Keith Hunt - Wrangling on the Range - Page Ten   Restitution of All Things

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Wrangling on the Range #10

Mustang Breaking in Colorado Prison

                        WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #10

     Well winter is back here, very unusual for near the end of April, 
but this winter (of 2008/009) has been a bad and strange one for most 
of North America. It looks like it will be the 1st of May (Friday) 
before I'm out at the Ranch.

     Tonight on the news was the shocking story of husband and
wife "veterinarians" in Surrey, B.C. near Vancouver, Canada. They
appeared in court today, but the story goes back to February. The
SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) rescued 6
horses from these "vets" - the horses were so thin and bony they
only had about two days to live. Two horses did not make it -
they had to be put down, the other four survived and to see them
today (which they showed) you would never know they are the same
horses - and nice looking horses they are, now up for adoption.

     It is just unreal that two "vets" could have been
responsible for such mistreatment of six horses. It is
     They say the two could be: fined $5,000; jailed for 6
months; have their license taken away; never be allowed to have
any animals the rest of their lives.

     I walked into Blockbusters today, and found a horse movie I
did not know existed. It is called "The Wild Horse Redemption"
and was made in 2007. It is about the wild Mustang of the USA and
a high desert foothills prison in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Hardened criminals are taught training methods from the "horse
whisperers" to tame wild Mustangs, taken from Government lands.
It's a unique rehabilitation program for horse and inmate. The
horses are then put up for sale or adoption after being "green

     What I was shocked at was that it was not UNTIL 1998 that
the trainers training the inmates to break wild horses, realized
their "old cowboy" method of "throw a saddle on and ride the buck
out of them" did not give very good results. So they decided to
go to the modern "horse whisperers" to train themselves how to
break wild horses with better results.
     They were WAY BEHIND the times. I was breaking wild horses
in 1961-63 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, with some of the
so-called "modern" methods. Part was because I had a teacher that
was not the old cowboy breaking guy (well most of the time he was
not) in wild horse breaking, and part was because the guy left me
to figure out the best way to break wild horses.
     Yes, I was doing some of the "modern method" way back in
1961, at the age of 18 through until I was 21. Though I did not
do other parts of modern horse breaking ways, parts I still do
not agree with.

     The start of this movie still tells me they have not got it
correct even as yet. The first thing to do with a wild horse (and
we are talking about real wild horses here, never before touched
by human hands, not even around the human kind) is to "halter
break" them. And to do this you do not run a wild horse around a
round pen and throw a rope on it, and except it to cosy up to
you. You put a "nerve line" around its head, back of the ears and
around the nose. With a nerve line you have control over any
horse. It freezes up if it tries to pull back. When the rope is
slackened it learns that the nerve pressure is gone. In a very
short time, you have a horse that will lead. And so you have
halter broken it, and you lead it around the round-pen, and you
lead it around for a number of days. It gets to "respect" you.
You are the boss, at least so far. And then you go from there.
All of which I have given you in detail in previous pages under
this section of horse training and "diary" notes.

     I have not finished watching all the movie, so I will, and
then give you more thoughts on it all. 

     Watched more - not impressed very much at all. They have
this obviously very nervous and wild horse in the round pen, not
even halter broke, so it is "against you" in the horses mind,
"and you ain't as big or powerful as I" says the horse. They run
the horse around, getting it more excited. The inmate walks
towards the horse, the horse in a flash turns its back on him and
lets fly with both back legs, as quick as could be. If that
inmate had been six more feet closer to the horse, the horse
would have nailed him with both hooves on the chest or head -
either serious injury or could have killed the guy. I just have
to cringe in disbelief they were doing such silly things with
wild horses.
     When you are in a pen, the round pen with a wild horse, that
has never been halter broken, and has already developed some
respect for you, and some friendship, then you are ASKING FOR
TROUBLE! It's one of the craziest ways to get seriously injured.
The horse is way bigger than you, way stronger than you, and if
it was to charge you and give you a good kicking, then it is the
master of the round pen not you, it has you running around the
pen, and you better be prepared to jump the wall of that pen if
that horse sets out to get in close to you, and give you a
licking (and not with its tongue).

