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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sitting still

No one should ever underestimate the usefulness of just sitting still on a young horse. It is easy to overlook that they need to learn that just like they need to learn how to turn and stop. One of my favorite things to do is, right in the middle of a workout, I will just stop them and let them stand there still for quite a while, sometimes 10-20 minutes or more and just do things that you want them to stand still for. I'll move my legs, re-adjust my seat, move my hands and re-adjust my reins, jiggle the breast collar and back cinch, reach up and scratch them on the neck, reach back and scratch/pat them on the butt, move my weight back and forth and make the saddle move, etc. The last thing I want to happen is I send a horse home and find out the owner ended up falling off because they reached back to pet the horse's butt and it spooked from that or boogered sideways when they leaned forward to pat them on the neck.

When I want them to move forward, I make sure that I am very clear about the forward cue; equal leg pressure on both sides, a forward seat, and I will move my rein hand forward closer to their head on green horses for the first few times until they are solid on just legs and seat. There are very few things that get on my nerves quicker than a horse that just won't stand still.

Sometimes they don't want to stand still, that's okay. If they walk forward, I'll turn them in little circles 'til their feet stop or back them up a few steps, then I let them stop again. It really helps if they are pretty worn out first because, let's face it, most green horses have attention issues right when you first get on anyway and asking them to just stand there and be still for an extended period of time is about like asking a kid for the same thing at a birthday party, haha. Of course, they need to stand until you ask them to move, but if you keep the first few sessions short, then you are setting them up for success.

My favorite time to do it is right in the middle of loping/trotting circles. That way, they can learn that sometimes they will be required to go from higher speed to a standstill and getting to just stand there and breathe for a minute is nice. Horses that appreciate the moments of stillness are ones that don't prance around, even when other horses are milling around. They may keep an eye on all the activity, but they will keep their feet still.

In my experience, that is the one thing that most people want and so few of them have; a horse that is content to just stand there while you talk to a friend or watch a rodeo event. Or, even more importantly, stand still while you mount and get comfortable and when you dismount.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lighbulb moments

I swear, it is the most amazing thing to see that lightbulb moment with a young horse. I didn't spend much time riding today because the wind is crazy, but I wanted to spend a few minutes on a couple and bump them up from a snaffle to a curb bridle. This one little mare I'm riding has been doing exceptionally well but wasn't quite able to put 2 and 2 together when it came to neck reining. She would do okay, but not as well as I would like. In ever other respect, she was completely ready for the bridle, she's soft, supple, and responsive so I figured I would give it a shot. It took her just a few minutes to get accustomed to the different pressure and direction that she gets in the curb but about 5 minutes into the ride, she had that lightbulb moment. I could literally see and feel it when she suddenly realized "Oh, that's what you've been showing me. Okay, I get it now." Now, she's riding almost like an old broke horse and needs very few direct rein reminders.

I swear, those are some of the most satisfying moments for a trainer.