Trail Riding Aids in Western Dressage Training

December 30, 2013

Dressage comes from the French word, “to train or drill”. Originally dressage was training for war horses. They were taught to execute manuevers to maim the enemy and protect the rider. Today dressage is no longer about training for military actions. It is however a highly competitive discipline of horseback riding in which large numbers engage.

Western dressage is the blend of “dressage” techniques using western tack and with a less rigid rein action. The horse is requested to perform many of the same dressage movements that our trail horses receive as part of their routine trail training. As an example, our horses are taught to open and close gates. The horse is side-passed to the gate and once unlatched, asked to step sideways pushing the gate until open or closed.

Climbing over rocks and fallen trees involves dressage as the horse is asked to place his feet in particular positions as part of the everyday training given. Learning foot positioning gives discipline to the horse that translates into rider control and ultimately a safer horse. By using ranch and trail obstacles for the training, the horse learns quicker and starts to understand a purpose for the training rather than rote drills. Giving the horse a job to do while training brings purpose to learning.

Rainee McGeehan makes the point on how much better a trail horse performs that has dressage training. See Western Dressage Association post. I suppose we see it just the opposite, i.e., how much better a western dressage horse performs that has been given a lot of trail training. If you enjoy dressage, mix in some trail training to make your horse better in the ring!

A Trail Horse Should Know Where To Place His Feet

December 28, 2013

Proper placement of your horse’s feet is just as important as placement of your own feet going down the stairs. Missed steps due to poorly positioned feet can cause a fall. A trail horse should always know where his feet are. He needs to keep them under himself and maintain his balance while you ride. The video shows Chex, one of our registered AQHA quarter horses. Chex does a nice job of putting his feet where they need to be so you can enjoy the ride.

Rogers Co. Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol Spreads The Christmas Spirit

December 26, 2013

News on 6 reports on the Rogers Co. Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol  (Mounted Search and Rescue Unit “MSAR”) watching over the Christmas shoppers at the local Wal-mart in Claremore, Oklahoma. As a courtesy to the citizens, the mounted patrol members escorted shoppers to their cars and kept an eye on their vehicles so folks could come and go worry-free. Service with a smile to brighten up the holiday season! Pete had a great time and enjoyed all the kids petting his nose!

Merry Christmas From horsesfortrail!

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from the horsesfortrail team to all of you! We hope your holidays are filled with great joy and special time with family and friends!

Safety Isn’t Always . . . .

December 18, 2013

Safety with horses means not exceeding your own limitations or the ability of those around you. Nothing else! It’s that plain and that simple. It is not about wearing a helmet or refraining from specific activities deemed dangerous by some watch group or committee. It is understanding your own capabilities and not crossing the line into situations you are unable to handle. We make this point for several reasons. First and foremost because we don’t like to see people get hurt.

Second, because there is a developing movement of organizations and people who want to dictate and impose their “safety” rules on the rest of us. Sadly they lack the skills to feel safe while they ride so they conclude that no one else can either. It’s seems they designate their riding abilities as the epitome of performance and ability. The notion that others can do so safely without complying with their “safety rules” is beyond their comprehension. With proclamations of saving others from harm, they impose standards for all of us. These groups are stealing our freedoms and our rights in the name of “safe riding”.

The helmet movement is a current fad. The “safety elite” have decided that no one can safely ride a horse without this essential safety device. They can’t! So obviously no one can. Ignoring that folks have been riding horses for thousands of years without helmets, it suddenly is essential for everyone to wear one.  Generally speaking, in our view a helmet is little more than a false assurance. Strapping on a helmet allows the “experts” to check the box on their “safety list”.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that riders wearing helmets also get hurt. Head injuries happen, sometimes even in the shower. Mandatory helmets while bathing???

People also get hurt in stalls with horses. We could ban stalls to avoid these injuries.  Horses step on feet and break toes and bones, mandatory steel toes? There is no “magic equipment”  or hard-fast rules for safety around or on the back of an animal substantially larger than you. Safety is about paying attention and keeping your activities confined to situations within your ability.  By way of illustration, I don’t fall from a horse and allow myself to be dragged with my foot in the stirrup, But, I have seen many horse shows where a rider deliberately fell from the saddle and allowed his leg (usually tied to the saddle with an escape knot) to drag him around the arena.  I don’t. It’s beyond my ability. It doesn’t make it unsafe for someone who isn’t saddled by my own limitations.

Can you get hurt riding horses? Absolutely! See the post about a man with broken ribs and a punctured lung who had been riding for over 60 years. Technically, he was riding a mule (we could ban mule riding). The point is there is some inherent risk in horses (and life). Just because someone you know was injured or killed doing something they loved, don’t steal the joy and freedom from others by trying to regulate it. We are genuinely sorry for your pain and understand the hurt. We’ve been there (dead and permanently crippled family from non-horse related accidents). The mandatory safety devices required by the government didn’t keep them alive. Avoid the temptation to “save others” and let people live, not merely exist in your world of “safety”. Life happens, it’s not fun we’ve been there. But, we aren’t dictating to others how to live. If you find yourself wanting to protect the world, do us a favor – Don’t!

