Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just Climb On...

by Laura Crum


The other day I heard a woman I know talk about working her horse “around” before she got on him. She meant working him on foot in a round pen. Now this wasn’t a colt with thirty days on him that she was talking about. It was a seven year old horse that she’d owned for four years. He’d never none anything particularly threatening. Yet it was her habit to work him “around” before she rode him…pretty much every ride.

I thought this odd. Then the fact that I thought it odd got me thinking about why I think the way I do. OK, that’s a convoluted sentence, but I’m sure you get my point. Once a horse is past the very green stage (like 90 days of riding or less) I was never in the habit of working the horse on foot (whether in a round pen or on a lunge line) before I got on him. Despite the fact that I’m old and stout and cautious, I still don’t do this. Whether I’m riding middle-aged Sunny, five year old Smoky, or my son’s twenty-one year old babysitter, Henry, I saddle the horse up and get on. I don’t dink around on foot first.

To clarify this—I don’t throw the saddle on, jerk the cinch tight, and step up. I tighten the cinch in three steps and I walk the horse a few feet between each “tightening”. If the horse showed signs he was going to have a conniption fit, I would rethink the climbing on part. I still wouldn’t work him on foot—I’d probably tie him up and let him “soak” with the saddle on for a few hours. If he still didn’t seem flat, I might repeat that procedure for a few days before I rode him. But I wouldn’t be inclined to work him on foot.

I don’t consider myself particularly brave. I don’t think I’m completely foolhardy, either. If I were to describe myself, I might even say that I’m a big chicken these days. But I still just saddle my horses and climb on, though I no longer choose to climb on anything too green.

I am constantly surprised by the number of people who don’t do this. When I bought my horse, Sunny, the former owner went on and on about how the horse did not know how to lunge when she got him, and, of course, she lunged all her horses to warm them up before she rode them. I shrugged. In two years of pretty steady trail riding, I have never done anything but saddle Sunny and climb on when I’m ready. I don’t know why in the world anybody would bother to lunge this horse first.

Back when I was riding a lot of horses, whenever I got a broke horse that was new to me, I saddled them and climbed on and rode them. Again, if I thought the horse looked snorty, I might rethink the climbing on part. I rode trading horses and rope horses for years. I must have climbed on several hundred horses I didn’t know. Not one of them did I “work around” first. Sunny is the last horse I bought. I had reason to believe he was broke. The first day I had him home to try, I saddled him, climbed on, and took him for a trail ride. My concession to the unknown was to take a friend with me.

If I was breaking a colt I would take it to the round pen, while I taught that colt to carry the saddle and respond to my signals. Lots and lots has been written about the many different ways people accomplish this, and I think anything I would say about how I did it has already been said (better) by someone else. But even when I was breaking young horses, it didn’t take me very long to get them to the point where I saddled them and climbed on without working them on foot first (by thirty days, almost every time). Maybe I climbed on in the round pen, if I was nervous, but I didn’t work them from the ground much once they knew how to carry me. To address a specific problem, sometimes. If I really thought they were going to dump me, sure.

So why is this? Well, its partly because I was raised in the horse biz by a bunch of ropers, and they would all have disdained to dink around with a broke horse, or even a reasonably gentle green broke horse, before they climbed on him. It just ain’t the cowboy way.

And its partly because I’m lazy. Its easier to step aboard than to do all that fussing around on foot.

But there is another reason or two.

First off, horses know when you’re scared of them. Honest—they do. (I put quite a bit about this in my book, “Hayburner”, in which my protagonist breaks a colt.) If you’re fussing around on the ground cause you’re scared to get on, the horse knows. Its not a positive scenario. Thus, even if I am a little nervous, I act like I’m not. (I guess I think I can fool them.) I don’t spend a lot of time dinking around. I saddle the horse and get on.

