Introduction to “From The Horse’s Mouth (Walking a mile in your horse’s shoes)”


Everyone is always looking for that “magic bullet” to take care of all of the problems they have with their horses. The problem is, there is no silver bullet. After working with thousands of horses over the decades, three things have become clear.

First every horse is an individual, and second, every horse is a product of its past. Third, two horses can have a nearly identical past, yet hold opposite lessons from it. The best analogy I can come up with to describe this is two children raised by an alcoholic parent. One may grow up to repeat the life of it’s alcoholic parent, getting drunk, beating the kids and kicking the dog, while the other grows up to abhor alcohol and cannot raise a hand to their child under any circumstance.

This individuality makes working with each horse unique. Developing a relationship with horses is much like developing relationships with people. One may be willing, open, and easy to work with. The next may be like dealing a past full of abuse who is suspicious, angry and looking for an opportunity to lash out. Yet another may have a past of injuries which cause problems due to pain or vision loss which cause adverse reactions to what we are asking of it.

This brings to light the difficulty of describing just how to relate to your horse(s). Bill and Tom Dorrance started a revolution in training horses by using methods which allow your horses to relate to you in a way which they can understand. However many people have a hard time understanding the philosophy, and also the mechanics behind things like timing, balance, and feel. Then are is also the misconceptions we naturally believe. First, we must realize that we are NOT
teaching the horse to do things. Keep a horse penned up in a stall with no exercise for a couple of weeks and turn it out in the arena. Chances are it is going to run hard, stop hard, and roll back over it’s hindquarters and run off again. It will run in circles, changing direction and leads on its own. Watch horses in a pasture, they may back up a couple of
steps, or even step sideways a couple of steps to give another horse higher on the pecking order a little more space. Horses that are in a pasture with cattle will chase them around or even get one in a pasture corner and just hold them there (like a cutting horse) just for fun. This brings us to the realization that (rather than teaching the horse) we are learning how to communicate to the horse when we want to do something so that the horse will do it. Secondly we must realize that every time we are handling a horse, we are training it. We are either doing things in a manner which allows the horse to communicate easier, and be more willing, or; doing things which keeps the horse at the level it is at, or;
we are doing things to make our horses resent us and become less willing to be our partner.

Between the vast differences between horses and their issues, and the vast differences people have in learning, writing a how to book on relating to, and training horses would seem to be a futile effort. It would be much simpler if the horses could just tell us with their own voice.

The goal of From The Horse’s Mouth is to let the reader walk a mile (or two) in the horseshoes of of their equine friends. Let them walk in the shoes of horses to learn why the problem lies not in the horse, but in their own deafness to what the horse may be telling them.

From The Horse’s Mouth will be available in November from AmazonCover of From The Horse's Mouth

