"Take the Time it Takes and it Takes Less Time." This is the adage I have heard many a time from Jim Montgomery training horses in Veyo, Utah, and it has become a large part of my understanding of making a good horse. Unfortunately, as has been the case for millennia, we are always in a hurry to move on to the next thing and tend to be just as ancy as any hot-blooded barrel horse ever was.
As with so many areas of life, having a finished horse is a matter of years of preparation; not a matter of a week-long tuneup just before the horse is needed. Moreover, due to the number of clinicians and competitions out there that promote horsemanship in terms of how far a colt can be brought along in only two or three days, I believe much of the general public has the wrong idea about what colt starting, as well as the rest of a horse's training, really looks like. Moreover, starting a colt successfully requires more than two or three sessions, and these are just a few reasons for why.
1. As far as I am concerned, a horse learns more through consistent daily training, even if it is only 20 minutes-45 minutes a day, than through a long, 3 day event. This is also true of our own learning process as humans.
For example, if you were to spend a 12 hour period doing nothing but learning to play piano, you would indeed learn much more in that day than the person who only spent twenty minutes. However, such a level of commitment to piano playing is, for the vast majority, an unsustainable amount of time. Meaning, it will likely be a few weeks before you have the time and motivation required to repeat such a long session, by which time you will have forgotten nearly everything you had learned. Not only so, but even during that twelve hour session, there will be a certain point (likely no more than two or three hours in) wherein your learning ability rapidly begins to diminish. Meanwhile, if you had spent only half an hour per day, six days per week, you will have put in twelve high quality hours of practice in only two weeks; and being more highly motivated due to the lesson times being more manageable, you will likely have put in a few extra hours on top of that just because you felt like it. Over the long run (and really not even very long) it is the consistent player who will vastly outperform the sporadic player.
It is just the same with a colt's mind. He can only engage at a high level of learning for about twenty to forty-five minutes. After that, you are greatly put to a point of diminishing returns in your training efforts. You can take longer rides on a trail and you can work fairly long periods gathering cattle, but as far as actual training is concerned the colt will learn much better, will be much happier, will have far greater confidence, and will even learn faster over the long run, than the colt who was rushed through the gauntlet.
Another thing to keep in mind is the colt's bodily condition. Training on a young colt for hour on end is something for which colts are not built. Naturally, they can travel, unsaddled, for many a prairie mile along with the herd; but training is a horse of a different color. We are typically asking them to remain soft and light as we train them to respond to our cues by easily moving their hips, shoulders, barrel, and all while remaining light in the face. You likely won't keep a colt light for hour upon hour. Not only are their minds unprepared for such mental exertion; but their muscles are not yet properly conditioned either. Rather than using a piano lesson as an analogy, you can liken this to yourself doing stretching exercises. Only so many per day are beneficial- there is a point at which working out and stretching can actually become detrimental to your well being.
2. There is a vast difference between a colt's being comfortable with a trainer like Nick Dowers, Stacy Westfall, or Martin Black, and his being comfortable with an average rider on his back. There are myriad ways in which these trainers are able to communicate to their colts through timing and feel, which is itself only attained through thousands of hours, not only on horseback, but on horseback while training and learning from other great horsemen and women. Such horsemen are able to stop many a storm from occurring long before the horse even has the idea of blowing up or reacting, simply because once you have started so many thousands of horses, you get a very good sense of how things are going to happen and, with that sort of a sixth sense, you can gently reassure your colt or propel him forward at just the right time without having to give it any direct thought. It becomes as natural to you as speaking your first language. The rider who has only started a hundred colts or less, is not possibly going to have such timing and feel, and will soon find himself in several awful predicaments which, while they may or may not injure himself or his colt, they will certainly be a setback to the colt's training to some degree. In the case of an average rider getting on a colt with just a few days' riding on him, it is pretty likely that he will do something to get hurt, regardless of how great the colt was going through an obstacle horse with a top hand in the saddle.
