Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Light Hands

One of the highlights of my year is emceeing the Light Hands Horsemanship Clinic each May in Santa Ynez, California. It’s always a learning experience for me and it renews my dedication to being light with my horse. Now, I’ll admit right up front that I’m just a pup in all this compared to the great horsemen who teach at Light Hands. But I’m learning, and I can tell my horse is grateful for the effort.

What is so good about being light in how you cue your horse? Well, it’s more humane, for one thing and that means it’s more worthy of a human being. It’s also more just in the sense of being fairer to the horse, allowing him to respond to the smallest amount of pressure possible. But here’s the real kicker: it works better! I’ve been experimenting with this, being as light as I can with the reins and legs. It means being really tuned in to the horse because the response may be just as light as the cue. But when you feel that and reward it and are able to build on it, well that’s one of life’s really special moments.

The other thing about getting light in the hands is that it requires you to be light throughout your whole body, even your mind. For us humans, the hands are so special. I mean, think of what is done with the hands. Everything from a piano concerto to brain surgery. The eyes may be windows to the soul but the hands are hardwired to the heart. You can’t be impatient or angry or aggressive and still have light hands. Conversely, when you consciously and deliberately lighten your hands, your heart, your entire being must follow. It has no choice. Exquisite prey animals that they are, horses respond to that.

So here’s my parting suggestion, which can be applied with horses and with people: the next time you are inclined to turn up the pressure, first try turning it down. You just might be surprised at the result.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Someone Else’s Horse

Does a little voice inside scream, “Don’t do it! You could die!” when you think about riding your horse? If so, you might consider exercising someone else’s horse instead.

You don’t have to ride a horse fast to exercise him. In fact, walking is great for horses just as it is for humans and all that extra riding will give you confidence and skill you can put to work later with your own horse.

How do you find a horse to exercise? Fate has a way of stepping in at times like this, but you can help Fate along by spreading the word. Friends, feed stores, saddle shops, boarding stables … there are many ways to network with your horse community. What you’re looking for is a calm, well-broke horse that isn’t ridden as often as he should be. Simply lay out your proposition to the owner – you exercise the horse for free – and see what happens.

The horse on which I cut my teeth was an 11-year-old paint gelding named Thunder. He was the pride and joy of a family friend who could no longer ride. She was thrilled that I wanted to ride him and for years we essentially shared Thunder. She benefited, I benefited, and Thunder benefited.

If the first horse you try doesn’t work, no big deal. Just calmly move on until you find one that’s right. He’s out there, I promise. Once you find him, do your best to ride a couple times a week. A shorter session in the arena and a longer trail ride would make a nice combination.

Remember, action is your friend. Inaction is your enemy.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Changing Horses

Do you look forward to riding your horse? Do you feel safe and in control with him? Can you handle him by yourself? Are you both relaxed when you’re together? Does he respect your space? Are you happier after riding him than before? If you answered yes to all these questions, congratulations! If you answered no once or twice, ratchet up your activity level a bit and things will get better. If you answered no to all of these questions, well … Houston, we have a problem.

Most people in this situation end up doing little or nothing with their horses. If this is you, please understand this: it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or your horse is a bad horse. Could it be fixed? Probably, but it would take a lot of time and work on your part. I want you to have fun with your horse now, not months or years from now!

The solution is changing horses. Changing horses doesn’t mean you have to get rid of the horse you can’t ride. Many people are too attached to their horses to even consider that. But it does mean getting a horse in your life that you can and will ride right now.

Often the best candidate is an older, been-there-done-that sort of horse with a calm personality and a willingness to please. (I'll have some ideas on finding this horse in another post.) This is the horse you should be riding every week. Get busy and watch the joy and confidence come flooding back. Watch your feel start to develop. Who knows, one day you may decide it’s time to take another crack at your original horse. He will probably see you in a whole new light, and I'll bet many of the problems you had before won’t be around anymore.

On this journey from human to horseman, action is your friend and inaction is your enemy. Sometimes that means making a change for the better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just Ride

I love Smokie Brannaman’s slogan, “Just ride.” Just get out and do it. Throw a leg over a horse and rack up some miles.

You don’t need to ride perfectly. Just ride. There’s plenty of time for finesse later, after you’ve pumped up your confidence, improved your balance and coordination, and developed some muscle memory.

Want to ride but afraid to? We’ve all been there. My advice for you is, “Just do something!” Pet a horse, groom a horse, bathe a horse, lead a horse, longe a horse. Do whatever you’re comfortable doing with a horse. Slowly but surely your comfort zone will expand and you’ll find yourself doing more and more, including riding.

I remember when I learned to ride a bike. My dad gave me a push and I wobbled all over the place, eyes glued to the handlebars, worried about falling over. But I stuck with it and rode every day. Before long I was looking up, enjoying the scenery and thinking about where I was going, not the mechanics of getting there. You can reach that same place with riding a horse and I’ll prove it to you.

For one week, ride two hours each day. Challenge yourself to do something different each day. Create some wet saddle blankets and tired muscles. See how you feel at the end of the week and see if there’s a difference in your horse.

Too busy? Sure you are, but with planning you know you can work this out. The idea should excite you. If it doesn’t … well, maybe you don’t have the right horse for this time in your life. More on that later.

Have fun and ride safely.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Tragic Choice

The following is a true story, related to me by hunter/jumper instructor Anna Jane White-Mullin in a radio interview some years ago. A young girl had been taking lessons on a school horse and had talked her Dad into buying her a horse of her own. They had narrowed it down to two prospects: a flashy four year old, off-the-track Thoroughbred with a promising future; and a solid teenaged horse with a great deal of experience. The girl was lobbying hard for the younger horse. The girl’s father asked Anna Jane for her advice and, without a moment’s hesitation, Anna Jane replied, “Get the older horse. He will take care of your daughter, forgive her mistakes, and allow her to progress.” The father seemed to understand, thanked Anna Jane, and went on his way.

Some time later, Anna Jane learned the rest of the story.

The father assumed that in a few years his daughter would lose interest in riding and he would have to sell the horse. He reasoned that the younger horse would be easier to sell and would yield a greater return on his investment. The daughter of course was thrilled to get the horse of her dreams and tried her best to ride him. Unfortunately, the green horse and green rider proved a tragic combination. The girl was thrown, shattered her elbow, and was permanently disfigured. One can only imagine how the father must have felt.

I tell this story often because I want the importance of the message to sink in. Kids and puppies are cute. Kids and young horses are disastrous. If you know someone about to make this very common mistake, please do everything in your power to dissuade them. Have them email me and I will do the same.

