Tag Archives: 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


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

Ray Hunt

I was not friends with Ray Hunt and probably spoke less than 100 words to him.  I rode in one of his clinics once.  I spent many hours watching videos he had done, read everything I could about him, and listened to and watched many of people who had spent time with him.

For what I do with a horse,  this is the person who I feel had the information and skills which best matched my desires more than anyone else I saw.  What he did with a horse to prepare it fit my athletic ability first and the way he rode a horse fit with exactly the jobs I wanted to do horseback.  This is why I decided to really study what he did.  I noticed his horses and his ability while on those horses was very different from a lot of the people and wanted to understand this difference.

His horses seemed to take so little effort to engage movement or control movement.  They always seemed to be in balance and ready for the next move and he seemed to be in the perfect spot to encourage and not get in the way of the horse’s balance.

I did an intense study for myself on what it appeared to me made him so much to my liking. What I came up with was some things that led me to some horsemanship ideas that upset some folks. Some of these people  even accused me of going against the principles of Ray Hunt himself. I think I made some mistakes on how I went about sharing my ideas which really offended some folks.  I would maybe change the way I presented the ideas, but I still believe in what I translated from the study.

It is not the purpose of this writing to get into a bunch of horse training discussion.  What I think is important here is to understand what made Ray Hunt so good and how can this can improve your communication and skill with animals and maybe humans.

This is all speculation on my part and not what Ray Hunt may have thought or did.  I am just using him as an example to help you see things from the way I see them.

At his clinics it seemed like he only did things that fit the horse mentally and physically, and if you did not have the ability to ride through it, you were in over your head and it might not work out so well.  Many people felt this was wrong, but I don’t think he asked them to sign up. There was no pre-screening of abilities.  That was your job before you signed up for the clinic.

So many people who were starting colts were in over their head, and in the horsemanship classes you had to be able to think and ride. If you were not at that level you might get a little confused.  There always seemed to be several people who did fit the skill level required and they really benefitted.  The good thing about the ones who did not have the skills at the time was he made such a huge impression on them and he had all those great teaching sayings. When the person’s skills did improve the things from the clinic surfaced.  I think it is pretty amazing to teach in this way, yet never compromise the horse while doing it.

The greatest inspiration I got from Ray Hunt was learning how to make changes in an animal by applying pressure and a release of some or all of the pressure.  To watch him work with a horse in the round pen and how much he could influence a horse with so much feel, timing and balance was very inspiring. He could really communicate with the horse using a rope, flag and halter and halter rope. He also was very good at communicating with the spectators with his voice and emotions.

Another place which I think had a huge impact on me was how he worked with a group of horses outside in the arena after saddling them in the round pen.  With his flag and saddle horse he could get 15 or so horses which had not been together before, studs, mares, geldings or who knows what, and get them to getting along. He would be in control of their movement enough to keep the riders safe on the first ride. That is if the rider left the horse alone and let Ray control the situation.

At first when I watched this I could not see what he was doing and thought he was just getting movement.  Not until I started doing it myself and watching Buck Brannaman do it did I start to understand how much influence you can have on a single or herd of animals.
This skill is one of the highest forms of stockmanship I have seen.  This is not about running horses around the arena or getting cattle up a chute. It is about putting someone’s life on the line with your stockmanship skills.  The real good colt starting clinicians that start several colts with several riders have to be good at this.

So of all the people I have tried to learn from Ray Hunt seems to fit me best.  I am happy I did not spend anymore time than I did with him. I don’t think he liked me all that much, or I might have been around him more.  But I got to see just enough to inspire me to start searching.  Anymore and I would have been trying to copy and I can’t do that.

I wish he would have been more involved in the cattle handling movement of today.  I think of anyone else he had the greatest impact on influencing my ideas on all stockmanship. It would have been interesting to see what  direction he would have taken cattle handling in a for-profit mindset. In my mind his cattle would have handled as good as his horses, and that was borderline amazing.

~ Curt Pate

Speaking in Red Deer

I spoke at the 2014 Horse Breeders and Owners Conference in Red Deer, Alberta for the Horse Industry Association of Alberta this past week. This was what I wrote for the program.

I believe when you set your mind to do something and deeply desire to accomplish it, it will manifest itself.

Several years back I made a decision to become the best horseman and stockman possible.
This was the only goal.  I did not aspire to become a clinician or teacher, but looking back it was the only way to get where I am going (I am not there yet).

At first I was real interested in performance and cowboy skills.  I worked on colt starting, getting a horse real handy and roping.  I was getting better and could work with the folks I chose to be around, even getting as good or better than most of them.

This was all real good but I was not satisfied.  I felt something was missing.  We were all talking one thing, but really doing another.  I started working on how to really get to working with animals to get what I was looking for.

This is the first thing to remember:  Horsemanship is a very personal thing.

If what I do makes me happy, that’s important.  If it is not something you find appealing, no offense.

I don’t compete, so the first thing I had to do was to learn that the training that is popular to win at competitions could be keeping me from my goal.

