Search This Blog

Friday, March 5, 2010

Over Confident to Humble

After growing up in the saddle, I thought I knew about as much as one could know about riding and horses. I would ride any horse, and for the most part I was successful, at least I could stay on. I thought that meant I was a great rider. I would go to team penning and ride fast and hard, basically thinking I was showing off. In the meantime those who knew a little more than I did where not impressed. They didn’t come out and say it, but they would make little suggestions like, “You might want to slow down some.” Or, “Take it easy.” I thought I was doing just fine. Red was right where I wanted him when I wanted him there, and that was in a hurry. He was merely doing what I wanted him to. He had no idea why we were running into a herd of cows and then chasing them [often in circles around the herd] and occasionally to the other end of the arena to the small pen that was our goal. It had not occurred to me, at that point, that a horse could learn to take a certain cow out of the herd, and move it to a pen across the arena. I just didn’t think they had that level of understanding. Now I know differently.

About two years after I started team penning, one of the penners was riding in a small competition, and doing quite well. During the “call backs” the team he was on had pushed out two of the three cows, and Bill had just found the third cow. Bill got between the cow and the herd, and began pushing the cow towards the pen, when the cow turned back to the herd and made a dash for it. Bill’s horse turned like a top and blasted to the fence to cut the cow off. As the horse did this Bill was left right where he was when the horse turned, only on the ground. Then I saw the most incredible thing. The horse continued without the rider! The two other teammates gathered the other two cows and together, with the rider-less horse, they penned all three. Bill’s horse was right where he needed to be, just like Bill was riding him and guiding him. After that episode, we all teased Bill about not really knowing what he was doing, and it being all the horse. In reality though, I think Bill really was a great horseman. Only a great horseman would be able to help a horse understand his job that well. To me, now, horsemanship is helping your horse to become a willing partner. This happens when your horse understands what the task is and wants to accomplish the task as well. When this happens, both the horse and the rider can be a successful team. This begs the question of how you get your horse to want to do it?

I believe most horses want to learn their job. I don’t think they want to be micro managed anymore than the office worker in a cubicle. I notice my little mare really likes going down the street. When we do, we usually just meander quietly, much like anyone just taking a walk. She knows what her job is when we go down the street. Therefore she is not her “turn and burn” self that she is everywhere else and she can relax. I once took my daughter down the street, riding double on her. On the way home Foxy was going along so quietly that I could ride her side saddle [bare backed] and double, without even touching the reins. I was ignoring the reins while picking leaves off the overhanging trees, allowing her to stop here and there for the snack I offered her.

As I began riding with more people who were involved in competitions, and getting to see some of the things they accomplished with their horses, I realized I knew, relatively, nothing. I was getting discouraged fast. Of course these people I am talking about had the time and money to invest in training. This was not a luxury I could afford. I was a single mother of three and a single income supporting those three kids and seven horses! I still am progressing, but at a much slower rate than if I had a knowledgeable mentor by my side. Somehow some way, my little Foxy is learning what I want from her and, for now, my little victories are hard won and well celebrated.


  1. Hi Chris! I really enjoyed your post - especially the part about the horse cutting cattle on his own :) It's funny too - what you said about being fast with cows not always being the best way. I learned that during my horsemanship camp a couple weeks ago. I thought I was being effective by rushing the cows (and my horses) - but then watched the "real" cowboys do the job. They stayed slow & calm - and so did the cows. They got the job done with a minimum of fuss, excitement or speed. Impressive (and humbling) to watch....
    Lynn Reardon (PS: Thanks for posting the link to my book, Beyond the Homestretch!!)

  2. Thanks Lynn! I think most people go through that stage, after they get comfortable going fast. It's a hard concept.. Slower is faster..