Just this weekend, I spoke at Equine Affaire Massachusetts on this very topic. I learned later that two young sisters had been in the audience. Each was matched with an inappropriate horse, were regularly being bucked off or run away with, and were petitioning their parents to buy yet another horse for them, a three year old BLM mustang. I can only hope that the parents took my message to heart.

Those of you who know me personally know that I have strong feelings about childrearing and the parent’s role in creating strong, self-sufficient, responsible citizens. I believe in creating boundaries and requiring children (and horses) to live within the boundaries. Saying “no” to a child is hard but is sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do, especially when it comes to saying “no” to an inappropriate horse.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Walking the Walk

It was still north of 100 degrees in Phoenix on September 14th when we loaded up the animals and headed for Montana. I was to teach an intensive college course in Dillon and Diana was looking forward to a month of focusing on her own studies without the usual distractions.

With Angus the cat, we set up housekeeping in our Featherlite a block from the university. The horses had even better accommodations: fifteen acres of natural terrain just outside town, all the grass hay they wanted (a local blend with just a hint of alfalfa) and a herd of horses and mules to share it with.

Two weeks later the mercury plummeted to single digits and snow covered everything, including our horses. It was decision time. Should I try to protect my horses from the elements or just leave them alone?

Let me back up for a moment and explain something. I have taught – okay, preached – the evils of micromanaging horses for many years. I’ve advocated setting them up in as natural a setting as possible, giving them the right kind of high-forage feed, letting them find their place in a larger herd, and then getting out of the way. As a theory, it’s hard to beat. But when you are standing in the snow and can no longer feel your own toes or fingers, it’s hard to believe your horses don’t share your discomfort. That was my moment of truth.

Our Icelandic mare, Fidla, was not the problem. She thought she’d died and gone to horsey Heaven. But my Quarter Horse mare, Candy, was thin-coated from years in the desert, and although she didn’t seem the least bit distressed, I could see her shiver now and then. What should I do?

I knew what I would tell others: provide free choice grass hay to warm the horses from the inside, give them full contact with the rest of the herd, and make sure they had a windbreak available to them. Check, check, check. It was too cold for rain, which was actually a good thing. Candy’s coat needed to fluff up and trap air to insulate her from the cold. Rain would impede that.

The local vet, Lane Carlson, concurred. So, with expert advice and my own observations to bolster my confidence, I decided to do what I always told other horse owners to do: get out of the way. I had talked the talk for long enough. It was time to walk the walk.

Know what happened? Nothing. We kept a close watch on the horses, made sure they were eating and drinking plenty, and just let the storm pass. Within a few days, temperatures had shot back up, most of the snow had melted, and our horses were none the worse for wear.

What I learned from this is that there are times to think with my brain and times to listen to my heart. It probably would not have hurt my horses to move them to a barn somewhere or blanket them – the horse is one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet – but it really wasn’t necessary. Horses adapt to the natural world and the challenges in it just fine without us running interference for them. In fact, they become stronger and more able to cope when we let them face such challenges.

I’m reminded of a slide in one of my PowerPoint lectures: often the kindest thing you can do for a horse is to simply leave him alone.

By the way, special thanks to Lanie and Cecil Jones for their hospitality and friendship during our Montana venture. They have created the most perfect horsekeeping setup I’ve seen.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Do we still need to call it "natural" horsemanship?

Reporting from lovely (and now snowy) Dillon, Montana where I'm halfway through teaching my first college course on natural horsemanship. This is UM Western's final course in a four-year degree program on NH so my class is very savvy. They think we should drop the “natural” and just call it horsemanship. What do you think? Do we still need to make the distinction?
Professor Lamb aka Rick

Monday, September 14, 2009

Camping, Caballos & Computers

We’re off to Montana where I will try my hand at teaching college for a few weeks. Tonight we are in a nice RV Park/Horse Motel (with great wi-fi!), the horses are bedded down, and I can catch my breath. Getting ready to leave town is exhausting. The travel part is actually fun. We should be pulling into Dillon this Thursday. I start class on Monday. Seventeen students have signed up. I have them three hours a day for 18 days. More later.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Big brains. Big hearts.

This week my radio show features an interview with Carrie Scrima, founder of the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, the phenomenon that is breathing new life into trail riding. Armed with a clever organizational model and a noble mission - raising money for horses in need – ACTHA’s intent is clear: to make trail riding into a real sport accessible to all riders and all horses. And oh yeah, to have fun, lots of fun, doing it.

First, full disclosure: ACTHA is a sponsor of my TV and radio shows. However, during the past dozen years, dozens of companies have advertised on my shows. I don’t get excited about all of them.

I’m excited about ACTHA for several reasons, but let’s talk first about horsemanship. ACTHA gives a horse and rider team a job to do. In fact, six different jobs.

ACTHA has developed a series of 30-plus natural trail obstacles that challenge horse and rider to be their best. A typical ACTHA ride, which is called a Competitive Trail Challenge, features six of these obstacles, each with its own judge, spread out over a six-mile course. Obstacles might include crossing a stream or ditch, backing up a hill or around a tree, precise turning on the forehand or haunches, sidepassing down a pole, trotting over a series of logs or cantering over a small jump. There are gates and mailboxes to open and logs to drag. Mounting and dismounting are even treated as obstacles and are judged accordingly. Form and accuracy count.

A CTC is not your granddaddy’s trail ride, that’s for sure, but it’s not as tough as it might sound, either. Carrie calls it “casual” competition and folks can make as much or as little of the competition aspect as they want. It’s a great opportunity to show off your horse and to tune him up at the same time, while sharing some laughs with friends and family.

As horse industry companies begin to align themselves with ACTHA, more and more sponsor goodies are showing up at CTCs. The goal, which is in sight already, is for every rider to receive enough sponsor swag to more than cover the cost of entry. Riders in the open division can also win cold, hard cash at individual rides and their share of a $25,000 year-end pot.

I could go on and on about this, about how affiliation with ACTHA is a fundraising opportunity for local CTC organizers, about how family-friendly the rides are, about how gaited horses excel as do non-gaited horses, about how you are just as likely to see English riding tack and attire as you are to see cowboy hats and lariat ropes, about how ACTHA is a trail horse registry that certifies horses and tracks performance points, and on and on.

But I really want to get to the icing on the cake. Come year-end, ACTHA donates up to 50% of its profits to help horses in need. The beneficiaries of their largesse (horse rescues and other charities) must be legitimate non-profits in business for three years or more.

It seems the folks at ACTHA have big hearts as well as big brains. My kind of people. Check them out at ACTHA.us.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hoof Boots

I like my horses barefoot. I figure about 99% of the time they simply don’t need shoes. It’s that last 1% that’s the problem.

Case in point: In 2008, I took my Quarter Horse mare, Candy, on a five-day, 100-mile men’s ride in the hills outside Wickenburg, Arizona. Of 180 horses, Candy was the only one barefoot.

