Mission Ground Driving

Mission 9/13/17 3:09 PM

Today was the first day in the four days of training that Mission stood for the saddle. Consequently, there was no round penning. I tied the rope to each side of the bosal and ground drove him. This was the second day of ground driving and he already knew what to do.

Ground driving is a good exercise in desensitization (getting the horse used to stuff). The rope running under his tail or sliding around above his hocks is a scary at first, but he quickly began to respond correctly to the cues on the bosal and forgot about the rope dangling on each side of him and sometimes on his hocks.

After 10 or 15 minutes of ground driving in the round pen I took the saddle off and jumped onto his back several times. I did not straddle him. I had to jump to get my torso over his back and this startled him. He jumped several times but then he settled down. I kicked around gently and put my hands all over his right side. Aside from that first jump he responded thoughtfully and received my weight without protest.

When I was a kid I thought you’re supposed to encourage the horse you are training to buck in order to take it out of them. Now I do my very best to avoid bucking, not just for my sake but mainly for the horse. When I was down in Iowa some years ago I bumped into an old friend, Clarence Pal, who shared lots of good horse mentoring with me when I was a kid. When I met him this time I was probably 40 and he was probably 80. The first thing he said after recognizing me was; “If I ever told you to buck out a horse…that was a mistake and I’m sorry. Try to avoid bucking. It’s bad for the horses. It can make for bad habits!” By that time I knew enough not to let a horse buck  if I could avoid it, but I said, “Thanks, I’ll never do that again!”

Mission 9/12/2017 6:29 PM

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Mission Saddle Introduction


Mission 5/16/2015

Last May I round penned Mission to a successful join-up, but I didn’t put a saddle on.   Mission is now two years and four months old. He seems physically immature for his age, but he is still a stallion and starting to act like one so I decided to continue training to teach him how a polite horse acts around humans.

Mission 9/9/2017 6:47 A.M.

The above picture shows his first reaction to a saddle. This is very normal. You can imagine how scary it is to have that floppy thingy stuck on your back. It takes a little getting used to. I think every horse I ever saddled for the first time bucks usually violently except for two recent horses, Sophie and Rocky. After a hundred horses that always bucked this seems unusual. Or maybe I’m getting better at encouraging horses to be calm.

Sometimes I forget to talk to a horse. When the wildness increases I remember. The good book says “Say to the mountain be removed and cast into the sea and if you have faith it will do as you say.” I have never tried to tell any mountains to do anything, but anyway it seems to me much easier to talk to a horse than a mountain. Although I’m assuming that the horse doesn’t understand human lingo any better than a mountain. The amazing thing is that the horse usually does do what I say, but maybe I have more faith in the horse’s savvy than a deaf and dumb mountain.

After round penning for a few minutes, I asked him to stand with no restraint for the blanket and saddle. I walked toward him with a saddle and as I put it on his back he ran off. I encouraged him to leave by making the kiss sound. He did this several times until I remembered to talk to him.  I  told him what a great horse I think he is. I told him that carrying a saddle was just part of being a horse. He stood quietly and even allowed me  to pull the cinch up tight

After few a minutes of standing, he started to get worried about it. He swayed back and forth (a Colts prelude to bucking), then he burst into a high, elegant fit of bucking. The saddle stuck although the blanket slipped back a bit. I encouraged him to move and buck as much as he wanted by making the kiss sound. Gradually he began to relax, first to a flat canter, then to a trot. At my cue, he stopped and walked up to me. I praised and petted him while  I took the saddle off.

I repeated the saddling exercise two more times. The second time he bucked a little. The third time he did not buck at all.

Mission 9/9/17 2:59PM

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Horse Training Rocky: June 1-8


I didn’t get to ride over the last weekend, but I have ridden Rocky last Thursday, Friday and every day this week up to Friday the 9th.

Rocky’s owner asked me if Rocky had an attitude. Perhaps Rocky’s owner meant something different,  but referring to stallions, I’ve never met a stallion that didn’t have an attitude, especially at his age–a prime youthful stallion. For me, this is what makes the stallion fun. Nevertheless, Rocky is a calm, level-headed stallion.