3. These clinics and competitions are bringing the trainer tens of thousands of dollars (or at least have the potential to if they win) over the course of three days. Trainers are able to dedicate themselves wholly in such events to just one or two horses, without having to worry about training any other horses and without having to do any other form or ranch work. They can afford to do this because they will be so highly compensated with money as well as some amount of connections and prestige. However, even if the three day event-style of training was a great all-around method for colt starting, it would require that the owner be willing to part with several thousand dollars for the trainer to focus solely on one horse for those three days. The trainer would need such pay because he is only riding that one horse rather than the dozen or perhaps twenty or thirty head that he would normally be working with the help of his assistants to saddle, unsaddle, lope, and generally care for.
In summary, such events are good for what they are good for- showcasing the ability of a trainer amd a colt in an entertaining fashion in order to maintain general public interest in horsemanship. When it comes to real life at the ranch or the training facility, however, you should expect to find quite a different way of doing things.
For a short time of my life, I was riding saddlebroncs at small little rodeos such as the nightly summer rodeo in Bryce Canyon at Ruby's Inn. Even though it was a very small rodeo, the Wrights would ride there as well as a form of practice, so there were some surprisingly good broncs as well as riders at that time (around 2013). With good broncs and riders, there was also plenty of good advice around if one was willing to ask for it, which most of us were. The advice I remember best are these two pieces of advice, and both of them serve me today just as well in the cowhorse industry, and I would say that they are true in every skillset.
1. You need a Coach.
All the great bronc riders are helped by a good coach. You need someone with a knowledgeable, watchful eye to tell you what you are doing and how you can improve. While you are in the saddle, it is simply impossible to know exactly what your body, as well as the horse's body, is doing. Things are simply moving too fast. Thus, you may believe with all your heart that you are lifting the rein, when in fact you are pulling. Or you may feel like you are marking out well with your feet, even though you are really far behind the shoulder; and there are hundreds of such variables that you will not be able to recognize on your own.
A good coach, however, is able to observe from a still point and at a perfect distance and is therefore able to tell you exactly where you went wrong and what you need to work on in order to improve. Being in the saddle is similar to being lost in the middle of a thickly wooded area, and the coach is like a man up in a hot air balloon. Rather than belittling the advice of the balloon man, the man on the ground would do well to heed his directions, otherwise he may end up lost in the woods for the rest of his life.
With making a good bridle horse and becoming a fine horseman, there are also thousands of variables that you will invariably overlook if you do not have sound, frequent help from a coach who has gone where you are trying to go and has trained the kind of horses you want to train.
2. You Need to Emulate a Winner
In my case, I was told to purchase the video, 'Born to Ride: Cody Wright and the Quest for a World Title.' The video is a documentary about Cody Wright, and his success as one of the world's greatest saddlebronc riders of all time. (Today his sons have the same distinction.) I was told to watch Cody Wright ride broncs over and over again, in slow motion and at regular speed, focusing one time on just his foot, another time on just his leg, and so on. When I was to practice riding broncs in any capacity, I was to picture exactly, down to minute detail, what Cody Wright does and mimic it- right down to his very facial expressions.
I'll admit, when I am training horses I do not go quite so far as to mimic any particular horseman's facial expressions- but the main point of that advice remains sound. You need to watch, in close detail, what the successful trainers are doing and emulate them as much as possible. I would even say that, at the beginning, the best thing you can do with ride primarily with just one or two horsemen and soak up everything you can from them until your method of training horses is exactly the same as theirs.
The title of this article is "Individuality in Horsemanship", so you may be asking yourself why I am advocating that you become a mere clone.
First, even if you are so closely mimicking another horseman, you will still develop your own unique style without even thinking about it. You do not need to put forth effort into coming up with a unique style- when it happens well, it happens naturally.
Second, so closely mimicking a successful horseman is simply a method that allows you to advance in your skills without having to go through years of trial and error. You already know that what you are doing works because it is exactly what -insert successful horseman name here- does and he has time and again proven that it it works. After several years, however, you will have naturally grown your knowledge base and your skillset to a point where you can easily recognize good and bad horsemanship and you will be able to pull your information from a wide variety of horseman across every field of discipline. You will also, at that point, be able to formulate your own ideas and methods that best suit your exact personality and circumstances.
In fine, I advocate both. First become as much of a clone as you can until you really know what you are doing; but once you have reached a certain point make sure you are not afraid to branch out and do what makes the most sense to you in your own program.
