I’ve been riding horses for about 40 years now. Most of that time I don’t think my horses were too impressed. As I go back over the riding I’ve done, most of it was an attempt to “control” my horse through mechanical means. I didn’t spend enough time trying to go with my horses so that they would want to go with me. Ray Hunt was phenomenal in his ability to go with his horses. He didn’t appear to have any fear. In my memory I hear him talk about how the horse couldn’t do anything wrong in the first few rides and that we needed to get with them, so the riding felt good to the horse. Most of us don’t have what Ray had so, how do we take what he taught and make it work for us?
Learn what your horse feels like when it moves out. I think most humans need to know that they can protect themselves. Just like the horse, we operate with a degree of self-preservation. To ignore that or try to push it aside is not allowing ourselves to be human. Having a plan for what we would do if our horse activates our sense of self-preservation is good. That’s why the one rein stop is a good tool to have in our tool belt. But, if all we think about is how to shut our horse down, we begin to obstruct our horse’s ability to move out without being worried. Taking the time to learn what our horse feels like just before he moves out may help us to be less concerned and go with him. We gain our horses trust and our horse gains our trust as we learn to move together.
Learn how to ride your horse with feel. One of the things we’ve utilized over the years that really seems to help people “feel” their horse is to teach them how to feel their horses’ feet rise and fall. When we know when the foot is leaving the ground, we can place it in a way that makes a lot of sense to the horse. The more we operate our horse in a way that helps him help us, the more together we get and the less defensive we both become. It’s hard to believe but, a horse feels your seat through the leather and wood that make up your saddle. They really are that sensitive to what we’re doing. It just stands to reason that an animal that sensitive doesn’t need to be pushed, pulled, or drug to get a job done. If we’re working to help them understand what we need, we’re more likely to have a partner that helps us get our job done.
Ride with balance. The more upright and balanced the rider is, the more upright and balanced the horse is. If I’m not leaning forward, backward, or side-to-side my horse doesn’t have to work to stay underneath me. If you’ve ever carried a child on your shoulders, you understand how just a little lean from them can cause you to adjust how you’re travelling. There have been folks that have focused on helping riders understand how to stay balanced horseback. Learning what they have discovered and incorporating that into our riding will really help us communicate effectively with our horse. If we learn what our horse feels like beneath us and allow our bodies to blend into theirs naturally, riding with balance can be achieved most of the time by getting rid of some old, bad habits and replacing them with habits that cause us to feel more secure in the saddle.
These things and more are what Amy and I cover in our clinics and private lessons. We’ve found that as riders take what we offer and make it their own, they become more confident and secure in the saddle. As a rider becomes more confident, their horses get better at following their leadership. A true partnership can be formed because each party is allowing the other to do what they do best. After all, the best we can get is our horse doing our thing their way. If we don’t have that, maybe we’d be better off walking.
Dave Stamey has a popular song entitled “Come Ride With Me” that really gets to the essence of the feelings many of us have when we’re horseback in this beautiful country we’re privileged to ride in. Amy and I went to see Dave at the Livermore Community Center this past Sunday where he performed that song along with many others. It was a nice break from our usual routine. Dave is a great performer and really engages with the folks that have come to see him. We would recommend you go see him when he’s in your area!
We had given a horsemanship clinic on Saturday with a small group of enthusiastic riders. We’ve come to enjoy those types of clinics, small and intimate, because we get to really engage with the riders and their horses in a way that a larger clinic just doesn’t allow. Our clinics are different than others for a variety of reasons; size, scope, attention to riders, and a focus on what’s important to the participants are just a few reasons why people return.
People seem to find like minded people. I believe that the folks that come ride with us are seriously looking for ways to improve their connection to their horses. And, even though we want the learning to be fun, we try to create an environment that will allow a level of focus that causes participants to retain the information that’s important to them. It’s like trying to achieve “balance” in our horsemanship; easy to talk about, harder to accomplish!
We truly believe that in order for our horses to get better, we need to get better. We lead our horse to better refinement by becoming more balanced riders and by finding ways to get them to want to be with us. We want them to do our thing their way. To do that, we often just need to get out of the way!
Come ride with us! If any of this sounds like a nice change from what you and your horse are doing together, we’d love to ride with you! With Fall weather approaching, Amy’s arranged for an indoor facility that will nicely accommodate small groups of riders. Check for upcoming events. See you down the trail!
I met a horse yesterday that touched my insides in a very special way. Let’s call him Sam. He’s around 10 years old and lives in a boarding facility in a beautiful part of Colorado. He has good living conditions; a herd, pastures to graze, and people that love him. I met him because he began bucking with his riders so was turned out for several years. When his people became interested in working with him again, they did all the right things. They worked with him on the ground to get him more comfortable with people doing things around him. They introduced him to the flag, ropes, and the ground work exercises they know. Still, he remained tight and suspicious of new things. When they saddled him for the first time after all those years of turn-out, he reared and bucked.
