Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Latigos and Cinches: how to store them so that they're handy and out of the way

This is something that I've seen a lot over the years and it always sort of bothered me because there is a much easier way to do things.  I see folks unsaddle their horses and leave the cinches just hanging down so that they'd drag on the ground whenever they carry the saddle.
I guess that's all well and good if you don't mind tripping over your cinches while you're walking or getting them all dirty and having them pick up stickers and such from being drug around.
I've also seen a lot of folks that just throw their sweaty ol' cinches up over the seat of the saddle like this

But with this, you're getting all that sweat soaking into the jockeys and seat of your saddle.  It can discolor the saddle where the cinch lays and, if the leather is not cared for properly, the constant exposure to such salty moisture can cause the leather of the saddle to break down.

Personally, I prefer to keep them looped up and use the keeper on the off side of the saddle that was made for this purpose. 

This keeps them out of the way when I'm carrying my saddle and it also makes swinging the saddle up there much easier because I don't have to fumble around and pick them up and get them out of the way first.
Another thing that's pretty commonly seen is the latigo just slung up over the saddle like this or having it just left down to hang and tangle around your feet as you're walking.  In my opinion, this makes saddling up more of a pain than it needs to be.

So, I'll show you how I keep my latigo up and stored where it's out of my way and is extremely easy to cinch up when I'm saddling my horse.

Here, you've got the latigo just hanging down loose, the way it would be just after you undid your cinch.

I'll grab it about halfway down and bring that point up behind the rigging

Then, I'll take that point that I've got ahold of and bring it up through the ring on the saddle.

I pull it up and through and adjust the entire thing until all of the layers are an even length

 Then, I just let it lay down and it's hanging in a nice, convenient, out of the way manner
Then, when it comes to cinching up, I basically just do the opposite.  I'll grab the tail of the latigo, which is at the very back of the layers, closest to the horse.  I take it down and put it through the ring on my cinch.

Then, it's just as simple as pulling out the slack

After that, you just proceed to cinch up normally.  When you're done, you just put the latigo and cinches up again and they are already stored for easy carrying and use the next time you pull your saddle out.

Depending on the fence and stressing trivial stuff before you get the important things down

One of the most common problems I've found in dealing with horses that have already been through one trainer is that they are seldom, if ever, ridden outside an arena/pen.  For that reason, those trainers don't realize how much they depend on the fence to control the horse they are riding.

For example, I'm currently riding a 4 year old mule that had been to another trainer, had 50 saddlings, and had never seen the outside of a roundpen.  That is also a perfect example of the trainer and owner not communicating enough to come to a happy conclusion for both of them.  The owner was wanting a nice, broke mule that he could take out and enjoy trail riding on.  The trainer, in spite of having rode the mule 50 times, he never once took the mule anywhere even remotely resembling a trail, he spent so much time on teaching her to move around with her nose tucked up to her chest in a correction bit (which he started using on her 3rd ride...but that's another story) that she has a mouth about as soft as a cinderblock, has no idea what "stop" means, and has been taught very well that she doesn't have to follow her she's perfectly happy to lope along with her nose pointing right and her body going left.  Now, that wouldn't be such a horrible thing if it was trained as a counterbending exercise like you see in reining horses, but this mule also has no idea what leg cues mean so there is no controlling her body with your legs.

Another thing I've noticed is that any time she gets even remotely stressed, which is almost constantly, she starts grinding her teeth.  That's another symptom of having been ridden by someone who wanted her "bridled up" before she was ready for it...and as a result, even slightly picking up pressure with the reins results in instant stress to her.

Because she has always depended on a fence to "keep her in a circle", she has no idea how to obey the commands of the rider on her back to maintain her direction.  I've been dealing with a very dangerous situation with this mule.  When she first came here, she had no idea what lateral flexion was.  Her neck was about as stiff as a steel pipe.  I've fixed that and basically got her listening well at the trot and walk but she has a panic attack when it comes time to lope, especially if I ask for a circle.  She'll go along okay for half or maybe 3/4 of the circle and then she'll decide that she wants to go the other in spite of me picking up on the inside rein to try to correct her direction, she continues to lope off in the direction she wanted to go.