I planned for it. My hoof trimmer touched up her feet. I purchased a tried-and-true brand of hoof boots and let Candy wear them for a day at home before packing them in my saddlebags. I would slap those babies on at the first sign of trouble. I was ready!

The first day of the ride was relatively easy but day two was a different story: Seven long hours up and down rocky hills. I thought it would never end. By the time we dragged ourselves into camp, Candy and I were both frazzled. I treated her to a shot of bute and myself to a couple of ibuprofen washed down by a Bud Light.

Day three was spent in camp, so Candy got a nice rest. Day four was to be another long ride and, as we were about to leave camp, I decided to put the hoof boots on. It didn’t go very well. Candy was antsy and I was all thumbs. Most of the riders were gone by the time I was ready and they’d left the water crossing at the edge of camp a muddy mess.

You can probably guess what happened next. Both of those boots came right off, sucked up in the mire, and with Candy’s pals disappearing down the trail, I suddenly had two problems: retrieving my brand new hoof boots, and controlling a buddy-sour horse.

I managed to get the boots, scrape off most of the mud and stuff them back in my saddlebags. My trail buddy, Edgell, held Candy’s reins. If he were not a pastor, I’m sure I would have been cussing a blue streak.

By the time we caught up with the other riders, though, something else was weighing on my mind. How could I protect Candy’s feet now? We had a lot more miles to cover, with more water crossings, and I had no confidence in the boots. I did the only thing I could think of: I got out of Candy’s way. I stopped directing her and gave her responsibility for picking her own way through the rocks. She knew where to go and felt safe with all the other horses. This was one case where she didn’t need my leadership. My focus became to sit as lightly and unobtrusively on her back as I could.

My strategy seemed to work. Candy never took a lame step. A hundred miles over rocky trails wore at least a quarter of an inch off her hoof wall. Maybe more. I know some of the other riders were impressed that she’d made it. I was proud.

Then I got her home. For several days, she spent most of her time lying down. The vet came and did radiographs. There was no real damage but I definitely had one very sore-footed horse. And one very large guilt complex. What had I put her through? Several weeks and several hundred dollars later, Candy was back to normal and didn’t seem to hate me.

Still, this was a wakeup call. If I wanted to keep my horse barefoot, I had to be smarter about protecting her feet when they needed it. That started me on a quest for a better hoof boot, one that would really do the job, that would go on easily, and would stay on.

More than a year later, the quest continues, but I have zeroed in on a boot I like. Some of my very serious trail-riding friends swear by it. I’ve acquired a couple pairs to try with our horses and I’ll let you know how it goes.

This is all any of us can do, really. Just keep searching and trying and learning from our mistakes. I think our horses sense our good intentions and they forgive us when we fall short. They know we can’t help it. After all, we’re only human.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Thoughts on the Parelli System

Parelli Natural Horsemanship is one of the most popular horse programs ever conceived. Hour 2 of this week’s radio show is a classic interview with Pat and Linda Parelli in which they give us a behind-the-curtain peak at how their system developed. They talk about their teachers, their struggles and those “ah ha!” moments when their understanding reached new levels. Of the many interviews I’ve done with them, this is one of my favorites.

I got my first glimmer of understanding about natural horsemanship from a demo Pat Parelli did about 13 years ago. I can’t say I’m a Parelli student in the technical sense, but since that day I’ve certainly studied their work, attended numerous events, and even bought a couple of their horses. I’ll admit, I’ve had special access. Friendship aside, I think they have a lot to offer, and if I had to sum up their strengths up in one word, it would be organization.

There is no doubt that Pat Parelli is a fine horseman, but that isn’t what makes him a key player in this modern revolution in horsemanship. It’s his ability to communicate intangibles in ways that people understand that makes him important, for at its heart, this revolution is really a revolution in communication.

So much about reading and riding horses comes down to the feel of the moment. How do you teach that to someone? It’s akin to describing a sunset to a blind man. Yet, somehow Pat has done that without oversimplifying or diminishing the wonder of this creature. Furthermore, he’s managed to put the concepts in an order that makes them comprehensible to the student. In other words, he’s given this swirling mass of ideas organization. No small feat.

Then along comes Linda, who has taken Pat’s work to still higher levels with her own contributions to both the substance and the presentation. Make no mistake. Both are important if you want to be engage and empower students.

Is the Parelli system right for everyone? Probably not. But it’s a Godsend for beginners looking for a step-by-step, enjoyable, safe, and effective approach for working with their horses. Plus, among the tens of thousands of Parelli students, there is a sense of community that is hard to come by. And that, my friends, ain’t hay.

I hope you enjoy the interview.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Every Rider is a Horse Trainer

"Every rider is a horse trainer." Those words, as modern as tomorrow's headlines, were uttered nearly fifty years ago by Monte Foreman, a great American horseman whose contributions to Western riding, horsemanship education, and saddle design cannot be overstated.

Monte was a maverick, a freethinking Renaissance man with diverse talents ranging from boxing to drawing. Fortunately for us, his greatest passion was horses. Born in Alabama in 1915, he grew up riding race horses, playing polo, and jumping fences. Then he went west to become a cowboy. During World War II, he discovered the value of film in educating his fellow soldiers about riding. After the war, he signed on at the legendary King Ranch in Texas, where he ran the horse training and horsemanship programs, and further refined his ideas.

In 1958, Monte took his show on the road in a groundbreaking series of clinics designed for riders and their horses. Much of his riding focused on leads and lead changes, which were unknown to most Western riders at the time.

Monte was highly opinionated about riding and he was determined to elevate Western riding to the sophistication of other riding disciplines. Using slow-motion film, he was able to break down the mechanics of riding to allow anyone to learn.

Along the way, Monte found time to reinvent the Western saddle. With forward-hung stirrups, a closer contact seat, and a bulkless cinching system, the Foreman Balanced Ride Saddle made it easier to ride as Monte prescribed.

Monte Foreman died in 1987. He did not receive the recognition he deserved during his lifetime. Today, a handful of teachers and saddle makers actively carry forward his legacy. His influence can be seen if you know where to look, but the public remains largely unaware of him.

Monte wrote a book and produced three films, which are available today at VideoHorse.com. A TV episode and three radio interviews are available at my web site, TheHorseShow.com.

The most poignant of my radio interviews was with Monte’s son, Gary, who took Monte’s methods to the top of the show world. That interview airs in hour two of my radio show this week.

Thank you, Monte.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Best Horseman of his Age

In honor of Independence Day, this week's TV show is from Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, first president of the United States. Thomas Jefferson called Washington "the best horseman of his age" and history credits him with introducing the mule to America.

