Tag Archives: horsemanship

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