Once I climb on, I just relax with the horse. I’ll walk a horse until he’s loose, if he’s relaxed enough to walk. Back when I was riding colts, a lot of them needed to move, so I’d let them trot, or lope(if they felt flat), until that urge to move subsided. It’s the equivalent of “working them around” or lunging them, except I’m on their back. I’m not asking much of them, just letting them get the kinks out. So, what’s better about being on their back, you ask?

Actually, I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just really dumb. I’d sure be a lot safer on the ground, huh? However, I can’t think of a single time when a horse has dumped me during this warm up period, so I guess its worked OK so far. And, to quote a well known cutting horse trainer that I once worked for “If you dink around you make a dink.” This guy was very big on “just climb on em and go—don’t fuss with them,” and I absorbed a lot of his thinking.

Again, if I really thought a horse was liable to buck hard or bolt or dump me in some way (and by this I mean I knew the horse had done this before), I would probably take them to the round pen and work them on foot first. That or refuse to ride them. Nowadays (and for the past twelve years) I’d definitely refuse to ride them. But any horse that had never shown any big signs of wanting to unload people, it was always climb on and go.

The second reason I just climb on is because I think we can train a horse to accept our method, and I don’t see any point in training a horse to expect all this dinking around on foot that’s inconvenient for me. Once a horse thinks he gets to fart around on the lungeline or in the round pen before you ride him, why then he feels entitled to act up if you don’t work him on foot first. I don’t want him having that expectation, so I don’t create it.

I still remember when I got my son’s pony, Toby. This was a gentle, older pony, big enough for me to ride. The first time I lunged him (I intended to give my son riding experience on the lungeline) Toby acted like an idiot. My impulse was to set his little pony butt straight, but, just to be sure, I called the former owner and asked her if she ever lunged this pony.

Well, turns out she lunged him all the time. As, you guessed it, a prelude to riding, to “get his ya-yas out”. Toby figured lunging was when he got to act up.

I couldn’t believe it. This was a gentle pony. There is no way I ever bothered to lunge him before I got on him, and once my son learned to ride, I never lunged Toby before my son got on him either. In one short session (Toby was a smart little guy) I taught that pony that he had to mind his p’s and q’s on the lungeline, too. End of problem.

So what if your gentle, broke horse is “full of suds” some cool spring morning? Do you lunge him first? I know a lot of people think this is the thing to do. And certainly, Plumber, who I rode for many years, could be pretty silly when he was fresh. He didn’t buck or come unbroke, but he’d hop and bounce around, skittering, and even squealing a little. You couldn’t even really call it crowhopping, but he was pretty lively. And no, I never lunged him or “worked him around”. Even when I was riding with my three year old in front of me, I just climbed on. This may sound dumb, I guess, but I knew Plumber. I’d broke and trained him myself and I knew just what he would do or wouldn’t do. My little boy, too young to be scared, would giggle and laugh when Plumber “scooted” around. And then we’d lope a few laps and he’d be over it. I think this is the way to treat a broke horse. You don’t want to make it a bigger deal than it really is, or the horse will start to think it’s a big deal. And the whole thing escalates.

I find this hard to put into words, but by trusting a horse you allow him to become trustworthy. A horse cannot become “trustworthy” if you don’t trust him. Again, I’m not talking about a colt or a problem horse you are trying to retrain. I’m talking about treating a broke horse like he’s broke. Rather than treating him like some half-broke colt you don’t trust not to throw you.

What about a cold backed horse you say? My steady mount for many, many years was Flanigan, who I loved dearly. Flanigan was definitely a “cold-backed” horse. Meaning he was majorly cinchy. Every single time I saddled Flanigan, he had a big hump in his back. Flanigan bucked a number of people off when they tried to rope on him without warming him up properly first. My concession to this was to tighten the cinch very gently in stages, walking the horse between each stage, until his back flattened out. Took about three minutes. Then I climbed on him. He would usually walk with a hump in his back for awhile, felt like he was tip toeing around. I walked him until he flattened out. And I always gave him a long careful warm up before I roped on him, being sure to “break him out” (gallop him flat out) a few times before I backed in the box. Flanigan did buck with me once in awhile, but he never bucked me off. A better horse never lived. And I never once “worked him around” or lunged him before I got on him. He would have been insulted at the thought of it.