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Chief


Front cover of *From the Horse's Mouth^When I first met No Legs, I was working in a dude string. He would show up once a week and replace the shoes on those of us who needed it. He liked me right off the bat because I was not only gentle to shoe, but because I would never lean on him while he was shoeing me.
After I had been there a few months a couple of two leggers showed up looking for a horse. Being I was a dark bay with blanket as white as new fallen snow, with sorrel spots I stuck out like a diamond in a coal mine. After a few text rides they bought me and took me home.
Things went really well for a few months. The two legger who rode me was an FBI agent so he would sometimes be gone for a few weeks between rides. This was a heck of a lot easier than working in that dude string. I didn’t want to wind up back there so I took really good care of him.
Then one windy spring day he decided to saddle me up and go for a ride with his wife. We were almost home when a big blue tarp came out of a dry irrigation ditch. It wrapped around my legs and part of it flew over the top of me. It was then I sensed my two legger was afraid. He was also swinging his arms back and forth trying to get the tarp off his head. As a result, he puled me off balance and I stepped off the edge of the ditch. After rolling several times I was at the bottom of the ditch while my two legger was lying half way up the ditch. Being a little spooked about the whole thing (especially as my two legger was hollering and screaming at me) I ran home.
He didn’t try riding me for a few days. When he started to get on me, I sensed that he was nervous about something. Every time we rode past anything that might blow in the air or might move if I stepped on it, he would tense up. I didn’t know why he was so tense and nervous, but if he was, then I needed to be on the lookout as well! Within a few weeks he was so nervous I was ready to jump out of my skin every time he took me for a ride. Then came the day when I actually did step on a stick. He was so scared his whole body jumped in the saddle. Of course his fear went through me so I jumped as well
with my two legger falling to the ground.
This time I just stood there, but rather than get on me, he led me home. The next day I was loaded into the trailer. To my surprise, rather than being returned to the dude string, to taken to a sale barn, I was unloaded at a training stables. Adding to my surprise, No Legs came out to get me.
As soon as my two legger left, No Legs saddled me up and took me to the arena. I didn’t sense any fear from him so I just stood perfectly still when he got on my back. He walked me a bit, then started trotting me. It was nice to be able to relax for a change rather than being tensed up and wondering what my two legger was so afraid of.
After a couple of times around the arena, He called out to a two legger to get a towel and throw it to him as we went by. No Legs was still relaxed so I had no reason to be afraid as the towel was thrown to him. I kept going straight as he swung the towel around my head, and even drug it across the top of my head. Next he took me out for a ride on the trails and even along a road. I never took a wrong step. It was such a relief to not be constantly worrying about why my rider was filled with so much fear.
That evening my two legger showed up with his saddle. He was telling No Legs how surprised he was that he was able to “fix” me in such short order.
My two legger was nervous as he saddle me up. As he started to mount me, he was so scared he was shaking, so I was fidgety as well and stepped away from him.
At that time No Legs suggested that he ride me first. No Legs didn’t get his moniker from being long legged. The stirrups were set about six inches too long for him so he was wallering around all over the place trying to get his leg over the top of the saddle. Of course he wasn’t worried about anything so I just stood there perfectly still.
Once on top of me he told my two legger to throw me the towel he had placed on the fence. My two legger immediately refused, claiming he didn’t want to get No Legs “bucked off.” After arguing about it for a couple of minutes, he called out the two legger who had thrown him the towel that morning. No Legs started trotting in circles and playing towel catch with the two legger.
After No Legs explained to my two legger that I was acting the way I was because HE was being afraid he began thinking about it. No Legs got him on top of me and started playing towel catch. Within a few minutes my two legger was relaxed, and so was I.
It had been impossible for me to relax when My two legger was so worried about me spooking. I had no idea what he was worried about, but as soon as he quit worrying and started relaxing, it was sure nice to be able to be able to relax and enjoy the trails again!

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Ahab


My start in life was great. My owners imprinted me at birth. By the time I was four months old I was getting my feet trimmed, wormed and vaccinated with no problem. I enjoyed being around people and doing things with them. Then at three years old I was sent out to be started under saddle.
The person to saddle me the first time was nice, but, as they say, “young and dumb.” As I was gentle, they just threw the saddle on me and cinched it up tight without preparing me for the pressure. When I started to walk out the pressure from the cinch startled me and I began to buck, and eventually fell over backwards. I felt something in my withers but did not have any way to tell anyone about it. After ten days of cinching me up tight and having me buck, this young two legger told my owner that I was “too rank to ride.”
My owner took me to No Legs and explained the situation as she saw it. He started out slow, doing his ground work and thought I was a pretty responsive and willing horse. He even put a rope around my girth and had me leading by that rope. When he saddled me, he didn’t cinch it too tight, and I was comfortable enough to work without pain.
Then came the day for my first ride under him. We walked around the round corral a few times in each direction with no problem. Then we started trotting. I was a little uncomfortable, but not too bad.
Then a sack blew up against the side of the round corral and I started to shy away from it. That is when the pain hit, and I started to buck, and buck hard! After several wild trips around the pen I lost my balance and fell on my belly and laid there. After a couple of minutes of sitting on me and waiting for me to get up, No Legs stepped off of me. With his weight off of me, I stood up.
Now he put together the fact that my bucking started when the sack had blown up against the round corral. He had now way of knowing that it wasn’t the sack that made me start bucking, but the pain in my withers from flinching at the sack. All he could think was that I needed more sacking out.
He not only sacked me out in the round corral, but tied garbage bags and tin cans on my saddle and ponied me for hours in the desert off of Storms. Every once in awhile I would feel the pinch and go to bucking. It just didn’t make any sense to either No Legs or my two legger. After several weeks I wasn’t bucking quite as hard. In fact I learned to just stop when it hurt. That was a new problem to solve, but No Legs figured I was safe enough to ride.
Now while No Legs was trying to get me safe to ride, my two legger was researching trying to find a reason for my behavior. After all, I was a gentle horse who liked two leggers. There had to be a reason for what I was doing.
Then came the day of our defining wreck. We were heading across the desert at a trot when suddenly I stopped and picked my head up to look at some mustangs in the desert. No Legs just sat there still, expecting me to start bucking, but hoping I’d relax. Instead I threw myself down on my side. The first thing to hit was his shoulder, then his head. After sliding on top of him a couple of feet I got up and ran home.
Luckily one of the neighbors happened to see the wreck and drove over to give No Legs a ride home. When he caught me, he noticed my eyes were bulging out like that two legger Rodney Dangerfield. He had never seen that in a horse, and it was his first clue I had something physically wrong. I was making progress and learning, there just was no telling when the pain would strike, forcing me to buck or throw myself down.
About the time No Legs was completing the last week of his contract to ride me, my two legger discovered I probably had a pinched nerve in my withers from the first time I went over backwards. After taking me home, I was given two chiropractic/acupuncture treatments and my problem was solved. I was given to a young female two legger who loves to endurance ride. Three months after being given my treatments I finished the Tevis cup in the top twenty. If anyone would have been able to properly diagnose me at the start, both No Legs and myself would have had an easier time of things.