One of the big changes to my way of approaching horsemanship was getting introduced to what I have termed “Calvary Dressage.”  Most things that I have studied from the Calvary have been very practical and easy to learn.  They had to have a process of teaching that got results quickly and taught low- skill horseman to become accomplished horseman real quickly.  This created a method of horsemanship that was simple, effective, and practical that made good horses that would last.

The next big learning experience was pursuing what is commonly termed “low-stress cattle handling,”  This is about handling stock in a way that is positive to the performance of the animal.  It is about working with the animal to get it to do what you want rather than forcing the animal to do what you need.

The other thing that you should know is while learning I had very little fear of getting bucked off or hurt.  I could ride real well and could think myself out of a situation.  So what works for me may not be totally correct for you.  Only you can make that decision, and it is always best to stay on the cautious side.

These are the things I think are real important to remember:

  • The thing that has been most helpful to me is realizing a horse or any animal can only have one main thought at a time.
  • Horses are most athletic when their spines are strait.
  • Horses have a survival mode and a thinking mode.  They learn and retain in thinking mode. If the horse is in survival mode or headed towards survival mode they don’t retain.
  • The way a horse works physically, his reaction time is much quicker than the humans so we must think way ahead or we will always be catching up.
  • It is important to be able to take a horse from calm and relaxed to athletic then back to calm and relaxed.  This will go a long way to creating a horse that is safe and productive that will last mentally and physically for a long time.

Whatever style of horsemanship you choose you can work with the horse or choose to try to overpower the horse.  The horse is very strong, has great stamina, and is pretty good at surviving (that’s why we ride them).  From what I have observed it is very ineffective to try to overpower, outlast, or scare the horse into doing what we want.  The opposite of ineffective is effective and that is my goal when working with animals.

So this takes us back to the goal of being the best stockman possible.  The more effective you are at working with the horse or cow the better the results will be, so I always try to keep
“Effective Horsemanship” or “Effective Stockmanship” in mind while trying to be my best.

~ Curt Pate

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

Seeing things from the inside out

We started seeing things from the top of a hill, then got down to where we could do some good.  Now let’s look at things from the inside out.

When I was a kid I started riding bulls.  I got lots of advice and instruction about how to ride bulls.  Lift on the rope, stay off your pockets, get a hold with your feet, reach for the outside horn with your free arm, and don’t let your elbow get behind your shoulder.  The problem was that when I nodded my head and the bull jumped into action, I blacked out and did not really remember anything that happened.  It took a lot of experience to get to where I could think for myself and analyze what I needed to do to get better.  It also took me quite a while to admit to myself that riding bulls is really stupid, and the thrill was not worth the risk … in my opinion.

When I first started going to some horse clinics it was like I had gone to another world of working with a horse.  Since I had been riding all my life I could think my way through situations when they got a little fast and furious and being physically able did not hurt anything.  After just a little while I thought I had it all figured out.  I could ride anything and fix most problems that came up and get horses pretty handy … in my opinion.

I used to change sprinklers on colts and would just put my lass rope around their neck and ride without anything on there head.  I really had to get the horse to thinking about me and what I wanted riding this way.  At the time I thought this was the best way to ride these horses, and at the time it was.  One day I come riding into the yard with nothing on my horse’s head and a barrel racer friend of my wife’s was there and said I was just showing off.
My father-in-law was there and said if he was showing off he would have come in at a lope.
Now that’s humor.

With the horsemanship I was doing things I had seen others doing and more.  I could ride my horses with my legs and seat and nothing at all with the bridle.  I impressed myself and thought I was about the best horseman in the world.  When I was starting a colt I could really do a lot in 2 hours.  I would always walk, trot, and lope a colt on the first ride, and most of the time swing my rope and put it under the tail.  I really felt like I was good and people that came to a demo that were good seemed to appreciate what I was doing … in my opinion.

I don’t know what happened but my desires changed.  I started to see things from what I call “from the inside out.”  A fellow I thought a lot of said that many horsemen today were “surface workers.” This is when I thought for me it would be good to work from the inside out.

This is very difficult.  It is so much easier to do the physical part.  It is so much easier to show people how to be surface workers.  To work with animals and to get them to do what you would like, without fear or resentment from the animal is what I am talking about.  You may not impress other people, and some will not get what you are doing.  I am not sure if some will understand what I am talking about.

This is a real personal.  What level you want to get is up to you.  I feel there is a point when this becomes un-teachable, and you must learn it with experience and reflection. For me this is what I must do to become the best stockman possible.  I can’t stand it when animals are in trouble.  I feel we should try to figure out how to get animals we work with to do what we want with them not suffering mentally or physically.

I do things much differently now than I have in the past.  First I saw things from the top of the hill.  I liked what I saw so I got to where the action was and learned and gained experience.  I have decided to really reach the next level I had to see things from the inside out.  I am getting so much satisfaction out of this level.  I think there may be more levels, but I am still searching.

Ego, anger, impatience, competition, and laziness will keep you from achieving your highest level.  Overcome these and work on things from the inside out.  Be the real best you can be, not just a surface worker, and you will reach a new level working with animals.

