Monday, June 24, 2013

Cow Clinic - Lessons learned and other Post Clinic thoughts

3 days of horsemanship and working cows. It sounded like fun, it was local , and not too terribly expensive.  I did have a goal of getting Maggie exposed to cattle this year and this seemed like a good place to start. I did a little asking around about the trainer and reports back were , on a scale of 1-5 , about a 3 when it came to Horsemanship, trainer personality about a 2 but the word was he was pretty darn good with cows and teaching horses to work with cattle.  OK.. so he wasn't overly likeable.. but maybe I could learn something and if the horsemanship was bad,  there is no law to say I had to take this guy's training advice for the biblical truth.

A lot of the weekend is foggy because I took what I liked and left the rest behind. I will give the highlights day by day. Not sure what value it might bring to you anyone reading , but I will try to capture the good and the bad along with what I learned or maybe didn't learn.

Day 1- Meet and Greet. . I will refer the trainer as "D". D was a pleasant,  friendly man. The Facility definitely got 5 Stars..absolutely gorgeous . It was obvious that there was lot of money behind this guy and I felt very excited to get to use such a facility. I was pretty sure however, the money  didn't come from putting on horsemanship clinics. Nonetheless, everyone seemed pretty friendly and the atmosphere was laid back. There were about 10 clinic participants all together. We all gathered around D as he introduced himself that first morning. I was one of only a couple in the group that had never worked with this guy before. The rest were definitely part of his personal fan club. We sat on our horses and listened for what seemed like FOREVER, D talk about all the work he has done with his teacher Buck Brannaman, and basically , a lot of tooting his own horn... Maggie was falling asleep but finally when he was done doing that, we moved on to working through a few suppling/ lateral work exercise's.
Much of it was very similar or the same as what I have done before in clinics like this but he seemed to have his own unique approach.. definitely more of a "cowboy" edge to it.  But things seemed to be going relatively well. After a couple of hours, everyone was working on these exercise's on their own and he was walking his horse around, helping people. I walked over to him to ask him a question about something he had been having us do . I was a bit confused on what it was we should be looking for as a result. It was at this point I was told I was never going to be able to get lateral flexion in my horse  because of the shank bit in her mouth.  He went on to say that it was pinching her and agitating her.
I need to point out here that Maggie was not the picture of agitation of all. She was actually very quiet.
I was a little surprised at his response to the bit. I knew this crowd might find issue with the bit but I didnt' expect a full frontal attack  with chastising.
Not really off to a good start ...

He then went on to make an example of me of sorts.. he brought everyone's attention to the fact that I was using this bit and it was a bad choice. I may as well had had a flashing red beacon above my head.. blaring


Shank is a bad word in the world of natural horsemanship it seems.  You could almost hear the gasp when he said the  word.  He didn't even question me about my choices to use it, just assumed I was unenlightened and said I just didn't "know any better" .  Then he went into some long winded story about some other client of his that had a horse so messed up because he was using a shank bit "just like the one I was using". There it was again.. the verbal pointed finger.

Lucky for me I am fairly thick skinned.

Clearly , this crowd only believes in snaffles with a "MCCarty" rein. I think it's because of a gross misunderstanding of bits and how they work. Sadly, most of them have the hands of a monkey and no feel so maybe it's using a snaffle is the best thing. The trainer wasn't interested in hearing any reasons  about my choice of bit and  I could definitely see that if I tried to explain, he would argue. People were paying him to be the expert.. not me.. I wasn't interested in arguing and frankly, I have nothing to prove . Bottom line was that I was wrong, he was right.. end of story...

Ok , so now that  I had a pretty good idea of how it was going to be for the weekend..

Had he asked, I would have explained the type of bit I was using and the reasons why,  but he didn't . The type of bit I use is in fact a comfort snaffle with a roller and a copper inlay , tongue relief, and the shortest of shanks available , 5 inch.  It encourages salivation. used with rein chains, like I have, it provides a very clear path of communication without have to pull or hold or any of that. The bit is specifically designed so  it can't pinch. It works off three pressure points instead of 1 like the snaffle. It's a tool. What makes a bit bad is the hands behind it.. regardless of whether it's a snaffle, a shank, a curb, a Weymouth or even a hackamore.

After that little derailment, we spent the day working on lateral work..spinning circles, backing up and all that other typical stuff that happens at these sorts of horsemanship clinic. I won't say it wasn't all for none. Alot of it was the same stuff I have learned in numerous other clinics like this , (but with far better horseman and explanation /demonstration of it)  Nothing earth shattering was learned. 