This brings me to my last point. Broke horses, horses who know their job, don’t like being dinked around with. They don’t like being retrained. They don’t care for having the snaffle put on them and being treated like they’re ignorant colts. They don’t like being worked in a round pen by some know it all who thinks he/she is going to “fix” their problems. I’ve seen this many times. Broke horses want and expect their rider to be competent and to respect the horse’s competence. They want their rider to climb on and go do something that makes sense to the horse. I have many times seen a good solid rope horse go dramatically backward in the hands of someone who began “retraining”, starting over with the round pen and the snaffle…etc. The “trainer’s” intentions are good; he/she is going to fix something they think is “wrong” with the horse, but it doesn’t usually work out well. In my experience, its better to meet a broke horse in the middle, let him do his job and concentrate on doing yours. If it isn’t workable like that, usually this isn’t the right horse for you and you’d do better to pass him on and try another one than try to retrain him.

OK. There’s my two cents worth, as my grandmother used to say. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to tell me how dumb I am not to work my horses before I get on them, and explain to me the finer points of this and why it works for you. Tell me why it’s a good idea to put that old broke horse in the snaffle and retrain him. I’m not too old to learn something (I hope).

Don’t forget about the book review offer for my new book, “Going, Gone”. Email Susan Daniel at susan@danielpublishing.com and request your copy. You will need to send her your snail mail address, your blog address, and your agreement to review the book on your blog and email Susan a copy of the review. Review copies will be sent out on March 1st, approximately, which is also the deadline for this offer. I’m looking forward to reading your reviews.

Cheers--Laura

28 comments:

Funder said...

Well, you pretty much summed up my thoughts on it. I don't round pen for a warmup - my excuse is that I believe running in fairly small circles is worse on their un-warmed-up legs than just riding sedately. But really, I agree with you - I'd just never put it into words that well. If the horse needs to be lunged to "take the edge off", it's probably not a horse I should be riding.

I did figure out a way to get the cinch tightened slowly without taking much extra time. I groom, saddle, barely do up the cinch, then pick hooves. After I pick one side, I tighten the cinch a bit, then repeat.

I had a really broke horse who loved his solid curb bit. For some reason I decided he needed to go in a snaffle - he pitched an enormous fit. He'd ride perfectly in a curb or even a lead rope tied to his flat halter, but he hated the snaffle. I pretty quickly quit trying to fix what wasn't broken. ;)

Shanster said...

Good post Laura! Yes, I agree. I did lunge my mare before I got on her when I was re-training her from the track. I don't have a round pen and it seems like it's the English rider's version of the round pen.

I don't let them screw around on the lunge tho - if they do - they work much harder - anytime they are tacked up they are "working" and should act like respectable critters vs. wild jungle animals.

She was the first horse I re-trained and one day she seemed incredibly BORED by the lunge line - I stopped and never really lunged her again. I saddle her up and we go - even if she's had time off. She can be a little snorty but we just go and it's never become a big deal.

I can absolutely see where the dinking around can produce a dink! Loved that saying!

The gelding - well - yeah. He's dumped me twice so he still gets lunged tho' it is all work - lots of transitions and changing directions and no funny bid'ness.

Yes, I am dinking around a bit with him but I think (hope) it's productive. I am relying on my trainer for help while I'm up on him cuz now I am scared.

I try the bluff thing too - deep breaths - talking to myself. Rex says if someone didn't know me, they wouldn't guess I'm scared when I'm on him. So I must not be so much like a monkey humping a football... grin.

I've heard from both my trainer and the cowboy who put a couple weeks riding on him - "Don't treat him like a criminal when he's not being a criminal. You have to trust him..."