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Gertrude


The only problem I really had was my two legger. He had absolutely no sense of timing, balance feel or focus. As a result I had no clue as to what he wanted. This was especially true when he wanted me to stop as he kept leaning forward telling me to go faster. He also kept leaning to the side and falling off.
Then one day he and his wife decided to go to a clinic on speed control and stopping. What a mess. He couldn’t get me to go into a trot without falling off, let alone go into a lope and stop. At the end of the clinic they talked to No Legs about taking lessons on a family plan.
A few days later they loaded the kids and all of us horses into the trailer and headed over to No Legs for their first lesson. He already had Storms saddled and warmed up. Just a few minutes into this first lesson he stopped everything and had my two legger take my saddle and bridal off, put my halter on and get on me bareback.
Needless to say my two legger didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. No Legs told him that he needed to develop balance to stay on top, and that he needed to be able to feel what I was doing in order to do that.
As No Legs led me off at a walk, he told my two legger to close his eyes and tell him when my right front foot was leaving the ground. At first he did let my two legger hold onto my mane for security. After several weeks of lessons (and practicing at home) my two legger could finally feel what my feet were doing at a walk. Next we practiced at a trot. By the time my two legger could feel where my feet were at a trot, he also had the balance to stay in the middle of me without falling forward or sliding off the side of me.
Next we started working on getting my two legger to balance himself in a way that actually communicated to me what he was wanting me to do. No Legs really concentrated on teaching my two legger to to get me to relax and give to pressure which was something I hadn’t really learned.
The whole goal to these lessons were to get the family, especially my two legger, confident enough in their riding so that they could take us on camping trips into the desert. After several months of twice a week lessons, No Legs began meeting us in the desert to conduct the lessons in the environment they wanted to ride in.
On the last ride we took with No Legs my two legger was confident enough in himself and me that he put the reins on my neck so he could light a cigarette. We were just coming to the bottom of a fairly steep hill at the time. I stumbled and dropped my head then started trotting off. The reins had dropped over my head, but my two legger had gained enough balance and focus that he didn’t panic. He simply said “whoa, reached down, grabbed both sides of my breast collar, and pulled up on it. Since we had been working together on the giving to pressure, and he remained balanced, I simply stopped.
Since then we have spent many enjoyable weekends exploring the desert, and he hasn’t fallen off since.