We start a lot of colts here at Rising K Ranch. After they have learned enough in the round pen, I take them out on a trail ride with a little company from my wranglers and assistants. At a few points, or at least at some point, the colt is sure to spook at something, whether that be a log, a branch brushing up against them, or one particular boulder out there that every coly so far mistakes for a bear.
Everyone who rides horses very long end up dealing with a spooked horse at least to some degree. While there are several methods out there that can work for getting a horse used to obstacles and objects and noises, my method is simply to ignore it and move on. In the case of the scary boulder, for example, I very well could spend fifteen or twenty minutes riding my horse in large circles around the boulder, gradually making my circles smaller, or I could work on other things like hip and shoulder control at a certain distance from the boulder and gradually get closer until he doesn't even pay the boulder any heed. I have done all these things before and they do work. However, I have also found that if you simply ride the horse every day and constantly expose him to new things, you really don't have to spend any dedicated time towards such desensitization, as the horse will naturally learn to trust you anyway.
Therefore, if I am in an arena and the horse is afraid of one certain side or of something just outside, I do not focus on the frightening place and attempt to desensitize the horse. Rather, I simply continue to look ahead where I want the horse to go and continue working on whatever particular thing we might already be working on (loping circles, counterarcs, etc.) Even if the horse does shy away and makes it impossible to make the perfectly shaped circle I was attempting, even if we end up riding in oblong shapes rather than in circles due to the horses' shying away from one end of the arena, I continue to look forward where I want the horse to go and continue to train the horse rather than make a concerted effort to desensitize him to a certain area. It is very rarely more than two or three rides in a row until the colt is over his fear and is back on track just focusing on his training.
The same holds true for the trail riding. If the horse is afraid of a particular place or thing, I simply refuse to acknowledge said thing, and I continue to keep my own eyes fixed ahead as I ask the horse to move forward. Even if the horse moves past the object by veering off the trail further than I would have liked, he still got past it and almost never takes more than two or three more trail rides before he feels comfortable walking right alongside the scary boulder or whatever object it may be. (I will say that streams are a bit of a different situation, as you have no choice but to cross them when you get to them, so that is a time when you simply must take the time it takes to teach your horse to cross a stream; but I will write on that more specifically at a future date.)
Perhaps the most important thing to remember where spookiness is concerned is that, no matter what, training a solid, confident horse in the arena and trail requires more than just a day or two- it requires daily exposure for several months, This is why we haul young horses to horse shows long before they are entered- it prepares them for all the activity. And this is why, if you are going to be showing a horse in a trail course or going hunting with him, you should have him prepared long before show time or hunting season. Preparing months in advance will take all the haste out of the situation and allow you to train your horse in a much more professional fashion, and will do much to reduce nearly all risk of injury both for the rider as well as for the horse.
The Cable Works along Zion National Park's "Cable Mountain Trail" were built as a means of shipping timer down from the high mountain forests to town below, such as Springdale, Utah. Prior to the cable works, it was not uncommon for one to have to bring in lumber, by horsedrawn wagon, from such distant places as Mount Trumball, Arizona, about 110 miles away. The orginal Cable Works at Zion were begun in the year 1900, overseen by a man named David Flanigan.
The original cable works' 8 and a half foot square by 12 foot high wooden structure spported a large, double-tracked pulley which also had a brake set up 30 feet away from the main structure. The cable works were in use by the year 1901. Over the course of the next five years, David Flanigan's cable works system had been used to send approximately 200,000 feet of finished lumber down Zion's canyon by means of a large basket attached to the cable. This ride down Zion Canyon was a 3,000 foot elevation change over a distance of about five miles. Naturally, the cable works would also be used to haul various types of produce and, one time, David Flanigan's dog, who was so afraid the entire ride that he never again dared to even come near the cable works.
Since the cable works structures were so prominently situated atop the mountain peak, they would commonly be struck by lightning and have to be rebuilt. On July 28, in 1908, one such lightning strike upon the structure even killed two boys, Thornton Hepworth Jr., and Lionel Stout. A third person, a young lady by the name of Clarinda Langston, was also present on the cable works when lightning struck it; but survived. The cable works were then used to transport the boys' bodies down the canyon.
The cable works were used under Flanigan's direction until he sold out in 1907 to O.D Gifford and William R. Crawford, who continued to transport vast quantities of lumber until the final load of lumber was sent down Zion in 1926. The wires remained in place until 1929.