At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Washington towered over most of his contemporaries. Like most Virginia farmers, Washington first raised tobacco, but in the mid 1760s, he was one of the first to switch to growing wheat with the vision that America could someday be a source of grain to the entire world.

Wheat farming back then was very labor-intensive. One back-breaking part of it was thrashing, or whipping the cut wheat about to separate grain from straw. This was where Washington got really creative. In 1792, he built a two-story, sixteen-sided treading barn. On the second floor, horses trotted around, trampling on the wheat and knocking the grain loose. The grain fell through cracks in the floorboards to the first floor where it would be collected. You can see a working replica in the TV show.

Washington engaged in other progressive farming practices such as composting manure for fertilizer, rotating his crops on a seven-year plan, and plowing his fields in such a way as to prevent soil erosion.

Washington raised sheep, hogs, turkeys, chickens and cows. He liked all animals, but he loved horses. He loved to buy them and sell them. He loved to race them, train them, hunt on them, drive them, and work the fields with them. Washington owned all kinds of horses, from Arabians, Andalusians, and Narragansetts, to Chincoteague ponies.

During the Revolution War, General Washington took two of his favorite horses to the front with him. One was a hunting horse called Blueskin, a spirited blue-gray horse with a lot of stamina. This is the light-colored horse you see in many paintings of Washington. But during most battles, Washington actually rode a horse named Nelson, a chestnut gelding that could handle cannon fire better.

Back on the farm, Washington's favorite horse was an Arabian stallion named Magnolia, one of the most beautiful horses in the colonies. Magnolia stood 16 hands high, was chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, and was a direct descendant of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred breed.

You mule lovers will appreciate this: the father of his country was also the "Father of the American Mule." Washington believed that the mule was the key to more profitable farming. They're stronger than horses, they eat less, they're more sure-footed, and they have greater endurance than horses. So after the war, Washington began to concentrate on breeding mules.

Washington's mule breeding program started with three stud donkeys, two of which were gifts from foreign leaders. Washington bred these jacks to his very best mares. He also sent his studs on a tour of the South to start a selective breeding program. Soon mules were in use across the country, working the land and serving the military.

George Washington died on December 14, 1799 at the age of 67. Ironically, the great warrior, farmer, and statesman died of complications from a cold. This threw the country into despair as Washington was universally loved and respected. His friend, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, captured popular sentiment in his eulogy for Washington, calling him, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Almost immediately after his death, writers began romanticizing Washington's life. Today it's sometimes hard to separate fact from fable. For instance, the famous story of young George fessing up about chopping on a cherry tree? Pure fiction.

Interesting fact: The great turning point in Washington’s life may have been the death of his father, Augustine. Although born in Virginia, George was to be educated in England and dreamed of going to sea with the British navy. All that changed when he became the man of the house at the tender age of 11.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thirty is the New Twenty

"Sixty is the new forty!" It's the battle cry of us baby boomers who just can't believe we're getting old. I suggest we cut that in half and make it a battle cry for our horses: "Thirty is the new twenty!" More horses can be comfortable and serviceable into their thirties. Alexander the Great’s war horse, Bucephalus, did it twenty three centuries ago, ranch horses do it today, and you’ve probably heard of other examples.

So why do some horses break down so much earlier? I think you know what I’m going to say. There are no simple answers. With that in mind, let’s consider some factors.
1. Too little exercise. You know you feel better when you are active. Your body is stronger and healthier. The same is true of horses. Horses that are worked every day as a rule have fewer health problems and a better shot at living into their thirties.
2. Too much exercise. Performance horses that are pushed too hard too young break down too soon. Enough said.
3. Wrong kind of feed. Grass hay should be the backbone of every horse’s diet. Minimize the alfalfa, the grain, and the sweet feed. Supplement the grass with an all-in-one packaged feed designed to go with grass.
4. Lack of socialization. The emotional strain on a herd animal that is not allowed to be with others of his kind has a cumulative effect. When horses are isolated and overprotected, it wears on their bodies much the way a high-stress job wears on yours.
5. Fate. Things happen. Healthy, well-managed horses get hurt or contract disease in spite of our best efforts. But why tempt fate?

If you’ve read my books and blogs, you know where I stand on the training and care of horses: make it as natural for the horse as possible. We cannot make life perfect for our horses any more than we can make it perfect for ourselves. But it’s important that we try.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just a Trail Horse

How many times have you heard the words, "just a trail horse?" Fortunately, that low-horse-on-the-totem-pole image of the trail horse is on its way out and emerging in its place is that of a skilled and dependable partner, which, for most riders, is an ideal worth pursuing. Organizations such as the American Competitive Trail Horse Association have created ways to measure and document the development of trail horses. This gives structure to what in the past has been a largely unstructured leisure sport for horse owners. The unorganized, haphazard approach to trail riding is still perfectly legitimate and will appeal to some riders, but for those who want a bit more challenge, a bit more socializing with like-minded people, and a plan for adding tangible value to their horses, groups such as ACTHA may be the answer.

I rode in an ACTHA-sanctioned “Competitive Trail Challenge” recently with my mare, Candy. You can see the result on this week’s TV show. With virtually no preparation we aced two of the six trail obstacles on the six-mile course. I was stunned at how much better some of the other horse and rider teams were with these obstacles. Far from discouraging me, it gave me some new things to work on with my “trail horse.” Yes, ACTHA is a sponsor of my TV and radio shows but that only buys them commercials, not the personal opinion I express in my blogs. Bottom line, give it a try. See you on the trail!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Balancing Gentleness and Firmness

It feels good to be gentle with a horse but sometimes he needs something else. Just as with a child, a horse sometimes needs to be reminded of who’s in charge and where the boundaries of space and behavior lie. When this is done without anger, without impatience, without emotion of any kind, the horse readily accepts the reminder and becomes more relaxed and willing, not because he’s afraid but because he recognizes that he is in the presence of a competent leader. This makes sense to him because it’s the way things are in a herd.
This is a very difficult message to get across to the riding public. Some clinicians tackle the issue of firmness head-on and refuse to mince words about it. Others dance around the issue to be sure they don’t lose anyone, hoping that the real message laid between the lines comes through. Clinton Anderson walks this fine line about as well as anyone I know. I’ve dug into the archives for a radio interview I did with him several years back on balancing firmness and gentleness. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Riding a Runaway Horse

Hi Rick,
I have a fourteen year old gelding that i purchased a few months back. He is very well behaved but i have a problem, when we go out riding he listens well but on the way back home he takes over and starts galloping and i can't stop him; i have no control what so ever. Can you please give me some advice on what i could do to fix this problem?

