A chilled Filly

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 :)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Good news

We had our horse osteo, Dustie, come and do one of her regular check-ups on our horses. We have these done every six months, or more often if there is a specific problem.

Last time Dustie assessed Filly she thought she was not in a great place. Sore back, tight hamstrings and generally not herself. That was just after she had come back from Rockley Farm and to be honest she does not travel at all well. It was a 4 hour journey home to a new yard and she was not happy about it.
So I was a little nervous as to what Dustie would have to say this time.

I could not be there for the actual visit, but my wife, Ritchie, was. As soon as I got home I rang to find out what was said. I needn't have worried so much.

Dustie reckoned Filly was better than she has ever seen her. Her spark was back, which means should wouldn't stand still for the treatment and needs a dummy in her mouth (rope) to keep her occupied.

She found that a rib was out, probably as the result of rolling. The hamstrings are still a little tight. The right shoulder injury was much much looser and she was moving well.

Interestingly her right canter lead is very smooth, but her left one is very choppy. Until she really gets moving that is. Apparently she had an extreme extrovert moment after her roll and cantered at speed around the school. During this she was moving well on both canter leads and changing lead at will.

I rode her yesterday for the first time in a while. The delay being due to my bad back. She felt really good. No cantering but lots of trotting.

As for her behaviour when being ridden it was not great. She wasn't being dangerous, but she had decided that she wanted to lean on the outside rein the whole time. As a result the ride was much longer than I had anticipated as I dis not want to reward that behaviour by getting off. So we just rode a follow the rail pattern until we managed a whole lap with me having to use no more than phase 2 on the outside rein to keep her straight. This was in the rope halter and I think it time we went back to the 5/8" bosal. After all the rope halter more supple than a bosalita and that is for use on a finished bosal horse just before going to two rein.

Means I'm going to have to buy a 1/2" bosal for Bonitao and a 1/2" mecate to go with it. Time he moved on anyway.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Walking slowly

I was flying my glider the other day when I hit one of the worst patches of turbulence I've ever encountered. It felt like the bottom of the glider was suddenly hit by a large hammer. The shock of the impact went straight into my back. By the time I landed it was a bit sore. Two days later it was very sore. A day after that I was in an A and E in Berlin being x-rayed. No major damage fortunately but according to my physio a nerve that was very very unhappy.

The physio did say I need to walk though and who better to go for a nice walk with than Filly :)

So for the last few days we have been walking up into the hills for 40 minutes or so. It is most comfortable for me to walk correctly but slowly. Filly is used to me striding out and this has caused her a little confusion.

James Roberts always said we should make sure that whenever we were walking we should have a forwards walk. He even got us to practise the correct pace by walking up and down his school and timing us. This was to make a forwards walk a habit for both us and our horses when they are with us. As he said without "forwards" you cannot train your horse in any other area. That's why the first three items on his training scale was "Rhythm, relaxation, forwards".
So for years Filly is used to a forwards walk when we are together.

So this has become and interesting and overlooked exercise for us. I particularly need slowness downhill at the moment. I'm trying to achieve this with a soft feel of course. So I have the lead rope at a relatively short length but with some slack. If Filly walks too fast she takes up the slack and leans on the halter.
I ask gently with a twist of my wrist and a drop in my body energy for her to come back to me. If that requires more than around a pound of pressure I avoid getting into a pulling match by using my other hand and tapping her on the chest with the end of the lead rope. Very soon she realised that pulling on the halter resulted in the tap and she stopped pulling. We are now at the point that just the weight of the snap lifting up as she starts to pull the slack out of the rope is enough for her to slow down.

I do NOT hit her hard with the end of the lead rope, just a light tap. If I need more I increase the frequency not the force so that it becomes annoying to her rather than painful. I don't believe you can teach anything through pain except fear.

This might sound like a boring way to spend a training session but actually it has been really good fun and has yet again been a place for Filly and I to explore a soft feel.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Update on the feet

Since I last wrote there have been many ups and downs. Fortunately the ups have outnumbered the downs and I feel we are making progress.

Fillys' hooves have now nearly grown a complete new hoof capsule since the start of her time at Rockley farm. Now the new hoof is very close to the ground we are beginning to see rapid changes in the shape of sole. At the moment it looks like she has a badly flared front right hoof, but actually looking at the hoof more closely shows this not to  be the case. What looks like flare near the ground is the remaining hoof wall from when she used to be shod. We can tell this because farriers often smooth the hoof wall with sand paper to "make it look nice". The surface of the "flare" is very smooth and is clearly a vestige of the shod hoof wall. This is starting to break of and the true shape of her hoof is starting to emerge.

This is all helping with her gait. She now trots very nicely on a pretty tight circle on both left and right rein. None of her old head nodding. In fact she holds her head pretty low and even. This is getting better and better with time.

I'm not achieving this using side reins or other constricting devices as I believe that this gives a false impression of how the horse is moving.

What I'm actually do is moving with Filly on the circle abeam zone 3 (hind quarters) and using a flag or stick and string to just ask the inside hind to step under her body as she trots. Timing the ask with the stick or flag is pretty important. I try and get the signal in time with the inside hind foot leaving the ground so that it is able to move under her whilst in its' swing phase.

After a minute or so of this she tends to really flex her body and neck laterally and then the neck vertically. As a reward I then allow her to go onto a bigger circle and relax for a circle or two. I'm increasing the time I ask for the flexion slowly and we can now do two or three circles of flexion before needing a rest.

This was a technique James Roberts used to call "online engaging indirect/direct rein" and it is only now I really begin to understand it. The step under is an indirect rein move but the way it applied tends to engage the hind quarters rather than disengage them. The direct rein is when we go back onto a relaxed circle and hopefully retain the engagement for a stride or two.

So all in all things are progressing well. A vet from the USA came and saw her a few days ago (flu jab) and passed comment that she was starting to get nice frogs. This is particularly significant as he is and ex farrier :)