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!

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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!

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!

Working On Me

December 28, 2012

One of the most interesting parts of working on improving on my horsemanship has been the working on me part.  The horses have literally changed who I am.  They’ve done that by showing me how certain approaches work while others don’t.  I’ve had to change the way I react to less than stellar results, I’ve had to quit forcing my will into the situation, I’ve had to learn to improvise, adapt, and overcome.  The mere thought process change that I adopt to improvise and adapt is a big step in conditioning myself to overcome my old reactions.  I’m learning how to step back when things aren’t going well, re-think and re-asses, and then start over.  That same process has also given me a better chance of slowing down and noticing smaller tries and smaller changes.  Good stuff when you’re trying to work with a horse rather than work on him.

On Christmas day all of our kids were able to be home.  It was fun to have them here and to see the wonderful differences between them.  During dinner, the oldest commented on how his mother and I had become less intense and less anal about stuff.  We took it as a compliment and, for me, I credit the horses for getting me to soften.  My German/English heritage can cause me to, as one friend put it, “light my hair on fire and run around”.  I used to be considerably shorter tempered and I used to react negatively when a project was going south.  Okay….I still do those things….just a little less often.  But, the horses have taught me that staying even-tempered and going with the flow of things gives much better results than flying off the handle and scattering things around.

It’s not just me.  Talk to anyone who is working on improving their horsemanship and having some success in doing it and I’ll bet they’ll tell you the same thing.  That the biggest “break-throughs” with their horses have come shortly after they’d discovered and “fixed” something about themselves.  Tom Dorrance talked about horses having people problems.  Ray Hunt talked about being the horses lawyer, standing up for the horse, helping the human figure him out and make some changes in themselves to be able to get with their horse.

As we approach another new year, I’m thinking that my resolution will be to keep working on the parts of me that my horses point out as needing work.  Join me??

Twas The Day Before

December 24, 2012

It’s Christmas Eve at our ranch and yours.  All kinds of preparations are being made.  Preparations for loved ones coming to visit.  Food preparation that can be done ahead to make tomorrows meal easier to get on the table on time.  And, preparation for the livestock to be comfortable with the weather that’s predicted to come in tonight.  But, for us, the biggest and best preparation we make is to prepare our hearts to remember that we are celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  For us it’s like other days of remembrance but, with very special meaning.  It’s a time to rededicate ourselves to the acceptance of the unbelievable gift God gave all humanity when he sent his Son to live with and as man.  To remember the faith that it took for Mary and Joseph to raise a child together and accept who He was before it was proved.

In our horsemanship we talk and live preparation.  Preparation is the key to the next step with our horses, our businesses, our families, our lives.  Taking the time it takes to properly prepare for the next transition makes the transition easier, smoother, seamless.  Improper preparation soon teaches the value of proper preparation.  It seems too basic, too simple.  And, that’s the beauty of it.  When we focus on the things of real value and give them the time and the dedication they deserve, so many of the complicated things in life become easier to see through and handle.  Ray Hunt talked about a “finished” horse being one that is really good at the basics.  When we focus on the foundation and polish it until it shines, the end product is fantastic.

For us the basis of our lives is focusing on and accepting through faith the foundation that Christ laid out for us.  He laid down his life for all of us.  His birth was just the beginning of the preparation for a very big transition.  We pray that all of you have a very Merry Christmas surrounded by the joy and love that this time of year brings.

The Gate

December 16, 2012

I had the opportunity to work with a gentleman and his horse on opening and shutting gates horseback.  Both the gentleman and his horse were great to work with, they were just having a hard time understanding each other when it came to the gate.  We run into that same scenario with trailer loading too.  The human is fine and trying to do the right thing; the horse is fine and trying to do what’s being asked; but, because each is a little unsure of what is about to happen, it never happens.  Ray Hunt would say to us from time to time that he could give a whole clinic on just what it takes to operate a gate horseback.  It involves that many elements of horsemanship.  The human has to be right with his feel, timing and balance and the horse needs to be able to trust the human to keep him out of trouble while operating his different quarters independently or together as the job progresses.

Safety is a big thing to us.  Horses, even really good ones, can react to things unexpectedly.  So, we try to set things up when working a gate or roping to put the odds in our favor should something go wrong.  There are lots of ways to open a gate horseback, some of them are just a little safer than others.  I like to begin by putting my horse’s tail at the hinge end of the gate so that his body will swing with the gate and so that I can lean forward over the horn of my saddle to reach the latch.  During the whole process, my goal is to stay centered with my horse and to avoid leaning to one side or the other and potentially pinching his withers.

From that starting point, depending on the gates construction, location, and ease of operation, I’m thinking about operating my horses feet to move the unlatched gate away from us while I hold on to it.  I’m also thinking about having my horse soft or collected to improve the accuracy of my signals to him.  Some gates require my horse and I to move with all four quarters working equally while others may require more front end.  Either way, I make the decisions about what’s needed and expect my horse to follow that direction.

Jobs like opening a gate from your horse are like little quizzes to see how well you and your horse operate together.  It will show you how well the feet work independently and together and how accurate your signals are to place those feet.  The other benefits are getting more confident and more sure of what you and your horse can do together.  And, you don’t have to get up and down on your horse as many times during a trail ride or when working cattle on your ranch!

