A chilled Filly

Friday, 25 September 2015

British Rodeo Cowboys Association

A quick video to introduce this post :)

A few weeks ago some random googling took me to the home page of the BRCA. I had never heard of them before, but the write up sounded fun. As it happened they had an event the very next weekend in Kent. I suggested to Ritchie that we go along and watch for an hour or so. We wound up spending the whole day there.
The BRCA allows folks in the UK to participate on a proper rodeo day. I don't mean bucking horse riding and the like, but events involving precision riding horses and working with cows. I have heard of no other events in the UK that allow cow work as I believed the RSPCA were against it. I enquired and apparently the RSPCA had audited their activities and could not see any problems.

Anyway, we drove around the M25 and finally made our way to the Bar S Ranch. We were glad we had rang and asked for directions. As we drove past a white bungalow I remembered a white bungalow being mentioned in the directions. Sure enough as I looked closer I saw horse boxes parked behind the bungalow. This was the Bar S Ranch. I wondered what we had come to see !

On entering the ranch we found a nice arena at the back and horses already being ridden. Nervously we approached the riders and asked what was happening. They could not have been more welcoming. Everyone was already on horseback, and apart from lunch stayed there all day. The horses were all very chilled in a cramped area alongside the arena standing patiently whilst the riders chattered away and watched proceedings.

It was a competition, but to be honest the only person who seemed to take it at all seriously was Lesley, the judge. Everyone else was just have a good time whilst trying to improve there ranching skills.

The first event we saw was Ranch Trail. Basically and obstacle course including dragging logs, backing around a pattern, sideways over cones etc. During this we mingled and got to know the folks there and display our ignorance. They were keen to educate us and we soon began to understand what the day was all about.

Over lunch I got talking to Stewart who owns the farm. He was an older guy who started working cattle as he got fed up with having to ask friends to help him move cows around his farm. From that he developed an interest in vaquero and so we had a long chat about the style. He then showed me into his tack room which was full of bosals, spade and half breed bits etc. In the meantime I heard Lesley getting annoyed outside. It turned out that Stewart was supposed to be sorting out the pens in the arena for the cattle classes. To avoid him getting into more trouble Ritchie and I helped with the fence panels.

The cattle classes were the most fun and interesting to watch. The team sorting was particularly fascinating. There are two pens joined by an open gate. All the cows are in one pen and have numbers on their backs. The judge calls out a number and the team of two have to cut that cow out of the herd and get it into the other pen. Should the wrong cow get into the other pen then their time is up. They have 2 1/2 minutes and I think the best was 10 cows. The ones who did best were the quiet calm ones who just did the business with the minimum of fuss.

I won't describe all the classes here as they can all be found on the BRCA
website. We have now joined the association and look forward to attending more events over the coming months and years. They also do clinics for those who have never rode like this before and we definitely need to go to some of those !!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Silke Clinic

We had seen Silke give demos several times at various Parelli meets and had always been very impressed. When the opportunity arose for Ritchie to take Bonitao on a clinic we jumped at it. Even better was that it was not that far away, just a couple of hours.

It was a two day clinic, though Silke was in the UK for longer travelling around. It started with a get together in the tea room to find out what everyone wanted to get out of the weekend. Always a good place to start I feel, rather than the instructor having a predetermined plan.

There was a general theme though which was to drum home the importance of the mantra "Mind, Flexion, Weight, Feet". I know we all know this mantra but using it effectively is a different matter.

For example to get the mind we were taught to use the friendly game. The version chosen was swinging the stick and string around until we got both the horses eyes looking at us, then quit. So the horse got relief from the annoyance by giving us their mind. The idea is to build this up so we are always aware of where the horses mind is and to get it back by asking for it. Not by asking the horse to move, or yield, but just to think about us. When riding I do this by picking up my attention and asking the horse to do the same with maybe a lift of the rein if needed. Until we have their mind it's not fair to ask them to do anything. In fact the cue for action will come as a bolt from the blue with a consequent unwelcome reaction if we don't have their mind to start with.

Having got their mind we then ask for the flexion that is needed in order to achieve the desired motion. We worked with forequarter yields to start with. So after the mind we asked for a little flexion of the neck in the desired direction. Not too much as that would dump weight on the inside hind leg pinning it to the ground. Just enough to get the mind thinking in the direction we wished to go.

