One of my biggest passions is working with horses. There’s nothing I love more than breaking a colt or working through an issue with a horse that has problems. The harder they are to figure out and deal with, the more I love the challenge. I think it’s the reward of seeing that animal grow through the process.
You know, Jesus said he didn’t come to save the righteous that he came to save the sinners. He also said that those that have more to forgive love him the most. I think horses are the same way. The harder they are to work with the more they trust you on the other side. The process is sometimes painful but in the end it’s a neat thing and wouldn’t have been so sweet if it hadn’t been so hard.
Anyone that knows me knows that my philosophy with horses is that when it comes right down to it, it’s not about us and what we want to do. It’s about the horse because it’s his life. It’s about him and his leaving our hands better than when he came to us. We should always seek to improve the horse, not just our goals and desires.
I used to think that a good horse trainer could make a horse do anything. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that a good horse trainer can figure out what a horse wants to do. Figure that out and it becomes much easier to teach that horse how to do things. If you think about it, we’re the same way so why would a horse be any different just because they can’t talk? We fight against doing things we don’t want to do too.
Giving a horse a job that makes them think is one of the best things for a horse and it’s most certainly one of the best things you can do for a difficult horse. I think most difficult horses are smart horses. I think they get themselves into trouble when they get bored and they have to find ways to entertain themselves. The best way to combat that is give them a job that grabs their attention and requires them to think.
One of the best jobs for a horse is to work cows. It requires them to focus on something, kind of like putting a TV in front of a kid. Cows are instant horse magnets. While some horses are deathly afraid the first time they see a cow and want to get away, if you think about it even though they’re afraid, they’re STILL focusing on that cow.
You can put a dull, lazy horse on a cow and you’ll get a totally different horse. Suddenly that horse will be lighter, quicker. It’s because they’re interested in what they’re doing and they feel like doing it.
While you might say you don’t have cows to go work, it doesn’t mean all is lost. We don’t have cows either so when we get a chance we’ll haul to a Ranch Clinic or a Ranch Sorting to get that exposure. But you can also find other ways to get out of the arena and give your horse something to do.
Horse Soccer is the next best thing to being on cows, in my opinion. It gives the horse something to focus on – the ball. His job is to stay with that ball and move it around. At the same time he’s moving that ball around you’re also getting a chance to work on things like shoulder and hip control, rate.
Another job I like to give a horse is ponying. It does a horse a world of good to have the job of leading another horse around. It gives them confidence but you also get to work on things like trafficking and control of the body parts.
You can also use your horses for working around your property. Instead of using the pickup truck to haul that log, use your horse to drag it. You’ll need to use a western saddle and wrap your horn to keep it from getting damaged, and get your horse used to ropes first but it’s a job that you can use your horse for. If you ride English, you can still find things light enough that you can drag off your horse.
Here’s some pics of the jobs our horses have had over the years –
This is Mo, the 3 year old green mare at a Ranch Clinic with Scott Kiger of Georgia and John Nicely of Tennessee.
This bay horse on the right is my husband’s Polish Arab that I showed Hunter.
Here’s this same horse working a ball.
The pony horse in this picture was deathly afraid of other horses being close when he was ridden. Here he is ponying a 2 year old.
The important idea here is to find ways to use your horse in getting something accomplished, to include him in what you’re doing. When you do that, you wind up with a horse that’s interested in what he’s doing and you usually wind up furthering his training because it’s required to do the job well.
How do you find ways to put your horse to work that grab his interest?