And, to top it all off, she's barn sour so she always knows which direction the barn is and that's the way she wants to lope sideways toward.  I truly feel sorry for this poor mule every time I mess with her.  She's been jacked around and screwed with and micromanaged so much that she honestly has no idea how to just be happy under saddle.  Even now, she can't sit still for more than a minute or so before she starts stressing about what's about to happen so much that she basically panics and begins either backing up or walking off forward or sideways.  I've been working with her and she's getting better but there is still a very long way to go.

Update:  The first part of this post was written about a year ago and then I just sort of forgot about it until now.

I sent this mule home about 30 days after writing the previous part.  It took a lot of time and a lot of patience, but she finally clicked onto the fact that being ridden could be fun.  I just took her a few thousand miles and whenever she would follow her shoulder, I'd just gently bump with outside leg and lift on the inside rein until she straightened out again.  I learned that she responded badly to having anyone get after her and increase the I didn't.  I'd keep the pressure steady until she responded. 

At first, it would take up to a couple hundred yards of travelling crooked and sideways, but it steadily got shorter and shorter.  One day, she just quit doing it altogether.  After that, circles were basically a breeze.  The first time I asked for a canter on a circle, she had a momentary flashback and started to get tense and noodle-y through her body, but I just kept my energy down and kept light pressure on and she quickly relaxed and was loping calm circles in just a few minutes.  I was really happy with her when I sent her home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teaching "Cruise Control"

Now, I am not a western pleasure trainer. I simply train good horses that are calm, consistent, and controlled. My Dad trained show horses back in the day before the peanut roller fad and he trained his share of champion WP horses and what he learned riding them is what he passed on down to me.

I don't like a horse to creep along like he's bordering on death with his nose hanging between his knees, but I do like for a horse to go along easy with their head level and relaxed. What this post is about is describing how I acheive that collection and cadence on a normal riding horse.

The first and most important thing is to get the horse moving with impulsion. If you start trying to really control their speed before they are comfortable moving out, then you'll end up with a confused horse that has no idea what collection is. Get them moving soft and flat at all 3 gaits before you ever consider adding cruise control.

The way that I get them flat is to "lope them until their head drops". Some horses take longer than others to realize this, but sooner or later, they all do. What I do is work them in circles and lope them on a loose rein until they realize that speed is going to get them nowhere. What I do is use one rein to control their speed a bit.  If they start charging around at a dead run (which does sometimes happen), then I just pick up the inside rein and spiral their circle down to the point that they have to slow down to keep their balance.  Once they slow down, then I slowly spiral them back out into the bigger circle.  If they start speeding up again, I spiral them back down.

Eventually, their topline will flatten out and they will slow down on their own. When they are consistently picking up and maintaining that flat, easy gait each time you ask for it, then you are ready to start working on controlling that speed.

Now, this can either be done in an arena while working circles or out on the trail. I prefer to do both just to keep the horse well rounded and keep them from getting too set in working in just one environment.

What I do is start out at the walk. I'll let them free walk on a loose rein for 4-6 strides, then I'll ask for the stop and immediately ask for 3-4 steps of a backup. When you ask them to back up, you need to make sure to ask them to stay round and supple. If they brace or hollow out, then keep the pressure and keep asking for the backup until they do soften and round up the way that they should. After I've gotten a couple of really nice backward steps out of them, I'll keep light pressure on the reins but allow them to stop moving their feet. I'll hold them there for just a minute in the rounded and level frame. If they seem willing to hold it by themselves, I'll let the pressure off the reins and only bring it back up if they change their head position.

I'll do the walk/stop/back up/hold/sit routine over and over and over until I can feel them looking for that stop. What it feels like is a small hesitation with each step. Once they are consistently doing a controlled cadence and speed at the walk, then I move up to the trot and start over; trot/stop/back/hold/sit/trot/stop/back/hold/sit, etc. Once they are solid at the trot, then I move up to the lope and start over again. It may only take a couple of sessions at each gait or it may take a couple of weeks of sessions at each gait before the horse starts to get really consistent.

Once the horse has begun to show consistency in a given gait, then I'll start lengthening the stretch I allow them to move before asking for the stop. That may be 5 strides, it may be 50, the horse will learn and get consistent in his own time. When he's consistent, I allow him to just keep on going and the only time I stop/back/hold is when he changes his frame or cadence; raises his head, hollows out, speeds up, etc.

