Friday, June 28, 2013

How To Get Your Horse Really, Really Broke

Before I moved to Texas and was surrounded by western folks all the time, the concept of "getting a horse broke" sounded a bit like something only those heathen cowboy-types did. Having spent a lot of time down here around "English" horses versus "Western" horses, I have firmly decided that there is clearly something to  "getting a horse real broke." (Bad grammar included.) At the rehab farm, I HATED the English horses (eventers, dressage horses, jumpers, etc) - they couldn't hard tie, some couldn't even crosstie, they didn't stand still, they didn't lead well, they dragged their handlers around, they were a general nightmare. (The racehorses were no better... they sort of fell into the "English" category.) Cutting horses, reiners, barrel horses... they all varied a bit. But rope horses? Man, rope horses were BROKE. 
I LOVED the rope and ranch horses whenever they'd come in. They'd seen it all and never, ever complained about anything. Nothing surprised them. They stood like rocks. They tied to anything. They were quiet. They were interested but not concerned about ANYTHING. They ALL were like that. They were SO BROKE. Some folks are very nice to their rope horses, and some are very mean, so I'm not condoning rope training... it varies by the individual. What rope and ranch horses consistently have in common is that they've all been there done that and seen it all, and you can throw everything and the kitchen sink at them and won't phase them if they've been properly exposed. 

THAT is what I want in my own horses. I want them to be able to go anywhere and do anything with the same quiet attitude that they have at home. I want them to step up to new challenges with cool confidence, and let them figure out how to navigate the world with relaxation and the ability to calmly reason with new obstacles. If they come across something, I want them to learn about it, figure it out, and move on. I want them to be able to stand quietly tied or crosstied anywhere, and let me do anything I like to them (clippers, grooming, trimming, etc) with relaxation. I want them to be able to see things they've never dealt with before and think these new challenges through without losing their cool. I want them well-adjusted and exposed to EVERYTHING that I can think of, so that when we get to a show somewhere and there is something scary and new, they're not concerned about it. To sum it up, in the Texas sense: I want them "broker'n hell." 

(Where I deviate from the western sense of broke is that I don't really apply it to actual training - there's hardly such a thing as a "broke" dressage horse, because there is always more to learn and refine and finesse with the dressage horse. A broke rope horse knows his job and runs out there and does it exactly the same, every time. It's not quite the same with a dressage horse!)


O, as far as I can tell, didn't have a ton of 'worldly' exposure when I got her. Our first few rides on the trail were a bit terrifying - she bounced along with springs in her feet, jumping and starting at everything that moved, moments away from total explosion the entire time. The first time we trailered her to an arena, she zoomed around at warp speed on the end of the lunge, cutting corners the entire way and snorting her head off. There was a pen full of roping steers next to the arena that she WOULD NOT go near - she was TERRIFIED of them! (I don't know if she had ever really seen cows before, much less ever gotten close to them! Lucky for her, Texas has about ten gazillion cows in it, so she has since had to deal with cows every day of her life. There is even a herd of cows that lives in the pasture next to hers... talk about learning by immersion!) 

Well, I thought, as I hung on for dear life on those first few rides.... it's time to get this mare BROKE.

If you've been following her journey you'll have seen her successfully navigate a plethora of things, from miles and miles of crazy trails to swimming in the lake, and the more places we go, the more exposure she gets. We go into situations like this with a low-key attitude, so she has the time to see, process, and accept all the weird things that I keep exposing her to, without the pressure of being asked to perform. When she goes to shows where she WILL have to perform, all the exciting external stimuli that takes place in a show atmosphere will be an increasing non-event. The more things she sees, the quieter she gets, and the faster she processes. This mare, who I had a death grip on two months ago whenever I rode anywhere outside of the roundpen, much less anywhere exciting, is becoming a sturdy ATV that will literally go anywhere that I point her and not care about anything going on around her. It's AWESOME.