One thing I’ve noticed about the calm, level headed types is that after they’re used to riding a little and they are understanding the general procedures when being ridden they tend to slow down and perhaps get downright sluggish, even to the point of balking. This is a temporary condition. Nevertheless, it needs to be worked out. For a day or two it seemed like I was going to have to work that out of Rocky and maybe it’s not over yet. But today, he seemed energetic and compliant. Everything was fine.

While he roars and makes a scene when he is across the fence from a filly (which happens when he’s in the round pen), all I have to do is wave the whip and he focuses back on me,  says, “Yes, boss!” and gets back to work.

Today I rode him with a snaffle. At this stage of his training, the snaffle seems more precise. He is lighter in receiving a snaffle than a bosal, although he is not particularly heavy on either one.

This week Rocky was introduced to the snaffle, the canter and the pinwheel. Also, I introduced a roommate. Mission is a two-year-old stallion just old enough to start to think about fillies. I introduced him to Rocky. A horse is a herd animal they need a roommate.  The two together have turned out to be a good match and less trouble for me.



Yesterday when I took  Rocky into the round pen, Mission followed. I saddled Rocky and left Mission in the pen. In the meantime, the mares walked up to the round-pen fence rails and began flirting with Mission. Rocky and I were doing our usual training ride in the bigger pen. Rocky became about as upset as I’ve ever seen him. We were pushing the edge of a cowboy moment! I thought he was just having a bad day when I noticed the shenanigans in the round pen. We went back to the round pen and herded Mission out of the pen and away from the mares. After that Rocky was back to his pleasant self.

Apparently,  there was too much flirting poured out on Mission, even if they are best buddies, for Rocky to put up with.


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Rocky-May Training


May 24

When the colts and fillies first arrive in the round pen they mostly want to run away from me. I encourage this. I make the kiss sound, which they quickly interpret as a go forward cue. I use a lounge whip, which I rarely touch them with; waving it around is more than enough to get their attention. When I put the whip in my left-hand the horse learns to move to the right; when I put the whip in my right hand the horse moves to the left. When we first start there’s a panicked, “Get me out of here!” response. But gradually in the first round penning it turns into a learning session. They learn directives: turning, halting,  moving out,  standing quietly for grooming, picking up feet, and saddling.

At first most of the time is spent asking the horse to go around and around. As the lessons continue less time is spent with round penning and more with physically handling and riding the horse.  This is our third session and we’re already spending a lot more hands-on time.

May 26

Today was my fourth day of training Rocky. These four lessons have been stretched over a month. April 23, May 15, May 24, and today, May 26. I usually am able to start training around the middle of May. This year there was a dry spell in April, but the day after our first lesson it started raining and it is still borderline too wet. The problem with the wet ground is that it adds another tension for the horse plus the danger of slipping and falling if the horse has a cowboy moment. Consequently, I really started regular training on the 24th.

Though spread out over a month Rocky has clearly learned from every lesson. Today we took our first trail ride. I led him out down our quarter-mile driveway to the County road and jumped on bareback, using a bosal for a bridle. We basically just walked home but I halted him about every 50 feet and turned him both ways in order to give him some instruction about what the reins are for. He was very heavy; turning left was nearly impossible

May 27

Today was like other days with just a little more riding time than the day before. First we round penned. Then I brushed him. Though he seemed ready to stand as I was putting the saddle on, he ran away from me. I lounged him some more. After a few rounds he was ready to stop and stand. I talked friendly to him the whole time I was putting the saddle on. When I tightened the girth he turned his head toward me, almost like he was cinchy, but he was not putting his ears back or threatening to bite me. Nevertheless, I watched him.

I round penned with the saddle on for a few minutes. I long reined by tying a rope to the bosal and doing figure eights in the round pen. He is doing pretty well at ground driving. I took the saddle off and took him out of the round pen. When we got to the driveway, I jumped on his back and we took a 20 minute trail ride. On the way back we practiced stopping and turning, both directions.  I pull as light as I can and as heavy as I need to be.  This is a very important principle. A horse will become heavy according to how heavy your hands are. Tonight I attempted rein back. I pushed him into the reins. As he attempted to move forward into the reins he felt the reins and stepped back two steps. We did this exercise three or four repetitions.

