Another level

I have heard the fellow that said many horseman were “surface workers” would not help the fellows with their horses if they were going to show them in the stock horse contests. This is something to look at.

My interpretation is that he felt the competition caused the rider to put to much pressure on the horse getting ready for and during the competition. This fella said he quit riding when he felt he was getting in the way of the horse, so you can tell he was real sensitive to the horse.

I am not sure if he was judging the folks that wanted to show the horse, or just was not interested in the outcome.

I know how I feel and will share that with you. Just because I like something or don’t like something for myself, it does not mean I think it is wrong for someone else.

Let’s look at working with animals in general, not just showing. To get an animal to do something for you you must put some type of pressure on it. This is a big part of stockmanship. Learning how to apply the pressure in the best way possible to get the desired results without over stressing the animal mentally or physically. We also have to set a line out there that we try not to cross, and this line may be different for you and me.

I think starting a colt is a good way to analyze this. I feel because of my desire to not create stress mentally on animals it has made me get to be much better at starting colts and I feel real good about the skills I have learned to get it done. The main thing I am conveying to the horse is that if you can’t take the pressure mentally I will take it off or let you move away from it.

The best thing I did for myself was to get rid of my flag and quit using the end of my halter rope. With these tools I was putting to much pressure on the horse in to many spots at one time, and even though you eventually get it, the horse must go through much more than needed and ends up not as good as he could have been.

Now I know this is going to upset some folks that like the flag and the end of the halter rope, but I challenge you to think about it a little and ask yourself if you could change some things to get even better results would you do it, or is your ego getting in your way. You may not have the feel it takes, so you may have to use excessive pressure to get it done.

Once a horse understands that you will help him out of pressure, now you are getting somewhere. Now the job becomes not betraying that trust. As you progress through the preparation of the horse for future use he can keep this trust or lose the trust because of the pressure you put on him. It has been my experience that the horse can get real handy and stay real good mentally if we have the time it takes to accomplish what we want and don’t ask for things that are unreasonable for the horse to do.

The pressure comes on to the human and the horse when you decide to compete. It can cause you to put to much pressure on yourself and the horse. Why do we do this? I feel it is so we don’t embarrass ourselves. When we compete we want to perform to whatever level so as not put the pressure of embarrassment on ourselves so we put whatever pressure it takes on the horse to keep the pressure off ourselves.

This is a real personal thing, but I think people get to competing and don’t really see what they are doing to themselves or their horse.

The same thing happens when we get to much pressure from the completion of a job with cattle. We usually try to hurry them faster than they are able to think or move and we may be moving faster than we can think, and that will create problems.

I don’t have a problem with people competing, and really don’t know what is right and wrong for everyone else, but do know what I want because I have thought about it a lot, and am not just going with the herd.

I hope you will look to the inside and see what really makes you feel good.

Several years ago I decided I would not sell horses. The reason I did this was to keep my horsemanship pure. When you are trying to sell a horse you should do what it takes to get it sold, and this was influencing my horsemanship. I gave a good number of horses away and I think I learned better horsemanship trying to give someone the best horse but not having to worry about the sale.

The other thing I did was quit wearing spurs. The reason I did this was to force myself to put the horse in the proper balance before asking. I am real happy I did this for myself. It really got me to getting results with hardly any movement of my leg. If you rely on the spur you can get the movement without having the horse in balance, but it is not as good and pure, and the horse will have a negative attitude towards the spur and leg.

I love to challenge myself to do less but get more, and am trying to get you to do the same.

It’s important to have a purpose with any endeavor, but don’t let the purpose override the rewards. This is when the trouble can show up.

~ Curt Pate

6 thoughts on “Another level

  1. Tiffanie

    I am interested in learning more about getting a young horse to move without using a halter rope. Maybe posting some video clips as well? Thanks ‘

    1. Alan French

      Darn it Curt! Am cruising’ down to Christmas and you go write yet another piece that really interesting!
      You know that I draw parallels between stockmanship and lets call it peopleship 🙂 Being married to a Dairy Cattle Farmer’s daughter until a few years back, and being interested in the human psychology of pain and gain in business, you’re blog piece raises a number of questions for me.
      I got to thinking about this subject about 10 years ago when my son was playing Football. He had two coaches; one who bordered on the sycophantic, would praise the kids for just about everything they did. When they screwed up. He’d say nothing, or write their excuse for them. The other coach, could, and occasionally did, dish out the most brutal of verbal punishments when they did something dumb, but equally, he would put kids on a pedestal a mile high with praise if they got something right. I asked my son which coach he liked best. The result was the guy who who could make you feel 1inch tall or 10 feet tall. I asked him why and he said “sometimes Dad, I do dumb things without knowing it. I need to know when I do badly AND when I do well.”

      So that brings me to your blog. Does “good” horsemanship recognise that occasionally, horses, like humans, do stupid things that could be harmful or dangerous? I may have understood incorrectly, but it sounds like your philosophy is carrot only, no stick. If that is so, how do you get the horse to understand the wide range of situations and behaviours that you’d like to see, without negative consequences. I know horses are not human, but in human terms that’s like ignoring bad behaviour and only rewarding the good – it has limited success. Applying pressure to get the right kind of movement is one thing. Rewarding a bucking bull for the right combination of left and right rotations etc. with food is surely only half the opportunity.
      Please don’t get me wrong. I do not, and will not support harmful treatment of animals (or humans) but “stress” is a motivation to do the right thing too. What is the difference between “pressure” as you might call it, and “stress” in your view? Surely they are the same?
      The worst thing I think we can do is to confuse the animal. Using the leg for control and “motivation” (the spur) I think is confusing but I don’t know the alternative. As humans, we love to pet/ reward our animals, but is that missing a trick?

      Your thoughts, as always Curt, provide the most wonderful insights.

      Best Regards,


      1. curtpate Post author


        This is great stuff to think about. I think it is important to use proper pressure for the situation. In the case of football, the human decides to play and actually wants pressure put on him. This is why your son liked the tough coach.

        I would like to know how the coach really felt about himself when he went overboard and really overdid it. This is probably the important thing to think about. Is winning worth putting that much pressure on, and is there a different approach that you could take to get the same or better results?


  2. curtpate Post author

    I don’t have any video. I said the end of the halter rope, not the halter rope. If I need to move a horse out I will do it loose. If I want to control the horse with the halter rope I do the work from the front to control his mind then feet.

    1. Mary Ann Ellison

      Very interesting and thought provoking ideas on where your horsemanship has progressed. I had always thought of you as getting more done with less but this explains more of your personal ways to get things done. I am going to have to ponder all this.

      I guess this means I don’t have to pressure Mt. to get ready for Nashville.

      I am going to share this with Daniela. I remember when you used to answer our horsemanship questions at Golden Hills. We usually had endless questions.

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