WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #71
It was a pleasant Sunday in May, sun and clouds, and a
little above normal temperature for this time of the year. I
arrived at the Ranch to see Sandi moving a horse around and round
in circles in the main barn, then throwing the long lunging rope
at it, whence the horse jumped with eyes wide open in a scared
look. I said nothing at the time, only a "hi" and went to bring
in Godlie, to barn "B" and do all the usual stuff, give her the
special mass, brush her down and bomb her mane and tail. All that
being done, I saddled her up and walked her over to the main barn
and into a box stall.
Sandi was now up on the horse she was working with, Moreen
(Bob's girl) was nearby. We were talking and one thing led to
another. I asked Sandi if the horse she was riding was giving
"Well she bucked off Paul last year, and bucked me off in
the barn not too long ago."
"I have to be open with you," I said, "but throwing things
at your horse, well you are just training it to jump and be
"Oh no!" was her strong reply, "that's how you de-sensify a
"Ya, I know how the modern teaching goes," I said to her.
"Well I worked on a ranch in Montana once and this 72 year
old cowboy did it that way also."
"Hummm .... all I can say is that I've broken dozens of
horses in my youth, and never did it that way. Your asking, or
training for trouble."
Then Moreen chimed in with, "That's how Bob and tom have
"Yes, so too Paul, and he gets bucked off all the time, when
he takes the horse out on the trail. The horse spooks at
something coming, and just like it does when your throwing things
at it, it jumps and or even bucks. You just need to be gentle and
slow with most horses, let them know your their friend, get them
to trust you, and just get up and ride. They may spook some out
on the trail, you sit well in the saddle, talk calmly to them,
and with many rides out there, they will be confident with you."
It is pretty well useless me saying anything about breaking
in horses, for they do not listen and will not change their ways,
so I say no more, and let continue to have troubles and get
bucked off out on the trail.
A horse that is new, being broken in, needs slow movements,
calm talking to it. Most think calm talking to a horse is "sissy"
stuff, or they do not understand what effect the calm smooth
voice of the human can do for a horse. Slow with all movements,
slow with the saddle blanket, slow with everything as you saddle
and mount up. Most "born on the ranch" horses will give you
little trouble with the first steps, not like a truly wild horse
(extra time and slowness for such horses is needed). What happens
here on this ranch is: as soon as they can mount up with no
trouble in the round pen, they then start throwing flags and
ropes and whatever else, at the horse, thinking they are "de-
sensifying" it, but all they are doing is training the horse to
jump and be scared of everything that comes at them. I see the
whites of the horses eyes and the terrified look as they get all
these things waving and smashing into them. Such is the
so-called modern cowboy way to break horses - all a bunch of
horse crap. And I speak from someone who broke wild horses in
my youth, I mean real wild horses, never touched by human hands.
It was going to be quite the day at the Ranch this Sunday.
More events would happen where I would have to pull Bob to one
side and have a good heart to heart talk with him.
There was a 1 pm ride - a guided ride, going to be 15 or so
They all arrived, did the paper work, got their helmets on.
There was to be a "tail tie" on this ride. The pony is tail-tied
by the halter lead rope to the tail of the horse in front. Only
certain horses and ponies will allow this to be done, most will
not tolerate it.
Goldie pushed open the door and gate from the box stall into
the main barn, with her nose, as she loves to do. The people were
ready, and off we set on an hours trail ride. I had three out-
riders with me. The out-riders are supposed to be ever watching
for things not right with riders, saddles, the tail-tie pony etc.
We had gone about 3/4 of the way, and were now in the north
valley on the way back to the barn. Goldie had had enough of
going slow, she wanted to move out.
"Lora, would you please come up here and take over the
lead," I called out to her, "my horse needs to move up and down
the line, she's had enough of walking this slow."
Lora did so, and took over leading.
I moved Goldie up and down a few times at a fast walk, so
she could get some of her pent-up energy out. Then I noticed the
little tail-tied pony doing strange things with its head - things
not normal. I rode up closer, and .... saw the trouble, the
halter had slipped off its nose and was all caught up in the bit
and bridle. I called out to Lora to halt. I had to take off both
the halter and bridle and put back on. The problem was that the
Ranch has no pony halters, it is just about impossible to buy
pony halters, for some reason. We have used horse halters on the
ponies for years, but you have to know HOW to put these large
halters on, so they will fit the pony and not do what happened
here - the nose band slipping off the nose. Obviously whoever put
this horse halter on this pony did not know how to do it
correctly. All re-done, and safe, we rode on. It is the out-
riders job to watch for all this kind of stuff that may happen
with a 15 plus people/children trail ride. The two out-riders on
the side, were not watching close enough, obviously the back out-
rider could not see what had happened to the halter of the pony.