I do get that... only my trust is broken right now. Hope to get my mojo back this spring/summer. No other way to do that but by getting ON and RIDING! More times I have good rides, the faster my trust will come back with him.

Mrs Mom said...

Well, being as I've had mostly rehab horses, I warm up on the ground using a series of simple exercises to help stretch out the problem areas. Most times, over time, we can step away from it bit by bit.

I'm *not* a fan of running endless circles. Also NOT a fan of endless ground work (though it may seem that way- again, it all depends on the horse I have at the moment.) With the current beastie, he gets walk circles of differeing sizes, both directions. Backing, sidepassing, and stretching his head and neck low and long before I crawl up there. I've tried crawling on him "cold", and he is stiff, sore, and a pi$$ant. But by taking a tad of extra time, he works smooth and calmly.

Does that count as dinking? (Cause to be brutally honest, Sonny is *already* a "dink" in many ways!)

Overall, I like a bit of a feel on the ground before I get up on something. It usually only takes 5 minutes- maybe 10 tops. But its saved my butt a time or two as well.

It does all boil down to one thing though-- the horse I have at the time. They dictate the plan of the day to some degree- my job is to listen to them.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--I always enjoy your comments--it often seems to me that we're on the same page. I loved your story about your horse who hated the snaffle. And yeah, lunging and/or round pen is hard on their legs, you're so right. Guess that might be the most PC excuse for not doing it.

Shanster--I totally see where you're coming from. I am not brave at all, and if a horse dumped me these days, I would probably just give up on said horse and find him a new home. So, Shanster, you're much braver than me, and I admire you for still being willing to work with Rosso, and, yeah, if I was working with one I thought might dump me, then I would do whatever it takes to be safer, including round pen, lunging or ponying.

Mrs Mom--Well, you know, I'm a fan of people doing things in a way that works for them, and it seems to me that you are doing what works for you and Sonny. And I agree that our job is to do what works for the horse we have, as well as ourselves. So I'm not the one who would criticize what you're doing. Sonny is lucky to have you. You are obviously helping a horse who has some issues become a useful citizen, and I say more power to you. I probably wouldn't have the patience for Sonny (its great that you do). I put the post up mostly because I thought it would generate some interesting responses (and it already has). In truth, my way is not necessarily better than anybody else's way, but I just got to thinking about it and trying to figure out why I do what I do. Thus the post. (And if Sonny's a dink, he's sure a handsome dink.)

Susan said...

I agree, but there are exceptions. Our horses don't get ridden much in the winter and after a layoff I do a short (unless I find a hole) session in the round pen. I guess I'm just not that brave anymore, but I like to see that I have a horse's total attention, and how they're feeling in general before I climb on. But after a day or two with no problem, it's doesn't seem necessary anymore.

Round penning can help with fear. Nothing like getting yourself warmed up and breathing to help relax and get your brain working. If it helps you feel confident go for it, but just like riding, keep it interesting. A boring routine is a boring routine no matter what you're doing.

Laura Crum said...

Susan, good points. I couldn't agree more about the boring routine part. My pet peeve is loping lots of circles in the arena, which all my horses seem to hate--and to tell you the truth, I've grown to hate it, too. Now I mostly just lope until my horse's edge is off and then we go do something.

And yeah, I might use a round pen (if I had one, which I don't any more) for the first few rides in the spring, too. My solution is to saddle the horses and leave them tied up for a few hours one or two days in a row before the day we start riding. This works pretty well, too, and its easy for a lazy horseman (this would be me).

Again, I think whatever works for a given horse/person partnership is fine--I just thought it would make an interesting discussion.

I also agree that working a horse on foot until you (the rider) are tired is very helpful for fear issues. I never thought of this before, but as soon as you said it, I realized you were right. When I was breaking colts that feeling of being more relaxed because I was a little tired from working them on foot was very helpful.

kel said...