Last night's adventure took us to a local arena where they were holding team roping practice for the night. I had planned on giving O the entire week off, but I couldn't give up that opportunity! It was almost 110 out, and I was feeling particularly lazy - who wants to lug tack around in that kind of heat? I decided that instead of dragging all my tack over to the trailer, I'd just sit in some of S's western tack. O hadn't ever been in a western saddle before, much less one with a back girth, but ehhhh... why not?

Lucky for me, she didn't care at all. She loaded and unloaded like a pro, took a nap while we drank some wine, and wandered around like a perfect lady once I mounted up.

She was VERY interested in the cows, in a playful way... way more than ever before! 



Actually, she looks pretty darn cute in that tack.... mule ears and all!

She stood immobile at the far end of the arena for awhile watching the ropers practicing, interested but not excited. Every time they ran a steer through without roping, we trotted after it until it reached the strip chute. She caught onto that game immediately, and was quick to turn after each one to chase them down. Maybe she wants to do some team penning for fun? (On the aside, I bet you this mare would make a KILLER barrel horse.... she can turn on a dime and run like hellfire!)

We trotted around for awhile and she threw her head like a maniac for most of the time. She was not amused with the particular snaffle I had picked for the night, and was sick and tired of all the little cattle flies flying up into her face. We did manage to have a few decent moments:



Check out her total nonchalance that a random steer is running around in the arena with her... I know a lot of horses that would TOTALLY melt down if they saw that!!





A little unorthodox.... a LOT of fun! 

7 comments:

  1. Last year I took my gelding to a cow clinic where we got to herd buffalo around. It was some of the most fun I have ever had on horseback. And Hampton LOVED it as soon as it figured out he could "move" the buffalo. We were the only English people there, but it is something I would certainly do again. More people should step out of the box as far as training and exposure goes!

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  2. Agreed. We boarded at a western barn for a while and it did us a lot of good! My first thought when I saw that pic of her roached neck was "hmmm...Nessie?" very Loch Ness like, in a good way :P

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  3. I totally agree with you in the "real broke" part. I am a firm believer in the more we expose our horses too the better it is for everyone. I want my horses to be able to carry me next to a busy road and not freak out. 3 out of 4 can and will do that. (one has gotten the chance yet- due to lameness issues) When I find something that bothers them I take them away from it, work the heck out of them, and then let them rest next to the very thing that bothers them. Pretty soon they are in love with that scary thing because it means "no work".
    I like to think that I will keep my horses forever, but life has taught me that I never know what is around the next bend and I need to be prepared for anything....the same goes for my horses. I like knowing that in the event I was forced to sell my horses I could sell them with confidence knowing that they would keep their new owners safe. I want them to be good citizens for their sake as well as mine.

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  4. I also love broke horses. Cash and Red are broke to death, and someday hopefully Echo will be too. I think folks here have pretty big expectations of their "using" horses, and frankly it's justified. I just wish that everyone's expectations of their horses was the same!

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  5. That is one sexy neck!! :) Love the roaching . . . though I thought Pangea was the one with the big ears? lol [I had a giant-eared Clyde for 16 years, so I'm definitely not making fun...I love em!]

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  6. Thanks you for that little passage about rope horses. I agree with every word. As someone who has spent lots of time team roping, training team roping horses and hanging out with other team ropers, I will agree that some ropers are kind to their horses and some are not. But the standard for "broke" is very much as you describe. If a person is looking for a "bombproof" horse, the best place I know to start is among older team roping horses. They are often not "fancy" broke (as in maybe not too supple...VERY not supple, actually), but staying reliable under most circumstances is their game. I have heard a few bloggers run rope horses down lately, and I appreciate the nod to the good points of such a horse. My horse and my son's horse are both ex-team roping horses and more steady, solid trail horses don't exist. Thanks again!

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  7. Sounds like you want your horse to think and be a part of a team. That is what makes the best dressage teams, IMO. In my limited experience, I feel every horse needs to get out of the ring. There are as many bad western trainers as english - so many who "know it all". My little guy was trained as a reining horse and I find him very responsive to look and leg - something dressage highly values as well.

    Cross training may be a beautiful thing! :) I haven't been here for a while - so glad all is going well (and I watched the beautiful video above. You have been blessed, even though it has been tearful at times.

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