More Than One Way

First of all — MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

With a new year and resolutions it’s time for new thinking which is what led me to my post this time. Sit down and think a spell….

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of being called the “Idiot Of The Day” when I responded to a post on Facebook about how selfish and cruel it was to clip the muzzle on your horse because they needed their whiskers to feel the wind and find water. My post stated that I clipped only for shows and in over twenty years I’d never had one that seemed harmed by it, nor had I had any accidents.

With a little research, I quickly found out that the arrogant person behind the community promoting “common sense with horses” is affectionately known as the “Jerry Springer” of the horse world. With narcissistic videos on YouTube and an open deep hatred for women, it’s clear he lives for conflict and he’s managed to sensationalize himself into a cult following.

Quite frankly, after seeing his posts and doing a little research it’s extremely clear the man has severe anger issues and I’m thoroughly convinced he’s got a few “Barn Witches”, as he likes to call them, buried under his basement somewhere!

At any rate, it’s obvious he would never even remotely entertain the idea that he might be wrong. The funny thing is that a lot of times the initial premise in what he posts has a small nugget of truth. But he goes in a totally different extreme direction and that direction is the only way and all others are selfish and stupid.

While I’ve always said the horse industry is like a soap opera and full of crazies, after the post experience I was still shocked at just how many there are on so many levels.

One thing that I noticed is that there are some people who are dogmatic when it comes to taking what someone says as pure gold. The mind-set that if “So and So” said it then it HAS to be true! They have lost their ability, if they ever had it in the first place, to think for themselves and try something to see if it’s actually true for them.

Another thing I noticed was that these same people usually think they have to be extremely hateful to get their point across. If they’re right why do they have to be so hateful? Maybe they’ve just been in the cult too long?

Why does the horse industry get so locked down into it having to be one certain way?

We all know people like that and we’ve all seen them. We all may have been them at one in point in time until we knew better — The clinician follower, the trainer groupie.  There’s a lot of money made on those two categories of folks.

Yet there’s lots of people out there, well-known and not so well-known, that do a fabulous job working with horses because they have an open mind and they love working with them. But because they’re not as well-known, they don’t hold as much as weight as the ones that have made a big name for themselves. Does that mean they’re not as credible or they’re not as good a horseman? We tend to think so but I don’t agree.

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There’s a saying that I see from time to time floating around Facebook that basically says that horsemanship is about realizing that everything you think you know about horses can completely change with the very next horse. I love that saying because to me, that’s exactly what it’s all about. You never know it all and there’s never any one way when it comes to horses.

Through the years, there have been many training methods that I’ve latched on to for a few years only to come back full circle to what I originally used. Maybe it took a while but after trying something different I realized that the original way was better. But the neat thing is that I learned something new that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had an open mind to try something different.

There’s also been things that I’ve been skeptical about that I’ve tried any way that wound up working so well that I changed how I did things. You never know where a good training idea is going to come from!

Speaking of open minds and horsemanship, I have to share the link to my other blog, Talking In The Barn.  I interviewed Sam Finden who is a young author that loves horses as much as he loves to write. He’s also a humble horseman that will get you thinking about horses and horsemanship.

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Have you ever been closed-minded about a training idea? What was it? Have you ever changed your mind about a training idea? How did it make an impact on you?

 

 

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Taking Risks….

Giving lessons and being an active part in the local horse community, the topic of fear or the inability to do something comes up on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s a conversation about being afraid to break colts, other times it’s the inability to work with a difficult horse. Other times it may be as simple as not being able to do an exercise that’s needed to ride better.

When I was young, I was probably the most cautious child you’d ever meet. Even as a toddler, I was famous for saying, “I not hurt me!” when they would get on to me for doing something. I did it anyway, but I was very cautious about it and had already thought the whole thing out. As an adult, I guess I’ve kind of kept that same mindset.

Yes, I ride my horses when there’s no one around. I’ve been known to get on a colt the first time without anyone at home and my phone back in the barn. While those activities are taking a risk, they’re a calculated risk taken with a certain mindset and certain preparation.

Before I step up on a colt, I make sure they’re broke before I ever get on the first time. It makes no sense to me to get on a thousand pound animal that you can’t control. That’s dangerous. It’s a lot less dangerous to get on a horse that’s had enough foundational ground work that getting on them is the next logical step to you and them both.

The saying that if you get a horse’s mind you’ll get their feet is very true. That’s why I don’t like stepping up on a horse if they’re not focused on me. Again, it’s dangerous to get on an animal that big that you can’t control.