What this does is gets a horse to constantly think "stopstopstopstop", it shortens their stride, slows their gaits, gets them working off their hind end, keeps their headset level, and teaches them to be consistent in their gaits. A horse doesn't run around at mach 3 with his head in the air if he's looking for a stop and he's been taught to stop properly.

The most important word here is properly. In order for this method to be successful, you have to get the horse working properly and using his body properly first. If the horse is moving forward hollow and strung out with his head in the air and he's moving backward hollow and strung out with his head in the air, then all this will do is get him stopping hollow and strung out with his head in the air.

Now, another thing to mention is that you don't necessarily have to do this at a walk, especially if you are like me and prefer a horse that will really walk out and cover some country. You can work it starting at the trot, but it usually takes a bit longer for them to get consistent if you don't start at the walk first. What I normally do is teach this at all 3 gaits and then go back and teach them to do that nice running walk. That way, you have the slow walk when you want it, the fast walk when you want it, and still have the control at the other gaits as well.

It can be really nice to have a horse willing to poke along on a leisurely trail ride with friends then immediately step up the pace and cover country without changing gaits. My main horse that I ride right now can reach out and walk and then I can ask for an easy jog and he doesn't change ground speed at all, just maintains that speed in a different gait. I really like that because his jog is really smooth and sometimes I want to ride it instead of the running walk.

Anyway, that's my rundown of how to get a horse "working with his brakes on".

Friday, November 18, 2011

The importance of basics

Everyone always says how important the basics are when you are training young horses but so many people overlook them in the hopes of getting quick results.

My thinking is that if you do everything the way you should in the first month or two, then the horse should be willing to just accept anything new you ask them to do.

Perfect example is this pony that I'm training for a family. They are hoping that he will end up being the right kind of horse for their 7 year old daughter and I am thinking that with a bit more time and experience, he'll be perfect for that. All in all, I've got maybe 60 rides on the little guy, he stands 13.1 hands tall and weighs maybe 700 pounds. He's been doing really good, still seeing the boogeyman in a few places but that's to be expected with a 3 year old.

Anyway, on with my story. I've been asked a few times over the last couple of weeks to do some day labor in a local feedlot, riding pens, pulling sick cattle, sorting, etc. Today was day 5 that I had ridden him up there over the last 2 weeks (with regular training sessions in between those days). He can open and close gates with the best of them and he's even really trying to be cowy, which I think is pretty impressive considering his mom is a Shetland. He's incredibly smart and as soon as you show him something once or twice, he's pretty well got it down...except when his momma's temperament comes out and he tries to refuse.

Today, I ended up riding half the place all by myself and that can get a bit tricky trying to sort out 1 cow out of a pen of 80-100 without letting any of the others out the gate. I was riding a pen and I noticed one that wasn't looking real great so I decided to pull her. I went and opened the gate wide enough for her to go out but she wasn't hearing any of that sorting business. We ran one direction, then the other, then back the other way again, back and forth, back and forth. I realized that there was no way I was going to drive her out the gate without some help but there was no help handy. I took a close look at her and saw she was kind of a dinky little thing that probably weighed 350-375 pounds.

At that moment, I just decided that I would give roping a shot and see how pony would handle it. So I stepped off, tightened up my cinches as far as they would go, got back on, and pulled down my rope. Pony had never been roped off of before and I had only swung my rope on him once before this. I tried to be as easy as I could and not run her any farther than necessary, mainly because there are some really slick spots in those pens and it isn't safe to get to running very fast. Me and little pony eased around in there and got as close as we could to her before she broke. I nudged him up into a little lope to try to stay on her hip but we couldn't stick with her. I was watching her and it was pony that saw we were headed right toward a puddle that didn't have a bottom in it (tried to walk through it earlier in the day and it was very deep and very slick). So he dodged that and we lost her. Second time around, she was not so lucky. Pony doesn't know how to track a cow very well, but he listened when I told him which way to go. I threw my loop and, miraculously, it went over her head.

Oh, and did I mention that it can really cause a catastrophe the first time you swing a rope on a young horse at a lope if they aren't good minded and prepared properly? Seen lots of horses bolt the first time. Anyway, when I saw I made the catch, I dallied up and asked for a stop. Boy howdy, little pony buried his butt and stopped that cow dead in her tracks. The most he did was raise his head a bit when that rope came tight and that back cinch went to pulling. I managed to use the rope to drive her closer to the gate and stop her when she tried to run the wrong way.