The flexion helped set the weight in the right place to enable the horse to easily perform the action we were asking.

Once the weight was correct the horse could then move the feet as desired with ease. In fact having got the mind, weight and flexion right it was almost easier to move the feet as we desired rather than stand still.

Once we had the mantra well and truly embedded with various exercises we then looked at the idea of massaging the horse whilst it is in motion in order to get a nice long and low gait.

Again we needed to get the correct flexion so Silke showed us a reflex point at the base of the horses neck just in front of the shoulder which will cause the horse to flex it's neck towards the side pressed on. This was practised at standstill to start with. This then allowed the neck to be flexed without having to use the lead rope which would just pull the horse on top of the handler.
Once achieved the handlers then started circling their horses whilst moving with them by walking at their shoulder. On a left circle handler is on left side and lead rope is in left hand. This leaves the right hand free to ask for flexion by gently pressing on the reflex point, releasing as the horse flexes. Once the correct flexion was achieved then the handler massaged the horses neck whilst they moved and also stooped as they walked to mimic the long and low position we were looking for in the horse.
Some horses clearly found even gentle massage of the neck quite painful showing how much tension they were holding. Anyone who has had a trigger point massage on a tense muscle will now what I mean. If the horse showed any sign of relaxing then the massage was stopped briefly in a micro release of the pressure. This helped show the horse that relaxing the neck muscles would take the pressure away.

It was remarkable how quickly all the horses relaxed into long and low and how much snorting was going on in the group as they released the tension.

Once achieved at walk it was repeated at trot. This was quite hard work for the handlers. Maintaining the horses trot whilst running themselves in a stooped position, pressing on the bend reflex spot and massaging the neck with micro releases as they got it right was tough. But again the results were quick and spectacular.

The stooped posture of the handler was introduced so that in future it could be used as a cue to the horse to go long and low when the handler was not in a position to touch the horse physically.

I could give a detailed version of the rest of the clinic, but in fact it was then all about putting these skills into practise to achieve a huge variety of manoeuvres. Back up with flexion for example, or travers, roll backs .... all done on line with a concentration on the relaxation of muscle groups and of course


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

So much to tell

It's been such a busy few weeks I hardly know where to start ! In fact I think I'll have to split this into several posts and write them as I have time. But to give a flavour here is what we have been up to

1) Silke Valentin clinic

We attended a Silke clinic on the 27th and 28th August. Silke is from Germany and is confined to a wheelchair, or more often and motorised buggy. She has a remarkable ability to train horses despite this apparent handicap. The clinic was all ground work. My wife Ritchie took Bonitao to the clinic whilst I watched and picked up poo ! In some ways watching was almost and advantage as I could follow Silke around and watch her coaching more than one person and horse.

2) The British Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Random web searching took me to this website BRCA . I've always wanted to find somewhere I could work cattle, but was under the impression that the RSPCA in the UK prohibited it. However the BRCA does work with cattle and they have been audited by the RSPCA.
They had a Ranch Horse Event on the 6th September in Kent so we decided to go and see what they got up to. It was an absolute hoot. Great fun people having real good fun with their horses. It was a competition but the only one who seemed to take that really seriously was the judge :).

3) Clinic with Josh Steer.

Ritchie and I hosted a clinic at the yard with livery our horses on. The yard owner was very very hospitable in helping us make this happen. It's so nice to be on such an open minded and positive yard.
Josh was the apprentice of James Roberts and so we know him very well indeed and have spent many days laughing and having fun together. Since James passed away Josh has continued to develop his horsemanship to the extent he has still not even learnt to drive. So on Friday the 11th September I drove 3 1/2 hours to Lancashire to collect him. 
The clinic was held over the 12th and 13th in lovely weather. We had a total of five on the course. Three rode in the morning and then Ritchie and I in the afternoon. We split it like this as Ritchie and I are concentrating on our bosal riding at the moment and felt this made for a natural split of the group. 
During the Saturday lunch break one of my aikido instructors and I gave a mini clinic on aikido and how it can help in horsemanship. Much to my relief this was well received.

