Ranching Blog: Internal Peace

Training is about helping our horses be comfortable in all kinds of chaos.

Training is about helping our horses be comfortable in all kinds of chaos.

While the methods of training and teaching horses may vary between those actually doing it, one thing remains the same – if you move at the pace of the horse, you’ll rarely have trouble with the horse as it progresses through its education.

If we quit when the horse is comfortable with what we’re presenting, we will create a confident horse, one that will look to us to help him out of a tight spot. One that will look to us in the branding pen when chaos surrounds him. One that will look to us to support him when he makes his first rodeo performance and there’s a monkey riding a motorbike, fireworks or the like.

That being said, sometimes circumstances get in the way and we’re not able to end our time with our horse, surrounded by flowers and rainbows; so don’t feel like it’s the end of the world if things aren’t perfect when you end. Your horse won’t dwell on it all night, and neither should you. Just start over and look for the “try” from your horse. Odds are if it didn’t feel good to you at the end, it didn’t feel real good to your horse, either – the difference is when you were done yesterday, he went back to being a horse and didn’t stew on the lack of success. If you didn’t either, you can start with a clean slate the next day.

Horses are creatures of habit, and interaction with humans changes and creates habits within them. Because of this, when having an issue resolved by your “trainer,” make sure the trainer welcomes the opportunity to have you ride with him to help identify what you can be doing different. Take responsibility for being the leader of your horse, and elevate your game to help prevent whatever behavior you’re less than happy with.

Regardless of the discipline, the way we start a horse here at the ranch is the same whether they’ll be a barrel horse, a ranch horse, a performance horse or a kid horse – we look to build a solid foundation so the horse will understand the lesson. The things we teach remain the same. Emphasis is placed on the student/learner, rather than the teacher/lesson. Most of us have been in a situation where the teacher might be great at teaching their lesson, but isn’t aware of our timeframe for learning. If we help our horses learn what we want, it stays with them. If we teach them our program, we might find ourselves doing the same thing over and over.

We’ve learned from others that part of a good foundation is to get our horses good about a rope around their feet, whether or not we ever plan to swing a loop at a critter. This is helpful if we want to hobble them, and it’s a safety thing for the branding pen. If we can get them good with ropes around their feet, they’ll not be bothered by extension cords on the ground (for branding irons), or other ropes flying. This is one of the reasons that ranch horses tend to make good rope horses – they’re comfortable with ropes. Further, roping their feet, for us anyway, is another way to get them good about having their feet handled. If you’re me, and you’re 5-foot-nothing, you want them good about that, because it makes putting a quick trim job on them, easier.

They’ll become confident about a flag – under their neck in their blind spot, under their belly, around their legs, over their back, where we’re going to sit when we ride them, and it gets them good about noise. There are windy days when arena banners will get noisy – the horse is prepared. Our job is to help them realize that they can think about and through, what we’re asking them to do and ignore things that might scare them. If we’re not scared, they shouldn’t be, either.

Riding isn’t always peaceful. There are times when there’s complete chaos surrounding a horse, and they have to learn that chaos doesn’t mean they’re going to be eaten; there’s no need to scatter out from under us. As horsemen, our task is to help them realize that they can look to us to decide whether or not they need to flee the scene of a chaotic situation. Every horse is different, and they’ll all teach us something new about their thoughts and fears if we listen.

And with that, here’s to a safe and happy, albeit sometimes chaotic, spring branding season!

Happy Trails!

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.