Category Archives: Horses & Horsemanship

Combining Pressure and Spirit

If we combine thoughts on pressure and spirit it may make some things easier to see, or as I have been discussing to “see it.”

I talked about how I like to keep the spirit in the horse while getting them to the highest level I can.  A mustang may have lots of spirit when you first adopt it, but if you are not very careful you kill all the life in them. It may seem like you have a real gentle horse, but really you have killed the life and the spirit of one of the greatest animals in nature.  They give up and quit trying.  To me this is sad.  

I feel the same way when I drive through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  We took the life and spirit out of so many of the proud people of the Oglala Sioux Nation much like the wild horse.

It is important to make sure we match the spirit with the pressure we or the environment we create is going to put on the animal.  If we don’t get things matched up this creates stress in the animal that could affect performance, cause sickness, vices, or even death.  Imagine trying to run a normal dairy operation with a herd of buffalo.  If you took a herd of dairy cows and dumped them in Yellowstone National Park that would be great for the wolves, but not so good for cows.

This is the challenge we have in range livestock production.  You must have livestock that can survive and prosper in wilderness conditions with the lowest inputs possible, but after they have “grown out” of the range stage, they must adapt to a much more confined setting.

Life is easier.  A highly nutritious and palatable diet on a regular basis and good fresh water any time they want is like a dream for an animal.

Life may be too easy.  A lack of exercise seems to be one of the real problems for livestock that don’t have to graze and travel to water, or have predators to stay away from.  We may need to take our dogs and our cattle for a walk.

This  becomes the challenge.  In the wilderness livestock want to know they can move away from danger.  In a small pasture or lot they feel like this is not possible.  If human interaction is done in a way that creates fear, the animal will always be hunting a way out and will actually put stress on itself even when there is no real threat.  As an example, picture an animal pacing back and forth in a cage or stall.

I go back to my young horses I am riding.  I want to get them productive, safe, and content with the world I have created for them and not take the life and spirit out of them in the process.  The more skill I develop to do this the better it is for them and for me.

From what I see it is of the utmost importance that we learn how to acclimate range animals to the good life we can provide them in the finishing stages of animal production.

You can look at it the same way you look at working with a wild horse.  Help them to understand how to take the pressure.  Don’t put the kind of pressure on that takes the life and try out of the animal.

All animals take pressure differently.  A stockman reads this and learns to put the pressure on in a way that controls the life but does not kill the spirit.

I thank Tom Dorrance for really getting me to want to explore the subject of spirit.

~ Curt Pate

The Ballad of Ira Hayes

The Native Americans lived spirit.  This song tells the story of how you can take the spirit out of a very spirited human being.  The horse has been such a spirit-giving thing to the Indian culture. I think the horse is what is needed on the reservations to bring back the “life” to so many of those that have lost their spirit.

~ Curt Pate

Spirit

This is a word that has many meanings and interpretations.  I have been riding a couple of horses lately pretty steady.  I have not gotten to do this much as of late and am certainly enjoying it.

I am working hard on getting them handy, safe, and content with me and the work we will do while not taking the spirit out of them.  This is the spot that does not get talked about much, but I think it may be the difference in horsemanship styles.  The way you go about controlling movement can kill the spirit or keep it there.

Horses with all the horse left in them don’t work for many situations.  Many riders don’t have the skills to ride a horse with lots of life and spirit.  Imagine a dude ranch with a bunch of spirited horses.  Beginning and novice riders need horses that are as sensitive to pressure as the jockey is at giving it.

This has had a big effect on horsemanship.  In the show world we take the life out by loping circles and drilling the horse so they can be shown.  In the world of horsemanship clinics we must get control of the horse physically by bending and disengaging the hind quarters of the horse, to try to keep the rider safe even though he is behind the action of the horse.

It is very important to be safe, so I am not saying it is wrong to match a horse with a rider’s skill level.  But for me I get so much pleasure, pride and performance out of riding the horse for the spirit in them.

To do this you must stay ahead of the horse mentally. If he gets ahead of you, you must be able to ride good enough to get him through it and bring him back to you mentally.  If you overpower him physically by bending him or disengaging the hind end you are able to get control of all the life in him. Then you start over or put the life back in.  If you do this too much you can really take the life or spirit out of the horse.

