A Way Out

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

I’m still not much of a horseman.

However, in working with our two young horses (a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old) I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on the topic of horse training.

Although I’ve barely scratched the surface, I am really having a lot of fun learning!

I’ve noticed a common training theme that is frequently repeated in every chapter and/or video. Some call it the principle of pressure-release.  Others call it making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.  I just finished reading Ray Hunt’s book, Think Harmony with Horses, in which he calls it putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out.

It is a very simple training principle with a myriad of practical applications. Carson James has a whole library of videos applying this basic principle to different training situations.

In a nutshell, the idea is to set the horse up in a situation where it is easy for him to do what you’re trying to teach (this is the out), but difficult for him to do anything else (this is the bind). Then apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to find the out (do what you are trying to teach).

The instant the horse makes a try (takes a step, shifts weight, turns head, etc.) in the right direction, release the pressure.  Take a moment to encourage and reward the horse (pet him and talk to him) then do it again.  Repeat until the horse responds smoothly with the desired response.

One benefit to this technique is that rather than trying to force the horse to do what the trainer wants, the trainer is letting the horse figure it out for himself. Rather than trying to over-ride the horse’s free will, the horse is learning to voluntarily adjust his will to submit to the trainer’s will.

Another benefit, as explained in Think Harmony with Horses, is the bond created between man and horse.  Using this technique, the horse learns to consider the trainer as a trusted friend, because the trainer always leaves the horse an out.  Over time, the horse gains confidence in the trainer and in his ability to follow the trainer’s prompts.

The concept is amazingly simple. The application, however, is an art requiring lots of practice.

The first trick is knowing the horse’s personality and training level well enough to know where to start and how much pressure to apply. Difficult tasks often require breaking learning down into smaller steps, so the horse can gain confidence and understand expectations before learning the difficult task.

Also, the trainer must apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to search for the out, but not so much pressure as to panic the horse.  As training progresses, the trainer should use less and less pressure, so the horse can learn a quick response to a light touch.

The second trick is timing. Pressure must be applied to encourage desired behavior and instantly released at even a tiny try toward desired behavior.  The release is what lets the horse know where the out is, and the out needs to be as easy to find as possible.  However, as the horse progresses in learning the out, the trainer should hold pressure to insist on a more specific try (such as a full step rather than just a head turn or a weight shift) before releasing pressure.

As I contemplated this concept of putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

God, who intimately knows my personality and training level, sets me up in stressful situations while always leaving me an out. He knows just how much stress to apply to help me find the out without being unduly panicked.  He is my faithful friend throughout…helping me find the right way and helping me learn to follow His prompts.  He never forces me, but helps me learn to voluntarily submit my will to His.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

What a faithful friend and personal trainer!

 

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Balk Bolt Buck

knockout round

A very relaxed horse at the end of the ride

The last few weeks, I’ve been working with our five-year-old gelding to relax, slow down, and smooth gait transitions. Knockout is a sweet-natured young horse with good confirmation and an excellent pedigree. However, he tends to be tense during rides which can lead to issues.

Last weekend, following a stormy Friday night, our arena was too muddy for riding. So I decided to take Knockout on a trail ride through our back pasture and woods.

In general, Knockout tends to be skittish with woodland trails and water crossings. I assume his west Texas raising didn’t provide much opportunity for either.

Saturday morning we started out. The 8-inch rainstorm left creeks swollen and trees dripping. Needless to say, Knockout had ample opportunity to feel stressed…and I had ample opportunity to ask him to relax.

Knockout tends to respond the same to each stressful obstacle, whether a fast-flowing creek, a low-hanging branch, or a tall vine. First, he balks. He looks for an out…an alternate path. He may try to turn aside, or he may try to turn around. At this stage, his goal is to simply avoid the stressful situation.

As I continue to hold him to the course and nudge him forward, Knockout’s next strategy is to bolt. Basically, he concludes that if the obstacle cannot be avoided, then the next best thing is to get past it as quickly as possible.

Initially, I allow some level of controlled bolting. While I won’t allow him to totally flee the scene, I don’t mind him picking up to a trot past a ‘spook’ then dropping back to a walk. Over time, however, I expect him to take these things in stride without the need to change speed.

