Today, we have a special guest writer– Emma, one of this summer’s ranch interns. She’s here to share her experience with you and tell you how much she learned and how much she loved it. If you’d like to go back and read her journey in her own words, check out her blog, here.
So without further ado, here’s Emma, to share her summer experience with you. She forgot to mention that she was fortunate enough to tag along to the annual Buck Brannaman Clinic I attend. Happy Trails!
My internship at The DX Ranch was absolutely everything I had hoped for and more. I thought I would just be working with horses, but I learned many valuable lessons with cattle that tied into the concepts that I was learning with the horses. I learned more in those six weeks on the ranch than I had in the last ten years of horseback riding.
The list of activities I engaged in and learned how to do would be far too many to detail. I cannot even start to explain how valuable each one has been to my education, especially those I learned working with the horses.
When it came to the horses, we worked with them almost every day. Most days we got to ride, but some days we just worked with the yearling colts. My first day was a little rough, since I did not know about anything they were teaching me. They use the training and riding methods of Ray Hunt and Buck Branamann, but I had never really studied those before. However it didn’t take much time before I caught on to what they were teaching.
The first thing I learned was how to saddle my horse without hitting them or knocking a stirrup into their side. I also learned a better way to bridle that doesn’t bang them in the teeth. After that we moved to guiding the horse with my feet only and transitions using my seat position. Both concepts were very new to me, and I still need to practice them a lot. Having been riding so differently for the last ten years made it a little bit more difficult to grasp these new techniques.
Ranch interns hang out with Jenn, horsemanship instructor at the ranch.
We then worked on moving the hind end both through groundwork and riding. I learned the four ways of moving the hind end while on horseback and the difference between working with an eight year old and a yearling. Working with a yearling is a lot more difficult because you really have to make your presence known and you need to move your feet fifteen steps for every step they take. Jenn said, “if you’re not breathing hard, you’re not doing it right.” With colts, there is a release for every try they make, whether they did it the way you wanted them to or not. I also got to see a difference in halter breaking a yearling as opposed to a two-month-old colt. With the two-month-old, we released for every try, when he faced you, or when he moved his hind end.
Whether you’re working with a colt or a fifteen year old, you must always “keep a float in the rope.” This means you must keep some slack in the rope so you don’t drag the horse around. This is one of the basics of the feel method of training. It lets your horse feel where you want him to go.
Every bend begins with a reach. That is probably one of the most important concepts I learned on the ranch. Without a reach, the horse simply cannot bend. When you reach for your horse to bend, he should also be reaching for you. That feel of your hand sliding down the rein should be signal enough that you want him to bend.
However, I could not help my horse to reach until I found where my horse’s feet were. I worked on timing when my horse was picking up a certain foot. They also showed me how to pick up a certain foot with the rein and place it somewhere. After all, Buck Branamann said in his clinic, “The reins are hooked to the horse’s feet, not the mouth.” The slightest adjustment in timing can make all the difference, whether I am on the ground or on horseback.
Roping out of the rodear.
To help with reaching, they told me it would help to make a plan for my horse’s feet. Instead of mindlessly going around the arena and changing what I wanted to do every second, I should make a plan, almost like a pattern, so that my horse can stay engaged and it is easier for him to understand what I am asking of him. If he doesn’t respond to Plan A, go to Plan B, but continue to work at it until Plan A prevails.
Toward the end of my internship, we worked a lot on leg yields and haunches in. I had never really been taught how to leg yield properly, so it was definitely nice to see how it should be done. Both of these are great exercises for shaping the horse for changing leads. Without them, you cannot properly set up your horse for a certain lead.
When not working with the horses, I learned a lot about roping and cattle. On the first night I arrived, I learned how to bottle feed calves. Although it was a chore, I was always excited to go see my calves. It was the only consistent thing I got to do on the ranch so it was quite relaxing. I also got to go out with the ranch hand frequently to check the cows and calves in the pasture. He taught me how to tag the newborn calves as well.
A few weeks into the internship I got to attend some brandings. This consisted of gathering the cows, sorting, branding, flanking, fly tagging, and long hours. Although they could be crazy hectic days, they were some of the most fun while at the ranch.