Hi JH,
Many horses are obedient when they don't have strong feelings about what you're doing. But heading home is another matter. Home is a place of comfort and safety and most horses feel a strong desire to get there as quickly as possible. A good rider can keep this under control and might actually enjoy the extra life in the horse, the extra spring in his step, the extra willingness to move out. For the less experienced rider, this can easily turn into a terrifying and life-threatening experience. We need to get this under control immediately.

I will give you two suggestions, one that will help you regain control when this happens and one that will make it less likely to happen in the first place.

The instant your horse starts going faster than you want, do not pull on both reins. Pull on one rein only to bend the horse’s head as far to one side as you can. Try to bring his nose to the toe of your boot. This will cause the horse to go around in a circle and finally come to a stop. This is called a one-rein stop. Keep the horse’s nose on your boot until he stops moving his feet and relaxes completely. Then release the rein and praise the horse. Keep yourself as relaxed as possible through all of this. After giving him a minute or so, begin pulling his head first to one side, then the other, again trying to touch his nose to your boot. Hold each time until the horse “gives” or creates a little slack in the rein. This exercise is called lateral flexion. By doing these things you prove to the horse that you can control his movement and his straightness, and are thus worthy of his respect. Doing these things without hurting him or getting angry helps earn his trust.

When your horse is relaxed and quiet, you can resume your ride. He may do the same thing again. If so, repeat the one-rein stop and the lateral flexion. You may have to do this several times before your horse realizes that speeding up only makes more work for him.

It’s important to understand that the one-rein stop is not a foolproof emergency brake. But for most riders, it’s the best option available. It works better if you practice it ahead of time in a controlled setting, such as an arena. Ask the horse to move out and then bring him to a stop with one rein. Do this many times, at the walk, trot, and canter. Having practiced it ahead of time will make its use in an emergency much more effective.

As for preventing this from happening in the first place, I will give you a general strategy for any situation in which a horse is drawn to a particular place, whether it’s the barn, a gate, the trail back home, or other horses on a ride. The strategy is to make that place less appealing to the horse by allowing him to go there but making him work when he gets there. By work I mean trotting circles and figure eights, doing lots of rollbacks, and plenty of backing. These exercises use a horse’s energy and air supply. Some horses are just lazy and don’t like to work, but all horses become concerned when they start getting winded. When the horse is huffing and puffing, take him away from the barn (or gate or other horses) and allow him to rest. Do this a few times, increasing the distance and finally just continue with your ride at a nice, slow pace. so it is genuine relief for him to be away from the place he thought he wanted to be. If you do this a few times, he will soon lose his fixation on being elsewhere because it always means more work for him.

Another little tip: try not to feed your horse or unsaddle him immediately upon getting back to the barn. Loosen his cinch and let him stand tied for a minimum of 15 minutes. An hour is even better. When the horse knows all these good things are going to happen as soon as he gets back to the barn, it’s harder to keep his mind on you. By the way, drinking is another matter. Allow your horse to drink at every opportunity. It’s very important that he not become dehydrated.

Final thought: there is nothing wrong with your gelding. He is just being a horse. These tips will help, but as you become a better leader to your horse, these kinds of things seem to disappear on your own. Every horse is happy to be a follower if he gets the right leader. You will become a better leader as you continue on your journey.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Finding Flicka

We all have expectations about what it will be like to own a horse. The reality is usually different, but we can still make it a positive, fulfilling experience if we get the right horse. Recently dressage great, Jane Savoie, interviewed me on this subject for her DressageMentor.com web site. The links are below if you’d like to listen to this unedited, hour-long interview. In this blog, I’d just like to reiterate a few key points.

1. Choose a horse with your brain and your heart will follow.
Don't let your emotions rule. Take your time, make a plan, hire a horse expert to assist you, be realistic about your own skills and knowledge, and try to be open-minded about the appearance of the horse. You will grow to love a horse that fits your reality just as much as one that fits your fantasy.
2. Horses are not “one size fits all.”
A good horse and a good human may still make a terrible team. Your ideal horse may be very different from my ideal horse.
3. Novice riders need experienced, calm horses.
Only very experienced horsemen should take on young or untrained horses. The most compelling reason? Safety. “Green on green equals black and blue.”
4. Do not agonize about changing horses.
Many of us end up with the wrong horse our first time out. Don't feel bad. But do take action. Allow the horse to go on to life with someone who is a better fit. It’s the most loving thing you can do for the horse and for yourself. Then you can make another, smarter choice.
5. Keep learning, especially from your horse.
You must be the leader in your relationship, but your horse is giving you a continuous stream of feedback about how you’re doing. Listen to that.

Finding Flicka - Jane Savoie interviews Rick Lamb - Part 1
Finding Flicka - Jane Savoie interviews Rick Lamb - Part 2


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Horse Doesn’t Love Me

My horse knickers when she hears me coming. She comes to the fence to greet me and stands quietly while I scratch her on the forehead or kiss her on the nose. She always lets me catch her. She respects my space. She leads and bathes and clips and loads and does it all without any fuss. She will do simple tricks and take treats very carefully from my hand. She seems to enjoy being in my presence, and when I ride her, she always gives me a try, no matter what I ask her to do.

I certainly love her. But does she love me? I don’t think so, at least not in the human sense of the word.

Human love takes many forms: romantic love, parental love, divine love, love of country, love of job, love of food, love of hobbies, love of animals, etc. Each is a complex mental construct consisting of sense memories and abstract thoughts. It is a product of the human brain.

We can certainly correlate certain human “mind states” to equine “mind states.” For instance, fear. When a horse acts fearful, we think we know how that feels because we know how we feel when our safety is threatened. We can thus empathize with the horse and that is useful in giving the horse what it needs from moment to moment.

But love is different. We expect beings that love us to behave in a certain way, to protect us, even place their welfare above our own. A horse just can’t do that. It’s hardwired to always make its own safety number one. That is part of its essential nature.

I can hear the screams already. “No! It’s not true! My horse loves me!” You can believe that if you want. We can even redefine the meaning of the word “love” if that makes you happy, although that is a dangerous thing to start doing. It doesn’t change the reality: a horse is a horse, not a human.

The tendency to anthropomorphize is strong with all of us and it is often harmless. Those of us who teach horsemanship sometimes deliberately do it to make a point. When a horse is not respecting its owner, Clinton Anderson says, “He’s flicking cigarette butts at you!” These little excursions into fantasy can be helpful as teaching tools, but far too often, horse owners live in that fantasy and get hurt because they think their horses will be motivated by love and not primal instinct when they become frightened.

Horses are perfect just as they are. They don’t need to have human emotions or feelings or “mind states” to add joy to our lives. It is part of the journey to recognize the true nature of the horse in all its glory and uniqueness, and celebrate it for what it is.