Since he was particularly nervous this morning, I decided it was a good time to work past some of his fears.

I picked out one short stretch of trail that he was especially stressed about and looped back over it, working on relaxing and walking calmly. After several cycles, he was calmer, but still had specific trail sections he tried to rush past. So, I began stopping and backing him up each time he broke into a trot. I backed him up to the location he spooked, and dropped the reins. When he tried to step away, I interfered then dropped the reins.

The first time I brought him to a full stop beside a ‘spook’ Knockout responded with an attempted buck. It wasn’t anything malicious, just a natural response to the situation. He was nervous and frustrated, seeking release for pent-up energy, and it came out in a buck. Fortunately, I was ready and caught it quickly. I interrupted the buck then dropped the reins.

Once Knockout relaxed in the full-stop and ceased trying to buck or step away, I prompted him to continue down the path. Before long, he learned what I wanted and relaxed quicker.

By the time we’d circled through the same path about twenty times, Knockout was able to calmly walk the full path. I could literally feel him relax and cease resisting. We continued a very relaxed ride back home and ended on a good note.

As I thought about Knockout’s lesson that day, I realized he saw three possible responses to a tense situation. As he saw it, he could either balk, bolt, or buck…and if the first didn’t work he’d try the next.

My task is to teach him another option…to believe…to simply relax and trust me. That’s not an easy thing. When his fight-or-flight instincts tell him to balk, bolt, or buck, it’s not easy to trust me enough to simply relax.

Now I’m wondering.

How often do I respond to stressful situations with balk, bolt or buck, while God is asking me to believe…to trust? Click To Tweet

How often does the Holy Spirit whisper, “Fear not. Peace, be still. Have faith. Trust in Me,“ as I frantically look for an out or throw a fit?

And how many times do we circle back around to repeat a lesson I haven’t yet internalized?

Lord, please continue to be patient with me. Help me learn to face stressful situations, not with fear, but with confidence in you.

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

 

Lineage Matters

Knockout Round

Knockout Round

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Four-Sixes Ranch in west Texas, for the Return to the Remuda Sale.  What an amazing weekend!

We visited with family and friends, met some famous horsemen, toured a well-managed ranch, watched some beautiful horses, and even acted as photographers for an expectant cousin’s baby gender reveal.

A boy!

A boy!

Then, to top it all off, we purchased a really nice horse…and won a really nice saddle!

In making plans for the sale, Sherri and I discussed spending budgets, reviewed the sales descriptions of each horse, and discussed what we were looking for.  However, I did not really expect to buy a horse.  I had been to the same sale a couple of years ago and already knew the bidding was way outside our range.  With few exceptions, the bidding was way outside our range this year too.

Ken Raye Custom Saddle

Ken Raye Custom Saddle

We were looking for a well-bred gelding with ranch work and roping experience.

So was everyone else!

The experienced geldings 7 to 15 years of age were bringing top dollar.  The participating ranches are known for well-bred horses.  The 6666 Ranch, in particular, has a world-renowned horse breeding program.  And a well-bred horse experienced in west Texas ranch work is going to be ready for almost anything a rider would want to do in the way of ranch or rodeo riding.

The bidding was also high for the young stud colts.  Although the colts lack experience, they have the ability to sire more well-bred colts.  Someone involved in American Quarter Horse breeding would have a hard time finding a stud colt with better pedigree credentials than these.

The horse we bought is a four-year-old gelding named Knockout Round.  Knockout is too young to really be called experienced, and can’t breed because he’s been gelded.  So the bidding was more in our dollar range.  Although he needs a bit more finish work, we are very pleased with our good-natured high-pedigree Four-Sixes-bred ranch horse.

horse sale adWhich got me thinking about the importance of lineage.

For every horse in that sale, pedigree was an important selling point.  Lineage is so important that a pedigree chart was provided for every single horse in the sale.  Most of these horses have a few champions in their ancestry.  Although no guarantee, performance of ancestors provides some indication of potential performance of the horse.  High performing horses with good confirmation, plenty of strength, speed and agility, who learn quickly, respond well to training, and instinctively understand cattle, tend to sire horses with similar traits.

Lineage matters.

Lineage matters not only for horses, but also for people.

