By Laura Crum
Someone asked how to make a confident horse on Janet’s mugwump chronicles blog the other day, and it got me thinking. That phrase, “confident horse” means something different to me than it might mean to others. I’ve trained quite a few horses in my life, some for myself, some for others. I’ve never made a horse that I consider a truly confident horse. On the other hand, I have owned three horses that were very confident horses. I asked myself what the difference was.
Of the horses I trained for myself, there were three, Burt, Gunner and Plumber, that I owned all their lives. (Burt is dead, Gunner is retired, I’m still riding Plumber at twenty years old.) I bought Burt and Gunner with thirty days on them, Plumber I broke myself. I did all the training on all three horses. All three of them won at various events, both with me and for others. All three were cowhorses. Burt won money at low level cutting and reined cowhorse, team penning, barrel racing and goat tying, Gunner at reined cowhorse, cutting and roping, and Plumber as a team roping heel horse. I have trophy saddles, buckles, blankets and headstalls aplenty from these three. They were and are good horses, who came through for me, and other riders they trusted, over and over again, whether that meant handling a tough steer, or the end of a twelve hour cattle drive in the face of a howling gale. I am absolutely proud of them. But they weren’t/aren’t what I call a confident horse.
Burt, Gunner, and Plumber, all three, trusted their rider to take care of them. They obeyed directions no matter how tough the going got. They stayed broke under stress. But that isn’t what I mean by a confident horse.
Last week I posted about my trail ride on Sunny, my little ill broke palomino plug. A lot of people wrote to say how rare and valuable these “solid minded” horses are (I’m quoting Janet here). And this, for me, is another way of describing a truly confident horse.
To my way of thinking, a solid minded horse, or a confident horse, has confidence in himself. He doesn’t so much trust his rider to take care of him, or obey his rider (though he may/does do both these things) as he has confidence in himself to deal with whatever comes up. His main distinguishing trait? He is not anxious.
I have been privileged to own three confident horses in my life (Flanigan—see my post, Flanigan’s Story June 08-- Henry, my son’s trail horse, and Sunny, my current trail horse). I did not train any of these horses. They all came to me as mature, broke horses.
So what does this tell me? That I’m not a good enough trainer to train a confident horse? Maybe. But I think the answer is a little more subtle. I’m going to try to explore it here, and I hope you will all chime in with your ideas.
My three confident horses had/have some things in common. All of them came up the hard way. Flanigan was broke by some midwestern cowboy (unknown to me). The horse was cinchy and apparently the cowboy tried starving him into submission. The horse trader we bought him from told us it took six months to feed the horse back to a decent weight. Flanigan had known some hard times. Sunny, my trail horse, came from Mexico, where, so I was told, they rode the H-E-double hockey sticks out of him. Hard times again. Henry, my son’s horse, was a team roping horse his entire life, and though I have no reason to think he was treated harshly, a team roping horse tends to get the rough corners rubbed off over the years.
Besides having come up the hard way, all three horses were/are essentially lazy horses. At the same time they were/are all what the old cowboys use to call hard-twisted—they can take a lot and not get rattled. I am willing to bet a lot of money that Flanigan and Sunny, at least, would have been pretty broncy when they were started.
So what does all this tell me? That the confident horses that have come my way have a certain “picture”. I don’t think I would have chosen any of them for myself as a green horse, or to start. I tended to look for more mallable, sensitive, responsive horses. I did not choose horses that wanted to buck. The three horses I mentioned earlier, Burt, Gunner and Plumber, were just that. Sensitive, willing, no buck. They made good horses. But not tough, solid minded, confident horses. They weren’t the type.
So, here’s my theory. Confident horses are often horses that, contrary to what you might expect, have been through some adversity and come out the other side. They have proven to themselves that they are tough enough to take what life dishes out, even when its not easy. This gives them confidence in themselves. The kind of horse that can survive this way and be all right is a tough minded, hard twisted personality to begin with. If Burt, Gunner, or Plumber had been subjected to that kind of start, they would, I think, have ended up blown up and worthless. But the ones who have what it takes to come out the other side can become confident.
Given a sympathetic owner who appreciates them and can get along with them, these confident horses really shine. No, they are not usually sweet. They are often grouchy, or at the least, standoffish. But they know how to take care of themselves and will take care of you right along with them. (See my last post, “Trail Ride”). I needed to give my well broke, sensitive horses confidence—and they would come through for me. I could/can draw confidence from my confident horses. I could take from them rather than give to them.
Yes, you still have to be in charge. But you can tell a confident horse what to do and let him take care of the rest. You don’t need to babysit him. No horse is perfect. My confident horses would/will all spook, for instance. But they don’t spook often, and when they do, there’s a legitimate reason. They make one jump, take a look, realize its not a problem and that’s that. They don’t prance around like anxious ninnies for no reason. They don’t bolt. They aren’t worried. They are confident in their ability to handle the world.
So, I’m curious here. I’ve put forth one theory about confident horses and how they get that way. Its fits the confident horses I have known. I also feel that I’m having a hard time describing exactly what I mean by a confident horse. Again, to get a better picture, read my “Trail Ride post. I’d love to hear anybody else’s ideas on this subject.
Happy Memorial Day!