The Loss Of Versatility

When the AQHA was started decades ago, their goal was to promote a horse that could do anything. In fact, in the early years it was a expected that horse be sensible and useable. For many years, the motto of the International Arabian Horse Association was the “The most versatile horse on earth.” In the early years, it wasn’t uncommon for both of these breeds to spend their week days doing jobs such as cow work, pulling buggies or even plowing fields, and their weekends running races or showing. Legendary ranches such as Al Marah and the 6666 Ranches were producers of such horses, especially in those early years.

While both breeds are still extremely multitalented if given the chance, it’s rare to see a show or competition horse that gets to do more than their assigned discipline or event. In addition to that, show horses are often kept in the pen and rarely get a chance to step out of the show environment to a herd of cows or an open trail. Sadder still is the acceptance that it’s ok for these horses not to behave well in a non-show environment because they are show horses. In a lot of cases it’s expected. For instance, Show Trail horses aren’t expected to be ok with throwing a rope because that’s not part of the show trail requirements.

A discipline shouldn’t limit a horse but enhance it. Yet in today’s world, that’s pretty much what specialization has done. We’ve created horses that are limited in what they can do, and even where they can go. Show horses spook on the trail or barrel horses run off in an open field or jumpers bolt at the sight of a cow. It didn’t start out this way but our attitudes about the ability of these horses were different.

While I can appreciate the fact that today’s horse business and level of competition requires more specialization than it ever has before, I also think there is still a place and a need for a certain amount of versatility in all horses. I also realize the fact that few horses are going to be national champions at everything they try, but I also think that shouldn’t keep us from at least trying it on a small level. Furthermore, I believe that when done correctly, versatility can in fact enhance the skills that are used in their specialized event.

I have a good friend that puts on Horsemanship and Ranch clinics. He also breaks high dollar colts for a dressage trainer. I’ve been to several of his Ranch clinics where he’s used a young Trakehner or Oldenburg to herd cows. It’s also not uncommon to see a couple of english riders at his clinics sorting cows because they know the value of versatility in their horses. While they may not be the best or the quickest at cow work, in the end the horse has benefited from time doing something different.

There are plenty of low key and inexpensive opportunities out there to let your horse try something different. Trail riding, open and schooling shows, cattle sorting practices, and ranch clinics are all ways to let your horse try something new. Try your barrel on a ranch trail pattern at an open show. Try showing your jumper in a training level class at a dressage schooling show. Try your pleasure or dressage horse on cows at a sorting practice.

By including some versatility in your horse’s routine, not only will you see your horse’s attitude improve since they’re doing something new but you’ll also get a chance to work on the same skills they use in their main discipline but in a different way.

What event or discipline is the main focus for your horse? What other events can you try that are similar to his main event that will offer your horse a chance to do something different? If you feel that you can’t try a different event, why? What training can you do with your horse that will improve him so that he can do that different event?

Sorting on a barrel horse & an Arab hunter horse

Sorting on Barrel Horse & Hunter Horse

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GIVE A HORSE A JOB

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.

3yr old green mare
3yr old green mare

This bay horse on the right is my husband’s Polish Arab that I showed Hunter.

Sorting on English Arab

Here’s this same horse working a ball.

Working on the 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.

ponying

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?