WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #77
WET SADDLE BLANKETS
Use my three-part training formula to develop a quiet,
dependable, responsive horse.
BY CLINTON ANDERSON, WITH J. FORSBERG MEYER
"Clinton, can you settle an argument for me? My friend says
schooling in the arena is the best way to teach a horse to be
calm and willing, and I say going out on the trail is the best
way. Which of us is right?"
The answer, actually, is both-and then some. I'll explain what I
mean using my mare Mindy as an example. During my tours around
the country, whenever I circle the arena to demonstrate her slow,
easy, collected lopeon a loose rein - people always want to know
how I taught her to lope in such a relaxed way.
In fact, with everything Mindy does, she tries to conserve her
energy. Why? Because I've put a lot of miles under her. If I
start riding Mindy at 7 a.m., she has no idea if I'm going to get
off her at 7:15 a.m. or 7:15 p.m. - so she always hedges her bet
and assumes it'll be p.m. Mindy's everything you want in a horse.
She's quiet and easygoing, yet dynamic and responsive when I need
her to be - as when we do flying changes every other stride.
She's supple and athletic, has a great work ethic, and I know I
can always count on her. How did she get this way?
Yes, Mindy's well bred and has a wonderful temperament. But, even
more important, she's also extremely well broke. That's because
of a key formula Gordon McKinlay, one of the great horsemen I
apprenticed under in Australia, taught me years ago.
"Clinton," he said, "to get a truly broke horse takes three
things: long rides, wet saddle blankets, and concentrated
training - and you have to have equal doses of all three."
The part about having all three in roughly equal measures is what
many people miss. A lot of ranch horses get rides from sunup to
sundown, but they're stiff as a board in their body.
Plenty of show horses are soft and supple from all the
concentrated training they get, but try taking one out on the
trail ... he's likely to spook at everything.
And racehorses always come back with wet saddle blankets, but try
to do something with them besides gallop, and you'll see straight
away what's missing in their training.
So, it takes all three parts of the training regimen, each with
the proper emphasis, in order for the formula to work best.
I'll explain each of the three in turn.
What I mean by a long ride is one where you put some miles under
your horse's feet at all three gaits - walk, trot, and lope. You
won't accomplish much in terms of training, no matter how long
the ride, if you just amble down the trail at a walk.
Ideally, take these long rides once a week, or at least every
other week. Go out with another rider if you can, for safety's
sake. The ride should last two to four hours.
The best approach is to take your horse out on a long dirt road.
Trot him for three to four miles, then lope him for three to four
miles, and so on, incorporating walk breaks as need be.
(Obviously, if your horse is out of condition, build up to this
much work gradually over time.)
You'll be amazed how much more your horse remembers when he's
been ridden enough to get a little tired. I'm not saying to
exhaust him; just put enough mileage on him to give him a reason
to want to go slowly. It really works.
WET SADDLE BLANKETS
Contrary to its name, this part of the formula is not just about
sweat. You can bring your horse back to the barn tired and sweaty
every single day, but if all you've done is gallop flat-out
around the pasture, you actually won't have taught him much.
To get your saddle blankets wet the right way, spend time at all
three gaits, really moving your horse's feet in all directions.
When you're out covering country, you'll have plenty of space for
training on the trail. When you're riding at home, make it
somewhere with a lot of room, such as on a track if you have one
available, or in a big, open field. I have a nice covered arena,
but I use it mainly when the weather forces me to. I prefer to
ride where I have a lot of room to move my horse's feet.
Don't spend too much time at any one gait - do a lot of
transitions as you ride. Trot a bit, then stop and sidepass to
one side, then lope off. Make circles and serpentines, so your
horse is bending and changing directions.
"Oil all the hinges," as it were, by moving his feet forward,
back, left, and right. For best results, mix it up and keep it
interesting for you both.
You'll be amazed at how this kind of riding will help your horse
become quiet and responsive.
This part of the formula is what I teach people in my clinics:
how to get your horse soft, supple, and relaxed; moving off your
leg pressure; and collected - that is, moving with a shortened
frame and carrying more of his weight on his hind end, while
staying light in the bridle.
Concentrated training is typically what you do in an arena, to
teach your horse something new, while reinforcing and refining
what he already knows.
Gordon always told me that this type of training could also be
done out of an arena, however. And doing so whenever you can
helps a horse avoid becoming bored and ring sour. You can make
concentrated training part of what you do as you're on your long
ride, or part of your wet-saddle-blanket sessions.
It's OK if there's overlap, as long as you routinely include all
three parts of the formula, while providing your horse with a
reasonable degree of consistency in his training.
If you do, over a sustained period of time, you'll have a truly
soft, supple, respectful horse you can ride in or out of an arena
and know you'll always have a safe, dependable partner.
Review Clinton's sidepassing how-to at HorseandRider.com this
Now that is RIGHT on the button. I could not agree more. And it
will all not only give you a fine horse (of course the natural
talent and inbred gifts have to be there, let's face it some
horses will never be like a Mindy or my Goldie no matter how much
of the above training they are given) but your horse will have
variety and will not be bored or say, "Oh no, I'm not going to
enjoy this one bit."
To be continued