This is not an opinion, this is a fact.

~ Curt Pate

Convenience Store Critcism

I was traveling home from Colorado a while back and we stopped in Sheridan, Wyoming to fuel up at about 11pm.  While in the store a ranch couple came in and I introduced myself. The gentleman had seen me do a demonstration in Florida and was a little critical about how I worked the cattle.

I didn’t really expect to be criticized in the middle of the night in a C-store, but I have been getting pretty used to the criticism. He was not wrong in criticizing me, but I feel he missed the real problem and mistake I made.  He said I had to many cattle in the “Bud Box.”  I am not sure if that really mattered, because the real mistake I made was not preparing the cattle better before I went into the box with them. The Brahman bulls we were working were a stick-together kinda bunch.

I had talked too long and did not take the time to get them ready for working in the box properly. I could not only bring part of them so I just went with what I could in the time I had.  I learned from the first demo and then got along pretty well in the following 5 or 6 that we did.

I learned from my mistakes.  The challenge is when you do things in public everyone sees the mistake, but never see what you learn from the mistake.

It bothers me when people criticize me, as it does a lot of people.  I am doing my best to help folks figure out better ways to work with animals.  I never “pre-prepare” animals to work if I am in control.  I just let ‘er roll and see what happens.  If it works like it says in the books and movies that’s great. If it is a wreck, I feel people learn how to adjust to fit a situation or see how not to do something.  For me this is the only way I will do things or I would not enjoy my work.

If I get criticized by someone who is really good at something that does not bother me much, especially if they tell me to my face.  The ones that really bother me are the ones that don’t have the guts to talk to me about it.

I offended a friend one time by questioning the “one rein stop” in horsemanship and he did not hesitate to give me his opinion.  We are not friends anymore so I guess we really were not that good of friends.  Buster MacLaury read the same article, did not agree with it, wrote his own article explaining his thoughts, and I and many more people learned from his point of view.  I hope we are still friends, because he is a very good person to horses and humans.

One of the reasons I started writing this so called “Scoop Loop” is because of a criticism written about me in the Stockmanship Journal.  I am so thankful to Whit and Lynn, because I am enjoying writing so much, and I feel I am getting better at sharing and learning my ideas on stockmanship and stewardship.

I am guilty of being very critical of some of the folks in the horsemanship world.  I had to learn that not everyone has the same ideas.  I don’t like to sell things to people to make them a better horseman, and actually think it takes away from the actual horsemanship skills. But I now realize if you offer someone a shortcut, or what seems to be a shortcut, they will take it.  That’s just the way it is.  Who am I to judge someone for paying the bills on someone else’s needs?

The challenge for me is when I feel horsemen are putting too much or the wrong kind of pressure on an animal and then it has trouble with the pressure.  You must do too much to learn how much is too much, but I feel we should be way farther along in this area.  Many of the horse clinicians I have seen put a lot of pressure on, but talk about how natural or kind they are being to the horse. I hope they are learning from their experiences.

So I have quit being critical of others to others.  I think what I think but mostly keep it to myself. Most people involved in the cattle business are really trying to help cattle handling improve.  We may have different ideas and methods, but pretty much everyone has the animals’ best interest in mind.  This is a very good thing.

I worry when I hear talk of the Bud box being superior to the tub, or curved alleys being better than straight , or what kind of driving aid is the best.  This is the same as which halter or lead rope is best in the horse world.  The main focus needs to be on the skill of handling not what is your choice of equipment.

A problem that I think happens is when we become enamored with an instructor, and try to do everything how they did it.  From what I have observed, it is very hard to be someone else and interpret the way they think.  It would be way better to learn from someone but use their knowledge in your own style, not in a copying manner.  Just because you have the same hat, saddle, or use the same equipment or words, and try to move in the same manner does not mean you will be successful.

Tom Dorrance said many times you should feel like you could ride your horse up a telephone pole or down a gopher hole.  I doubt he told anyone what type of equipment to use to do it, and I am pretty positive he did not try to sell them the equipment if he did suggest something.

So I apologize for any unfounded criticism I have thrown out there.  Also I hope people know that when I voice my opinion it is my opinion, and just because it may be different than there own, I not trying to offend, and if I think your opinion is worth listening to I will try to learn from it.

I still don’t like to be criticized, but it is certainly a good way to fuel my fire to get better.
So thanks to all of you that have criticized me publicly.  I am sure plenty of folks are pretty critical of what I do in private discussions as well.  I know in my heart I am trying to do the right thing for humans and animals, and am willing to make mistakes, but hopefully not the same ones over to many times.

The one person that I get concerned with when she criticizes me is my wife, Tammy. She has stuck with me and supported me through all my mistakes, and had the confidence in me to know I would get it figured out.  When she has criticized, I am really in the wrong and she has not missed on that too many times. Now that is a good wife!

Buck Brannamann gave me a copy of the The Man in the Arena a long time ago.  It is very good and maybe everyone should look at it once in a while.

~ Curt Pate