Thursday, December 15, 2016

Going Slow

I'm a slow reader.  Yes, I'm still reading the biography of the great horse trainer, Don Dodge.  Don owned Poco Lena for a time.  The book is an interesting look into his life, the many wives he had, and his relationship with booze.

But, I'm trying to read between the lines; to see what horsemanship principles I might glean from such a successful trainer.

Don came across Fizzabar, a tiny little mare out of Doc Bar and Teresa Tivio.  He first bought him for one of the owners he trained for.  When the owner no longer wanted her, Don Dodge paid the enormous sum of $10,000 in 1967.  Fizzabar had been in the hackamore and cow classes, so she had some training.  The book states that Don worked her for a year and was almost ready to give up on her.  He stayed with her and won the PCCHA championship in 1967, 1968, and 1969.

This all leads me to believe that a horse can learn the basics in a relatively short time.  The fine-tuning, the good handle, however, takes considerably more.  Lately, I've been taking this approach with my horses.  I've been working with Scratch and Jessie with this "grazer bit" trying to get them to work one-handed.  It slow going.  I am breaking the steps down as small as I can trying to do the moves at a walk even.  But, if I jump ahead to far, it's back to the beginning.

To keep them from getting bored, I limit the workouts to 45 minutes.  Truth be told, that's about all I can handle too.  Doing things very slowly and repetitively is extremely tedious.
On the positive side, because there's no need to go on a two-hour ride, I get to work both of them on most days.  We'll see how long this continues between my schedule, the holidays, and the winter weather.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Working with a Grazer Bit

I'm reading a bio of the Hall of Fame trainer and showman, Don Dodge.  In the book,  he talks about his foray into cutting horses.  At the time, the early 1950s, there wasn't much cutting going on, especially in California.

Our "Grazer" Bit
Reining was king and the reiners used either a hackamore or a spade bit.  Don writes about using a "grazer" bit to train and work the cutters.  I wasn't sure what a "grazer" bit was, so I looked it up on Google of course.  It looks like one we have in our tack room, small port, leather curb, so I got it out and tried it on Scratch today.  (By the way, you could help by checking out the photo and offering your opinion on our bit.)

First, I checked YouTube for a video on how to fit the bit correctly.  I found one by Larry Trocha and made the necessary adjustments.

The first thing I noticed was how sensitive Scratch was to the movement of my hands. I was very aware of when I engaged his mouth.  It didn't take much movement of the reins to get a response and it was an effort to remind myself to give him the release.

Scratch and I worked on our stop and improving his response time.  One of the things we struggled with in the cow pen was rating the cow, stopping and rolling back.  It is imperative that he stop when I ask, even with all chaos going on in there.

Since it was his first real work with this bit, we didn't spend a lot of time working with it.  Actually, it was more for my benefit.  My eyes were often on the lower part of the bit so I could catch a glimpse of when the curb strap might be engaging.  That's a tough deal and now I know why they say all the really good trainers have soft hands.  We'll keep practicing and hope for improvement.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Full Day of Fun

Bill Cameron has competed in many Extreme Cowboy Races.  (He's known for a whole lot more in Northern California - training, judging, competing.)  His ranch is about 90 minutes away and occasionally he opens the gates to the public for Obstacle Course Fun Days.  He has jumps, and obstacles spread out all over the ranch and riders are encouraged to use them all.  It's $40 a person for the day and you can add on a personal training session or a session with cows.  To top it off, there are miles of desert trails to ride.  The terrain is quite desolate.  My iPhone clocked the elevation at 2600 feet.  If you want to feel like you're riding in the old west, this is the place to do it.

We took Dusty and Scratch.  It was a big weekend of horse events around town.  There was a Cowboy Christmas event at one stable, a big barrel race at another.  As a result, we had most of the obstacles to ourselves.

We worked on our horsemanship approaching some of the scarier obstacles.  We worked on our timing going through the crossing obstacles.  Then, we played a game of Follow the Leader with each of us taking a turn at leading.  We went through cones, weave poles, up and down mounds, over bridges and dead fall.

