on an edge now and then. But, we do our best to take care of it. We understand that each strand plays an integral part in keeping that blanket intact. We value each and every fiber of that blanket with every fiber of our being. Each ride we make with that blanket makes another memory. Each memory adds to the strength and character of our blanket. We know that we can’t do what we do without that blanket and all it represents. We appreciate what it does for us and how it holds us in place.

May your Thanksgiving Day be memorable. Hold your loved ones tightly. Let the day fill your heart and mind with sights and smells and feelings you can carry with you the rest of the year. Be thankful. Be grateful. And know that we at Bridle Bit are very thankful for you!

Good Years, Bad Days

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!

Keeping It Real

There are days when I wonder if anything in the rest of the world is real.  We are bombarded with marketing hype promising to make our life better, faster, cheaper, and easier.  It sounds so good we’re tempted to take advantage of the offers.  We’d be crazy to not want things to be a little easier.  But, the little voice inside us reminds us that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  We are constantly challenged to judge what is real and what is smoke and mirrors.

Amy and I are blessed to live in a place and do a job that keeps us grounded in reality.  There is a popular talk show host that likes to say he’s the Mayor of Realsville.  Amy and I must sit on the Town Council of Realsville.  Every day we have the opportunity to work with each other and with our pets and livestock in the great outdoors.   After more than 35 years of marriage, we’ve come to know and trust each other.  There’s not anything anyone could do or say to shake our confidence in each other.

Many of us that have a desire to differentiate ourselves from others around us.  It’s not that we need to be thought of as better, just different.  Maybe that’s what drives the marketers.  Do this or buy that because that’s what will make you look or act a little differently than the neighbors.  But, what about all of those people that want to be just like their favorite celebrity?  They are being sold on the things that their favorite person wears or does.  Combined with our seemingly insatiable appetite for more and better stuff, it’s not hard to understand why the marketers present things the way they do.

We in the horse world are not exempt from the better, faster, cheaper, easier mentality.  There are more gimmicks and devices offered to horse owners than I care to think about.  Some are offered by folks that really believe they’ve found a better way to help others get along with their horses.  Some are offered by people attempting to take advantage of others.  They often will play on the emotions of people that have just discovered horses.  If we were to just step back and ask how the horse would feel about an offer, we’d get a little closer to what our horse really needs.

Horsemanship is not about the people or the stuff.  It’s about meeting the horse where he lives and doing our best to understand that.  It’s about finding the feel that creates the euphoria when things get really right between our horse and us.  The reality is that the horse is the King of Realsville.  We need to forget about the newest horse whisperer to break onto the scene with the latest training methods that will revolutionize the way people work on their horses. We need to focus on building trust and confidence with our horse to get a little closer to the reality the horse lives. That’s keeping it real!

I Like To Sing

Not long ago, Amy and I travelled to Durango for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Really great singers, poets, and artists were there regaling us with their works. I’ve always been amazed at people that can pick up a guitar, fiddle, or mandolin and make their right hand and left hand work together to make that instrument tell a beautiful story in notes. People that had not played together for a long time could sit down, talk about what “key” they wanted to play in, know what notes and words to put together and then just sit there and make nearly perfect harmonies. Somehow, they all spoke a similar language with music so what they produced always sounded great to me!

Now, I like to sing. You can ask my dogs, cats, horses, Amy, and Ben about that. I don’t know what “key” I’m singing in, I don’t always know the words, sometimes I make up the tune but, I enjoy it. It makes me feel good inside. If I start to have trouble with a project and find myself getting uptight, humming a little tune can get things calmed down and on the right track. I don’t have to be as good as the folks that sing and play for a living. Music can be an important part of my daily life without having to be perfect. I can enjoy using music in my own way for my own purpose!

Today, with most of us using horses for recreation, we don’t all have to be fantastic riders to enjoy our horses. Most of us just want to be comfortable in the saddle and feel like we have enough of a connection with our horse that we feel safe. If we’re smart, we’ve found a horse that will put up with our imperfections. One that’s more gentle than handy. Given that, our responsibility is to ride with balance, softness, and respect. Understanding how our horse operates and then using that understanding to feel our horse and create harmony in our going together.

A rider who “finds” their perfect seat can be a confident, secure rider who can relax on their horse. They will feel balanced and will allow their horse to find its balance. A balanced rider and horse will always operate more softly than those out of balance. A horse and rider that have found a mutual respect for one another will have enough confidence in one another to travel many miles enjoying each other’s company.

Don’t feel that you have to become the worlds greatest rider. Become the very best rider you can become. How it feels between you and your horse is more important than how it looks to the outside world. Enjoy each moment you have with your horse so your horse can enjoy the moments you have to share with them. You don’t have to be in the right “key”. You don’t have to know all the words to the song. And, you don’t always have to sing in tune. You and your horse can go down the trail making a joyful noise enjoying the harmony of just being together. There can be no more beautiful music than that!