     Halter training, halter training, halter walking, leading,
stroking the head and neck, getting to be friends as much as you
can is one big key. The horse needs to know you are its friend,
it needs to know it can have confidence in you. Soft talk,
petting, soft talk. Lead around the pen. Build confidence in the
horse. Stop this so-called "sacking out" stuff. I never did it.
I've seen too many horses just get taught to be nervously jumpy
horses by sacking out. 

     There were other scenes in this movie, of people going in to
round pens WAY before the horse was calmed down through nerve
rope halter breaking and leading for a number of days around the
round pen. And so it showed one guy getting kicked and a few
others in too close for comfort in a bad situation. I had to
cringe at the scenes, and shake my head. Two guys were trying to
get the horse to move clockwise around the round-pen, the horse
would have nothing to do with it, and was simply going to run
them over. Then there was the scene where one fellow was on the
horse, the other guy with a long stick with a flag in the end.
You could tell the horse was scared and nervous. The closer the
guy got with the flag stick the wilder the horse became, it was
smashing into the sides of the round pen, which was made of some
tin like substance, to my shock. And so the horse was now scared
of the clanging sound of the walls of the round pen. Either way
the horse was scared - of the flag stick and then the banging of
the walls of the pen when it hit them. Just no way to break a

     Then there was this other teaching in modern breaking of
getting up on the horse's back with your body over its back, and
slowly pulling your leg over. The first time the guy went to lift
his right leg over, the horse jumped, the guy hit the dust. Now
that could have been worse, the horse could have stepped on him
or even more kicked him. NEVER DO IT!

     When you are ready to mount that horse you do it in a
saddle, and there are good reasons I say that. 

     FIRST IF THERE IS ANY DOUBT the horse may jump around or
even buck, then you can tie the left front foot up to the saddle
horn. A three footed horse ain't going to jump very well. I've
done it and I know it. Then a saddle gives you a few things you
can hang on to, that getting on bare-back does not. You have a
saddle horn and you have back leather straps. Those cowboys in
this movie that ending up on a horse that did buck, were never
taught to grab hold of the back leathers with the right hand if
your right handed. Holding the horn stops you getting bucked off
when the horse is in backward butt up motion, and holding the
back leather strings stops you from getting thrown over the
horses head, when the horse is in forward head down bucking
     Most of us are not pro. bronco riding people, so what I've
described above is the best way to stay on a bucking horse. I'm
amazed that so many un-pro-horse breakers have never thought of
the logic of riding a bucking horse that way. Grabbing those
leather back-strings are the surest way of keeping you flying off
over the horses shoulder or over the horses head. Of course you
make sure you have good strongly secured back strings, the ones
the cowboys tie their bed rolls to. I told Paul about it when he
got bucked off a few times trying to break horses, but it was like
talking to the wall, he was not going to do it, hence he continued
to get bucked off from time to time.

     Too may scenes in this movie where it is clear the horse in
the round pen is "scared skinny" and was in no mood to cooperate, 
and in a confined area, a sure way for a human to get hurt. 
They did not do their homework on halter breaking and getting to pet 
the horses head, neck and basic body, enough times, which could be 
many days. I was actually on pins and needles just waiting to see 
someone get seriously injured.

     A scene on trying to trim and shoe the hooves was not much
better. They were going way to fast in trying to put shoes on
horses that would hardly stand for any time with their foot up.
One fellow trying to shoe is thrown for a loop a few times, again
asking for serious trouble. Wild horses need lots of time to
learn to just pick their feet up and be good for trimming, before
you try to put on a shoe.

     They were going to fast in training methods with many of the
horses (but some do learn quicker than others), and just not
doing it correct in some other cases.

     This modern "sacking out" idea is for the birds - get away
from it. The horse has enough to contend with without you
flapping bits of flags and ropes at him. I was never taught it
and never thought of it, so I never did it, and I broke many a
wild horse to be good trail riding horses in my younger days.
Just because you've "sacked out" a horse dozens of times, will
make no different if a wild deer suddenly jumps from behind a
tree or bush, your horse is 90 per cent sure to be startled and
jump. Its instinctive to want to protect themselves from what
they think is a sudden attack. You had better have a good seat
and legs as you sit that saddle, or you'll be eatin' dirt.