You also have to know your limits and your horse’s limits. If you’re not a great bronc rider, then most likely you don’t need to get on a horse that likes to buck during warm up. By the same token, if you take a young horse to a crowded show for their first outing, they’re not going to be able to handle it. Staying safe and not getting hurt means knowing your limits and working inside of those.

If you’re not a bronc rider and your horse likes to buck when he’s fresh, then maybe you need to lunge before every ride to stay safe. Instead of taking that young horse to a crowded show for the first time out maybe haul over to a friend’s house or a much smaller and safer show. Find ways to set yourself and your horse up for success.

Even with the best laid plans and the best horses things can happen. We’ve all heard of stories where horrific things have happened that never should have. The truth of the matter is that riding a dangerous sport, period. But then life is as well. None of us are guaranteed the very next breath no matter how healthy we are. But that’s not reason to live your life in fear and let fear dictate your life with your horses. Life is too short for that as it is.

 

Every time I’ve gotten hurt with horses it’s been because I got in a hurry. I either left out a step in training, or I pushed my horse into something he wasn’t ready for just yet. Being patient and building the proper foundation, reading your horse well and planning your rides and your path can help not only to keep you happy but it can also help you take new risks and experience new things with your horse. Don’t be afraid to get out and try new things or even ride new horses. Just be smart about it and enjoy the ride!

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Is Your Colt Broke?

The million dollar question…. Is a colt broke if it lets you ride it around on its back?

The million dollar answer…. Depends on who you’re asking.

 

In my book, it doesn’t matter how well they carry you around. If you have to pull them around, they’re not broke.

For me, getting one soft through the face and through the body is the critical step in breaking horses. You can’t move forward until you have those elements in place. For a lot of people however, it’s just the opposite – the critical step for them is getting the horse to stand still or move without bucking. Reining comes later.

What exactly is “soft” and why is it so important?

Through the years there have been many great horseman try to define what softness is in a horse. Quite frankly, if you’re a horseman that loves to learn, your definition of softness will evolve and grow deeper as you learn.

Giving just a basic definition of softness so that you get the idea, softness is being able to get the horse to do something or move something without a lot of effort.

For instance, you ask a horse to bring its head around by pulling on the lead rope or the rein. A soft horse, you don’t have to pull in order to get the head around – they require a lot less effort. You only have to pick up. There’s a big difference in effort between pulling and just picking up a rein and that’s basically the beginning idea of softness.

Why is softness so important when it comes to progressing with breaking colts? I’ve found that it can literally mean the difference between staying and hitting dirt.

By now you’re probably asking how in the world getting a horse soft can keep you from falling off. It’s quite simple, actually. It boils down to timing and effort.

It takes more time to pull a horse’s head around than it does to just pick up. If a young horse starts to buck or rear, in order to control the feet you need to get control of the head quickly. If you’re having to pull instead of pick up, your horse has a better chance of getting a jump in on you before you get control.

As mentioned earlier, it takes more effort to pull than just pick up. It also requires more balance because of the leverage needed in order to pull. If your horse is acting up, most likely your balance is already in danger. Add the fact that you’re having to struggle to get your horse’s head around and you’re setting yourself up to quickly become unbalanced.

Those are just two elementary examples of why getting a horse soft prior to getting on is so important when it comes to breaking colts, just riding horses in general. True softness goes much deeper than that but it’s the foundation of everything that goes into an upper level finished horse that’s easy to ride.

 

Does your horse require a lot of effort to ride? If so, what can you work on to make your horse easier to ride?

MO FIRST SADDLE RIDE GROUND STAND Mo

 

 

 

The Horse Is Always Right

At times we get so locked into a certain way of training or thinking that we can’t see, or believe in, another way to teach a horse how to do something. We think because “so-so” says a method doesn’t work or isn’t the way they do something that an outside idea holds no merit. Well, there’s nothing like a horse that doesn’t fit “the mold” to pull a good horseman out of that way of thinking. I’ve always said that difficult horses make the best horsemen and this is one of the reasons why.

 

The usual give and release methods will work on most difficult horses – if they’re applied correctly. But every now and then you run into a horse that’s a little harder nut to crack and the usual give and release methods will only go so far. That’s when the real work begins.

 

Sometimes all a tough horse needs is a lesson to be broken down a little more so they can grasp it better. Contrary to popular belief, these types of horses aren’t stupid. In fact they’re quite the opposite – they’re often incredibly smart. The problem is that they’re so smart they get ahead of you and themselves and they get overwhelmed, or they get over stimulated and don’t know how to handle it.

 

At other times a difficult horse may need an entirely different approach. Horses like that require a good bit of analytical thinking to figure out where they’re coming from and why. Once you figure those two things out, then the next step is taking that information to determine the best way to help the horse out.