Scratch and I worked the small herd of cows.  We used a breakaway rope and caught our first cow.  Very exciting.

After a short break from lunch, the winter day was quickly closing in, but we managed a 40 minute trail ride around the desert.  We got back to the ranch just before the desert temperatures began to drop.  All-in-all a very fun day.  And, from my last post, a excellent value!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's a Question of Value

Scratch at his first sorting 
Okay I might need your help on this one.  Team sorting is very popular in our area.  I've done it with both Scratch and Jessie.  While we enjoy it, we don't have a regular partner, and we've not been successful at placing at any of the sortings where we have competed.

This much we know:  It's good to do something with your horse.  Every trainer will tell you that a horse with a job to do is a better horse.

I've been labeled a "careful spender" by many of the people who know me.  I can't deny that it's an accurate assessment.  Sorting competitions are usually two runs.  Each run is 90 seconds.  They costs $25-$30 per man.  That's three minutes of cow work that you have to split with a partner.  Ten dollars a minute seems a bit steep to me.

Now, the cows are expensive and the organizers have to make their money.  To draw enough riders there has to be prize money.  Yes, I should be good enough to place in the money occasionally, but I haven't.

To top it off, those two runs are usually spread over 2-3 hours.  Of course, we'll spend some of that time warming up.  We'll also spend most of it sitting on the backs of our horses talking and watching the other teams.  So, my question is, is it really work or more of an opportunity to socialize?

We've done sorting at the ranch - in real-life conditions - and it was quite different for the competition.  The pace was much slower.  The cows were fresh.  You got to work your horse and work on your horsemanship.  The competition is simply balls-out-go-as-fast-as-you-can. I wonder if the horse learns anything from this.

I'm not sure if I'm being cheap, non-competitive, or avoiding socializing with other horse people.  Plus, when I compete in something, I like to practice.  How do you practice sorting unless you own cows?  In competitions?  That might take me quite awhile and a lot of money to get any good at it.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Be True to the Things You Know

It was lesson day.   I been too easy on my client about her horse because I didn't want to lose one of the few customers I had.  I wasn't doing her any favors.  She isn't going to be able to have a good relationship with her horse if she keeps spoiling it the way she has.  If she leaves me because I tell her the truth, so be it.  Everyone goes through a couple of trainers anyway.

We had a brief conversation about how she would need to "require" her horse's respect while they were together.  I would show her how to gain that respect by moving her horse's feet forward, backward, left, and right.

Her mare pinned her ears back when I asked her to lunge.  When she didn't go, I swung the stick and string and BOOM, off she went.  We did a lot of changes of direction.  Every time I gave her a cue, the ears would go back, but then she would do what I asked.

The client is using her friends for advice and that's simply something we'll deal with for now.  She needs information and knowledge and she only wants to use me an hour a week.  I'll get as much done as I can.

By the end of the hour (really about 90 minutes) the mare was much less reactive and was moving off my cues without too much of an attitude.  The ears would occasionally go back, but I could see she was improving.  We did a lot of desensitizing too.

Before our time was up, I asked the owner to come in to the round pen and work her horse.  It's one thing for me to work the horse, I want the owner to gain confidence from working her own horse on the ground.  While she was hesitant at first, she quickly took charge.  As I offered a few coaching tips, I could see her confidence start to grow.  We ended the session on a good note.  She is going to a friend's place to ride this weekend.  We'll see what happens next.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gaining Teaching Experience

Gaining Teaching Experience

John and Scratch leading a trail ride in San Benito.
It's been an interesting few months as I embark on my "teaching horsemanship" adventure.  A few people have seen my Real Simple Horsemanship Facebook Page and contacted me.  I've given about a dozen lessons or so, and can see the challenges ahead.