Food for thought, my friends.R

Monday, May 4, 2009

Share your thoughts!

Got a question? An answer? A gripe?
This is the place to get it off your chest.
Try it. It's fun!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hunt and Swift Passing

All of us who love horses and are seriously trying to do better in our interactions with them mourn the passing of Ray Hunt and Sally Swift. However, I think what’s most notable about these great teachers is the fact that they left so many talented students behind who are committed to continuing their work. What a great legacy!
In our grief, we say, "there will never be another," and it's true. They were unique and special human beings. However, their importance to the Revolution in Horsemanship is that they have created something that has a life of its own and will go on without them.


Eating on the Trail

Hi Rick,
What is your take on a horse eating while on the trail? I understand stopping and putting the head down is a no-no, but what if you never knew it was happening unless you witnessed it? There is some really long grass out there. My friend has to interupt my conversation I might be having with someone else, or my peaceful scenery observation to tell me what the horse I happen to be riding at the time is doing. I am 35 years old and have been riding since before I can remember. This is driving me nuts. I absolutely love going out every weekend to different locations, but because of my friend, I partially want to stay home. Thanks for your input.

Hi TJ,
I would not be overly concerned about your horse sneaking a bit of grass that is within easy reach. I would be aware of it and be prepared to give the horse something else to think about if it got worse.

Here are the rules for my trail horse: (1) go where I point you, (2) maintain your gait and speed, (3) do not become fixated on the other horses, and (4) respond promptly when I give you a cue. If my horse does all that, I see no need to micromanage her.

Horses often do exactly what we expect them to. There is a connection between what we think is going to happen and what actually happens. If I visualize my horse being calm, confident, and obedient when I ride her, she usually is. However, if I'm worried about her making a certain mistake and focus my mental energy on that, it's much more likely to happen.

This may seem like a bunch of hocus-pocus. However, we know for certain that horses read and interpret all kinds of signals from us that we aren’t aware we’re sending. The surest way to control those signals is to control our thinking.

In short, expect the best of your horse and put your mental energy there. However, remain alert and be prepared to respond to genuine mistakes. One of the best tools for dealing with unwanted behavior is also the simplest: backing the horse. (See my post to Mike on Fidgeting and Surging).

Your friend may have the best of intentions, but don’t let her take the joy out of riding for you. That is its entire purpose.

Fidgeting, Surging while leading

hey Rick
I just use my horse for trail riding only. i have 2 problems that i would like to fix.1. he wont stand still when i stop. 2. when i lead him he wants to walk ahead of me. do you have any pointers to help me with these problems or have a book that covers this?

Hi Mike,
Many behaviors such as fidgeting during saddling, surging ahead while leading, walking off while mounting, moving around at the standstill, etc. are helped by immediately backing your horse up. Don’t do this in anger, but do adopt a strong, assertive attitude and fix the image of him backing firmly in your mind. Start with gentle pressure on the reins or lead rope and escalate as needed to get him started moving. Hold that level of pressure until he’s gone ten steps, then release it, and praise him. Then go back to whatever you were doing. If he makes the mistake again, and he probably will, repeat. Remain businesslike in your attitude, not emotional. You don’t want him to feel threatened in any way. However, you do want him to realize that there is a negative consequence every time for that behavior.

Backing reminds the horse that you are leader and gets him thinking about his feet rather than the undesirable behavior he was exhibiting. In nature, a horse very seldom backs up. He may take a step or two (usually at the request of a more dominant horse) then he goes forward or to one side.

Backing puts a horse out of position to flee predators and creates a feeling of vulnerability in the horse’s mind. When he backs up at your request, it reinforces his role as the follower in your relationship. In other words, it reminds him that he must respect you. When you maintain a neutral or businesslike attitude, it assures the horse that you are not going to hurt him and works on building his trust.

There are no “magic bullets” in training horses, but backing, lateral flexion, and disengaging the hindquarters seem to help in almost any problem situation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Radio interview on Slaughter Ban

My recent radio interview with Dr. Tom Lenz really stirred the pot. Dr. Lenz is an equine veterinarian who represents a group called the Unwanted Horse Coalition (www.unwantedhorsecoaltion.org), which is supported by the AAEP, AVMA, AQHA, the American Horse Council, and many horse owners. This group opposes the ban on U.S. slaughterhouses.
On the other side of this issue is the American Humane Society, a group of equine veterinarians that don’t agree with the official position of AAEP and AVMA, and individual horse owners. There may be others I’m not aware of. This side believes the ban is a good thing and would like to see it taken further, making it a federal crime to ship horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
As Dr. Lenz pointed out, the slaughter ban is a difficult and complex issue. It’s not a matter of one side being for slaughtering horses and the other being against it. Both sides are committed to the welfare of the horse. Both sides support humane euthanasia. They diverge primarily on whether the transportation and slaughter of horses is currently or can ever be done humanely. They also differ on the consequences, intended or unintended, of closing the U.S. slaughterhouses. Another hot-button issue that lurks just below the surface is use made of the slaughtered horses (e.g. human consumption), but as Dr. Lenz points out, that is quite separate from the treatment of living horses.
Both sides in this debate rely on statistics and anecdotal evidence, but these sources contradict each other. Accusations fly both ways about lying, exaggerating, and the motivations thereof.
So whom do you believe? Dr. Lenz has been immersed in the issue for the past eight years, has testified in Washington, has interviewed sale barn owners, has toured slaughterhouses in Texas and Mexico and has personally witnessed close to 100 horses being killed in the traditional captive bolt method. He feels slaughter can be done humanely and that it is part of the solution to the unwanted horse problem. He also believes, as I do, that government interference in this is not the answer.
As for the other side, I don’t want to misrepresent so I’ll simply give you this link. It is worth reading:

Several emails came in regarding the Lenz interview, some supportive and some critical. I was disappointed that some of my listeners felt it necessary to attack me personally. I have struggled to rise above this and make up here for any partiality I showed in the interview. There are some things about which I do have expertise. This is not one of them. I should have been more neutral.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Report on Road to the Horse 2009

Just got back from RTTH. Great new venue this year with plenty of room for vendors and the 6,000 folks who attended. Thanks to Tootie for the pro sound system and to Craig, Andrew, and Diana for running it so well. The VIP room was awesome, although I didn't get to spend much time there. I think most folks felt it was worth the extra money. Thanks to everyone who stopped by the booth.

It seems to me that the horses were a bit tougher overall this year. John and Tommy ran into significant resistance getting their horses to move out freely. They may have picked up some extra points for degree of difficulty and lost some for how physical they became along the way. Richard's horse appeared to be the easiest, but I suspect he just made it look that way.