According to the Bible, as descendants of Adam, we all inherit Adam’s slavery to sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:22).  We inherit Adam’s natural inclination toward sin and selfishness.  Sin is not just something we do.  Sin is part of who we are…an inherited trait.  Our pedigree naturally prevents our being godly and limits us to being sinful and selfish.  In fact, because of Adam’s sin, we all have a natural pedigree as children of Satan with a natural inclination to lie and murder as Satan does (Genesis 3:15, John 8:44).

But that’s not the end of the story.

John 1:12, speaking of Jesus, says:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Think about that.

We understand the importance of pedigree, and we know pedigree cannot be changed.  We can improve a horse’s nutrition.  We can provide training.  We can address medical concerns.  There are a lot of things we can do to help a horse achieve its full potential.  However, there is nothing we can do to improve the limitations imposed by poor lineage.

Yet, here God tells us since the limitations of our pedigree cannot be overcome, He will give us a whole new pedigree!  By receiving Christ and believing in His name, we are redeemed from that relationship with the kingdom of darkness and given a whole new lineage as children of God.  We become born of God!

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

That’s amazing!

Lineage matters…and we are given a choice. Click To Tweet

What lineage do you choose?  Child of satan, or child of God?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Reins of Legalism

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I first started riding horseback, I viewed the reins as the controls used for steering and stopping the horse.  To steer the horse one moved the reins to right or left, much like the steering wheel of a car.  To stop the horse one pulled back on the reins much like the brake of a car.

Funny thing though…the more I used the reins to steer…to control the horse’s direction…the more he tended to wander off from the direction I wanted him to go.  So, I had to correct.

It was sort of like driving a car in need of a front end alignment.  Get the horse pointed the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders to the right.  Use the reins to tug him back to the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders right, again.  Tug the reins to the left of the desired direction.  He drifts right, again.

I decided the problem was too much slack in the reins.  I would have to take tighter control to keep him from wandering off.  When the steering mechanism has too much slack, make adjustments to remove the slack, right?

So, I shortened my grip on the reins and rode with both hands rigidly holding the horse’s head position.  The horse stayed on track.  Problem solved!

Except for one little problem…

I could only be confident of holding our direction by rigidly holding the reins in position.  Micro-managing the horse’s every move does not make for a relaxing ride.  Both horse and rider have more tension and stress than necessary.  Watching more experienced riders I could see they were much more relaxed and usually rode with a loose rein.

“Maybe it’s just a matter of time,” I thought.  “I have to keep tight control for a while to let the horse know I’m boss, then I’ll be able to loosen the rein a little.”  But every time I loosened the rein, the horse started wandering off track again.

Then I started riding a horse trained to foot prompts that had not yet learned neck reining.  That was even worse!  I fumbled to remember the foot prompts…the horse over-responded…I over-compensated…and we zig-zagged along wherever I tried to go.  “Keep at it,” my trainer suggested, “You’ll get it figured out.”

It was horribly frustrating!  My horse and I could not walk a straight line.  I knew it was my fault but felt helpless to correct it.  The horse promptly over-responded to my every foot nudge just to have me immediately over-correct him back the other direction.

Finally, one day I made an amazing discovery.  Every time I turned my body at the waist my horse responded by going the direction I was turned.  “Hey, this is just like snow-skiing!” I thought, “Turn and look to change direction.”

That moment of epiphany, though just the beginning, became a major turning point in my understanding of horseback riding.

Today, I view my reins and boots not so much as a means to control the horse’s direction as a means of telegraphing my body language to the horse.  I see the horse not as a riding machine to be controlled, but as a partner to be communicated with.  I am still a very inexperienced rider, but the paradigm shift has definitely helped me progress.

Lately, I have thought about these riding-lesson truths while pondering Paul’s words about the roles of law and faith.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-26)

Scripture is to us as reins are to a horse. Click To Tweet

In early training, the reins are used to teach the horse to yield direction to the rider.  Later, the reins are still in place to serve a similar function.  However, as both horse and rider gain experience and trust, the reins are used less and less as a means of directing and more and more as a means of communicating.  For a very skilled rider on a superbly trained horse, the reins become superfluous and are no longer needed.