When I watch people lunge or round pen their horses before they ride and they let them buck and "get all the ya-yas out" it makes me wonder if you are not just conditioning them to do more of that? Bucking requires a certain amount of "muscle memory" and lunging and round penning build stamina. So where does this stop? Each day you could potentially be spending more time just getting the ya-yas out because every day they are getting more and more fit and tuned to run and buck.

When - and this isn't very often (ususally because I don't want to ride and they need to get out of the box stall) - I do lunge or round pen my broke horses - I consider that my time and don't allow that foolishness. No bucking or misbehaving on the lunge line or in the round pen without discipline. I am a firm believer in the the "Just Climb
On" school of thought for broke horses. Now when I turn them out without a halter in the arena or pasture they can buck and carry on till their hearts delight - that is their time, not mine. But the minute that I put the halter on, I expect a certain behavior.

Young horses are a little different. I will put them in the round pen, (saddled and bridled) to see what they are thinking before I climb on. If they take off bucking in the round pen, then I will push them around for awhile and make them work hard - I let them know that bucking isn't allowed on my time and if that is the foolishness they want to start off with, then they can work their little butts off and then I climb on and proceed with the rest of the days ride. Same on the lunge line. If they don't have any foolish behavior then I just climb on.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

In my area, we are big on round pen work. It's not just going in circles, but it's flexing and stretching, getting the horse's attention on you, controlling the horse's movements, and doing a refresher on cues. If my horses show me right away that they remember it all and are ready to go for a ride, I get on. However, I have been chewed out by my trainer for only lunging for 10 minutes prior to a lesson. He said I should do round pen work for a minimum of 20 minutes before mounting. I've also had my farrier request that I lunge my horses before he arrives so that they will be more relaxed. I've had trainers tell me to lunge at home before putting a horse in a trailer to go on a trail ride. But then I work 60 to 80 hours a week, so my horses don't get ridden daily -- more like every other weekend when the weather cooperates.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I think you and I have a similar approach. I don't ride green horses any more, but certainly I did use the round pen to get a handle on the ones who wanted to buck, similar to what you describe.

Nuzzling Muzzles--Maybe I'm just lazy. But if my trainer told me I had to lunge my broke horse for twenty minutes before I got on him, I'd get a new trainer. (OK, maybe I'm not just lazy, I'm also ornery.)Or else I'd get a new horse. I want one I can climb on and go for a ride. If I can't do that, he's not broke. Colts are different, of course, so if your horse is green, I can see some point in this. However, as Funder pointed out, lunging is not a particularly good way to warm a horse up, if you are thinking of loosening his muscles before you ask much. Those small circles are hard on their feet and legs. Better to do twenty minutes of relaxed walking. More pleasant for both you and the horse.

And my farrier does all my horses sans any sort of physical warm up and they all behave perfectly and have never shown any ill effect. As for lunging at home before putting the horse in the trailer to go for a trail ride--yikes! I saddle, climb on, and ride out my front gate. We always walk for the first mile. I've never had any problems behavioral or injury wise with this approach. I would hesitate to "use up" a horse before a trail ride-they need that energy to climb the hills. Also, riding in a trailer does loosen up a horse's muscles to some degree, so if you haul them somewhere they always start out a little freer than when you pull them out of the corral.

I hear you about only getting to ride every other weekend...I am in that same boat myself right now, due to the winter rains. And yes, I will probably saddle my horses and let them stand tied for a couple of days when I get ready to ride regularly again in the spring. I'll also do several weeks of light riding (walk, trot, very little loping, no steep hills) until the horses are legged up again before I ask anything much of them.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your approach. Like I said before, if it works for you that's great. As long as you're satisfied with your interactions with your horse, than there's no reason to change what you're doing. I'm just arguing for the sake of discussion.

Mrs Mom said...