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Flipper


I began as a broodmare prospect on a Nevada ranch. That way of life ended at the age of four when it was determined I was physically unable to become pregnant. It was then the two leggers decided to salvage me as a saddle horse. I was dubbed with the moniker “Flipper” by the first two legger who saddled me when I flipped over and broke his saddle. After I did the same thing to the second two legger’s saddle, I was turned back out to pasture. I thought I showed them I wasn’t to be messed with, and that they had learned their lesson.
A month later I was brought back into the pens and introduced to yet another two legger. Rather than just saddle me up as the other two leggers had done, this one started flipping a rope at me. I wasn’t going to stand for any of this two legger nonsense. I tried running off, but the pen was too small, so I couldn’t get away. This two legger didn’t get excited and just kept following me around and flipping the rope out at me. It didn’t hit me every time he flipped it at me, and when it did, it didn’t hurt. After a few minutes I decided to stop and face him, and when I did, he quit flipping it, and stood there talking to me.
When he started to walk towards me I moved away and here came that flipping rope again. The two legger didn’t seem excited or angry, he just kept moving towards me and flipping the rope at me, and sometimes across my body. It didn’t hurt, so after a bit, I stopped again and faced him to see what he wanted.
This time when he came up to me, most of my fear of him was gone and I was beginning to be curious about what he wanted. When I let him walk up to me, all he seemed to want to do is scratch my neck and pet me.
Next he started rubbing me with the rope and sort of absentminded like flipping it over my body and dragging it off. This was a big difference from the other two leggers. All they had done was rope me, fight with me to tie me up to a big post and saddle me up. So far this one hadn’t mad a move to force me into anything.
He moved back once more and started flipping the rope at my hindquarters and moved at me in a sort of aggressive manner that told me I should move out, which I did. A couple of different times, he flipped the rope in front of me and moved at my head, so I turned around and went the other direction. He was really getting my curiosity going. Nothing he did was hurting me, but he was sure getting my attention to move in the direction he seemed to want.
Once again he stood still, so I stopped and faced him…Just what did he want?
This time he picked up a halter and lead rope and started to walk around me rather than up to me. Not wanting to lose sight of him I turned to I could keep facing him. When he changed direction, I changed with him. Then he walked up to me and began scratching me again, and flipping the lead rope over my body and neck. Then he flipped the rope over my neck, and rather than pulling it off, began walking around me again. Still curious (and not wanting him to chase me again) I followed him a few steps. He stopped and began scratching my neck and head, while talking to me. I didn’t really know what was going on, but whatever was happening seemed to be making this two legger happy, which somehow made me feel at ease.
Once again he moved me out, and had me change directions a few times. I was beginning to enjoy this. When he took the pressure off of me this time, I faced him and took a couple of stets towards him. After rubbing my neck, face and head a few minutes he put the halter on me.
When he put a little bit of pressure on the lead rope I panicked and ran backwards. Rather than trying to hold me, the two legger began chasing me backwards and working the rope in a way I couldn’t get turned around to run off. Through all of this the two legger remained calm. After a few seconds he stopped chasing me backwards, and I stopped.
After rubbing me a few seconds, he started to walk around me, once again putting a little pressure on the rope. I went to backing up again, but not as fast as the first time. Sure enough he started chasing me backwards again. This time I decided to stop on my own. What was the point of running from him? He wasn’t doing anything to hurt me and there was nothing in his attitude to make me afraid.
This time when he started to walk around me, and put a little pressure on the lead rope, I took a couple of steps forward. He stopped to rub my neck and face again. From the tone of his voice, it sure seemed like he was happy with me. Within a few more minutes I figured out that when there was pressure on the lead, all I had to do was step forward and the pressure went away. All I had to do was follow this two legger and there was no pressure.
Next he started flipping the longer rope over me again. I was used to this so I just stood there. Then he flipped it around my body and grabbed the end. Running the end through the hondo, he pulled it tight around my girth.
Instantly I began to rear up, but before I got all the way up, the pressure disappeared. Once again the two legger let me relax and scratched my neck a bit. He pulled the rope around my girth tight and once again when I started to rear, the pressure disappeared, and I came back to the ground. As soon as I was on the ground, he tightened the rope again, then released it as soon as I started up. Within a few minutes of this, I realized the pressure was not hurting me, so I quit trying to rear up. Sure enough, he went to rubbing and scratching my neck again.
He kept adding more pressure and releasing it until my reaction was to step into the pressure rather than try to pull away from it. Next he did the same thing on my feet. Once I gave to the pressure on my feet, he once again applied pressure to my girth. When I gave to the pressure, he rubbed and scratched my neck, then let me go back to my pen.
The next day we repeated all of this. This time I just gave to the pressure rather than fight it. As I was not fighting the pressure, he put his saddle on me and tightened it up, but not real tight. After leading me around a bit to get used to the constant pressure while walking, he tightened it up a little more. By this time I was used to the pressure and was relaxed. In fact I was curious to find out what this two legger would want to do next. Within a few days he was riding me out in the pastures, and to my surprise, I was actually enjoying it!