As we got close to home, he  started to show a little impatience by tossing his head and pushing a bit. I didn’t want to obey his nagging but neither did I want to aggravate more than I needed to. I just kept the lesson going a little past his comfort zone to teach him  patience.

May 28

Today I put the saddle on Rocky, who was so relaxed and comfortable with it that I decided to take our trail ride with a saddle. We did not leave the training pen but just rode around its perimeter and accomplished figure eights around the barrels. We practiced backing up. I kept it to two or three steps back. I didn’t want him to become irritated by it and freeze up. He did very well. After 10 or 15 minutes I could feel him starting to get impatient and perhaps a little irritated but I pressed him to keep going another 5 minutes or so.

May 29

Rocky Day Seven

Today when I put him in the round pen, he stood quietly and waited for the saddle. After I put it on, I asked him to trot around me both right and left.  He was calm and pleasant. I introduced a snaffle bit. I left it on for 5 minutes but didn’t attempt to give him any direction with it.  Then I took it off and put on the bosal again. I long-reined him for a few minutes. I tightened the saddle and notch, and mounted. We rode out into the training pen and rode around the barrels. When I asked him to back up, he did it admirably, lightly, and as many steps as I wanted, like a pro.

So far I have kept Rocky at a walk when I’ve been on his back. Tomorrow we will try a trot.


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Rocky: Horse Training Lesson One

Rocky is a Curly Horse. He is six years old about 14 hands and a stallion. He is totally preoccupied with mares and fillies. I can relate to these overwhelming preoccupations with the opposite sex, but not lately. A long time ago I watched a young stallion rage in the pasture, I thought to myself… “Golly I’m just like that only I have to keep all that energy bottled up. The stallion rages and struts for the whole world to see. You can imagine that there are special problems, dangers and challenges of keeping and training a stallion.

Like a teenage boy, it is difficult to keep a young stallion’s attention. They are always looking over the fence at the latest filly that happens by. Nevertheless, like a teenage boy, a stallion can learn to be polite including politely respecting your space. Unlike a teenage boy (at least in my experience) stallions seem to be quick learners.

I spent some time before Rocky arrived at our place making sure the electric fences worked, but when his owner and I turn him loose in the small paddock he almost immediately dove under the fence but stopped at the gelding’s pen to strut and show off while geldings made violent, taunting faces at him and apparently feeling safe because of the fence between him and them. Before Rocky dove under the gelding’s fence, we herded and him back up to the original little paddock. I tied him in the stall after his owner left and isolated the electricity to only the little paddock where I planned to keep him. When I turned him loose he struck the same place and dove under the fence again, but I could see from his reaction that the fence worked this time. I put him back in the paddock and this time he paced along the perimeter his nose 2 inches from the fence, but he didn’t go through it again or touch it. Nevertheless, I’ve been keeping him in the barn at night in a 12 x 12 stall.

When his owner was here we didn’t talk much about Rocky’s past training. I assumed it was very minimal. When we started the round pen training I could see that he hadn’t done that before, but he was quick to learn stopping and turning when I asked him. However, he never totally stopped looking at the mares at least some of the time. Nevertheless, he showed the usual signs of submission by licking and chewing and ‘mostly’ paying attention to me.

On our walk to and from the round pen, several times, as we passed other horses, Rocky seemed to completely forget about me by walking into my space, strutting, pawing the air nickering and then roaring. I thumped him with the halter every time he misbehaved to get his attention back on me, just the same as the high school teacher does with the teenage boys in his charge using the tools or threats that are available to him.

After he had shown the signs of join-up, I brushed him and put on the saddle. He showed no concern or fear of the saddle. He did not arch his back. I asked him to trot and he moved out with no concern. I took the saddle off and jumped on bare- back. I asked him to turn both ways with the bosal. He was a heavy especially moving left. He did not want to move forward with me on his back and I pushed him gently but didn’t force it.

I planned to keep the training going, but it’s been raining, windy, muddy and now icy, regular April weather around here.

I originally wrote this on April 21 and finally posted it here yesterday May 28. I’ll catch up today with the other Rocky posts that are in my documents, but not posted on backwoods buckaroo.

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