Monday, June 10, 2013

Can't call them cowboy until you see them ride.

Ever heard that old saying, "you can't call them cowboy until you see them ride?"  It's very true that you can't judge somebody's horsemanship skills just by the boots they are wearing, but you can often tell their lack of horsemanship by the boots/shoes and tack they are putting on their horse.

This blog is probably going to make me sound like a tack snob and may offend some folks, so I apologize for that in advance.  If you do get offended, it's probably because I'm talking about you.  Instead of being offended, take what I say to heart.  Your horse will thank you and your horsemanship journey will take a definitive step forward. 

Dan and I recently had the opportunity to go on a group trail ride with about 30 adult riders who were strangers to us.  We didn't know a soul there and as we were tacking up it's normal to look around and assess what kind of folks we will be embarking on this adventure with. 

You can see all kinds of strange things in these settings.  Lots of small ruckuses as horses were being unloaded and tacked up.  Lots of "WHOA"s, "STAND"s and "QUIT!"s and the horses danced around or refused to be bridled. We watched one poor lady with a huge draft cross attempt to bridle her horse for about 15 minutes.   Of course, many horses don't get out much and this much excitement can sure get a horse acting much less trained than they would be at home.  

As the horses all gather around waiting to head out you get to see how folks have outfitted themselves for this little pleasure ride.  Obviously, this isn't a show so fancy tack and clothes are not necessary.  But we are going to be out in the hot sun, exposed to the elements and riding down what could be a brushy trail.  Lots of the women chose flounsy light weight sleeveless blouses and tank tops for the ride.  They all returned sunburned and scratched from brush.    

The other thing you'll notice is folks choice of saddle.  Lots of folks like the lightweight codura plastic saddles.  They are cheap, easy to clean (because you don't ever have to) and come in a variety of colors.  Unfortunately they don't tend to fit a horse very well, nor do they stay put on a horse very well and often cause sores, galls, and other issues for the horse.  Most of the time that's not an issue because they are so uncomfortable folks that use those saddles don't spend a whole lot of time in them.  Several of these saddles didn't even make it up the first hill. 

Australian style saddles are also a  popular alternative for some weekend warriors.  They are very cheap to buy (you can get a brand new one for 300 bucks) and they give a new rider a certain sense of security because they have those big things that lock your leg in.  Unfortunately they also don't tend to be a great fit and slide all around. They also put you in a weird feet forward lounge chair position causing the horse to lift it's head and hollow out.  Not much of a problem for cruising down the trail, until you are going uphill.  

The other thing a horseman will tend to notice on another rider's rig is their choice of bit.  You can tell a lot about a rider by their choice of bit and what their horse is doing with it.  You have the quiet old trail horses that just plug along in any old bit.  They are usually wearing something with large shanks, have a pretty decent callus in the corner of their mouths and don't seem to really notice the bit is there.  It's fun to watch those folks try and pull their horse's heads out of the grass.   On a group trail ride like this you really want to avoid anybody trail riding in a gag bit.  Those are generally the weekend gamers that decided to take their hopped up gaming horse out for a bit of a change of scenery.  If you see a gag bit, that's almost a guarantee that horse is going to be a prancer, dancer, and whirler.  It's the whirling you really have to watch out for.  We also were treated to the unique sighting of a horse wearing a bit upside down.  The shank pieces were about halfway up the horse's face.  I'm sure she had to punch extra holes into the cheek pieces on the headstall in order to get the sides up that far to accommodate the extra long shanks.  This bit was also a pelham that had another ring at the sides of the mouth.  That's where she attached the chin strap.  I pointed out to her that her bit was indeed upside down and made mention that the horse might be more comfortable if she turned it around.  She explained that it was a special gaited horse bit and that a professional gaited horse clinician had shown her how to put this bit on.  Uh huh.  I didn't get close enough to see if she also had the bit on backwards so that the curve was going the wrong way.  I hope for the horse's sake that she didn't.  

There are a whole lot of folks with horses just doing the best they can.  They are learning and attempting horsemanship on a budget and I do understand that.  I was there once too. I've ridden in tennis shoes and tank tops with nylon headstalls. It was fun when I was a kid.  I didn't really care if my horse was under his best behavior because that was part of the adventure.   But if you are serious about your horsemanship and trying to be the best you can be for your horse, you really should buy the best quality tack you can afford and take care of it and know how to use it properly and outfit yourself with the same care. 

A good quality saddle that is well made and fits your horse is important.  It doesn't have to be brand new, there are many many good used saddles out there that you can find.  Good leather and a solid tree are so important for the safety of the rider and the comfort of the horse.  You'd be amazed at what putting yourself in a proper position will do for helping your horse move to the best of his ability and keep you both happy and safe on the ride. You would be so much farther ahead to buy a used saddle for 500 bucks that was once a 3,000 dollar saddle than you would be to buy a brand new saddle for 300 bucks.  I guarantee that anything you buy new for less than 1,000 if it's a western saddle is not worth the money you paid for it.

Aside from outfitting your horse in tack that is of good quality, clean and fitted to your horse, you should take yourself seriously enough to dress the part of a horseman.  If you show up to ride looking like a gunsel, your mental state is already not in the best place.  When you take pride in  your appearance, your gear, and your horse you will take your horsemanship seriously and attempt to be the best that you can be for your horse.  That's a lesson that a lot of our younger generation could take to heart for more than just horsemanship.  Take yourselves seriously enough to care about your appearance a little and other folks might take you a bit more seriously as well. I, for one, honestly can't hear a word somebody is saying if they have a huge plastic spacer in their ear or have their pants around their anus.

It doesn't have to be fancy, just practical.  If you can't take yourself seriously, how is your horse supposed to take it seriously.  We always expect the best from our horses, but we need to be giving 100% as well. Once you learn to give everything you've got to your time with your horse, you can begin to expect 100% from him too.

But wait, you might say, I'm not going to be serious about this, I just want to trail ride.  Isn't the trail ride more enjoyable when your horse is a willing partner?  Let me tell you, for certainty that it is.  Those folks on that ride with us this past weekend had all sorts of trouble.  Saddles slipping off, horses baulking because of tack pinching, horses jigging, rearing, bolting, bucking, whirling and kicking.  It didn't look like much fun to me. Not to mention the women that got terribly burned and scratched from wearing the wrong clothes.  I'm guessing there were also some saddle sores from some designer jeans that were riding up.

So, do yourselves and your horses a favor.  Ride like you mean it.  The correct attitude about your horsemanship begins with you.  Care enough to make having the right gear a priority.  Wear proper fitting clothing appropriate to the activity.  Groom the stinking knots out of your horse's mane, for crying out loud. Wear boots or other proper riding footwear.  Wear a shirt that covers most of your torso and could be of some benefit if you were pitched into a thorn bush.  I shouldn't have to say this, but girls, if you are chesty at all, a riding bra is going to make your day much more comfortable.  

If you aren't sure if your tack is adjusted properly, ask.  But don't ask somebody else with a plastic saddle.  Look for the person on the best groomed horse, with a nice leather saddle that has boots and jeans on and has a horse standing quietly.  They will be sitting off by themselves somewhere keeping their horse out of the way of all the whirling, kicking, squealing and jigging.  Their horse will be standing quietly with a leg cocked.  They may be smirking just a little.  That's the one you need to ask for some help.   Believe, me, they will be happy you asked. 

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