 

Another thing to keep in mind is the big picture. If a horse makes a big stride in one task, don’t hammer on them for one small infraction or the big lesson is lost. Focus on the main thing that you’re trying to teach that day.

 

As Ray Hunt said, the horse is always right. A lot of horsemen bristle at that remark but it’s entirely true. For one, we’re supposed to be smarter than the horse and expect the horse to be a horse so horse actions shouldn’t really come as a surprise no matter how bad they are. Horses will be horses because that’s what they are and what they do! Not only that, a horse is just a product of what someone made them to be. If they act out it’s because something was missed somewhere –remember, we’re supposed to be the smarter species?

 

It pays to have an open mind when working with any horse. Just like us, they don’t all fit into a mold and they have good days and bad days. The key is to remember that and be flexible in your approach so that you can figure out the best way to help your horse, not make your horse do something. If nothing else, remember the horse is always right.

 

So when was the last time your horse did something wrong and what was it? Why do you think he did it? What did you do to help him out?

Mo TOAD LOAD

 

 

Train Your Horses Well

“Train your horses well because it means their future.”

When I’ve been asked about breaking horses or working through a problem, I’ve always said those words and I’ve always believed them. This last week or so in going through an unexpected family crisis and having to thin my small herd drastically on short notice, those words have hit home harder than I ever imagined.

In working with my horses through the years, I’ve been competition focused. I’ve trained for good manners but have primarily focused on things like taking leads well, consistent movement and speed, softness, body control, etc. While those things may make for a great show prospect, the majority of good homes out there are not looking for a show prospect. The majority of good homes out there are looking for a horse their five year old can ride – that requires a whole different set of skills.

Although I’ve spent a lot of hours in bringing each of my horses along, when it came time to finding them good homes, it’s evident that some of them could use even more time and work. Suddenly things that you just deal with without thinking about become a bigger issue of whether or not the horse will find a good home – not everyone can handle what you just deal with.

For instance, one of my horses has been shown quite a bit in Ranch Trail, Ranch Riding, has sorted cows, and even has some ARHA and EXCA points on him. He’s pretty solid on a lot of things. You can throw a rope unexpectedly around his back feet all day long yet this same horse will cow kick if something hard like a rake suddenly touches his back legs. Although he’s been hauled a lot, if he gets excited he can be pretty explosive.

I’ve had this horse since he was a yearling and although I’ve put a lot of time into him, the things that I need to put more time into suddenly become big issues when trying to place him into a therapy or lesson program. It’s clear he’s not a horse you can place just anywhere so where does that leave his future?

Having to make the decision to get rid of horses I’ve had for ten years has been a heart breaking process but it’s also been a learning process that I think in the end will improve me as a trainer. While I’m sure I’ll still focus on skills needed for showing, the primary goal will be to produce a horse that could be used for therapy or for children so that emergency placement into a good home would be much easier.

Could your horse be a therapy or child’s horse? If not, why? What changes can you make in your training to change that?

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Making History At The RFD American Million Dollar Barrel Race

If you’ve got anything to do with the barrel racing industry at all, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz about the first million dollar barrel race, The American, hosted by RFD-TV and sanctioned by Better Barrel Races. With the semi-finals held in Mesquite, Texas and the finals at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the American is a not only the most lucrative rodeo in the United States, it’s also the first time in history that men have been allowed to run barrels at a rodeo event.

Some of the top male riders in the country qualified to compete at the semi-finals but only one young man made it to the top twenty. That young man is Clint Sherlin of Athens, Tennessee. Bully By Design, also known as Red, is the horse that took Clint to the semi-finals. Red is the product of a long standing business partnership between the Sherlin family (Clint, his parents Joel and Nancy) and the Hayes family (Chris and Shelley, and daughters Bayli, Lilli, Maddi) of Philadelphia, Tennessee.

Clint and Red first shined in the spotlight when the pair won the NBHA World Championship in 2012, appearing on the cover of Barrel Horse News. The Hayes’ daughter, Bayli, has also gained notoriety with Red at several large barrel races as well and is becoming quite the jockey on such a powerful horse under Joel, Nancy, and Clint’s tutoring.

Having purchased two barrel prospects from the Sherlin and Hayes families, I have watched The American with great interest. However, it goes a whole lot deeper than that. You see, I’ve known Clint since he was a young kid riding any horse that was  thrown his way and making it look good. Joel has also been my farrier for many years, not to mention that Joel and Nancy both have invested countless (and selfless) hours in me while trying to make me into a better jockey.  We’ve went on road trips to barrel races together, and it’s always been an adventure from dodging tornadoes  and mud to dealing with flat tires. All those memories are very precious to me and are the reason that I’ve taken such an interest in The American.