People have all kinds of expectations with their horses.  A couple of the people I'm working with want to have a "pet" relationship with their horse.  This is quite likely the most difficult challenge for me to overcome.  I want them to have that "loving" relationship with their horse THEY want, while trying to get the horse to have the RESPECTFUL relationship with the owner THEY need.  This is quite different from my past occupation where "The customer is always right" reigned as a priority.

The horses I've worked with always started with the Downunder Horsemanship Method from the basics.  It didn't matter how much the horse did or didn't know.  We started from the top.  The people I'm helping, don't want to do that.  Even though I encourage them to get the same tools I used to build my horsemanship, they want to skip that part.  My response has been to just keep hammering the safety aspects and to get them safe.  If the learning is a little slower, then that's on them.

The Trail Boss Experience

In early October, I got a call from my friends at the Bar SZ Ranch.  The Bar SZ hosts equestrian events, corporate retreats, and weddings as part of its working ranch operation.  Often, part of the wedding weekends there are escorted trail rides.  They were so busy in October that Ranae and I got to lead a few rides on the ranch.  We took our horses who did a fantastic job leading the way with mostly novice riders.  We also got to experience tacking and un-tacking a dozen horses in record time!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A New Trail

I changed the title of this post three times already.  Many people have asked me to train their horses. If I had a facility I would likely have two Oak Creek horses in training now.  But, I don't know that much about starting horses.  That's a recipe to get hurt.

What I've come up with is to train people what I know.  I'm confident I can make a horse safe.  Teaching desensitizing exercise and round pen exercises can get most horses paying attention.  It's not really the horses, it's the owners.  If I can teach them to be more effective leaders to their horses, I think their relationships will improve.

Two clients are on my roster so far.  We are going over the basics.  The stuff they need to learn are the things it took me awhile to figure out: how to tie the halter, where to stand, how to ask my horse the right question.

I'm setting up a Facebook page - that's how it's done these days.  The name of my company is Real Simple Horsemanship.  Real as in authentic.  Simple as in Basic.  Let's see where this trail takes me...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lots of Riding

It's been a great couple of weeks of riding.  I've been out most every day rotating between three horses - Dusty, Jessie, and Scratch.  It's a great experience to ride three different horses.  Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Jessie is solid on the trail.  Nothing bothers her, except she wants to dance with the horse that brought her.  If she goes out alone, she is fine.  If she goes out with another horse and that horse leaves her, she has a bit of a problem.  She is a bit headstrong and likes to go where she wants and doesn't necessarily follow my instructions.  That's given us some things to work on while on the trail.

As far as her injury, I could not be more happy with her performance.  We rode Friday in the mountains - up and down hills - for nearly two hours and the next day she was fine.  The decision to take her to Equine Spa for treadmill conditioning so far has paid off.

Dusty wants to find the easy way out of everything.  He'll go, sometimes you've got to convince him, but he'll go.  If there is something he COULD be afraid of, he'll take that opportunity.  He doesn't make a big deal about it, but he does "worry" very well.

Scratch is Scratch.  He goes almost everywhere now.  That's great.  There was a time he wouldn't.  He's a great mountain horse.  He has a low gear that will power up and down any hillside I've encountered.  I can swing a rope off of him at a lope.  He's comfortable enough that I can build the loop while roping.

Friday we went to the ranch and I rode Jessie in one direction and back for an hour forty-five.  Then, took a break and rode Scratch for over two hours in the other direction.  By the time Saturday rolled around I was quite sore, but took Jessie out for a follow-up ride.  She did great.

The point of all this is to fine tune my training techniques.  I want the horses to all be strong.  If I can pass along Jessie's courage to Scratch or Scratch's willingness to move to Dusty, that would be awesome.  I am hopeful that by riding them all consistently I'll reach that goal.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Working Scratch On the Trail

Scratch, is a horse I have in training.  He was a wild-roaming horse for 9 years and I've been working with him for a year.  The man who owns him wants me to continue riding him and I'm happy to do it.  These wild horse come from what some believe is Morgan stock and they are very even minded.  Scratch is very teachable.

