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.