Roger Thompson: Horsin’ Around 4-18-11
Fort Collins, Colo.
In the year 2002 I wrote an article about a lady horse trainer named Britain Roberts. I also sent a picture of her standing on a bridle-less roan filly. The slim horse trainer was holding a 20-foot tarp over her head, which hung down and draped all over the filly.
While the first idea was why would you do that for anything but to show off. I soon discovered how gentle the horse was. Then she answered by writing a two-page description of her training method.
“Many training techniques have popped out of the Natural Horsemanship Programs that seem to almost be trick training oriented. My methods, especially for that filly, were to demonstrate how ‘sacked’ (method of gentling young horses by draping blankets or other sack type material over their backs) this 2-year-old needed to be, before I moved on to her performance training.”
“I have worked with a lot of performance trainers, who have had to get a 2-year-old to futurity. This does not leave much time for finding out what kind of brains guiding the 1,000-pound body through all the athletic events they will encounter. I remember one trainer asking me, ‘How much time do you have on that filly?’ I responded, ‘Six months ground work, and 60 days horseback”
“He replied, ‘That groundwork stuff just don’t count for nothin!’ “I did not respond, after all, he was a professional. However, I knew the runaway, biting, kicking snot of a horse I sat on would be sold for Alpo Dog Food if I had not given her all that time. Dome horses like her need all the work in the world to get them over whatever ‘ism’ they have acquired by birthright or handler mistakes. Often the quirky, hard to manage horses have that extra push you really need in the competitive word. Understanding and dealing with these types can be very hard but rewarding and is not something most people like dealing with. It takes a certain kind.”
“When I started my ‘whoa’ program with the roan filly, she went along well. I simply start with three steps, then as the horse moves forward, I say ‘whoa’ long and low, raise my lead rope and step to the front. If they do not get it the first few times I continue to take bigger steps to the front and then add a snap to the line if they totally ignore my body position. We go over this repeatedly; walk, trot and canter until they stop anywhere, any time. I add sacks to the walk, trot and canter. Adding them slowly and stopping them whenever they spook, to teach them to stop when scared. I also rope their legs and make them stand to teach them about restraint.”
“One day one of my goofy colts stepped through a fence. A friend came running to me yelling. ‘Tigger is in the fence.’ I ran outside and assured him with a loud ‘WHOOAAA’, long and low as he had been taught in the round pen. He stood and let me cut him out with out a scratch. I had tied his legs and ‘whoa-ed’ him a lot in this ground work. All of the restraint training paid off.”
“My roan filly was a particular case, as she was so sensitive I could not rub my nose or make a sound when she was backed or she would bolt away to the other side of the pen. It was unnerving to ride her; you never knew when she would bolt. I went back to her whoa training and really added a lot of tarps. I put tarps on both sides of the saddle and one on a 4-foot pole above her head with large, noisy, streamers. We went all over the ranch like that, doing circles, crossing ditches and working in the fields until she relaxed about the ruckus. The more she was handled, the better she got. At her first ride anytime she acted nervous I would say whoa and she would stop. No reins, no pulling, just stop. I want all my colts to really understand that concept, for emergencies and good horse sense.”
As I typed this message, I am going to read it over again and spend a bunch of time working on my new little mare and not try to rush her into competition like I did last year.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.