I had an early morning breakfast schedule with an old friend and, even though it's been in the 100's here in Bakersfield, I needed to ride Scratch.  I try to take him out twice a week and our rides are usually 2 hours long.

By the time I got home and the trailer hooked up it was noon.  We got out to the river around twelve thirty.  He was already saddled so, along with Buster Brown Dog, we headed down the trail.  Now, most of you probably noticed I didn't mention anything about groundwork.  The man who owns Scratch is a rancher.  While he appreciates groundwork he told me, "John, we gotta have this horse be a ranch horse.  By that I mean, we brush off the mud where the saddle pad goes, throw a saddle on him, and go."

For the last three months that's how I've been training him.  We've done groundwork a few times, but it's after a ride.  While Scratch is a little feisty at times when I first mount, he settles right down and gets to moving.

We would be riding the river trail lone today.  Temps were in the high 90's and we crossed the river at our first opportunity.  This helped Buster cool off and Scratch, who loves water, got to grab a drink early in the ride.

We rode along a single track at a trot.  I worked on collection and he was giving "ok".  Being a wild horse he still focuses on the environment around him.  He was listening though and that's what I was looking for.

The single track goes along the river and there is quite a bit of dead fall to negotiate.  Scratch does this very well.  Very few "natural" things on the trail bother him.

When we come out of the single track, the path widens and is soft, and I encouraged him up to a lope.  He has a smooth motion and was moving along nicely without speeding up.

We crossed a bridge.  He was understandably worrisome.  The ground was different (concrete), there was graffiti painted on the surface.  I encourage him to go and he snorted several times, then stepped slowly onto the bridge.  Carefully he negotiated the crossing and relaxed when he stepped off.

We went back into a trot and for the next 20 minutes we worked on one-rein stops.  Scratch doesn't like to give in the snaffle and this is an exercise I know I have been neglecting.  It was time to but some work in and we did.  Scratch is really good at stopping when I sit, but that's not going to help me if he decides he needs to bolt.  We made a modest improvement and continued to walk, trot and lope back to our starting point.  We crossed the river a couple more times and we considered this a good workout.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Back to Blogging?

Back to Blogging?  Well, Maybe.  Maybe Not.

I only say that because I often have very good intentions about writing these wonderful, insightful blog posts that rarely come to fruition.  But often I, when I'm struggling or unsure of something, I return here to write about it and that helps me work it through.

Jessie has had a trying year.  After the colic last August, she had a lameness issue in February.  I gave her March and April off and she was still lame in her front left.  I took her to a "lameness specialist" and ultrasounds and x-rays revealed nothing definitive.  We were instructed to give her another 60 days off then re-check.

Now, I'm not sure what the doctor was going to re-check.  He hadn't found anything on the first go.  I gave her stall rest and massage the tendon that was suspected.  I wrapped and applied liniment and gave her and anti-inflammatory.

After two months off, instead of going for the re-check, I took her to an Equine Spa that specializes in conditioning horses.  They have an underwater treadmill, an Equi-Vibe machine, and a hot walker. They also have a very caring staff and I knew Jessie would get excellent care.

She started out with just 3 minutes on the treadmill, a few on the hot walker, and then finished on the Equi-Vibe.  Each day they increased the treadmill by a minute.  I don't know the exact details of the progression, but by the end of the month she was doing some strenuous work in the treadmill.

And, when I picked her up she was looking quite buff.
Jessie Before

Getting her work in on the hot walker.
Going home day.  Love the braids.
She came home July 21st and we've had about half a dozen rides since.  The last four I've done groundwork after the ride (the early morning rides were essentially walking for 2 hours and I thought we needed to actually get some work in).  She hasn't shown any sign of lameness and she appears to be in really good shape.

Since she has come home, I've been trying to keep all the horses worked/ridden.  It's been a challenge, but a fun one.  Each of the horses have a different personality and it's neat trying to figure out how to ride them accordingly.  Jessie loves to move and is not afraid of anything.  Scratch loves to move and is ever on alert.  Dusty hates to move and can be brave one step and scared the next.