Cow Dancing

June 3, 2018

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.

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Mowing The Grass

May 22, 2018

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!

Transitions

May 9, 2018

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!

Good Fences

May 1, 2018

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.

Why Groundwork?

April 26, 2018

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!

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!

Resurrection

April 2, 2018

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!

Learning From Others

March 27, 2018

Tom Dorrance was a reader I’m told.  He recommended books to his students that outwardly had little to do with “horsemanship” but had lots to do with becoming a better horseman.  I’m guessing that Tom’s hope was that as people understood more about the animal kingdom and themselves, they would be better able to understand what goes on between them.  We know from our experiences with people and their horses, as people change, their horses change.  The horse reflects the human.

We took a trip to Arizona to see some family.  Everyone is getting older and we don’t take the time to travel very much so, it had been 5 years since we’d seen an elderly aunt and my brother’s family.  Our nephews are top level archers.  They shoot compound bows and spend a lot of time drilling the center of targets with their arrows.  These boys….young men…are in their teens and early twenties, highly intelligent, and spend as much time thinking about how to become better archers as they do practicing.  As we visited about the mental aspects of archery and competition, they talked about some coaching they had been getting from an Olympic archer, Judi Adams, and one of her colleagues, Debbie Crews.  Believe it or not, horses were involved in helping archers become more centered and more focused leading to better scoring.  There was some pretty cool technology involved as well.  One nephew was using a headset that helped him understand how to use his brain and thoughts to improve outcomes in his archery.  And, that understanding is helping him in other areas of his life too!

Here are a few excerpts from an excellent article written by Judi and Debbie:

If you just believe in yourself, the arrow will go in the middle.” “You need to trust your shot.” “Confidence is the key to winning.” “If you have faith, it will all turn out okay.” How many of us have heard these words from our coaches, parents, and teachers? And how many of us answered, “But I am not confident, I am not sure how to believe, how can I trust myself when I keep messing up?

Trust is described as Confidence; Confidence is dependent on “belief which does not require proof” which is the exact definition of Faith. All these words are vague descriptions that we readily understand when applied to others we have observed, but we stress ourselves trying to inculcate them into our own being. And so it should not surprise us that the very struggle with attaining these concepts is linked to the fact that the words themselves are intrinsically plagued with doubt (a feeling of uncertainty).

To know is at the center of Confidence, Belief, Trust and Faith. It is clear that we are more confident, and have stronger belief, trust, and faith when we know. To know, assumes no uncertainty or doubt. What do you know? The more you know, the less doubt you have.

To see the whole article, we’ve posted it with permission at https://www.facebook.com/Bridle.Bit.LLC/  The diagrams in the article wouldn’t copy and paste so, if you’d like to see a version with the diagrams, email us and we’ll send you a copy.

The parallels between shooting an arrow well and riding a horse well were amazing to me.  We hope you enjoy the article!

It’s one of those mornings where I woke up pretty tipped-up.  You know what I’m talking about if you’ve had a day where your spouse avoids you, the horses run to the other end of the corral when you approach, and your dogs lay in their beds and stay very, very quiet.  I’m one of those people that attempts to stay pretty even tempered.  I try to avoid allowing myself to rise with the highs and fall with the lows.  I fail miserably, and often, but, nevertheless, that’s my goal.  I’ve found over the years that it’s just easier for me to try to maintain the facade so I and the folks around me don’t have to deal with the goofball on a high or the man in the dumpster on a low.

The facade works pretty well with most people.  It doesn’t work well at all with most horses.  The horses I’ve spent time around have a keen ability to know exactly what’s going on inside me.  Sometimes they alert me to things going on inside that even I had failed to recognize.  I’m not educated in psychology but, after spending a good bit of time helping people with their horses and seeing the horses improve as the people improved, I know that there is a real connection between the inside of a human and the behavior of the horse.

We have the opportunity to work with a therapeutic riding program horses, instructors, and volunteers.  One of the big issues in a program like that is that the horses take on so much of what clients bring both physically and emotionally.  The horses get burnt out.  Not from the physical exertion of walking or trotting around an arena but, from the things that are going on inside the clients.  The horses are healers.  They are willingly taking the “stuff” from inside a client into themselves and find a way to deal with it.  Some are better than others at dealing.  We try to find ways to help those horses having trouble find an outlet for letting go of the “stuff”.

If we allow ourselves to heighten our awareness of our horses’ reaction to us, we have a better chance of recognizing who we are at that moment.  If we recognize who we are, we have the opportunity to make changes for the better.  Our horse is the most honest reflection of who we really are.  The good new for people like me is that I don’t have to remain who I am today.  I can work on me until my horse says, I respect what you’ve become. Let’s go for a ride!!