Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Success with horses

A couple weeks ago I was shooting at a ranch in Colorado and rode four naturally trained (and barefoot) Tennessee Walking Horses – two mares, a gelding, and the stallion pictured here – before lunch. It was a blast. Each was a little different, which meant I had to be a little different rider with each one. It got me to thinking about the trainers who ride ten horses or more every day. Or the colt starters who have a few thousand starts to their credit. No wonder they are so good at what they do. At one time, I was certain that quantity was necessary on the road to success with horses. Now I realize that’s not true. There are countless examples of superb horsemen who’ve focused on quality instead, taking a small number of special horses to new heights. Then there’s the rest of us. We won’t be starting 10,000 colts, winning world championships, or giving command performances for royalty. Still, we are achieving success with horses in our own ways. We are allowing them to change our lives, to add quality, to create purpose, to make us better as people. Along the way, we are finding joy and satisfaction. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

“In the beginning, you play with horses because it’s fun. It’s a pleasant diversion. Then you find that it feels good in a deeper and more lasting way than many other recreational past-times. You may love riding motorcycles, but your Harley doesn’t nicker at you in the morning. There is something very special about horses that makes you want to do better with and for them.”

The Revolution in Horsemanship and What it Means to Mankind
by Robert M. Miller, D.V.M. and Rick Lamb

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Craig's Day

If you count the predecessor to Road to the Horse, Craig Cameron has competed in this World Championship of Colt Starting four times. 2010 is the year he'll remember best.

He picked horse number 10, a scruffy-looking palomino with a thicker-than-usual winter coat. Craig admitted that he didn't really have a reason for his choice. "You never know what you've got until you get in the pen," he said.

What he got was a tough colt, as stand-offish as they come, who refused to look at Craig for the first hour. Nothing Craig tried seemed to work. He seemed to be running out of ideas, and that's probably when the tide turned for him.

The strategy that seems to work best at RTTH is simple: Let the horse set the pace. Work on the relationship first and the training second, even when time is running short and 5,000 people are watching your every move. Whatever you do, don't scare the horse.

When Craig plugged into this plan, things started getting better. Come time to ride, Craig abandoned the snaffle bit he'd gotten the horse to accept in favor of a rope halter and rope reins.
The test went well - not great - but that counts for relatively little in the judging anyway. What counts most is what happens in the training pens. The judges - and this year the audience, who registered their votes with text messaging - liked what they saw there and gave Craig the nod. The sixty-year-old Texas cowboy has a way of lighting up a room with his smile. This time, the smile came with a few tears. In a life chock-full of memorable days, I suspect this one will always be special.