We even worked with the yearling cows on the ranch in the pasture. I learned a way of herding them slowly and smoothly, walking around them in a circle to get them used to riders doing that, and cutting one out of the herd. From there we worked on changing eyes and hooking them on to your horse. On my last day we even got to use some breakaway ropes on them. When I had arrived at the ranch, I had never even picked up a rope. On my last day, I was able to swing some head shots at some yearlings and I was getting better and better at my heel and trap shots with the roping “dummy.” Not many ranchers would let someone so novice even near their cattle to rope them.
My stay at The DX Ranch was phenomenal and has taught me so many valuable lessons with horses and life. I cannot wait to continue to build on everything I’ve learned and to one day train my first horse from the ground up.
By the end of the internship, everything I learned started to come together. It was definitely difficult trying to learn something completely new in regards to horses, when I’ve been riding for ten years already. But it was definitely a wonderful experience that has changed the way I look at horses and myself for the better. I owe Zach and Jenn so much for letting me stay with them and teaching me so much about horses.
The last thing any horse really wants to do is fidget. No, seriously, think about it. If you’ve watched them in the pasture, when they’re not eating, they’re lazing, and if they’re young and full of energy, they’ll play for a bit and go back to eating or lazing. They’d rather be at peace than bothered, and to me, a horse that paws is a horse that’s bothered.
What pawing/fidgeting really comes down to is this: The horse doesn’t know how to be still. And often, instead of allowing stillness to be the easiest thing for the horse, we force them to be still – we go right to tying them up because we are short on time and want to ride. We’ll stick them in cross-ties, snub them up to a post, or tie them to the trailer, instead of allowing them to move. I’m sure that it may sound counter-productive but to get a horse to be still he’s got to be allowed to move his feet, so he’ll learn that the easiest thing to do is be still.
As a result of us going right to tying them up once they’re caught, a few things happen:
- The horse learns to be still while he’s tied up.
- He’ll paw because he has to have his feet be still and mentally he’s not ready to be still.
- When we get on, our ride goes to hell in a hand-basket, because the mentally isn’t with us, and isn’t ready to be still. He just knows if he’s not still while tied, he’s in trouble.
To help the horse learn to be still, instead of forcing the issue, there are a couple things you can do. Brush him, while you hold him. If you see/feel him start to get ready to move, beat him to the punch – and quietly ask him to disengage his hips or lead around you. That way he thinks that you knew what he was thinking. Offer him the chance to be still, and go back to brushing him. If he can’t be still, you might change directions. If you don’t make a plan for your horse’s feet, he will. Repeat the above as needed.
Eventually you’ll have a horse that will stand quietly for you to groom and tack — one that can even be tied up — but first you may need to go back to square one. And remember — never do this in a spiteful, angry way. Your horse will know and you won’t be as effective. Leaders of the herd never do things in an emotional way like a human would — they’re concise and true in their actions.
Make the right thing easy, and the rest will fall into place.
This post was originally published at Cavvy Savvy.
We see it at least once a week.
In a newspaper ad, on Craigslist, in Facebook Horse Groups – someone says they have a short shanked snaffle for sale. I’d like very much to explain to everyone that writes that, that they don’t technically have a snaffle bit available. You have a leverage bit, or a curb maybe, but a snaffle bit, notsomuch.
You see, a snaffle is a snaffle because it isn’t a leverage bit. Any bit that has shanks becomes a curb bit (or leverage bit)- whether it has a broken mouthpiece (like a snaffle) or is a ported grazing bit. The reason for this is that a snaffle works on a direct rein and doesn’t utilize leverage.
The pressure from the reins on a snaffle bit is not amplified, unlike with a leverage bit. When you pull on a leverage bit, such as a Tom Thumb or Argentine, the pressure is increased the farther back the shank reaches.
There are several different mouthpieces available in “true” snaffle bits: Jointed -the most common. Mullen – essentially one piece. There is no break in the mouthpiece.
French link or Dogbone- has a smaller “dog bone” shaped piece in the middle, making it a three piece mouthpiece.
Single and Double Twisted wire – two of the most severe mouthpieces.
Mouthpieces typically come in different dimensions – 7/16th of an inch and 3/8ths of an inch are probably the most common – but you can find them in ½ and ¼ in diameters too. The smaller the diameter, the more severe the bit can become. Myself, I like a 7/16th mouthpiece.
As well as the different mouthpieces, there are many different cheek styles too. In western riding the four most common are:
O-ring or loose ring snaffle.
Greg Darnall Off-Set D- Ring Snaffle
Greg Darnall Off-Set D- Ring Snaffle
Egg-butt (because it’s shaped kind of like an egg).