How Do You Teach A Horse Pick Up His Feet?

December 15, 2013

Confidence Building ClinicIf you were this rider and your horse knocked over some of the poles in the pin wheel obstacle challenge, would you know how to correct your horse? One of the interesting dynamics of a trail obstacle challenge is the difficulty you can encounter with something seemingly easy. On the trail, if your horse hits his feet against a log, it probably doesn’t fall down. He has to go ahead and pick all four feet high enough to clear the top of the log. In a trail challenge with a pin wheel, if he doesn’t pick up any one of his feet, the poles get knocked down.

The ladies at the Bad Girls confidence building clinic last month discovered some of their horses didn’t mind knocking over the poles. In fact, a couple of them seemed to enjoy watching the poles hit the ground. One rider’s horse managed to down every pole,  save one, during a single revolution.

The ladies were quick learners and with just a little coaching learned how to ask their horse to lift his feet and step over the poles instead of knocking them to the ground. We did have just a little fun initially suggesting all they needed to do was tell the horse, “Hey, pick up your feet”! The Bad Girls took it good-naturedly and all had a good laugh while they learned.

What Side Do You Saddle A Horse From?

December 12, 2013

Ever been told you are only supposed to saddle your horse from the left side? These days you hear almost everything. There are plenty of “experts” out there with advice. The answer is you can saddle from either side or you can do it from the back if you’re strong enough! For those who may decide to try it from the back , ‘ya might check to see if he kicks first’. Here at the ranch, some riders saddle from the right side. The thought is that there is less to throw over the horse. There are two cinch straps on our saddles that hang from the right side and only one on the left that can easily be coiled up. Sheer efficiency tells these clever horseman that the right side is proper.

Some of us saddle from both sides, depending on which way the horse is standing as we approach. Too doggone lazy to walk around and too much effort to make the horse turn around holding the saddle.  Yep, it’s true, some of us aren’t smart enough to actually tie the horse when we saddle. We just sort of expect him to stand still when we don’t do it the “correct” way.

Our horses all saddle from both sides, we don’t do the rear approach. Not for fear of being kicked, just looks like too much work that way. Aside from plain old laziness and work avoidance, we saddle from both sides for a couple of reasons. We don’t want a horse to jump or act silly if being saddled from the right side by someone who due to health issues needs to work from that side. Also we have bought horses in years past that blew up the first time we threw a saddle from the right side. Not to mention the goofy ones that went nuts if they got hit by the stirrup of the saddle being put on a horse next to them. Bottom line, your horse should let you saddle from either the left or the right side and there’s no rule ever been set in stone to the contrary.

Are You Supposed To Mount From The Left or The Right Side of a Horse?

December 9, 2013

We get a lot of questions about horses and the appropriate and proper way to do things. We are happy to answer questions and normally do it from the cowboy perspective. Cowboy custom is to mount your horse from the left side. Growing up, we were told the Indian custom was to mount from the right side. We were taught to mount from the left when using a western saddle and from the right when riding bareback. Of course, we paid nearly no attention to these verbal instructions and did it just like we saw our “teachers” do it. The old “do as I say and not as I do” approach worked as it typically does with kids. So we climbed on whatever side happened to be handy, but more often than not from the left.

By the time we were grown, we often used the left side out of habit and because it was the generally accepted manner. As age began to take its toll, the left knee started to ache more than the right. It didn’t take a “rocket scientist” to figure out the left leg was doing most of the work getting off and on. It was wearing out faster than the right leg. Being extremely health conscious, and pain adverse, I started using the right side a lot. Over the years, it has allowed both legs to share the load.

You want your horse to let you mount from either side, from a fence, a rock, tailgate of a truck or nearly any other way you can think of. If you work from a horse or trail ride frequently, sooner or later, you are going to have a need to mount from one specific side. When it happens, it probably won’t be an opportune time for training. Better to already have your horse accustom to you mounting from the right as well. I can’t count the number of times I had to get off on the side of a hill and get back on the horse. Hats that blew off, water bottles dropped, you can pretty much name the reason. You may not be able to safely turn your horse around on the side of the hill and you sure as the dickens don’t need to be trying to get aboard from the downhill side. Might get you hurt and downright inconvenient at best. Alright, more than you wanted to know, simple answer from us, use the side you like!