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Bureau of Lost Minds


AS ANY RANCHER or cowboy who has had much contact with the Bureau of Land Management can tell you, the initials BLM are actually a top-secret government code for Bureau of Lost Minds. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Just look at the way they conduct their affairs.
In New Mexico the BLM has undertaken a “Wilderness Study” to determine if a certain area should be proclaimed a wilderness. Not only is the area littered with beer cans, it includes numerous abandoned homesteads and sheep camps plus a section which was
used during the second world war as a practice bombing range. There are abundant deer and elk within the area, even though a government big game specialist who was counting them told me that there were so few deer that he hadn’t seen one in six weeks. I was puzzled because I would see as many as twenty at once. These deer and elk had plenty of water to drink since local ranchers
had put in hundreds of miles of water line and built hundreds of dams to catch runoff from the snow. I guess man made ponds, wells, waterlines, and bomb craters are commonly found in pristine wilderness areas.

Then there is the method by which the BLM hires its qualified help. I nearly applied for a job as a wild horse wrangler for the BLM, but I had some serious thinking to do when I started filling out the application, as it was actually a multiple-choice test. “Do you have a name : YES______ NO______ MAYBE______.”

It was just like the test all cowboys take to graduate from high school, designed to be fail-proof so that your teachers never have to look at you again. Well, maybe your name wasn’t part of the test, but they sure hadsome strange questions as well as possible answers:
1) Can you saddle a horse?
A) I can accomplish this task with little or no difficulty.
B) With some difficulty I can accomplish this task.
C) I cannot accomplish this task.
D) With close supervision I could possibly complete
this task.
E) I am considered a journeyman in this area, and
people often ask me for advice in this matter.

That is an actual question from the application along with the choices for answers. Aside from the fact that I
have never been anyplace where a cowboy didn’t know how to saddle a horse, the BLM left out the most important answer: “F) Depends on the horse.” I had actually started completing this application in a serious manner, but then I came to the trick questions.
“Can you use and maintain a screwdriver?” Well,
one or two.

“Can you sleep outdoors in a tent?” Only if I use and
maintain too many screwdrivers during the day and
fall asleep with my feet sticking out.

Were they looking for cowboys or wood carvers? (I have always found screwdrivers make excellent wood chisels.) By this time I was really wondering what kind of gunsels you would wind up working with. Would you really have guys asking you which end of the
screwdriver to use and inquiring as to which end of the saddle was the front? I knew that most BLM wranglers worked in pairs, but there was one in our neck of the woods that seemed to work alone, so I went to him for enlightenment. His tale was enough to make me quit before I started.

“My last partner was supposedly a hot-shot roper from down in Fallon, Nevada. He got the job because of the extra points he accumulated on the application for being newly discharged from the army. On our first day together we had to rope a stud and bring him in, and I decided to let my partner do the ropin’. Well, he caught the old stud on his third loop and pitched his slack as his horse slid to stop and started working the rope. Turned out the kid had never roped anything but calves in an arena, and
neither had his horse. That old horse was a good calf horse and doing his best to handle that stud, but the kid was sure in a panic. His eyes were as big as dinner plates and he was struggling just to stay on his horse while trying to get shuck of the stud, which was trying to run up the rope at him. I rode up and managed to get his rope off’n his horn and was trying to get up enough slack to catch my dallies, when the kid hollered at me to
remember to keep my thumb up when I dallied!