4) Barefoot trimmer visit

On the 14th September Mel Isaac came to check on our horse again. She did make some adjustments this time as she felt they had both arrived at the stage where we can help nature a little in shaping the feet. Overall she was happy with their progress and very happy with Fillys' overall development, as am I :)

As you can see lots to tell and I'll try to catch up with it all over the next week or so

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

These were the Vaqueros

At the suggestion of my email friend from California, Dorothy, I bought a copy of "These were the Vaqueros" by Arnold R Rojas. Difficult to get in the UK but I finally got a copy from a bookseller on ebay.

The author met some of the old timer vaqueros and rode with them a while. He realised that a lot of there old stories were going to die with them if he didn't record them so wrote many books. This book is his collected works.

Reading the first part of the book I was struck by how wild and wooly these guys were. They spent a lot of time riding bucking horses it seemed and I wondered as to why they didn't do a better job of quietening and taming them. Then I came across a story which turned a light bulb on in my head.

Some young men had done an excellent job in starting some young colts and were justifiably proud of what they had achieved. The owner, Mr Miller, of a local very large ranch came along to see the colts with a view to buying them. Proudly the young men showed him the colts. Mr Miller asked the boys to go and catch one of the horses so he could inspect it. The young lad walked up to the horse and caught it nice and easily. Like I said they had done a good job starting them. Mr Miller asked if all the colts were that tame? The assured him they were. He rode away saying they were of no use to him !
The reason ? In those days there were a lot of horse thieves in that part of the west. Horses that could be caught that easily would be gone in very short order. Mr Miller needed horses that would make a fuss being caught so the men would be alerted if someone tried to steal them.

The moral of this story is to make sure you train the horse for the purpose that is required.

I remember James Roberts telling us about a string of polo ponies he started. As was usual for him he trained them to stand very still when being mounted. When he proudly showed this to the polo team they were horrified. They needed ponies that would set off at a canter to rejoin the game as soon as they landed in the saddle.
James had to retrain that batch of colts and then spent some time with the polo team to better understand what they wanted.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Riding in the Rocky Mountains

I regularly go to Calgary in Canada for work. Last Thursday was one of those trips which meant that I had Friday off in Calgary. Mostly I hire a car and head off to the mountains to go climbing or hiking. On this occasion I decided to go riding instead.
A quick search on the internet gave several places that I could go, but only one actually in the mountains themselves. This was Boundary Ranch in Kananaskis country. A quick phone call and I was booked on the ride at 0945 on Friday. It was explained that we would only walk and that this was really just a tourist ride. But I wanted to ride in the mountains I had hiked and knew well so felt that was fine.

I arrived at the ranch early after breakfast at the Summit Cafe in Canmore. My favourite breakfast place in the area. I checked in and then wandered out to see the horses being prepared. This is a big operation with lots of horses to tack up. All the horses seemed to be in pretty good condition and the tack looked serviceable. The only thing that worried me slightly was the long shank bits they were using. Ok for riders with soft hands, but for tourists who had never ridden before ??

It turned out that there were a fair few riders. Around 20 or so plus guides. They decided to split us into two groups. Once it was time to mount up they took individual folks to their mounts and got them onboard anyway they could. But the horses had seen it all before and were chilled. The instructions were "kick them to go, pull them to stop and neck rein them to turn". Again a slightly worrying set of instructions to give tourists, but in the even most of the horses didn't need any cues as they knew the route.

Once we finally set out I could see why we were walking. The trail was very stony and in places steep. Very good terrain to get a horse thinking to its' feet. My little horse, Branton, was brilliant. Very light to the aids, though he did keep trying to pull through my hands. I guess he was trying to get enough rein so that he could eat grass. He spent quite sometime trying to out focus me with this tactic, but eventually gave it up as a bad job. After that we just got on fine. By the time we got back I was very impressed by him and said so to the guide. She found that interesting as a guide the previous year had tried to buy him at the end of his stay to take home for reining competitions.

The ride itself was through beautiful country, but I'll let the pictures describe that. I rode as the last "tourist" which meant I could chat with the following guide. We got on really well and discussed all things about horses. She was from New Zealand and before coming to the USA had only ridden in English style. Western was new to her. So we discussed the vaquero style I'm studying and she seemed very interested. By the time we got back I think was was considering studying some more herself.