For Clint, and the rest of the Sherlin family, the road to The American has not always been an easy one. They definitely didn’t start out with the best horses. In fact, it was horses that no one wanted that gave them their start. For many years, they honed their riding and training skills on horses with issues that most people gave up on. Although difficult, and most certainly with a delayed pay day, those years of riding problem horses  and making it work have not only turned them into one of the best riding and training teams in the country, but it’s also created a family that I would describe as “salt of the earth” type folks.

In a sea of top kicks and hundred thousand dollar living quarter trailers, it’s not unusual to see the brown and yellow  “Double OO” trailer, or a 1975 Mercury Grand Marquis if the Sherlin clan is in town. While the rest of the world has to have the latest and greatest, its their genuine down to earth practicality and their focus and dedication to making the best horses that make them a rare gem in the barrel industry.

Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s been a historical race as full of hopes and dreams since the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. The common man was a contender in that race too. In a couple of days Clint and Red will be making their run for the finals at The American. Not only will that run be making history, but it will also represent the hopes and dreams of two of the finest and most down to earth families in the barrel racing industry.

Ride hard Clint & Red!

Joel & Nancy at the parade with their draft horses

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Joel shoeing SV Shawne Fire N Te, aka Fireman.

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Our trip to the Futurity in Fort Smith in the Double OO

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The Mercury on the way to the BFA in Oklahoma City. By the way, we’d blown a tire!

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Setting Goals

Setting a measurable goal is important if you want to accomplish certain things in life. Working with horses is no different. While measurable goals are necessary for the big objectives, they’re also necessary for the small steps you take with your horse on a daily basis. If you don’t set goals every time you handle your horse, you run the risk of not only losing focus, but upsetting your horse as well.

Most of us that show have no problem setting a big goal for competition. That’s an integral part of competing, really. But sometimes what we don’t do is set a goal for every time we ride. Sometimes we get so rushed that we focus on warming up or doing our routine that we forget about the details. In the end, we ride mindlessly on our horses and /or we wind up drilling too much on certain things.

 Years ago a good trainer friend of mine said that horses have the mentality of a three year old child. That concept has come back to me time after time and it’s a good one to hold on to. While the image of a three year old child conjures up a limited understanding, it also brings up the subject of attention span. Most three year old children can’t concentrate on something for more than just a couple of minutes before they’re thinking, “Ooooohhhhhh…. Look at all the pretty colors!” Then most parents are struggling to get their attention back. Horses are absolutely no different.

 Your first basic goal should be to keep your training sessions short, especially when working with younger horses. You want to focus on the important stuff while you don’t have to fight for their attention. If you work for a longer period, they’re going to get frustrated because you’re going to have to battle that desire to “look at all the pretty colors.” Quit before that happens.

 You might think that short sessions don’t do any good. Horses learn by repetition and have a wonderful memory. It doesn’t matter how long the session is or really even how long it is between sessions. What matters most is the consistency and number of sessions.

Another goal should be to focus on only a couple of things per ride. Don’t start your ride thinking you have to accomplish everything that’s needed to do your class or event. Focus on only a couple of things and accomplish those. Then the next ride, focus on something else.

For instance, green horses don’t travel well in a straight line. They also don’t keep a consistent speed, and depending on how far along they are they may not know how to take a correct lead. The absolute worst thing you can do is go out there and try to make that green horse do all three of those things during your work session. Break it down and focus on only a couple of things, like a straight line and a good forward tempo at a trot. Then next time you can work on your canter.

A repetition goal is also important and needs to be determined before you ever step up into the saddle. How many times are you going to lope on the left lead? How many times are you going to ask your horse to back? How many times are you going to jump over that particular jump? Decide these goals ahead of time and then keep track of them while you’re riding so that you don’t over work your horse to the point of being sour.

Last, and probably the most important goal is to quit your ride on a good note. If you have to set your horse up to quit on a good note, by all means find something he’s good at and quit on that.This is especially critical if there’s something that your horse is struggling with because quitting speaks louder to a horse than drilling on what you’re trying to teach.

If I’ve got a horse that’s really struggling with something, I’ll make that the goal for the day. If my horse reaches that goal in just a few minutes, I’ll quit for the day right then. I can always ride tomorrow but that horse just tried and accomplished something he couldn’t before. Quitting on a good note tells him he did the right thing, and it boosts his confidence.

So what goals have you been setting for your rides? How do you determine those goals?

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