Friday, July 29, 2011

Riding a Horse From the Ground

Sad, sad to say, but I did not make it to the Buck Brannaman clinic. They changed the time and made it an hour earlier which made it more difficult for us to get there. That, and the fact that there was already so much going on son's driving test for his permanent Driver's License, family coming to town at 7:00 pm, a new fence project, and my responsibility getting football fundraising tickets that were printed last night, out to the vendors. I cried uncle and didn't go. I'm rather sad about that. Ahhhh, well.

Van Hargis:

Another point Van Hargis brought up during his demonstration was that we are always "riding" our horses, rather in the saddle or on the ground with them. He asked us another question, if we stay put in the center of the roundpen while the horse goes around. I didn't really understand his question, so I didn't answer. It turns out I've already been doing what he demonstrated, actively walking out and directing my horse from the center. I didn't really think of it as "riding" though, and that concept has helped me to better understand what it is I'm doing. Pick up my walk, my energy, the horse picks up the pace. Slow down my walk, my energy, the horse slows down. Stop walking. The horse stops.

He's not a fan of "joining up" or "round penning" a horse. He thinks that a horse needs to learn to stay out away from you when you ask it to stop since so often, when you're doing a job, it will need to. When I say he wasn't a fan of "round penning" I'm not referring to working in the round pen, but instead the kind of senseless running around of the horse that you sometimes see. He said he doesn't want the horse to break a sweat. He's always looking for the earliest release to teach. What you release is what you teach. He said that, in fact, he prefers to be the one who breaks the sweat.

The other thing he did was to have the horse "catch" him. He wanted to practice that so it's easier to get his horse from the pasture. He recommended going out often to halter your horse just to pet him and release him or some other easy fun thing so your horse doesn't always associate being haltered with going on a ride. He didn't seem to buy in to the idea that any horse "wants" to go to work, since it's against their nature to leave the herd and be away from food that long. So, to have the horse "catch" him, he walked toward its back hip and got it to kind of look at him and bend a bit, then he released it and walked away. The horse became curious and followed him and "caught" him.

Now to put all of this to practice. A few days ago was Beautiful's second day with the saddle. I put Van Hargis' principles of riding her from the ground to work. What I discovered is, she needs some more "riding" before I get on! She tried to turn and go the other way a few times, she bucked a bit, and she wasn't listening as well at first. I didn't have the camera rolling, so I pulled out my phone and shot some video of the first early minutes so you could see. By the end of the session she was smoothing out a bit. I want to pony her from Cowboy and get her a little more used to packing weight on her back and seeing someone above her before I take the next step, the step I've never taken before on my colts, doing the first ride.

Here is the video. It's very short. I cut most of it and tried to keep the parts where she wasn't listening very well. You'll notice, the two times she acted up were at the same points in the roundpen--furthest from the gate and furthest from her herd (who were all watching from the pasture).


  1. I agree with his round pen training theory. We've never put a horse in a round pen and then just stand in the middle while the horse runs around. Usually, they are on a longe line and we walk with them while they are training.Some (not all) don't even need the longe but will do what asked by voice commands.

    My daughter is a big fan of long lining and she's an expert trainer with this sort of ground training. She can get them doing everything from the ground that you would do in the saddle. So in effect the horse is trained to all cues and voice commands before you even put a foot in the stirrup. It works well for us because she knows what she's doing.

    I like the horse 'catching' you. Some of ours will come when called others have selective deafness, so this might work well with them.

  2. I'm liking what I hear of him - he reminds me a lot of Mark Rashid - his way of working a horse that is loose or on a line, and of trying to find the easiest way for the horse to do something, is the same.

  3. Some people wouldn't consider training a horse without a round pen. I remember reading something I read in a Hempfling book about how he considered round pens dangerous to the mental health of a horse due to the circular shape of the pen (!) but lots of horses are round-penned. I agree that there seems to be something fundamentally unfair about human standing=horse working, though--whether in a round pen or not.

  4. Beautiful is fun to watch; she has a mind of her own. None of our three Mustangs have been round-penned; we don't have a pen and now I am glad of it. They were all started in a large corral and moved pretty quickly to the wide open spaces of the trails. We are fortunate we have lots of technical trails to test their wits; makes them think!


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.