In the same way, as immature Christians we start out studying God’s word to learn how we are to behave, and we sometimes use scripture to micromanage one another’s lives.  One person finds a scripture indicating Jesus drank wine while another finds a scripture indicating alcohol consumption is to be avoided and they beat each other up with their disparate understandings of scripture.  But they are both showing their immaturity by missing the whole point.  Both are still viewing the reins (scripture) as being for the purpose of controlling behavior.  The real purpose is to facilitate communication…to lead us to Christ…to teach us of God’s heart…and to train us in understanding and following the Holy Spirit.

Following the law (as legalists), we hear of a fellow Christian going thru divorce and immediately feel the need to learn every detail of their very personal marital relationship so we can discern (judge) whether or not their divorce is biblically permissible (as legalistic a term as ever was) so we can provide sound biblical counsel (verbally beat them up) to aid them in their Christian walk (control their behavior).

Under grace, we simply ask how we can pray for them and what we can do to help, trusting that as mature Christians they are able to hear and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in their personal lives.

See the difference?

In what areas have you learned to loosen your grip on the reins and trust God’s grace?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Rodeo Dad

IMG_1871Labels are funny.  Some we embrace and some we avoid.  I find myself resistant to accepting new labels.  I’m cautious about the changes in expectations…expectations of others…and of myself.

As I’ve posted before, I am not a horseman…and definitely not a cowboy.  It’s not that I object to the idea.  It’s that I lack both the skills and the experience.  I like horses.  I enjoy caring for them.  I enjoy riding horseback.  But I shrink back from giving the impression I know about horses, because I know just enough to be very aware of how much I don’t know.

And yet…we own eight horses…and my stepson is a rodeo athlete…

For the last two years I’ve hauled my stepson and his horse to every available roping practice.  I’ve attended numerous rodeo events where I’ve helped ready his horse and cheered him on.

For the last two years I’ve spent as much time in the saddle as I could, trying to learn a little more about this whole horsemanship thing.  And for the past several weeks, I’ve hauled both our horses to weekly roping practices, so I could start to learn a little about this sport my kid is so into.IMG_1870

Yet, I still do not think of myself as a cowboy or even a horseman.  Rodeo is such a cultural thing…usually a multigenerational cultural thing.  And it is not the culture I grew up in.  I love the people.  I’m learning to like the sport.  Yet, I still feel like such an outsider…not that folks aren’t friendly and helpful…they are.  But because I am so aware of how little I know and what a novice I am.

This year we signed our young rodeo athlete up with another rodeo association.  That commits us to attend rodeos almost every weekend for the next nine months…and half of those are doubles…two rodeos in one weekend…an all-day rodeo on Saturday followed by an all-day rodeo on Sunday.

So, now we’ve purchased a living-quarters horse trailer to facilitate all these weekend-long rodeo events.  Basically, that’s a full-sized RV for the family plus horses and equipment.

IMG_1896[1]This weekend it hit me.

I have officially become one of those crazy rodeo people who spends all their free time (and money) camping out to attend rodeos.

Yeah…that’s me.  I am officially a Rodeo Dad.  It’s become a part of who I am.

Still not a cowboy…still not a horseman…but very much a Rodeo Dad.

And…I like that!  🙂

 

Have you ever picked up a new label that felt uncomfortable at first?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Trust Me

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“Come on Mac,” I urge, leading the gelding out of the paddock. “Hold up, Halo,” I direct the mare attempting to squeeze out the gate by following close on Mac’s heels. I lead Mac in front of the barn to strip … Continue reading

Fear Not

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This gallery contains 1 photo.

Although I am not a horseman, we do own several horses and I do enjoy working with them.  Do not assume this means I know much about horses…I don’t…but I enjoy learning.  🙂 One of our horses is a little … Continue reading

Warm Up

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Although I am not a horseman, my wife grew up riding horses and our 12-year-old is a rodeo athlete.  My role seems to be a crazy mix of stable hand, horse groomer, cheerleader, photographer, and student. I’m learning and having a lot of … Continue reading

Bustin’ Bronc’s

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In case you missed last week’s post, I am not a horseman.  I don’t want to misrepresent myself in writing posts about horses.  This is not a how-to post on training horses, because I lack the knowledge required to write such a post. … Continue reading