JPW Egg Butt Snaffle
JPW Egg Butt Snaffle
There are basically two different ideas when it comes to where a snaffle bit should hang in the mouth of your horse We prefer to hang the bit a tad below the corner of the horse’s mouth. I know many of us grew up in the train of thought that we needed a wrinkle (or two) in the horse’s mouth. But, what we’ve learned by riding primarily in snaffle bits (they’re the only bit we now own and I run all my barrel horses in them) is that the horse will learn to carry it where he likes it. Further, it gives us a chance to ask with less pressure, and have the horse respond to less because there is a very discernable release for the horse due to the fact that his mouth isn’t already pressured up due to the “wrinkles”.
So, the next time you see a bit labeled snaffle, I’d like for you to think of this little Public Service Announcement and ask yourself, is it really a snaffle?
Happy Trails and Happy Riding!
We’ve probably all seen it happen: a wreck where the saddle ends up under the horse. It can happen for any number of reasons – a latigo could break, or you could be in the process of saddling your horse when he spooks, and under him the saddle goes.
One of the ways to prevent that from happening is to utilize the “correct” order for saddling, if you will.
- Always pull your front cinch first.
- The back cinch goes second.
- Finally, the breast collar (if you use one).
By securing your main cinch first, you’re ensuring that the saddle shouldn’t roll under your horse if something were to happen while you’re in the process of saddling. We like to take it a step further, and on our saddles with a double rigging, we like to lead the horse forward a few steps once he’s saddled and take the front cinch up some more.
Rarely do we tie our horses up when we saddle them. They’re always being held in hand. That way they don’t get in the habit of sitting back or wiggling around, because we have control over his feet from the get-go, and because we know what’s on his mind when we’re saddling him, we can help him stay with us, and that inevitably makes our rides go better.
We never cinch a horse up as tight as possible on the first try. EVER. We may take several steps forward with the horse, several times. We figure we don’t like to put on jeans that are tight, so we don’t really want to do that to my horse!
Do the same for the back cinch. If you ride with your back cinch loose, instead of snug up against your horse’s belly, you run the risk for a couple bad things to happen:
- You could catch a spur in it.
- Your horse could catch a hind foot in it. THIS is never good, and the ending won’t be happy for your saddle. Trust me.
If you remember the order for saddling your horse, the order for unsaddling your horse goes like this:
- Breast collar.
- Back cinch.
- And finally, the front cinch.
The front cinch always goes last in the unsaddling process, just like it’s first when you saddle.
By getting in the habit of utilizing this process, you can keep yourself and more importantly your horse out of a bind.
Happy Trails and Happy Riding!
Essentially, the teaching philosophy we strive to employ is based largely on our study of Ray Hunt’s horse training and philosophies. At no point in time have we sought, or received any endorsement from Mr. Hunt or any of his family, however we make a concerted effort to share insight gained from our study of and application, and in some cases misapplication of these techniques in our experiences. We try our best to employ this way of going each and every day, through every circumstance, and attribute any success we’ve had, to it (and dumb luck).
These are things that interns here at the ranch can expect to learn, and those who come for clinics or horsemanship vacations may well find themselves “immersed” in these principles as well.
1. It’s not just about horses.
While many folks can and will find fulfillment simply enjoying their horses, the reality is that very few will find themselves in a circumstance that allows them to have interactions with horses be their sole or even primary occupation in life. As such, we use the thoughtful interactions with horses as the the subject matter for teaching what we call “lifemanship” or this “way”. Application of these principles in everyday activities, be they school, the workplace, familial relationships, or even in interaction with strangers can reap benefits far beyond the saddle.
2. The horse is never wrong.
Never, not even then. The question that comes after this statement is usually “yeah but what if…” and the answer, in this “way” is “Nope, never, not even then.” Horses, unlike humans, do not seek drama, or fame, or glory or fast times. The reason? Horses have no ego. When the ego of a human gets in the way of a horse/human relationship, or a human/human relationship for that matter, motives become clouded and results are often less than favorable, and rarely enjoyed by the horse. When you are working without an ego in the way, you are able to stay in a helping mode, help the horse find the answer, encourage it to try. When your ego becomes involved, it’s almost invariably bruised, and therefore you feel the need to defend your actions, or increase your intensity (bigger bits, tie downs, spurs, etc.) to prevent further bruising. Egos are too fragile as a rule, and are one of mankind’s greatest encumbrances to existing in harmony with anything, let alone horses.
3. Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult.
While this would seem to be a “no-brainer” humanity seems to be ingrained in a train of thought wherein “hard work will prevail”. Hard work is often a critical component to success, but it is not the be all and end all. We’ve found that in teaching horses, and teaching and interacting with people, that “this way” has a multiplier effect on that hard work. It is the job of the teacher to set the environment to stimulate learning and be patient through the learning process of the student, not try to force it on them. The teacher must improve overall situational awareness, and develop a high level of empathy for the perspective of the student because regardless of the presentation, the student’s perception of the lesson presented is the reality; and that ultimately will dictate the pace of the learning. Given humanity’s propensity to do more, it’s critical to note that in the beginning of employing this particular technique, that for the sake of the student, more emphasis should be placed on making the right thing easy, rather than creating the difficulty. The more practice one has at making the right thing easy, the more effective one can become at the proper use of difficulty as a teaching tool.
4. Perception is reality.
When trying to create an outcome in a relationship with another being, their perception is the reality you must deal with. Horses are more pure and untainted than most of humanity in this respect, and are consequently an ideal medium for demonstrating the efficacy of this way. In any human-horse interaction, a horse can only do one of two things.
- A. What he thinks you want him to do, because it will lead to comfort and release (and/or relief), or
- B. what he feels he must do simply to survive at that moment in time.
The horse is entitled to the latter, and we’re not entitled to the former. It is incumbent upon us, since we desire an outcome, to improve our presentation in hopes of causing our outcome.
5. Teaching does not equal learning.
This ties directly to the perception listed above. Teaching can be done at any pace, but learning will only happen at the pace of the student. We make every effort to be cognizant of this perception because if the efforts of the student (hereinafter “try”) are not rewarded, the student is likely to shut down. If we are aware of, and reward the try, the student or horse is more likely to look see the positive effort as a solution to come back to next time.
6. Reward the slightest try.
See above. Try is a proactive thing, not a reactive thing. You’ll see the difference in attitude and expression that clearly indicates which is happening. In horses the eyes are soft and the ears are flicking or focused forward, the tail is relaxed and flowing, trying. When a horse is complying, you’ll see the ears back, eyes are hard, lips are tight and the tail is likely swishing. By rewarding our horses or our students when they try, we’re teaching them to be proactive and thoughtful in any given situation.
7. Do as little as possible but as much as necessary.
Again, in the beginning you’ll do a little and wait for a result. The horse can feel a fly land on him, so to think that we have to inflict a great deal of discomfort on them to convey our message is wrong. What makes a fly successful in his relationship with the horse is that he is consistent. We can learn from that. Flies can control the horse’s feet, and that is basically the essence of horsemanship; if we can’t move or direct the feet, we are not getting through. Flies do this because they are 100% consistent.
8. Be Consistent.
Become a fixture in the world of your horses (or students). If you show up in one frame of mind one day, and in a totally different frame of mind the next, you’re giving your horse nothing to believe in, nothing he can count on. Endeavor to be the same (ideally optimistic and happy) in every situation; it can become habit-forming for you, and it will lead to more trust being put in you by your horse or student. As an example, I ALWAYS have my horse arrange itself around me when changing sides. To my horse, I want to be as permanent and consistent as the post in the corral. You very rarely see a horse in a panic run into a post, or kick at a post, or run from a post. A post has a few innate qualities: it is going to be solid, it is going to be neutral, and it is always going to be that way. In the rarest of circumstance you may see a horse go over or through or into a post or a fence or some other thing that has these qualities. I’d like my horse to see me in the same way. He should become accustomed at an early age to arranging his life around me, knowing that there will be no discomfort offered if he does so. This will keep your horse from running you over at feeding time, or using you as the path of least resistance when it deems an escape is necessary, and will translate into respect for you. And how did you build it? Simply by being consistent.
We know this got long but we sure hope you hung on to the end. What are some principles you’ve learned from your horses?
Smile and Ride!
We have a pretty extensive collection of horsemanship DVDs here at the ranch, and every three months we look forward to getting our Horseman’s Gazette, a quarterly DVD journal, published by Eclectic Horseman Communications.
In a recent volume they shared a bit of goodness from Bryan Neubert.
We like this little tip, because it’s something else you can do to teach the horse to think and feel their way through a situation.
Smile and Ride!