A bit of Richard Shrake at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo
March 22, 2010
Richard Shrake is a virtual legend in the horse industry. In his 45 years as an award winning rider, trainer, lecturer and clinician, the veteran horseman brings a wealth of experience to the equine knowledge table. So when he arrived at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Horse Expo prepared to talk about “Fail Safe Bit Selection,” people were ready to listen.
“How many have ever seen an old horse in the field; he’s thin, you lead him and he hardly walks, and all of a sudden you put a bridle on him and get on him and he’s crazier than crazy, throwing his head, wanting to run, wanting to escape?” asked Shrake from inside the rails of the stadium arena at the National Western Stock Show complex. “Anybody ever see one of those?”
Hands were raised in response by a significant percentage of those seated in the stands, laughter accompanying the action.
“What has happened is, he’s been hurt in his mouth,” explained Shrake. “So when you really overreact this horse – melt him down, get him chomping the bit, get him not liking the bit, hurting that tender tissue in his mouth – all you are doing is creating a horse that every time you get on him, flight comes into his mind because he’s scared. He’s been hurt.”
There was a pause before the veteran clinician asked them to do a very important action in their lives as horsemen and horsewomen.
“Listen to your horse,” he said. His passion for the subject was evident during the presentation, even though he feels it is a difficult one to teach.
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“It’s extremely difficult to talk about,” said Shrake immediately after the lecture. “Because if you ask horse people, number one, there’s no articles or magazines on this. This has been always a trainers’ secret. I was lucky, because those old timers, I followed them around until they had to tell me or I could figure it out,” he continued with enthusiasm. “That’s how I got the knowledge. It’s a difficult subject because, again … our people haven’t shared it, because the trainer thought it was a secret and if people knew their secrets they’d be out of business.”
Asked why he taught the subject at places like the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, Shrake had an immediate answer.
“Because there are some absolutes that are absolute,” he stated with conviction. “In other words, what the bit is made out of. The difference between sweet iron and aluminum is the difference between honey and gasoline taste. And leverages and the pull are plain physics,” he added. “What I love about it is the mental aspect, (because) when people over ride their horses, they bruise (the horse’s) mind as much as their face.”
Catching up with the popular clinician at his crowded Horse Expo booth, he continued to teach and answer questions.
“The worst thing we can do as horseman is just start shoving (different bits) in a horse’s mouth,” explained Shrake to a group of eager listeners. “What people need to realize is, when you experiment with bits, the horse really doesn’t have a choice. He can’t pick up the phone and say, ‘You know that bit you worked me in yesterday? Boy, it made the corners of my mouth sore. I hated it.’ So he depends on you and it’s very simple. If you get red flags – throwing his head, isn’t keeping his gait – he’s screaming to you, something is wrong.”
So when a horse is giving those kinds of signals, what type of bit can help?
“Sweet iron, 30 percent copper, a taper, a pre-signal; all of the above are aspirins for the headache,” answered Shrake before handing out a caution.
“The bad part about this is, we’re thinking the bit is going to change everything,” he added with remorse. “If there was that magic bit I could sell that would make every horse work perfect, I’d be a billionaire. Eighty percent is this,” he stated, motioning his hands to indicate a correct position, like they were handcuffed together above the neck of a horse. Shrake added information to emphasize the point.
“What we say to do – when a horse is protecting his mouth by grabbing the bit and running through it – is go back and walk him, back him, bend him, get your hands in,” he expounded. “When your hands are in time with his beat, you can back him, you can flex him and you can build trust. Then to mentally say to him – because when he’s relaxed those neurons are together – now a month of riding at a walk, an extended walk, a collected walk and an extended walk (again). That one month will give him the confidence and trust in the bit in your hand. If it’s not too much bit, bingo!”
Included in the wealth of information from Shrake were more tips:
• A bit with sweet iron and some copper is important. When a bit is sweet, the horse will lick. Licking the bit releases endorphins while chomping the bit releases stimulants.
• Solid copper or rubber, once they chomp it, they can put divots in it. It can be like a pebble in a shoe. All you want to do is get rid of the pebble. Aluminum dries the mouth, like a tongue on a flagpole.
• To be a good horseman, you have to listen to your horse. Circling can help calm a horse down.
• What gets his mind is trust, not force. Take your time and progress him.
For more information about Richard Shrake, please visit him on the Web at http://www.RichardShrake.com.