At the end of the day,  D came over to me and actually said I did a nice job with my mare and that she didn't seem as bad as he expected.

Expected??  I could only assume he was referring to the bit but I took it as a bit of  a peace offering and let it be.

I was back at my trailer, brushing Maggie, and  getting ready to pack things up for the day when  I had a clinic participant come over and ask me if I needed to borrow a snaffle bit for the next day. The question dripping with condescension. This person then went on to try to explain why the snaffle was good and the shank was bad and basically sending the message that I was just too clueless to understand. I know that the intentions were good but by this point in the day, I had had about enough of the bit discussion so  I politely declined  their offer but took the opportunity to give little bit of education on the workings of the shank versus snaffle bit. I got a bit of glazed over look. No I am no expert but this is also  not my first rodeo.

I did finally get out of there without pissing anyone else off and was glad to be done for the day. On the positive side,  some of the exercise's he had use working on gave me some good reminders of the sticky spots I have in Maggie's lateral work so I did get some value out of the day.I might do a follow up post on that.

 So that was day one..

Day Two..

We practiced alot more of the same , working on a soft feel , backing , turning, and alot of time sitting there listening  to D toot his own horn..Man he likes to talk. I get bored easy so you can imagine this was like torture for me.  He talked and demonstrated on his horse what a supposed  proper soft feel and correct back was.   Right about this time, I really needed to stuff cotton in my mouth.

There is a difference between responsive and soft. His horse was responsive yes, (robotic like if you want the truth) but not soft or light. When he backed his horse up,  his horses front legs were stiff and drug lines in the sand. His soft feel  went as far as the horses poll and not clear through to the tail like it's supposed to. You could see the horse pushing the base of his neck down... that isn't a soft feel..

By now, day two, I really started to regret my decision to come to this thing but still trying to focus on the positive here...we would be bringing cows in for the afternoon session so there was hope. Afternoon could NOT come soon enough.  We had one more exercises that was really going to "shape our horses up"(supposedly)  for working the cows that D wanted to show us. It involved doing roll backs along the wall.

I have worked on that with Maggie but only at a walk , sometimes a trot.. I have never gotten too crazy with it because I think there are better ways to teach a horse to rock back and use their hind quarters. Like haunches in , leg yields and such. .He wanted us to do roll backs at canter. The idea was to canter the horse along the wall,  bring your inside leg back to ask the hind to step over, direct (not sure how much directing there was,I saw alot of jerking) the head around with the  inside rein, ask for them to turn or  roll back to the opposite direction, then  ask them to blast forward into a canter , rinse , repeat.

When it came to my turn I did it at a walk /trot.. Maggie started out not listening too well and not really  not stopping correctly with her butt underneath her .  Eventually we got there and while it wasn't pretty, as soon as I slowed it down to a walk , she improved. She was soft and listening and her head wasn't in the air.  I got two nice roll backs and quit .

Well , that was the wrong thing to do.  Apparently I was supposed to go faster and I should not have stopped when I did.

He asked me why I stopped and I told him that she gave me two  nice turns , rolled back and was quiet and soft so I thought that was a good place to reward her. What's the point in still going? Or going faster?  With her, don't I want to define success in smaller increments??? Get it good and leave it alone?? Right??

Wrong.. atleast in his world...Apparently it was also a mistake to question him.    I honestly don't remember the answer he gave specifically but  the jist of his message  was that if she wanted to get all uptight about it, then I should just increase the pressure, work her really fast back and forth along the wall and really get after her until she realized that she was not going to win...He went on to say that if it were his horse, he'd have his spurs into her clear through.

 Yikes.. ok, dude, any respect I might have had for you is quickly going out the door here...

I told him I wasn't willing to do that and he told me that I will never get her any better.. OK.. whatever..   I will take my chances on that one.

I think the message he was trying to get through but doing a really bad job at presenting it, ( and will likely get someone in trouble at some point) was basically that  when your horse braces or resists, which Maggie started out doing, that the rider needs to meet and or exceed the pressure that the horse is presenting  in order to make a mental change..  In a lot of cases I can see this working. I have even done this and in the right circumstance it works.. as long as you can keep things safe for everyone.

With Maggie, I have learned that hurry = worry . I can't approach things that way with her. It backfires every time..Going slowly is often the fastest way to get there. Small successes. It might take me longer but atleast my horse won't be all jacked up .. that is the last thing I need.