     I cannot over estimate that lots of time is needed to halter
break and lead around and slowly get to touch the horse's head,
neck and shoulders, then its back, and so on, to its rump, WITH
YOUR HAND. Forget about throwing ropes and flappy flags on poles
over its rump and back legs, and scaring the heck out of it. The
wild horse needs to know you are not going to hurt it, but be its
friend. You start with correct halter breaking and leading, and
then touching and petting its head and neck, with soft smooth
talk. Once you have shown you are nothing to be frightened by,
then it will go smoother for you and the wild horse when you
stroke its back, belly, and rump.

     One thing they did have right, was the knowledge that a wild
horse, after you are up and into the saddle and have "broke it"
even to go on a trail ride for a number of days, some will, if
spooked (and a few if not spooked at all) start to buck. It
happens. It happened to me as a young guy. You grab those back
saddle stings and the horn or good tight hold of the reins, and
you go with the buck. You really have no choice anyway, if the
horse starts to buck you ain't going to stop it with smooth soft

     You never let a "green horn" ride a new broken wild horse.
You as the trainer have to ride it for many weeks, until you know
it is fully dependable, before you put it in a string of trail
riding horses. And you have to remember, each horse has its own
personality and type, and some horses will ever only be for well
experienced, if not what you may call "professional" riders.
That's just the nature of the game as they say.

     Overall the program for the inmates at the Colorado Mustang
breaking and training prison is certainly much better for the
horses than their old program before 1998, and it seems to have
great benefits for helping the inmates of the jail to learn
lessons and develop a better way to live life.

     The sun broke through today, April 26th, and a little bit of
Spring came forth, so cowboy gear on and off to the Ranch, for
after today winter they say is back till the 1st of May comes,
next Friday.

     For below average temperature it was a pretty good day for
trail riders coming out. They were all members, no guide needed,
so that left me able to spend some good quality time with my
horse Goldie. She got her usual mash and grooming. I did a little
side-stepping from the ground with her. A few quick neck-reining
turns and circles, and a couple of about 50 feet back-ups. Out we
went for a short trail ride, not very long today as the ground
and weather just not Spring like.
     We came back, I gave her some hay cubes, and went to help
with horses and riders coming in and going out. I had not yet
seen Tom but he did shortly arrive, and told me about two "girl-
guide" groups (about 10 in each group) that had come out for a
trail ride a few days ago, and it was snowing. He said they were
pretty tough girls, I agreed they must have been to ride while it
was snowing.
Tom introduced me to an Australian young man, about the same age
as Tom, forgot his name now, will give it to you next time. He is
out to stay on the Ranch for 4 months or more, to help break some
of the younger horses born on the Ranch and now are ready to
begin to ride. We talked about Australia and the movies "The Man
from Snowy River" as well as the recent movie "Australia" with
Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, a very fine movie by the way,
well worth seeing and/or buying.
     Tom and the Aussie then left as they had to go to town to
pick up two horses they had rented out to two judges in the local
"pointer dog" competition. The way the weather has been it should
have been "point to the snowman" competition.

     I then spent 10 minutes or so with Goldie again. Last summer
I began to teach her to "bow" - the first stage of it, so we
refreshed it and she remembered very well. I also started to
teach her to do the front high lift straight out leg march. I say
"one" and tap and lift her right front leg out straight. I move
quickly to the other left leg, tap and say "two" and pull that
leg out straight. It takes time, actually lots of it, as horse
trick trainers know. I do not really have the time, so it will
take me 10 times longer to get Goldie to do those trick, but
maybe she will get them one day, she's pretty smart and quick to
learn things. Then I also like to show-jump her, and that takes
time. So her and I do what we can with our limited time together.
I'm not ready yet to retire from my Monday to Thursday "music
teaching" profession - still teaching guitar, banjo, mandolin, in
fact all the popular "fretted" instruments; been doing it now for
34 years, either full time or part time. Now it is part time, as
I teach only 25 students a week, compared to 40 to 50 a week in
full-time years. The Music School I teach for pays me so well,
and the students need my teaching; it's not time to retire just
yet. So with that and my studies I upload to this Website, I only
have limited time with my horse. It all makes for a full and
diverse life.

     We un-saddled and turned out the horses onto the range. I
did notice on the drive back to that the grass is trying
its best to sprout up, but it has not been easy for it this
Spring-time as the winter just wants to hang on and not let go.


To be continued

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