The test was 35 minutes this year instead of 25, allowing time for extra training in the open arena before being judged on the required tasks. Tommy and John used the time to good effect and everyone was impressed with how far their horses had come by the end of the event. However, Richard's test also went extremely well, especially when he asked his horse to canter. They were flying around the arena like they'd been doing it for months. For his freestyle, Richard had his colt track a cow. When all was said and done, Richard was named the winner.

There will undoubtedly be people who disagree with the outcome. There always are. Sometimes this is pure partisanship and I can do nothing about that. But sometimes it comes from not understanding how the judging works.

1. There are four equal things judged: round pen session 1, round pen session 2, the rail portion of the test and the obstacle portion of the test. Each is worth 165 points. The freestyle at the end is worth 15 points.
2. The judges' scores are collected after each round. They cannot change a score later.
3. The high and low scores from the judges are discarded and the remaining scores are averaged to get a competitor's score for each category judged. No one judge can determine the outcome.
4. The competitor with the highest score at the end wins

Bottom line, it's not only the end result that matters, but how the trainer got there. The judges are experienced horsemen and they understand what they see, what degree of firmness is necessary, what kinds of choices the trainer makes. Every year the rules are tweaked just a little to make this as fair as possible and always to keep the welfare of the horse the highest priority.

I'll announce the plans for RTTH 2010 here when I know them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Untangling a matted mane

Hi Friends,

Got a great question about the best way to clean up a matted mane. My wife, Diana, is very good at this. Here's the procedure I learned from her:

Preparation: Teach your horse to stand quietly while being groomed. Set aside at least an hour to work on the mane.

Product: A bottle of tail and mane detangler and a wide-tooth comb.

Procedure: Work with a three inch section of the mane at a time. Saturate it with detangler. Work from the end of the hair back toward the base.

Start four or five inches from the end of the first section. Grab the section of hair firmly with one hand and brace against the horse's neck. This effectively shortens the mane and reduces the chance of breakage.

With the combing hand, gently comb this short section out. If you encounter a tangle, spray a little more detangler and gently work through it with the comb. When that short section is done, grab a bit higher with your other hand and continue work on that section, proceeding back to the base of the hair.

When the whole section is done, start a new section. Rewet with tangler as often as needed. Most detanglers do not need to be rinsed out. Leave the horse standing tied until the mane is dry. Dry comb the mane very gently the next day. The more often you comb or brush the mane, the less likely it will be to get really matted.

FYI, I'm not crazy about hoodies (spandex hoods that cover a horse's head and neck) but that is certainly an option if you need to keep your horse's mane nice for a particular event. Just be sure you don't make that a regular way of life for him. His mane needs to be free.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Looking a Horse in the Eye

Dear Friends,

Monty Roberts makes the argument that looking a horse in the eye drives him away, that it is interpreted by the horse as a challenge.

I don't want you to think you can never look your horse in the eye, so let me add my thoughts to this. I believe what Monty is talking about is a hard, focused stare. This could be read by the horse as assertive body language and could easily make him uncomfortable.

A soft gaze is a different matter and may even tend to calm your horse if it is also reflected in the rest of your body. This is especially true if you have established a strong relationship with the horse and he trusts you.

Remember, horses read our intentions by reading our bodies. Keep your thoughts positive and supportive and things will usually go better.

Gene Autry

Dear friends,
This week we air one of my favorite TV episodes, "Gene Autry and the Seven Champions."
I saw him live on stage when I was three years old, and like most Americans of my generation, I've been a fan ever since. But that was the public Gene. What I learned making this TV episode made me a fan of the private Gene.
He was not perfect, I know, and we don't sugarcoat anything in this piece. Still, I hope the audience can find as much to admire about the man as I did: his work ethic, his generosity, his loyalty, his patriotism, his business acumen, his musical talents.
At the same time, I hope the audience can forgive him his foibles, as I have. In one of his last conversations with his secretary, Maxine Hansen, Gene said of his life, "I tried to be good. I really tried." That's good enough for me.

Gene Autry died in 1998 at the age of 91. On February 8, 2009, he will receive a lifetime achievement award during the Grammy awards.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Is natural horsemanship a myth?

Dear friends,

Just wanted to climb on the old soapbox for a few minutes. I came across a well-written article online that put forth the argument that natural horsemanship is a myth. I won’t say who wrote it, but I was surprised. I expected him to know better.

A myth is a story that can’t be proven true. Natural horsemanship is a protocol, a system of foundation training and relationship building that is based on a particular mindset: a commitment to understanding the nature of the horse, using that nature instead of fighting it, and making every situation a win for the horse as well as for the human.

Natural horsemanship is not a story, so it can’t be a myth.

But that is nitpicking. My real problem was the way this article characterized modern clinicians of this ilk, especially the more successful and visible ones, as charlatans intent on selling gullible people things they don’t need. No names were used, of course, but the writer obviously thought we’d know whom he meant.

I don’t. The fact is, I know most of the clinicians. It’s my job to interview them, write about them, analyze their ideas and help my listeners, viewers, and readers make sense of it all. I’ll admit, some are better teachers than others, but I honestly know of none that deserves this sort of slapping about. They, like all of us, are simply trying to make a living providing something of value for the marketplace. The good ones succeed. The not-so-good ones go on to something else. None that I’ve met are charlatans.

The article, as it turned out, was really an excerpt from a book about a “real” horseman, one who wasn’t so well known but who had really special talents and had taken the moral high road with them. He worked very hard and helped many people. But he wasn’t a national phenomenon, and, presumably, he didn’t make a lot of money doing it. I knew of this horseman and considered him the real deal, every bit a natural horseman, whether he used the term or not. The writer was a relative newcomer to horses.

It was more than a little dishonest, I thought, for a writer to be promoting the sale of a book by lambasting horsemen who promote themselves. Fortunately, the public is smart enough to see through this. In my experience, they look at what’s being offered. If they find value in it, they buy. If not, they don’t. Period. They aren’t swayed all that much by what some writer says from the sidelines.

One last point. The article also called these natural horsemanship clinicians “horse whisperers” and didn’t mean that as a compliment. I guess the writer thought it sufficient indictment of the term that it was associated with a successful book and a successful movie. (What does he have against success, anyway?) The horse whisperer term has a rich history going back more than two hundred years. I can recommend a good reference if the writer would like to learn more ...

You know, my friends, everyone is selling something and I for one do not consider that a bad thing. I’m glad the grocer sells me bread, the airline sells me tickets to the places I need to go, and clinicians sell the fruits of their labors. But I can’t stand it when someone adopts this holier-than-thou attitude about free enterprise at the same time they’re trying to sell me something.

Don’t let anyone tell you that natural horsemanship is a myth or that the teachers of it are crooks. Let the work speak for itself.