Amy and I take a holistic approach the “problems” we encounter with the horses and people we encounter. Amy has an amazing understanding of the horse/human biomechanical connection and is now an experienced practitioner of the Murdoch Method which helps horses find better balance and connectivity with their body. When we were first introduced to Sam, he was wary and tight. We needed to make friends so he would trust us enough to evaluate what was going on with him. We suspected some soreness in his back and neck was causing the tightness and the discomfort with the saddle. He wasn’t too sore, just a little in his neck and shoulders. The Murdoch Method employs pads placed under the horse’s feet, so we went to work checking out how his feet handled. They weren’t as soft as we like but he wasn’t dangerous so we introduced Sam to the first set of pads Amy believed would help him accept the process. Sam began to let down.
We asked the folks that had been working with Sam to show us a little of what they had been doing with him. It was all good stuff except that it wasn’t working for Sam in a way that caused him to want to connect with them. And, these folks were concentrating on what they were doing rather than on how what they were doing affected the connection with Sam. It was like watching two people on the dance floor going through the dance steps without once looking each other in the eye.
When I had the chance to take the lead rope my only goal was to connect with Sam in some meaningful way. Meaningful to him. I wanted him to feel like being with me was exactly the right place to be. Somehow through the fog of things done to him and years of little contact, Sam came out of his shell and found me. We danced together, looked each other in the eye and really connected. It was euphoria for me and looked like it felt really good to him as well. The trust that came through that connection allowed Sam to be saddled and moved out without a bobble. The connection with one person who felt their way through the troubles and concerns inside one horse allowed that horse to let down and come into the human world with just a little more trust that everything could be okay.
That kind of connection makes for a good day. Continually seeking those connections makes for a good life. Agree?
It’s probably just me but, I find that, at times, what I think I’m saying to someone is not what they are hearing. I take full responsibility for the miscommunication and any misunderstanding that results. I’m coming from a set of perceptions and experiences based on the life I’ve lived. The people I’m talking to often come from a very different set of experiences that cause their perceptions to be very different than mine. Our paradigms are different so, when we are talking about a particular subject, a word or string of words may have a very different meaning to each of us.
Imagine how the horse feels! The young horse is just getting exposed to the confusing world of humans. The older horse comes with a set of experiences that make the human a good thing or bad thing. Both horses are trying to hear what we are saying and respond in a way that makes them feel okay. Humans have a tendency to do too much which activates a defense mechanism in the horse. We also ask the horse to do things that are unnatural to them in their world but, that are necessary for them to thrive in ours. Given all of that, it’s amazing our horses hear anything we are trying to say to them.
We’ve helped several horses over the past couple of months that were having trouble coping with the horse trailer. The horse trailer is one of the most unnatural places for a horse to want to go. Yet, if we offer them a chance to follow us into one, often times they will go and stay and cope. When they don’t, things can get bad very quickly. I think that putting a horse into a trailer is one of the best places to test how good our feel, timing and balance really are with that particular horse. When we think our horse is as light and soft and willing as it can be we should try and load him in a 2 horse straight load trailer to ask him what he thinks!
Avoiding a bad experience at the horse trailer is the best way to avoid having trouble at the horse trailer. Just like the best way to keep a horse from bucking is to never let him learn how. If we recognize how unnatural it is for a horse to load into a trailer and do things to help him have enough confidence in us to try, we have a chance. Sometimes it’s as simple as being aware of what bothers a particular horse and what makes him comfortable. We will have the best chance of having our horse hear what we are trying to say if we pay attention to how he responds to the offers we make and then adjust those offers accordingly.
We were successful helping the horses we worked with get more comfortable loading and unloading into and out of the trailer. We were also successful in helping the horse owners better understand their horses and how to help them through the rough spots that can appear with or without a trailer involved. It’s a good day when you walk away thinking, “they actually heard what I was trying to say!”
We’ve had the opportunity to work with some new people and horses over the past couple of weeks. That’s always a thrill for us because not only do we have the opportunity to share some of our knowledge with someone new, we have the chance to be exposed to different ideas. When we did a lot of day-work on neighboring cattle ranches, we saw a lot of different ways to work cattle and use horses. It was a great way to see, in practice, ideas that might work for us. Whether we learned what we wanted to try or not to try in our own operation, the ability to experience ideas was invaluable to our education.