We brought the cows in for the afternoon and I learned a new term. Rodear. It is the Spanish term for rounding up cattle. We got them into the indoor arena since it was pouring outside. We took our turns each for cutting out a cow from the rodear and moving it around the outside of the Rodear. That was pretty cool.  Maggie was really tentative at first and then she really got into it . I had to back her off several times because she would get pissed and try to bite the cow to make it move. Needless to say, my turns and stops were not quite always prompt enough to keep the little heifer from rejoining  the rodear and I would have  to start over, pick another cow out and go. Ofcourse,  I was promptly reminded that if I had listened to him on the roll back exercise's instead of questioning him, I would be able to make those stops and turns better and the cow would not be able to get away from me.

 Seriously??? Let it go...There is no way I was going to get Maggie to be stopping and turning like a trained reined cow horse in one afternoon.  I had watched D with another clinic participants horse and he nearly flipped it over backwards and got the rider hurt taking a hold of the horses reins.

 and I am being harsh on my horse by using a shank bit???  serious disconnect here..

The Rodear work was enjoyable and in spite of his continued chastising, he did compliment me on some of the turns and stops I was getting on Maggie nonetheless. Maybe he sensed I was considering bagging out of the 3rd day and wanted to smooth things over a bit.. By the time 4 pm rolled around, everyone was just standing around on their horse listening to him tell more stories and more self aggrandizing. I couldn't spend the next hour listening to him philosophize any more that day. I politely excused myself, loaded up and went home where I promptly found a beer and chair on the back porch and tried to think about anything else about that day.

In trying to stay focused on the positive , Maggie got some exposure to cows , which was my goal to begin with.   I was getting concerted time with my horse to work on some things that I typically don't (but should) focus on s I was seeing some definite holes that were probably the reason for some of the other issues I was having with her.

Nonetheless, I wasn't sure I could go back for a third day of dealing with this guy.

More to come...(this post has been long enough and I need to go ride!)



Cricket said...

I wonder why so many trainers get locked into the mindset that there is only one way. I hate cowboy trainers. Hate them. I don't want to define my relationship with my horse in such rigid terms and I think this whole idea of a horse disrespecting the rider/owner has become blown out of porportion. Part of the joy and delight of training and working with your animal is the ability to define those things between the two of you and what works is what works. It, by definition, can't all look the same, since each rider and each horse is an individual. IMO.

Unknown said...

New to the blog, but I'm interested in seeing how this turns out. It seems to me that anytime a trainer spends a lot of time talking about himself, it is a big red flag right there! I also agree with what Karen said, every horse is different. Even within my own herd, what works on one, will not work on another.

Anonymous said...

Hi. this is Connie Rubens. I am always leery of cowboy trainers. Last fall I took my horse to a 2 day horsemanship clinic. I enjoyed it. It has been over two decades since I had any 'lessons' and I did learn and try some new and good things, however, this cowboy and a lot of the participates were snaffle and Mccarthy rein too. He also told me that I had the wrong bit. He did not completely know my own previous training experience on my horse, that I had been riding my horse two years with a sidepull (and my horse learned/knows voice and leg ques) and that summer I had tried a snaffle which he constantly flipped under his tongue. So I went for my favorite bit type--a roller, loose-shanked bit, much what you have described, Jonna. My horse has been more comfortable with it. I also train/ride for small successes, especially for sensitive or former abused horses, but it seems definitely a cowboy thing to push or aggravate for more.

Jonna said...

@ Karen- That's an interesting point Karen. I have gotten the same sense . There does seem to be an overwhelming focus on this. I think what happens is a lot of the "intent" is lost in translation. Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt didn't send the kind of message that is being conveyed in some cases out there.
@ Cindy- Hi Cindy- thanks for reading . It was definitely a red flag and it is so true that each horse is an individual. Our little remuda of 5 are all so very different. Stay tuned for day three (oops spoiler alert, yes I went back!)
Hi Connie-Nice seeing you reading up on my blog. Thanks for coming by. He is supposed to be of the Buck Brannaman ways. Buck is one hell of a horseman, but once again, things get lost in translation. So many times, these folks got and attend clinic after clinic and then think, well, I can do what he's doing.. but in reality they can't.. They don't have what I think is a bit of a gift. They just take the words and , buy the clothes and try to mimic what they saw but it doesn't always work out. I think that is what happened here.