Bucking when pushed

I received the following question from a viewer. It's a good one and I'd like to share the answer with everyone.

Hi there,I just watched your show for the first time and was very impressed. I have a problem that I can not find the answer for. My 6 yr old Quarter horse gelding, has started to buck when he feels pushed or doesn't want to do something. Also, if a man gets on him. I have had this horse since a baby and have broke him. I am as green as he is. It scares me that he thinks he can buck when he doesn't want to go into a situation that he doesn't like. Do you have any suggestions ground work or bits ect. Please help. Why all of sudden he started bucking? I have checked my equipment and have had him vet checked for any problems. I know you are busy, but if you could find sometime to answer this, I would appreciate it. Thanks, BB.

Hi BB,

I'm glad you enjoy my show. I'm going to make a calculated guess that what you're talking about is not really bucking in the sense that rodeo horses buck, where all four feet are off the ground and the horse is determined to throw the rider off his back. What's much more common is that the horse does a little hop or simply kicks out with his hind legs. What we call this doesn't matter. It's an act of defiance, it can unseat the rider, and it's scary when it happens. It's happened to me. It happened to my wife yesterday, and it will probably happen to you again in the future on this horse or another one.

Why would your horse do this? It could be related to a medical problem or faulty equipment, but it's far more likely that he's simply testing you. To a horse, it's very important that whoever is calling the shots is a competent leader. It's like a child who gets a little sassy. He's testing the boundaries, checking out your mood, your determination to enforce the rules. It's a power play, of sorts, and if there is no negative consequence to this behavior, it can easily become a habit, which is harder to break.

Think about what you do when this happens. Do you stop pushing your horse and let him rest while you compose yourself? That's a natural human response. It's part of your survival instinct to back away from scary things. But if you do that, you are rewarding the horse's behavior. Instead of creating a negative consequence, you are creating a positive consequence - release of pressure and rest - thereby increasing the chance that he will do it again. And because your horse has initiated all of this with his behavior, he is the one leading the team, not you. That's unacceptable. YOU must be the leader because being the leader is the only safe role for you to play when you interact with a horse. And here's some very good news: Your horse will be perfectly content with your leading the team IF you prove you are competent to do so in a way he understands.

The solution requires forethought and preparation and yes, a little courage. The next time your horse does his little bucking act, you are going to create a negative consequence for his choice.

My first priority is that you don't get hurt, so I recommend adding a "night latch" to your western saddle. This is usually a stout leather dog collar that runs through the gullet of your saddle and over the pommel, creating a loop you can hold on to that gives you much greater security than grabbing the horn. Your fist can close around it completely. Real working cowboys and colt starters often have this on their saddles so don't think it's just for beginners. Any tack store or pet store should have this.

Secondly, you need a spanker of some kind. A riding crop works well, or it could be the end of a lead rope. It needs to be something you can carry easily while riding and apply quickly to make the horse uncomfortable when he makes a bad choice.

Thirdly, I want you to practice stopping your horse with one rein. You need to be riding in a snaffle bit for this (not a curb or leverage bit). Instead of pulling back on both reins to stop him, you will pull on one rein only. Pulling your horse's head to one side unbalances him and causes him to have to think about his feet instead of whatever else was on his mind. He has to step across with his hind feet ( called "disengaging the hindquarters"). He will circle about a few times, slow down, and stop. You may think that you are giving up control with a "gentle" bit like a snaffle. You're not. A snaffle, with its jointed mouthpiece, just allows you to work each side of the horse independently, which is best for doing the one-rein stop. By practicing this ahead of time, you will get used to the feeling, your horse will get used to the feeling, and you will build your confidence that you can really stop a horse this way.

With this preparation, you are ready to retrain your horse. Be sure you feel secure in the saddle, that your stirrups are not too long, and that your cinch is tight. Wear your helmet. Have your spanker ready and be sure you can quickly grab your night latch.

Now ask your horse to do something that he has previously resisted. This time you will be ready with a surprise for him! When he bucks, instantly spank him sharply on the rump. This is not a little love tap, but a good whack that he will understand. As quickly as you can, grab the night latch with one hand and pull his head around with the other rein. He'll probably lurch forward a few steps. That's okay! You're ready for that. You're deep in the saddle, pushing against your stirrups, and already busy stopping him with one rein. Don't be angry. Don't be frightened. Be determined. He will probably go around in circles several times. That's normal. Don't release the rein until he has come to a complete stop and relaxed. Then release the rein and reward him. Give him plenty of praise and stroke him affectionately on the neck and rump. Create a POSITIVE consequence for his good choice, i.e., yielding to your leadership by stopping his feet and relaxing. Give him a minute or so to think about this. Then do the whole thing again.

A couple things are happening here. First, of course, the horse is getting an unpleasant result from his choice. Horses don't like to be spanked any more than we do. Curiously, if you react quickly and do it without anger, the horse is not likely to blame you or become frightened of you. You want him to think he did this to himself. You just happened to be there when this occurred. Second, by proving to him that you can control his movement by bending him and causing him to have to circle around to keep his balance, you are demonstrating your leadership of the team. Horses like to be straight and they like to be in control of their own movement.

By the way, I'm a believer in the "gentle as possible and firm as necessary" approach to using pressure with a horse. In this case the degree of firmness required is fairly high to be absolutely certain the horse gets the message. With repetition and consistent application of consequences, the degree of firmness needed diminishes. We work toward gentleness and lightness in communication, but the horse has to know you are willing to do whatever it takes to discourage unwanted behavior.

Your horse might learn the first time, but it will probably take several repetitions, and several days of consistent training in this manner to really convince him it's not in his best interest to throw his little temper tantrum. Try to work with him several days in a row and do not let other riders on him, at least not during this crucial training time. That will just confuse him and undo some of what he's learned from you. At this stage in his life, he needs one rider. You!

You mentioned groundwork. Groundwork does two things: it establishes the rules of the relationship (that the human leads and the horse follows) and it establishes a language of pressure and release that the horse understands. Groundwork goes a long way toward preventing riding problems because it works on the relationship. It can also help with riding problems that are relationship based, as I believe yours is. So, bottom line, I think a good program of groundwork, such as that used by Clinton Anderson, will definitely help. However, because this bucking behavior has occurred several times, a pattern has been set and you also need to break that pattern with the riding solution I described.

Always look for opportunities to reward your horse for good behavior but don't be afraid to punish him for bad behavior. He will actually feel more secure with your leadership if you show him there are boundaries of acceptable behavior. By the way, the same goes for the sassy child. He is often crying out for good parenting, to be reminded of where the limits lie.

I hope this has helped. Plan ahead and be safe. If you get too frightened or you feel the situation getting out of hand, stop. You can always train your horse another day.

Good luck!
Rick Lamb