“When we got back in that night, I told the boss I wasn’t working with that kid any more and not to bother sending anyone else because I wouldn’t work with them either. I’ve been working alone ever since, and it been just over two years.”

I went home to think of what this old boy had said and of how the BLM seemed to define quality help. I built me a fire, starting it with the application, used and maintained a few screwdrivers, and fell asleep with my feet outside the tent.

This story is an excerpt from my book Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat & hornflies) available on Amazon.

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Cowboy Style Change and Hope


Politicians who run on a platform of hope and change don’t realize that hope never put beans in the pot, or that change is not always for the better. This past week is a great example of that as well as how much of a roller coaster ride working as a cowboy can be. At 9PM Sunday night I was contacted by a local ranch to work am eight-day stretch branding calves. Tuesday morning I loaded the horses and headed out to the ranch.

By 10:00 we had the calves sorted off and started branding in a 30 mph wind. The colt I was roping off of is broke well enough that I can ride him with only a light rope around his neck. Dragging calves to the fire is the only ranch work this colt had not done. He is good enough, and so calm about everything, someone is always wanting to buy him. I heeled the first calf and he acted like he had been doing it for years…The second calf was a bit different.

With the wind blowing so hard the loop didn’t travel and was just hanging on his hips. No big deal, just adjust the horse and have the calf back up into the loop. About that time, a gust of wind came up, hard enough to blow the rope up into the air as the calf turned around and managed to get the loop halfway down his body, as another calf tripped over the rope and pulled it down too tight for him to walk through it. I knew that under the conditions, this was over the colt’s head, so I stepped off to try and take the rope off, but the manager hollered out to bring him. I stepped back on and that is where the “change” began.

A gust of wind blew up a cloud of dust which recuced vision to zero and the calf ran around the colt who decided to try his hand at being fast. My first reaction was to flip the rope around to the other side, but between the wind and a bad shoulder, that didn’t happen. Concentrating on getting rid of my rope without getting tangled up, or having coils on the ground for someone else to get tangled up in, I lost focus of where I was at for the next three bounds. That is until I knew I was not going to stay with the turn at the end of the pen.

As I saw the two-inch pipe making the top rail of the fence, I thought “No problem, I’ll just flip over the fence.” However rather than going over the rail, I tested its structural integrity with my ribs. As I was lying on the ground breathing like a cow dying of pneumonia, the manager asked if I was OK, to which I replied “No, but I will be, how’s the fence?”

A few minutes later I was back to vaccinating calves. I decided not to work on Wednesday as I couldn’t get my truck in gear to drive back out. Thursday I managed to get saddled up to help gather. Now usually getting horseback has always made me feel better no matter how bad I feel. However this was not the case, but I made it through another day.

Friday, we were to gather a fairly decent sized pasture of around eight sections. Once again on the gentle colt, the cattle scattered. Going at a long trot the colt stumbled, and that was when I discovered what real pain is. Real pain is when it is so sharp that you pee your pants. Not much, but you just lose control of your bodily functions. Now I had been hoping to make it through the next four days of the works, but that was when I changed my mind and decided that this would be my last day of this works.

On the way home, my situation changed once again. Halfway home my steering suddenly became stiff. I pulled over to discover that the bracket holding the smog pump on had broken. Crawling under the truck I managed to untangle the fan belt and salvage it. After bracing myself mentally and several tries, I managed to get out from underneath the truck, and in a few more minutes was actually standing up. The rest of the way home was made in stages. When the truck started getting too warm, I would kick it out of gear, turn it off and coast as far as I could, then sit there and wait for the engine to cool down.

My first stop in town, before dropping off the horses, was at Napa, hoping to buy a new bracket. That hope changed to hoping I can find a used bracket in town as Ford no longer makes that part for 1995 pickups. I also have a new hope, that my book sales drastically pick up over the next couple of months so we can keep one nostril above the financial seas of inequity. If you like reading true things about life as a modern-day cowboy, and also like to laugh, you can do so (while helping a broken down old cowboy at the same time) by going to the Texas Crossroads Gathering website’s Agritainers Sales page and buying my books. It will also help the cause of the gathering as 4% of the sale goes to Crossroads. I thank you for your support!

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