One quick point- as a hoof care provider- there ARE some horses out there who really need work before being worked on. (That make sense?) But--- and here is the big BIG BUT--- it is NOT NOT NOT just to "wear them out"-- the point of exercise before having work done is to engage the brain. Backing, side passing, walking at varying speeds and frequent direction changes do wonders for young horses, and horses with physical issues as well. If you know your horse has hock issues for example, a gentle warm up makes a world of difference for THEM. And young horses once engaged tend to do much much better as well, resulting in long term better behavior.

Ground work is awesome stuff when used right- I consider it a tool much like anything else we as horse folks have to use ;)

Laura, this was a great post! And my original question from this morning about making a dink was in jest-- I promise! I forgot to add the winky face afterwards! ;)

Sonny sends you slobbers too!

Topaz said...

With my green pony (she has maybe 30 rides on her) if its been over a week since she's been out of her pasture I always lunge her the first day. If I don't she's not so well behaved when I get on her back. The lunging seems to bring her brain back from vacation and the next day she's back to her usual awesome self.

With my horse that bolted (that I sold) I called his old owner to see if she wanted him back. I told her about his bolting and she asked if I'd lunged him first. I almost laughed over the phone. The thought had never occurred to me, because these days I expect my horses to be rideable without running them around first. Also, the twice I'd ridden this horse he'd given me no indication he was going to do anything other than do what I asked as soon as I got on his back. I wouldn't have bought him otherwise (yes, we suspect he was drugged, otherwise he just didn't like me/my ranch.)

Lunging does have its place in training and its a nice alternative for your horse to get exercise if you can't ride. But if you have to run your horse around purely to get it tired every time you want to ride its got some holes in its training that should be filled, not just worked around via exhaustion.

Gayle Carline said...

We lunge our horses for one main reason - we don't have a pasture. We have show horses, who are stall-bound a lot, and while we have a couple of turnout areas, we just don't have the kind of open land to let them roam around and be horses. Some of them come out of the stall like kids on the last day of school - they can't really focus because they're excited to be out. We aren't trying to work them hard, we just want them to stretch their legs and engage their minds before we saddle and ride.

We don't have to lunge all of them, and not every time. You take a horse out of the stall and you can pretty much tell if he's a little too bright-eyed to pay attention. I can ride it out, but why not just let him play for awhile and get it out of his system? Then he's ready to listen to me and we have a good time together.

Laura Crum said...

Gayle, I gotta admit, if I had horses that were kept in box stalls, I'd probably lunge them (sometimes) before I rode them, too. That's a good point. I know just what you mean about a horse that is absolutely too bright-eyed. I used to ride for a few horse trainers who kept their horses stalled and I well remember that look. You are so right. OK, all you guys who have stalled horses full of pent up life, I see your point in lunging first. In this part of the world, very few of us who are not showing keep our horses stalled, so this doesn't come up in my crowd of team ropers and ex team ropers.

I keep my horses in great big pens where they can get up to a flat out gallop if they want (and they do), so I don't run into this. My horses do feel good sometimes, as I described in the post, but they are broke horses and don't threaten me, so yeah, I do just ride through it. But I'm a big chicken and would not do this if I thought I might get hurt.

Topaz, I agree with you. You should laugh at the idea that you were supposed to have to lunge the push button show horse before you rode him. What's the point of paying for an ultra broke horse if he isn't broke enough to just climb on?

Mrs Mom--as a hoof care provider you know a lot more than I do about that. But I have honestly had very little trouble getting my horses (young and old) to behave for the farrier. We expect and enforce good behavior and I don't tend to choose dingy horses. I can see where it would help some horses to get their hocks warmed up. My farrier takes it slow and easy on the older ones and they always seem to do fine. The farrier I use is really quick--he only takes a few minutes to trim a hoof and that helps the old guys, too. This farrier's been at it a long time. He's in his sixties and I have used him for over twenty years--with very good results. By which I mean very few lame horses--knock on wood. Anyway, thanks for chiming in on the farrier front.

KB said...