We got as close as she was willing to drive to the gate and the next time she tried to break, I just headed for the gate at an easy jog. Pony hesitated when the rope came tight and started pulling on the saddle horn, but when I said "It's okay, we really do need to go forward", he dropped his head and went to pulling like an old broke horse. We got her most of the way out of the gate when she went down at the exact moment that we hit a mud hole. Pony never stopped trying though and he would have been able to pull her on out of the pen, down or not, had he been able to get some traction but he just kept digging deeper and deeper trenches with his feet. When I saw we weren't making any progress, I stopped him, faced him up, and let the rope go lax so the heifer could get some air.

We sat there a few minutes until she decided that she wanted to get up again and try to break away back into the pen. Ha! When she was on her feet, around we turned and pony pulled her the rest of the way out of the pen with her fighting and bawling the whole time. Little pony handled the whole thing like a champ and if I didn't know any better, I would have said that he walked out of that pen feeling pretty darn proud of himself (and, of course, I gave him a scratch in all his favorite places and whispered a word of thanks).

I guess the moral of my story is that if you get a horse solid in the basics of training and respectful and obedient of whatever you ask, then they just learn to roll with the punches and are willing and able to do whatever you ask of them and do it with their whole heart instead of half-assing it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Small Steps

Okay, sent home 2 horses yesterday and picked up 3 more from the same folks. Worked the first of the 3 fillies this afternoon for the first time She's just as quick to fight as her sister was. (Just so everyone knows, her full sister is a mare that I completely fell in love with and just sent home the same day I picked these 3 up.) It's a fight to get them to face up in the roundpen, it's a fight to get a halter on them, it's a huge fight to get them to give to any kind of pressure on the halter at all.

Anyway, it took sister weeks to really calm down and decide that humans are friends and not something that she had to run away from all the time. After that, she got really friendly really quick so I'm hoping this little filly will follow in her footsteps and make a really nice horse as well.

Went through the same thing with this little filly as I went through with her sister, had to run her from her pen to the roundpen, then rope her to begin to get her to face up at all. After I got her yielding to the pressure from the rope and facing up, I tried to start working my way closer so that I could get a halter on her...but she wasn't having any of that. I could get to her forehead and put my hand there but the instant I tried to move to either side or back past her forehead, away she went. Finally decided to work her down a bit and see if that helped. Ran her round and round and round both ways until she finally gave me both eyes of her own volition.

Only then was I able to work my way up the rope and put a hand on her forehead without her getting nervous. So, we stood there like that for a few minutes until I saw her relax just a touch. Worked with her quietly a bit more and she finally let me get beside her head where I was able to SLOWLY put a halter on her and take the rope off her neck. That's when I found out that she is just like her sister and would instantly rear up, spin around, and bolt the instant she felt any kind of pressure on her head.

Long story short, 3 hours after I ran her into the roundpen, she will tentatively let me rub her anywhere in front of her flanks, will face up from just a bit of pressure on the halter, and will tentatively lead just a bit. Letting her stand out by herself to get some breathing room for a while...fixing to go back out and see if she acts any different now that she's had a while to relax some.

After our little break, I went back out and worked with her again. Had to go over some stuff again but by the time I called it quits, I could get her to face up in any direction and was able to rub her all over her body. Also got her to bend a bit each way with the halter and she would hesitantly lunge both ways as well. She seemed like she finally started to get it and was being as willing as she had been all night, so I decided to call it a day. Did manage to lead her out of the roundpen and back into her own pen to turn her loose again with no fuss. All in all, not a bad first day.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Update on "baby"

Just wanted to give a quick update on my colt from the "Working with Baby" and "Bridle for Baby" posts. Rafe is now just over 2 years old and holding steady at 15.3 hands tall.

He's been turned out in the big pasture except when it's time to see the farrier or I get the urge to do something with him. He has now had a saddle on 2 different times and he just acted like he'd been doing it all his life. It took every ounce of willpower not to climb on up the last time just to see what he'd do.

My plan is to lightly back him this fall/early winter then turn him out again until next spring/summer when he's closer to 3. I just hope he doesn't get any taller between now and then.

UPDATE: I put the first ride on Rafe just a few days ago and he did very well. He's a bit lazy, but I guess that's to be expected LOL. Anyway, here is a bit of a video.