 

 

They Call It Natural

December 13, 2012

The style of horsemanship that we practice is often referred to as “Natural Horsemanship”.  I don’t know the history of the naming of the style.  I hope that it meant to infer that the practitioners were attempting to find ways of training horses that were more fitting to the way they naturally think and act.  You don’t have to look hard to find the draconian means that many horses were subjected to in the name of training.  You can go into most any tack  store today and still see equipment meant to provide leverage to the trainer.  And, you can still see horses everywhere you go that operate out of fear or operate robotically to the riders commands. And, that’s after more than 30 years of Tom and Ray and you name them showing the world another way.

Our goal is to work with horses.  To find ways of getting them to understand their job that are fitting to their unique talents and personalities.  I remember Ray Hunt scoffing at the term “natural horsemanship”.  He’d say something about strapping a piece of leather and wood on the horses’ back and sticking a piece of steel in his mouth and call it natural.  He’d continue with something like, there’s nothing natural about any of that but, the horse has an amazing ability to adapt and survive so he learns how to put up with us and in some cases, even like what we offer him.  Ray was an amazing horseman with an amazing ability to offer the horse something better.  He was not a man who would put up with a lot of “feel good” nonsense from his horses or the people around him but, his horses operated like no one elses’, smooth as silk and quick as a cat.

Someday I’d like my horses to look like that.  It’s a good goal.  It’s an even better journey.  To search for and sometimes find those spots where what I’m offering a particular horse really makes sense to him.  A place that feels so good to my horse that he hunts for it again and again.  I’m looking for ways to allow my horse to think and feel and act that fit into my plan but use the talents of his body through his mind.  I set it up for him to find and allow him to show me that he’s found the answer with his feet.  And, even though I’ve strapped a piece of leather and wood on his back and stuck a piece of steel in his mouth, I’m using them to help my horses find what I need from them.  I’m not pushing and pulling and jabbing and kicking.  I’m offering a feel; opening one door, closing another; waiting for his mind to process the offer; waiting for his feet to find the answer.  To me, that’s more natural!

Outside The Box

November 24, 2012

In my younger years when I had a corporate life and corporations were struggling to be profitable, we were encouraged to think “outside the box” in order to find solutions to the obstacles identified as standing in the way of profitable operations.  I enjoyed those exercises of the mind and, to our credit, the management team I served with was often successful in finding unconventional ways to solve problems.

I’ve heard and seen several good horsemen and women talk about riding their horse in a rectangle.  The rectangle is formed by their hands and legs.  As long as the horse they are riding is thinking and doing what the rider is thinking and asking, the horse feels no pressure.  Horse and rider are of one mind and one motion.  They started getting their horse feeling comfortable in that rectangle one step at a time, letting them learn how good it could feel to be with the rider, giving them time to remember what happened just before what happened.

Those same good horsemen and women do not confine their thinking to any box when it comes to exploring different, hopefully better, ways to present things to their horses.  One of the pure joys of working with Amy is the process we go through with a horse new to us.  We try really hard to remain students of the horse and use what we’ve learned from the last 1000 horses to find a way to understand the one standing with us now.  We present our idea to the horse and wait to see if our idea can become his idea.  We look for proof of success throughout the whole horse; mind, body, and feet.  We look for resistant spots or tightness and ways to change our presentation to reduce them.  We look for the horse to try and to time our releases to begin just before the try.  There is no magic formula, no cook-book recipe for the horse, just this moment and the next and what the human is offering in each of those moments.  There is action and reaction and reaction to the reaction and a connection that forms between the horse and human when things go well.

When Joe Wolter was here, he and I visited about Tom Dorrance.  Joe had spent way more time around both Tom and Ray Hunt than I did so I was interested in his insight.  When remembering Tom, Joe thought that what made Tom so unique and so successful with the horse was his ability to go about things differently.  Often times the horses he worked with had been trained on quite a bit.  Tom had to look for a new approach, one the horse wouldn’t recognize, to even get those horses to start thinking a little and feeling back to him.  Most of the time, Tom’s horses really connected with him and really wanted to be in his rectangle.  If that’s what “thinking outside the box” did for Tom, I’m going to do quite a bit of it.  How ’bout you?

Doing Too Much?

November 19, 2012

When Joe Wolter was here I asked him to help me with a 2 year-old filly that I was having trouble getting soft laterally.  We did some flag work on the ground first and he showed me where I was missing some things.  I wasn’t offering this filly a good deal.  To her, it must have felt like I was just taking her head from her through the halter.  Joe showed me how to ask and wait.  This filly hadn’t gotten completely comfortable with the flag so, we used it to provide a little impulsion by shaking it above the saddle horn.  The filly would put quite a bit of pressure on herself through the lead rope.  Just as her hindquarters were about to turn loose, she would yield her head slightly through the lead rope.  That was my que to release all pressure and let her find that place where getting soft laterally was the right answer.  My timing was poor in the beginning so, she and I found ourselves working a little longer than if I had been right on.  But, with a little effort and understanding, we made it and the filly got 100% better.

This was a great lesson for me because I had not been noticing the smallest tries in this filly and, as it turned out, in many of the other horses I’d been riding.  I was doing too much by focusing on the end result rather than on the little pieces that make up the end result.  Even though I didn’t intend to do too much, I was.  I was reaching for my horse to “take” their head around rather than offering a place for their head to go.  I was doing too much and allowing my horses to do too little.  As I practiced and got better at noticing the little tries, I allowed my horse to learn in small increments what I wanted and then allowed them to do it on their own, willingly.  That little thing has allowed me to really get with my horses much better both on the ground and in the saddle.  I have an even better understanding of what Ray Hunt was talking about when he said, “Feel for your horse, feel of your horse, and then you both feel together.  Give it a try!  And, if you need a little help, give us a call, this is good stuff!!