Which End Is Up?

July 8, 2018

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!

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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.

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.

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!

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!!

Timing

March 5, 2018

We had the opportunity to ride with some really great folks this past Saturday at our Winter Series, Refining Our Horsemanship Clinic.  Everyone was trying hard to understand what their horses needed from them.  Sometimes it was a doing a little more to get a horse to search.  Sometimes it was doing a lot less to give the horse the opportunity to show how much they can do for us.  We worked on becoming aware of when we had succeeded in getting our horse to think about what we wanted. Then, we  worked on the timing of our release for that thought.

When we rode in Ray Hunt’s clinics he would talk about how to look and feel for what it takes to get the horse to understand what we’re asking.  He talked about how sometimes it would take all we had to get our point across but, other times, it would take the littlest thing and they’d be right there.  To us, refinement in our horsemanship has taken the form of seeing how little we can do. Looking for ways to get our thought to become their thought.  Changing their mind and then getting out of the way so our horse can do our thing their way.  We’ve worked on becoming aware of our horses feet and how to get in time with them.

At the clinic, I watched Amy ride a horse that was struggling with his right side.  This gelding was always wanting to look left and pushing his shoulder and rib cage out to the right.  He is 10 years old and had been in this frame for quite a few years.  When Amy first began her ride she thought it  would take quite a little time to get him out of such a strong habit.  But, to Amy’s and our surprise, the gelding came through after just a little bit.  Amy’s timing must have been fitting to what the he needed.  She must have felt what the gelding was thinking he needed to do and changed his mind.  The straightness that Amy offered must have felt good to the him because once he knew through Amy’s release that it was okay to travel that way, he stayed there on his own.  Amy’s experience helped. She knew what she was looking for.  She would allow the gelding to run into his own pressure when he wasn’t right and would release as the gelding thought about getting right. Amy’s timing was good…..according to the horse!

Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt showed us years ago that feel, timing, and balance were the keys to creating good communication with our horses.  It was true then, it’s true today.  We don’t need to look for anything else!

New Beginnings

February 12, 2018

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!