Continuing to educate ourselves beyond the walls of a classroom and a formal education is one of the great things about life. It’s a life choice. We can either stay stuck in our ways and ideas or we can venture out beyond our comfort levels and experiment with new ideas and methods of doing things that are important to us. Amy and I have gotten to the age and stage in life where we’ve experienced quite a bit. We’ve found things that work well for us by doing lots of things that didn’t work as well. It has been a blessing to be able to work with, for, and around lots of different people doing lots of different things. Those experiences have helped us develop into who we are and what we do.
One of the endless debates in the horse community is about whether the front end or hind end of the horse is more important to control. As our teacher and mentor Tom Dorrance used to say, “it depends”. As in a lot of things in life, if we get too focused on one thing, other things will suffer. Amy and I try to keep track of the whole horse; mind, body, and spirit. By doing that we become more aware of what happening before other things happen. We continue to develop a feel for our horse and become less mechanical. We’ve discovered that there are times when the hindquarters are more important than the front end and times when we really need the front end to get a job done.
The more we all understand how horses see, think, and react to things, the better we can prepare ourselves and then our horse for the jobs we will do with them. If I understand how my horse needs to move to carry my weight and do what I need done, I can help him to get balanced within his body so his feet can move how and where they need to go when they need to go. If my horse and I fail to stay balanced in our job, we’re likely to be working against one another. If I’ve educated my horse to the job we are doing and taught him to stay with me and stay balanced, I can let him decide what part of his body is more important for getting my thing done his way.
So, if you’re caught in the debate over front end versus hind end, don’t fret over which end is up. Instead ask yourself if you’re considering the whole horse and the jobs you will be doing together. Our bet is that you and your horse can find the answer together. And, if you need some help figuring it out, we’d be happy to help!
My parents were teachers so, I paid attention to what teachers did and I paid attention to what it took to become a teacher in our school system. One of the steps in the process was to become a student teacher. Student teachers came into our classrooms to practice what they had learned in college. I never asked any of my student teachers how closely what they learned at college matched with what they were presented with once in a “real” classroom. I imagine that the student teaching job exposed some student teachers to environments and attitudes they never foresaw. That was probably one of the big incentives for having a student teacher program in the first place.
We had a chance to attend a clinic as students recently. We try to be students of the horse everyday but, being another persons student can be both enlightening and challenging. We don’t have a lot of ego. We know that there are many things we do not know and many things that we know that we could do much better. So, when we attend a clinic, we really are there to pick-up new ideas, look at something we do in a new way, and to refine our skills. Because we both teach humans as a part of our business, we are looking for new ways to present ideas to others as well as find new things to help our horses.
I’m not a very good student. Even when I try to listen and follow instructions, I end up doing things that cause my teacher consternation. When I ask questions, I come across as argumentative and when I reply to questions asked of me, my answers come out all wrong. Worse yet, when I attempt a new skill, I’ve got two left feet and six thumbs on both hands. I’ve worked on correcting or adjusting those faults but, with little success. Something happens to my brain and body at a clinic that I just don’t understand. Despite all of that I feel like my horse gets better and that I come away with nuggets of information valuable to my learning journey.
The really great thing about attending a clinic is that I gain increased empathy for people that attend one of our clinics. We’ve known for a long time that different people learn in different ways. What we tend to forget is that different people have different reactions to the clinic setting itself. Some people are comfortable in that setting and will say and do all the right things. Others are more like me, saying and doing some good things and some not so good things. What’s important for me to realize is….we wouldn’t be attending if we didn’t want to learn something. Sometimes we take a chance and go to a clinic knowing nothing of the teacher nor the way they will present their information. Other times we know the teacher, know how they present, and have an idea of what we may take away from our experience. Either way, we are there to learn.
As a teacher to humans about horses and cattle I need to remember that what works for me doesn’t always work for the next person. I see and feel things differently than the next person. I’ve worked at developing ways of interacting with my horse and with my horse on cattle that work for me. I shouldn’t expect that those things will work for my students. What’s important is developing an awareness of what you want from yourself and your horse and then developing a feel for when those things take place. What you do to get there is not nearly as important as getting there in such a way that you and your horse are comfortable and relaxed and enjoying the learning process! That’s what I learned from being a student this time. I pray it makes me a better teacher.
We had a chance to work cattle from horseback yesterday. It’s one of our favorite things to do! One of the ladies described working cattle horseback as a ballet. As I watched people work with their horses on the cattle I believed more and more that she was right! Getting a horse to be right on cattle is fine art. There are horses that are bred to be a cowhorse. Those horses seem to know instinctively what to do and where to be. All we need to do is let them know what the job is and get out of the way. Other horses may be less sure and not as cowy but, we haven’t found many horses that didn’t enjoy moving cattle around a pasture or putting them into a corral. It seems to give meaning and purpose to the things we’ve asked them to do before putting them on cattle.