We got back safely and all liked the ride.
I put my horse in with Applejack in the round pen, that is
now at one end of the main barn, used for horses like Applejack,
who do not like being tied to the rail facing a huge high and
long barn wall, and they "pull back" when you do just about
anything with them. The round pen solves that problem. One of the
best things they have done in the last year, and I did compliment
Bob on doing it.
I'm just coming out of this round pen when I hear this
banging and wild movements from a horse down the far end of the
barn. The horse is not standing like it should be, so I
immediately went to see what the problem was. I get there to
discover the halter on this horse, the nose band had slipped off
the nose, the horse had freaked out at the nose band and bit
getting tangled, pulled back, and was now in a still worse
situation, a type of head-lock. The halter lead rope would not
pull loose from the rail. I went then to pull the halter slip
knot so the halter would be free. It would not pull loose. Then I
discovered why. Whoever had put on the halter at the beginning of
the day, had not used the slip knot tie. By now, trying to talk
calm and slow to the horse, I'm also telling everyone now
standing by, that people need to be taught how to put the halter
on with a slip knot release, for just the times as these.
The horse is being very patient. I continue to talk calmly
to it. People don't seem to realize how important it is to talk
calmly to a horse, especially in times like this. Most horse
people I've ever known in my entire life, do not talk to horses.
they love horses, but talking to a horse seems as far away from
their thinking, as the moon is to the earth. A horse has very
sensitive hearing, so do cattle, it is part of their natural
defense system. Cowboys did not sing at night to the cattle on
the cattle trail, just for the fun of it. They discovered that
nice slow melodic singing at night to the cattle would settle
them down, rest them, put them in dream-land so to speak. It
would give them assurance that they were safe in the hands of
these two-legged things herding them along, on different from
them, four-legged cows (the horse).
People in the horse world need to get into the habit of
talking to horses, especially their own horse. Your own horse
should be your friend, you should love it and should want to talk
to it. It just seems natural to me to talk to horses, but most
people do not do it, will not do it, for whatever reason.
With the horse's patience, and my comforting voice, she
stood still while I managed to untie this now halter knot, that
should have been a slip knot. I freed her of the halter and
bridle and bit and she relaxed, glad that strange and frightening
episode was behind her.
It is so important in working on a ranch like this one, a
public trail riding ranch, to know the safety things that have
been the standard things for decades, found out, by experience,
to be the best and safest for this particular ranch.
I had no sooner taken care of this crisis, when a few
minutes later, two ponies I see in unusual positions, but
positions I have seen before. I pretty well knew what had
happened, but walking up to them made it a sure thing that I was
correct. Whoever had tied them up had tied them way too long, way
too much halter lead rope, about 5 or 6 feet instead of about 3
feet. They had crossed under each other and were now caught in
their own web-making. Fortunately they were not trashing around
and fighting each other as some ponies would do if in the same
situation. They knew they were caught up for some reason and were
standing as if frozen on the spot. Hence it was easy for me to
pull the quick release knot on the hitching rail and set them
Four safety episodes this day. That was enough to pull Bob
to one side and have a good talk to him about it all.
"We are going to make pony halters Keith," Bob informed me.
"And yes, we need to do as the owners used to do, have
weekly staff meetings, so we all know how and why we do things
this way on this Ranch," Bob further told me.
"Now, that Bob, is what is needed - weekly staff meetings."
"Yes, I know Keith, we all need to be on the same page
"It has to be Bob, or someday someone is going to get hurt
real bad, them or the horse, or both."
After that little meeting with Bob, I walked Goldie back
over to barn "B" for the guided trail riding was over, only a few
"members" were out riding.
It was then that Betty pulled in - she had come to see some
of her horses down in one of the pens - and to make sure they had
the hay pushed up to the eating rack.
We talked about the four events that had happened this day.
"Keith, this is why I have two staff meetings before the
summer camp, and why we have a staff meeting each morning during
the camp, before the kids arrive. This is why we have 'teaching
sessions' so everyone is on the same page. This is why things are
done a certain way on this Ranch, because there is a very good
reason for doing them this way. We found out decades ago that
these are the safest ways for this Ranch."
Betty has been doing the summer camp for 35 years - she was
there from the very start.
So it was an eventful day, a day when some angels were
watching over us, so no person or horse or pony were injured. A
day I hope Bob and his staff will learn from. Things will happen
on a ranch where you have people, children, horses, and ponies,
but you have to try and make it so it happens very seldom, very
seldom indeed. Never become slack when working with horses and