Rogers Co. Sheriff Certifies Pete & Jack: Level 1 MSAR

December 6, 2013

PeteThe Rogers Co. Sheriff Department has certified Pete and Jack, two of our AQHA quarter horses, for the mounted search and rescue “MSAR” patrol. Both received approval for Level 1 Certification, this means they are approved to be called for any situation at any time. There are three levels for horse certification in the department. Level 1 is the highest certification available and approves the horse for all situations. Level 2 means the horse is certified for limited operations and by approval in only limited situations. Level 3 is certification to attend training events, but no field operations. Level 3 is intended for horses that have potential, but need additional training before use in a real life event. There were a number of applicants that received no certification as the horses were not qualified for the program.

A separate certification is required for each volunteer to serve as a reserve officer for the MSAR operations. We are happy to announce Shawn McKibbin received his certification as a responder and serves on an “immediate” call basis. Shawn oversees the training program at Post Oak Ranch and spends a lot of his time teaching young horses the ropes. The crossover from the routine daily training to develop trustworthy trail horses to certified MSAR mounts is a natural one. Our horses must pass a number of internal tests for soundness, stamina, disposition, and ability, many of the same attributes required for search and rescue horses. We insist that our horses be “using horses” and “working animals” ready for a variety of activities including MSAR operations.

JackSome of you will no doubt recall Jack was used in a search and rescue operation during the first year in our training program and located a lost little boy. He has keen hearing and pays attention to his surroundings. The boy was heard by Jack over the noise of helicopters, 4-wheelers, and a full-scale search and rescue operation. He alerted Shawn who had been requested to assist by local law enforcement. When Jack became interested in something that could be neither seen nor heard with human senses, Shawn turned the direction of Jack’s focus to investigate further. The little boy was found a short while later resulting in some greatly relieved parents.

Congratulations to Shawn for qualifying the horses and himself! He will be a real asset to the Sheriff’s mounted patrol posse!

Equine Search and Rescue Units Need Trail Ride Experience

December 2, 2013

MontanaSearch and rescue volunteers need a lot of time on the trail to develop the skills for the job. In today’s world, horse training just like every other profession has become very specialized. People that show want someone who has an interest and the ability to train for the ring. Cutting horse trainers are expected to bring out those talents needed for the horse to be competitive; and so it goes. Every discipline demands that trainers spend nearly all their time working towards a few specific goals. Unfortunately, the end result are horses very good at a few select tasks and functionally illiterate for any other activity. Search and rescue operations requires riding in situations not always familiar to the specially trained horses from various disciplines.

If a dressage rider decides to volunteer to help search for a lost child, it only impairs the effort if the horse and rider are not ready for the environment. Brush, rocks, and wildlife may cause anxiety for a horse that spent the last five years in the show ring. Other specially trained and advanced horses may not be ready for the trail. Has the competition horse trained to run barrels ever crossed a creek? Has he crossed one with saddle bags banging his sides as his feet slip on the mossy rocks underneath? Is the combination of the slippery surface and the saddle bags beating his flanks going to end up with a wreck? It is far better to find out these types of things before an actual SAR is under way. These are the intangibles that just can’t be taught from a book or classroom setting.

Trail riding also works a horse and rider much differently than eventing, reining, or most other disciplines. In many equine activities, the horse is finished in an hour, two at most. Often there are breaks in between sessions and the horse can stand and regain some composure. Trail horses start early and work late. There’s not a five-minute competition that ends with them being led back to a stall. Trail horses figure out really fast that the day can be long so conserving energy is important. Don’t get us wrong, all disciplines and riders should be welcome to participate, we simply suggest some day long, or even weekend long rides will give some much-needed experience to volunteers who may not recognize how 10 hours in the saddle feels.This doesn’t mean a show horse or a rider from another discipline can’t be useful to search and rescue operations. It does mean they both need some “real-time” on the trail to develop the skills necessary.

Search and rescue members, (not just the horses) need time together on trail rides. Time together on the trails allows the search and rescue volunteers the opportunity to see how their fellow members handle situations with their horse. If asked to pair off with someone and ride a given area, the last thing we want to find is our team member on the ground because their horse acted up. If so, the unit is out of commission with a downed rider and most likely other units will be called away from the search to attend to the hurt volunteer.

Before heading off for a MSAR, we like to know the abilities, skills, nerves, and readiness of the people in the unit.  For instance, is the co-volunteer going to have his own water? Has he been “turned around” (lost) in the woods himself? Does he understand he might be leading his horse back to the trailer with some unexpected injury? Has he trail ridden enough to know that water for his horse isn’t always available? We’ve seen MSAR’s where water wasn’t there for the horses. It’s definitely not the preferred way to treat working horses in the hot sun. Trail riding is about as close to “search and rescue” as any activity you can engage using a horse to simulate and teach what will likely be encountered.

If you intend to participate in a MSAR group, make sure your team is familiar and ready for the task at hand. Not simply communications training and operational skills, but the challenges that come with riding in the brush for a couple of days at a time.