I was just watching an RFDTV horse training show.  I just love comedies!  This fellow had a packed auditorium and a shiny sorrel mare on the end of an expensive piece of boat rope.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy vigorously tapping that stick against the ground, the horse, the ground, the horse, etc. 

He said “My number one goal in horse training is to not get killed.”  Really?  Have we set the bar that low?  Has ‘making my horse’s feet become my feet’ been replaced by mere survival?  I realize his remark was partly in jest, but the entire crowd loudly applauded when his horse cocked one hind foot and relaxed.  I actually laughed out loud.  Horses also cock a hind leg when they’re bored or tired.  You know how everyone in the natural horsemanship movement makes such a big deal out of a horse’s licking and chewing?  Well, if you kick your horse in the belly repeatedly and then stop, chances are you’ll achieve the same effect.  Just sayin’.

I would have been more impressed if this chap had been working with a rank horse.  The shiny sorrel mare was wearing splint boots and her flanks were brushed clean.  It was like cheating.  Anyone can hit a gentle horse in the butt with a stick until it moves its hindquarters!  Let’s see him catch a four-year-old Spanish Ranch colt on a brisk fall morning, eh?  His number one goal might be more applicable then.

When did sticks become so in vogue for horse people?  If this information took root, it could devastate the fiberglass industry, so shhhhh, don’t tell: sticks aren’t really necessary.  The Comanches of nineteenth-century horsemanship fame managed to hunt buffalo hanging off one side of their ponies and shooting arrows under their necks without even Ariat boots, much less the proper color of savvy string.  Ranch kids have been getting pretty far with a hand-me-down saddle and a nylon web halter. 

People seem ready to write checks to acquire the “proper tools” such as instructional DVD’s, halters, round pens, treeless saddles, and of course lots of sticks.  To the detriment of their horsemanship, they overlook the most basic element: what’s between their own ears.  Seek knowledge and experience, folks, and save your money.  Trust me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spend it.  Even the most stick-broke horses colic, get tangled up in wire fences, and need shoes.  Do yourself and your horse a favor and spend time observing what happens when you do such-and-such.  Was it the intended result?  Okay, now do something different.  What happened then?

Horsemanship is a thinkin’ man’s game.  A great quote from the late great Bill Dorrance.  Now, which level of which clinician’s horsemanship classificiation system did he make it?  I just can’t remember….


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