To summarise I would recommend the ranch to others. Your not going to have the world most exciting ride, but the terrain and scenery more that make up for that. The horses are well looked after and seemed happy in their work. The staff are friendly in a sincere and not false way. They do longer rides than the two hours I did. All the way up to 6 days with camping out I understand. Through the Rocky Mountains that would be an experience. One of the guides was keen I should go on that trip with him so he could teach me how to go on a packing trip with horses. Again that sincere friendliness shone through.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The new bosal has arrived

We ordered a bosal off Steve Guitron which we now have at home. It's a 1/2" raw hide bosal with roo hide nose button. A buckle hanger with bosal shaped buckles (a bit fancy) and a 22' long 1/2" thick horse mane hair mecate.
The bosal is actually a little stiffer than the 5/8" we already had, though that started stiff as well. The nose button on the new one is flatter where it contacts the nose which will give it a slightly different more direct feel. The mecate reins, being new, are also stiffer and have lots of prickly hairs coming out.
When I questioned Dorothy (the lady in California) about this she said you can rub the hairs of with a good pair of gloves, but never ever trim them off. Rubbing takes a good number of hours to do though. Her other comment was to just ride as it is and when the mecate is smooth the horse is probably ready for the next size down of mecate and bosal. That's a lot of riding.
Bonitao will be riding in this for a while, though we haven't tried it yet. Looking forward to seeing how he goes in it though.

Note that in the photo the mecate is not tied to the bosal. They should never be left tied as it will over time effect the feel of the bosal. We always undo our mecate after every days riding. For us it is just part of the discipline of being able to ride in the bosal.
Riding and owning one should never be taken for granted, they are a privilege to use and should be treated as such.
If you think of the hours of workmanship to make one then you'll understand what I mean.
If you ride in it badly you can also undo months of good training so I always take a very disciplined approach to riding in one. This is not because they are harsh, far from it. The snag is if the horse learns that they can push through it with force then it's a lesson they will learn probably for life.
Maybe that is why I find them so effective, they make me ride better with soft hands and feel. Getting into a pulling match would be really bad news.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Inside the bosal

Now I'm back to riding properly by enthusiasm for studying has increased. So the other night I watched the Mike Bridges DVD on hackemore riding again.

I picked up on several ideas that make more sense to me now. One of the key ones is the idea of riding inside the bosal.

The bosal is a raw hide "hoop" that encircles the horses nose and hangs from a piece of leather that goes over the poll. If the horses face is vertical there is little or no contact from the bosal on the horses face. If the face is not vertical and the nose is sticking out then the bosal rests on the horses nose and provide pressure there. The pressure is supplied by the weight of the bosal and the weight of the heel knot that ties the reins to the bosal. Thus if the horse is flexed vertically then his nose is on the inside of a ring. The rider can use the reins to move that ring around. So if we want the horse to laterally flex to the right the rider applies a little right rein and the left cheek bar of the bosal comes into contact with the horses left cheek/jawbone. If they move there head correctly then the contact comes off and the bosal hangs loose again. Thus they remain "inside" the bosal.

This is what makes the bosal so effective for teaching the horse how to carry there head compared with using a bit. With a bit there is constant contact to ask for the flexion so there is never true release of the entire signal. With the bosal if the horse moves correctly then the bosal is hanging free again and all signal is removed. Thus the horse can search for this spot of complete release and be rewarded when they find it.

Of course this is in the ideal world. In practise they can take to leaning on the bosal, which is a pretty mild feeling. Milder than a rope halter anyway. The rider must not let this happen, but using steady pressure will not be a strong enough signal to get the horse to come of the pressure.
Thus when riding in a bosal it is important to never accept steady pressure from the horse. The signal can be applied with a nice soft feel but if the horse pushes into that feel then the reply should be bumps from the rider proportionate to the pressure the horse is applying. The bumps start light and increase in frequency and intensity until the horse comes of the pressure when they should cease instantly.

