In­spired Rider

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

NOT LONG AGO, I felt I’d hit a wall in my 5-year-old geld­ing’s (shown above) train­ing pro­gres­sion. He’s al­ways been a pretty solid sol­dier. I’ve asked him to work long days, rope big steers, put up with all-day horse shows, and en­dure trips to cow works two states away.

He’s al­ways shown heart and a will­ing at­ti­tude. But lately, as I’ve tried to put a bit of re­fine­ment on his solid foun­da­tion, it hasn’t been work­ing. Ad­mit­tedly, I’m not the best horse trainer in the land, and I’ve been seek­ing help on that front, but my young horse’s at­ti­tude seemed at the root of the prob­lem. He’s never overtly

ob­sti­nate. We don’t get in big fights. In­creas­ingly, though, his at­ti­tude seemed unin­spired. More and more when rid­ing out and then away from the other horses, he’d be­come antsy and nicker for his bud­dies.

A Look in the Mirror

I’ve learned that when a horse isn’t do­ing what I’d like it to, it’s al­most al­ways my do­ing. Some­times I’m easy on my horses to a fault. I don’t ask for much be­cause I don’t want to fight through the learn­ing process. So my first re­ac­tion to my geld­ing’s lack­adaisi­cal at­ti­tude was to cor­rect my known flaw and in­crease my in­ten­sity. Let’s re­phrase that: I was an­gry that he didn’t re­spond to my easy hand with the will­ing­ness I ex­pected, so I let that frus­tra­tion boil over to some “jerk and spur” ses­sions.

Not sur­pris­ingly, that method didn’t yield the de­sired re­sults, ei­ther. In fact, while I per­haps got him turn­ing more quickly with a cow, his in­dif­fer­ece to­ward me only grew. He’d nicker with less provo­ca­tion and more fre­quency. He even seemed more dis­tant and less re­spon­sive to me.

I can’t re­mem­ber if I read it, watched it on a video, or heard him say it, but Joe Wolter once spoke about his re­la­tion­ships with his horses. He no­ticed that when he’d take his young horses to a clinic or show early on in their train­ing, he could feel them draw­ing nearer to him when they felt un­cer­tain. They looked to him for guid­ance, re­as­sur­ance, safety, and—maybe at some level—friend­ship.

I didn’t have that re­la­tion­ship with my horse. I used him as a tool to get a job done, but I never made an ef­fort to cre­ate a bond with him. I fig­ured if I were fair with him, he’d be fair with

Bob Welch has spent his ca­reer writ­ing and think­ing about horses, riders, and the West. When not sit­ting at his com­puter work­ing through writer’s block, he and his fam­ily en­joy be­ing horse­back, work­ing cat­tle, and com­pet­ing in ranch horse shows and ranch rodeos.

For a horse to get with you, he needs to trust you. He must know you’ll be con­sis­tent.

me. But I don’t think a horse rea­sons that way. For a horse to get with you, he needs to trust you. He needs to know you’re go­ing to be con­sis­tent.

That, I think, was my big­gest mis­take. I was ter­ri­bly in­con­sis­tent with him. At first, I didn’t ask much of him. Then, I asked with­out pa­tience or in­struc­tion. He didn’t know where I was com­ing from or where I wanted him to go.

Mak­ing It Right

With that in mind, I be­gan to look for ways to build a part­ner­ship with him. I started sim­ply. Be­fore my re­al­iza­tions, I’d ride him all day, jerk the sad­dle off, and kick him loose, think­ing he’d ap­pre­ci­ate the free­dom as soon as he could get it. Now, I take an ex­tra 10 min­utes af­ter a long day to brush him down. Some­times he gets a lit­tle stocked up when he stands in the cor­ral all day, so I’ve taken to grain­ing him sep­a­rate from the other horses and cold-hos­ing his legs while he eats. The sil­li­est—but maybe most effective—new habit I’m try­ing to form is car­ry­ing a hand­ful of treats in my coat pocket. When he does some­thing I’m par­tic­u­larly proud of, I slip him one when no one’s watch­ing. Or, if I’m clean­ing stalls or catch­ing another horse, I’ll si­dle up to him and give him a treat un­ex­pect­edly.

The other side of this coin is be­ing much more di­rect when I ask him to do some­thing. I don’t pick or plead; I ask clearly and firmly. And once he does what I ask, I try to re­ward him.

The re­sults are com­ing. We went to an out-of-state, four-day ranch rodeo re­cently, and I no­ticed some of his less-de­sir­able habits are fad­ing. He looked for me at feed­ing time. He nuz­zled my pock­ets as I sad­dled him, and he never nick­ered.

Re­ally, I shouldn’t be sur­prised. Peo­ple—as well as horses—need leadership, pur­pose, and part­ner­ship. I’ve been blessed by those things in my life, and it’s my duty to pro­vide them for my horses too.

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