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Horsein’ Around

Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.

I guess I’ve been spending too much time alone, I “kind-a” forgot what a big deal these Expositions are all about. So, since being out of a job and with time on my hands, I agreed to join my friends Mark and Fran with a day at the Rocky Mountain Horse Exposition in Denver. I thought it was just going to be another place to spend your money and visit all the dealers who had something to sell.

Boy was I fooled. I thought the clinicians would be going over basic horsemanship for beginning riders who have a horse in their back yard and want to say they are horse trainers. This is the same stuff that has been out there for the past fifteen years. Granted, I became disgusted with the “Show Boat” people who did not let those in the stands know that it took years of making mistakes with horses for them to perfect a training method that worked best with horses.

I must admit that for years I broke and trained horses “the old Cowboy way,” and that was how I was taught. You just saddled up a colt and rode the buck out of them.

I must admit I have ruined some good horses by making them cowboy horses, not good back yard horses for folks who don’t ride every day. It was a long while before I learned there was a better way to deal with green horses. Then I got the chance to study under Ray Hunt, who also had some “Cowboy Ways” about his training. But you have to let the folks watching know what you are doing and why it works with the horse, and most of all how the horse is thinking how he/she is applying what is being taught. This means getting into the horses mind and understanding how they are thinking.

But I was impressed by the clinicians at the Exposition and was impressed by what I saw and heard. First we stopped and watched Julie Goodnight demonstrate working with a well broke saddle horse. Julie took the time to explain what she was doing and how to get it through to her horse in a compliance method.

As we walked through the exhibits I was impressed with the number of businesses specifically designed for just the horse industry and not a bunch of stuff to attract the city dwellers. Winding up in the arena, we decided to grab something to eat as Stacy Westfall from Ohio, began her demonstration. I thought this was going to be another demonstration for the backyard horse people and boy was I fooled to the point that I had trouble eating the food I bought.

Stacy began by working her horse on a fairly tight rein held down by her knee, with the other rein she held high, and used it to walk her horse straight, and turn left and right. I was impressed as she continued to explain what she was doing and how her horse responded. She continued working her horse in a large circle and then stopped to remove the bridle before continuing the maneuvers.

Stacy had another woman in the ring she was working with on the same movements. You could tell the woman was not as confident as Stacy and not making much progress with her horse. So Stacy asked if they could trade horses and the horse did not respond as well, showing a little resistance. It wasn’t long before Stacy had the horse responding almost as well as her horse.

All the time Stacy was talking, both to the girl on Stacy’s horse and to the crowd, explaining what she was trying to get the rider to do. You could see that the helper was not confident and unable to get Stacy’s horse to respond as he had been doing. This impressed me as I realized why many of my students fail to get the results desired and understand that in most cases it is the rider who is making most of the mistakes. This is where I fail in not being able to build enough confidence in my students.

Then to top off her clinic, Stacy removed her saddle and bridle and began to work her horse in the movements as before. After the clinic I spoke with her. She told me that the first time she tried riding without a bridle was not in a round pen and she went for a wild ride before getting her horse to calm down. She should have told the crowd not to try that at home outside of a round pen, but I think most folks already know that.

See Ya’ll next time when I talk about Chris Cox and his clinic with an unbroken horse.

Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.


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