This instant release of pressure is a part of the function of a well set up hackemore. To get this to happen reliably and quickly the size and weight of the mecate rein must be correct for the size and weight of the bosal. So for a 5/8" bosal the best is to use a 5/8" 22 foot mecate. As the horse gets lighter in this set up then the mecate can reduce in size and weight to the 1/2" with the 5/8" bosal. When this is light then the horse is ready for the 1/2" bosal.... and so on down the sizes to the 3/8" bosal and mecate.

I've found this image of being inside the bosal has suddenly opened a new door to effectiveness for me. At the moment I'm awaiting a new bosal for Filly so I'm riding her in the rope halter.  The snag with a rope halter is that there is never a total release of course, it's too flexible and is always in contact with the face. Even so this image has had a powerful effect actually making me lighter and more precise with my handling of the reins.
Ritchie was using the image today when riding Bonitao in a true bosal and also reports that it helped her feel.

Can't wait for my new bosal to arrive so I can explore this concept further with Filly.

Here's a picture of a bosal for those who aren't familiar with them. With the nose in this position it is easy to understand what I mean by being "inside the bosal" 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


As many of you will know I've become interested in the vaquero tradition. As a result I've been riding our horse Bonitao in a 5/8 bosal and mecate for nearly two years now. With Filly being able to be ridden more it was time to buy a new bosal so we can both ride together. Bonitao is getting to the stage where we probably need to go down a size in mecate, if not bosal, to the 1/2". As a result I've spent some time on the internet researching who produces nice bosals.
I've certainly discovered that not all bosals are created equally during this search and so refined my search to hand braided bosals made in the USA by people who understand their use and ride with them. Preferably from the California tradition of vaquero as that is the style I am particularly interested in.
This search lead me to the website California Classics. Scared that I was going to sound a total fool I rang them and the phone was answered by Dorothy. She started with an explanation as to why she couldn't supply a bosal just at the moment as Aaron has torn the ligaments in his arm and can't braid until next year. But then we started talking about vaquero. And, boy, did we talk. 58 minutes later we hung up (which was lucky as I have free international calls for 1 hour). We talked about all things vaquero. She seemed really excited that here was someone from the UK interested in her heritage.
We spoke about the folks she has known well. Folks you probably never heard of like Tom and Bill Dorrance (she was going to be the co-author of Bills book), Ray Hunt etc. I quickly realised I was talking to someone who "knew" vaquero. She reckoned she had managed to produce 2 good bridle horses herself in her life, but unfortunately could no longer ride.
Some of the information was interesting. There is a style "vaquero" and a person with the title Vaquero. There were actually very few Vaqueros as this was a title bestowed by the elders of the area and only bestowed on the very best horsemen. So many who describe themselves as vaquero maybe riding in that style but may not be worthy of the title.
We discussed Pat Parelli briefly. I explained that that was were I started my horsemanship education and learned that vaqueros even existed. She agreed that it was a good place to start but wasn't sure were Pat was going with his horsemanship now.

The upshot of all this is that we have been emailing a bit and she says she'll answer my questions as they come up but be patient about the reply.
Her website does have a lot of good information on it and I can recommend a read http://www.calclassics.net/index.php . I can particularly recommend the following page  for general interest

Monday, 6 July 2015

A lovely ride

I've missed the horses for the last few days as I've been joint director of the local gliding regional championship. That was over 9 days, though I did manage to make a fleeting visit to Filly a couple of times.
The championship ended last night and I had made sure to have today off to get some chores done and see the horses.

Filly is living out at the moment so I had to collect her from her field. As the track to her field is stony and hard this gave me a chance to asses how she was walking. I'm pleased to say she was pretty good. She still has the odd miss step as she treads on an uncomfortable stone but has generally learnt to avoid those. The trick is to leave the lead rope very very loose and let her find her own way down.

We did all the usual "prepare to ride" routine, but I put an emphasis on a soft feel on the halter. To do this we did falling leaf pattern where I walk forwards while she trots half circles back and forwards in front of me. To get her to keep her distance from me I just swing the stick and string around in friendly fashion. Not trying to tag her but not avoiding it either. The game for her was to work out how to avoid the stick and string. The solution was nice neat turns and a change in her body arc as she changed direction. She got frustrated at one point but then worked it out and really relaxed and chilled about the whole idea. Lots of licking and chewing later and she was ready to ride.