I’m not a dancer. A lack of rhythm and two left feet have prevented that. I am an admirer of those that can dance and a student of how a horse can dance with a cow. The ability of a horse to read a cow is phenomenal. How we use that ability to our advantage is key to being successful in working cattle with a horse. If we have a horse that is naturally cowy, we try to figure out how to let our horse know what our goal is and then get out of the way. We want them to let them do our thing their way. If we are riding a horse that doesn’t have that natural instinct and doesn’t have any experience working cattle, our ability to read cattle and communicate with our horse where to be will help him develop the ability to read cattle.
When dancing with a partner, timing and balance between partners is critical. Getting the horsemanship piece between horse and rider good before working cattle really smooths out the introduction of cattle into the dance. If horse and rider aren’t in sync, it’s tougher for the horse to stay with the cow. We have to have confidence in our horse’s ability to do the job and go with him. Much of that confidence comes from how we introduce our horse to cattle. Done right, we’ll have a confident horse that knows how to dance with a cow. A confident rider riding a confident horse is the best way to have FUN working cattle horseback! Come join us next time we’re working cattle and give us a chance to help you have that kind of fun with your horse.
We became grandparents for the second time last week. Lucas Eugene Lauck came into the world weighing a little over 7 pounds and measuring around 20 inches long. I forget how tiny a newborn is! Lucas’ sister Ella has struggled through the transition of sharing her mother with this new responsibility. Her mom and dad had done a great job of preparing her for what they knew was coming but, the reality of the situation was more than anyone could have prepared her for.
Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance talked often about preparing the horse to position for the transition. Watching Ella, who is a bright and willing child, struggle with the actual transition into sisterhood made me wonder if I am actually doing all I can to prepare my young horses for what’s coming next. And, for a young child or young horse with no experiences in their short life to fall back on, what would I use to help them prepare. I believe that the answer is ME!
Our daughter, Liz, is a fantastic mother. She’s smart about how she engages Ella and she spends a lot of time thinking about being a mother. She’s figuring out what works with Ella and what doesn’t. Fortunately, Liz married a smart, hard-working guy and together they decided that Liz would be a stay-at-home mom. That gives Liz a chance to spend time with Ella and build her awareness of what kinds of things help Ella. Let’s face it, it’s hard to help a youngster be comfortable with all the new things they are constantly being exposed to. Through all of the new exposures, Liz is the constant in Ella’s life, the one who helps her through the rough spots when her lack of experience gives her nothing else to fall back on. Ella can rely on Liz to help her!
A big part of preparing a horse for transitions and exposure to new things is getting them to rely on their human to help them through the rough spots. It gets tricky sometimes because many times it’s the human that is creating the exposure. We have to create the exposure in one moment and be the one who helps our horse through the uncertainty in the next moment. If we are successful, our horse will feel us helping instead of feeling like we are attacking. The more time we can spend becoming the sure thing in our horses life, the better our horses will learn to transition smoothly and with more confidence.
Thanks Liz for the great lesson in working with youngsters!
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.
In our experience there are a couple of good reasons to have your horse good on the ground. The first is safety; theirs, yours, and those around you. The second is preparation; a horse that’s good on the end of the lead rope is a horse that is ready for the next thing. When we are halter starting our weanlings, we are thinking about establishing a leadership role in our horse’s life and teaching them how to follow a feel or move away from pressure. When a new horse comes to us, one of the first things we do is check it out on the ground. After years of handling horses on the ground and then riding them, we can often tell how they will ride by what we feel through the lead rope.
Safety is a high priority for us. Most of the folks we work with own horses for recreation and fun. Feeling unsafe is not fun! Having a horse pushing on you or pulling away from you isn’t safe. Establishing a leadership role for your horse and having good control of your horse’s feet through the lead rope creates a safe environment for you and those around you. We use ground work to help our horses stay safe even when they are off the halter. We’ve had horses that we taught to lead by a foot with a rope get a foot caught in a fence and wait for their owner to come help them get free.
We think that it’s important for the ground work to be the kind that will transfer into the saddle easily. For a young horse or a horse that is struggling to understand what we’re asking, having a consistent feel from the ground to the saddle seems to make a difference. For example, if ,on the ground, we lift the lead rope up towards the withers to move our horses’ hindquarters we have a better chance of our horse understanding how to move its hindquarters away from a lift on the rein.
What we do on the ground has to match our personality and our physical ability. We are trying to establish a rapport and a feel with our horse. By offering our horse a place to go with his feet through the lead rope, we’re telling him how we will make an offer and what response will earn a release of pressure. Only we will feel the way we feel to our horse. If we stay relaxed and offer the same thing the same way our horse will get light and soft on the end of the lead rope and in the saddle. That’s why we do groundwork!