This to me is important, not only for horses but for all living things.

I have mentioned the book Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton.  In this book he talks about cellular biology. All living things are made up of billions of cells.  In his study of cells he claims each has three main purposes.  Growth, survival, and to “live.”  Cells need to live it up like the billions of cells that make up the horse that needs to run, buck and play.  If every time the horse shows enthusiasm and we shut it down, we take a little life out of him and some of the spirit.

It seems the same is true in how we deal with people.  Parenting, teaching, being a boss or a preacher can be done in many styles.  The ones I enjoy observing the most are those that get the job done with spirit and not killing the life and enthusiasm in the person.

I hope this gives you something to think about.  If we navigated our way through life trying to create spirit and improve quality of life by matching spirit with the environment the animal or person is in, there may be much less negative pressure and the stress it creates.

~ Curt Pate

Monday Morning Photo: A bucking horse has more spirit

My subject this week is “spirit.”  If you have been around my son, Rial, you know he has plenty of it.  The horse I am picking up on was named Spirit by our nephew Jaxson after the cartoon horse, and a bucking horse has more spirit than most horses, so I figured this would work.

~ Curt Pate

spirit

My inspiration

The title of the picture in the Monday Morning Photo is “El Vaquero” by Ernie Morris. Ernie is a left-handed roper (everyone knows left-handed ropers are the best) so he and I had something in common, and along with it we have a pretty good roping story. I own a lot of his prints and had a whole series of them in my tack room in Montana.

fiesta poster 4-14-2014

What I see in this picture is a horse that is balanced mentally and physically.  His ears are forward and his mind is right out in front of them to where they are going.  He is not distracted by the other horse leaving him.  The rider and the horse are both looking and headed in the same direction. He is not a very big horse, but looks to have a good frame that would be nice for a circle horse, corral horse, or rope horse.  He is not bad to look at either.

The way the man is setting on the horse, he looks like his is not getting in the way of the athletic ability of the horse at all.  His saddle is set forward to put him closer to the balance point of the horse.  He is sitting with his chest over his saddle horn to keep balance between horse and rider and not create a drag on the horse by the way he is riding, yet is able to use his legs for balance for high level maneuvers, as any athlete would.

The man has nice gear and dresses very traditional for Californio-style.  His horse is in the bridle and if you can do your work with your horse in the spade bit style, and he stays in balance and does not gap his mouth, you have spent the time to learn to keep a horse correct.

His saddle has no back cinch and no breast collar so it must fit fairly well.  He also is packing a reata, so he must have enough feel to be able to rope something and slip rope so as not to break his rope or pull his saddle off.

His get down rope is ornately tied around his horses neck in the way of a fellow that does not have to get off and lead his horse too many times in a day.  The alamar knot on his horse says when he gets to the corral he does not tie or hobble his horse, but uses him to work cattle.

You can’t tell how skilled a person is from a painting or a picture, but you can sure tell his potential.

Everything about this says high skill and stockmanship.  There may be some things I can’t see, but like the story of the natives not being able to see the boat when Columbus first showed up, I have studied a true stockman’s skills, and I feel I am starting to see it.

There are many styles of stockmen around the world, and this is just one example of the different types.  It should not be looked at as a contest to see which is best, but what style or combination of these styles is best applied in every person’s situation using the best type of pressure possible to achieve the goal you are trying to accomplish.  This is probably true in life style as well.

There is also the big picture we need to look at.  The mission in the background says he may be a man of faith.  He has a full head of grey hair, so I would imagine lots of knowledge.  He is in excellent physical condition and looks to be healthy so he has lived a good lifestyle, most likely a beef-eater.  He has leather cuffs on his wrists and a nice scarf and a white shirt with a sleeve garter, and wears his hat like a man that is proud and confident.

I don’t know if my  way of “seeing” this picture is the way it really was.  That does not matter as much as what it does to inspire me to reach a level I would like to get to.

If you ask people to explain why they use certain gear or a type of saddle many times they have no real idea why, it’s just what someone else is using.

When you ask someone  why they work cattle the way they do or ask them to explain it to you, many will not know what to say or do.

Learn to know what and why you are using or doing something.  Don’t do it because everyone else is.  Do it or use it because it’s the best for you. Always try to get better.
Always.

You need to “see it” to get this started.

~ Curt Pate