I mount up outside the yard as I don't want to ride her on the rocky track. At this stage that wouldn't be fair on her. Once mounted we rode up the bridleway, which though steep, is not rocky to the carpark at the top. It only takes around 15 minutes which at her stage is ideal. I got off there and let her graze for a while before mounting and riding her back down.

I know for many folks this is a "so what" moment. "You rode your horse to a carpark and back".
But for me it was a big deal for the following reasons
Only once did she get tense and I had to let her relax before asking her forwards. That was the only time on the entire ride I had to use my lower leg. To start walking other than that occasion was just a shift in my intention and a light squeeze with my thighs. During the rest of the ride I actually worked on my own riding by trying to keep me legs and feet soft and still.
At no point did I have to use the reins, though I held them at a length just short of a contact to start with. By the end it was one handed and loose.
I kept stroking and reassuring her that I was still there by talking a load of nonsense.

We met some hikers on the way home which she was a little nervous about. So I gave them some treats to feed Filly and they soon made friends.

It wasn't so much the ride as the feeling of total contentment. She was not lame at all, even coming down a fairly steep hill which just heightened my feeling of well being. I think this transferred onto Filly and made the ride even better.

Back to work tomorrow unfortunately with no time to ride which is deeply frustrating after today. Only two days working then two off. Can't wait !!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Visit from Barefoot trimmer

Another check up for the horses. This time from our barefoot trimmer, Mel.
We started with Filly. I had been concerned that the hind hoofs had become a bit long. Mel agreed, but did not trim them. She just prescribed more road work to get them to wear down naturally.
The fronts were more interesting. The front right is beginning to look pretty good. Most of the old hoof wall from when she was shod has split off. The new hoof has a much shorter toe and the hoof is overall much more upright. This will of course reduce the stress on the deep flexor tendon which will release the pressure on the navicular bursa and make her much more comfortable.
The front left is a slightly odd shape, not at all symmetrical. But Mel feels that this has adapted to the old injury in her right shoulder and should not be made to look pretty. Filly should be allowed to adapt her hooves as her body dictates.
Her right hind has a bit of asymmetry to the inside (medial) half of her hoof. Again Mel feels that this is an adaptation her feet have made to her body and should be left alone.
The believe is that as the hooves adapt to her body her body will have less physical stress on it and that will allow her body to adjust itself to a better alignment. As this happens the feet will readjust as necessary keeping up with the body. So there is a continual give and take going on between the hooves and her upper limbs.
Of course this needs help from us, but not from the rasp or the knife. Our part in this whole equation is to help her move in a better way. In Fillys' case that means straighter and more forwards ( effectively a longer stride). This I can help her with using ground work. When on a circle I can use a flag to encourage the inside hind to step well forwards and under her body. When she gets this right she obviously feels the relaxation as her head lowers and she becomes soft in the body. The periods for which this relaxation is occurring are getting longer and longer.
The flag itself is also use to get her to think about parts of her body. If I see her sides getting tense I just have to move the flag to the spot and it relaxes allowing the head to go back down. Obviously to achive this she has to be totally confident that the flag is not a threatening object, just a caressing one.

So what was the overall impression that Mel had of Filly. Much improved is the answer. She barely touched the hooves, just tidied up the bits that are flaking off anyway and added the slightest roll to her toes. And I mean slight. Maybe a millimetre or so. She could not see any lameness at walk so saw no need to "fix" anything.

Once Mel had left we did the usual prepare to ride and I rode Filly up to the top car park and back with Ritchie leading Bonitao behind us. This is along our normal in hand walking route and she knows she gets to eat grass at the carpark. Ritchie was very sweaty by the time we got there trying to keep up :).
Filly was calmly and confidently very forward with no lameness I could detect at all. And believe me I am on high alert for lameness !! At the car park I got off and allowed her to graze for ten minutes before remounting and riding her towards the stables. On the way down I thought I detected a very very slight limp. To be on the safe side I got off for the steep downhill and we walked quietly back.
So all in all a good report for Filly and our first ride up the hill through the woods.

A good horse day :)