I'm in the climb on and ride camp too. If you want a horse you can ride, you need to ride your horse. Even if I haven't ridden in a month, my TB mare knows her job and is happy to do it. We have a youngster (she'll be five in May), and we just ride her too. I think because they live in our front yard, and we handle them every day, we can generally assess their moods without any official groundwork.

My trimmer does like it if the four-year-old has been ridden before she trims. Just like with humans, a tired baby is a good baby.

Shanster said...

Oh Laura - I wouldn't say I'm braver than you... I think maybe more dense and pig headed! wink

I figure it'll help me become a better rider if I get thru it, that is why I continue on.

AND he isn't mean - he isn't trying to kill me - he had some pain issues and I think that's where it started. We've resolved those issues and I think he's probably fine...now of course I'M the head case.

And since I'M the head case I gotta work thru it for myself... I'm just funny that way. (well, funny in a lot of ways) heh

stilllearning said...

The barn where I board is 90% perfect for me--the part I dislike is shortage of turnout. My horse in indoors, in a stall, most of the time. They consider the 15 minutes of arena time he gets while his stall is cleaned "daily turnout". He only gets outside on lovely days, for an hour or so, alone, in a paddock. It's not how I keep horses at home, but it's how this barn works. At some point this may cause me to find another barn, but for now the other 90% of good makes up for it.

So I'm dealing with a sometimes resistant, sometimes full-of-it, youngish horse who has had no time to just play. I also dislike routine lunging. When I lunge I use it as a work session, not a warm-up, and don't like letting a horse play on the lunge. I deal with the situation by free lunging my horse in the arena, letting him play if he wants. (Free lunge as opposed to just letting him be there--because he doesn't move enough on his own.) Sometimes I set up cavalletti or small jumps; sometimes we do clicker work or groundwork. I can tell when his brain has settled and he's ready to listen and begin work. I free lunge before grooming and tacking him, to make a clear distinction between playtime and work time. And since I feel pretty creaky and stiff, I often use the time to move around myself. (In summer, when he does get out more, we skip this step; this is our winter routine.)

If the arena is in use, I can use a lungeline, or I just climb on and warm up under saddle. But letting us both warm up our muscles separately works best for us.

Laura Crum said...

stillearning, I don't mean to criticize any one who keeps their horse in a stall--I know that its sometimes a necessity. But for me, this is the very last way I would choose to keep a horse. Pretty much my biggest priority is that they have plenty of space to move around 24/7. I find it helps with attitude, soundness, health, everything. My "just climb on" approach would not work nearly so well (it might be a disaster) with horses kept in stalls. Even broke horses. So, yeah, a lot of why this works for me is because of the way my horses live. Of course, my horses are also hairy, muddy little yaks right now, because of the way they live. So, every system has its drawbacks. And I did keep my horses in stalls (or very small pens) at different times in my life when I was actively training and competing, so I know it sometimes needs to be that way to facilitate a goal. At this point in my horse life I don't have such goals, so am free to let the horses live in a more natural way. Speaking of which, its time to go feed them. Thanks for your comment.


And Shanster--yes, you're braver than me. I'm sure of it (!)

OneDandyHorse said...

Ok, this is going to be long. I do not lunge and I am from the same school of thought as you are. My friend is breaking a stallion and lunges him all the time... he takes this opportunity to go crazy for a few laps. She never gets on unless he has been lunged. This created the habit of them goofing off. You have to be super carefull when you lunge, it is not a place to goof off, you are working. If you do not respect that fact, then you are creating a problem and confusion for your horse, is this for goofing off or do I have to work.

Dandy has been lunged once and since she was blind in one eye (Left) but I didn't know it, it went awfully and she didn't really understand what I wanted from her. If you ask me, you should never ask a horse to get away from you unless you are ground tying. I work my horses on the ground with a halter and lead rope and I do put a lungeline on her when my mom is learning to ride. Dandy is considered green, I have done all of her training from the ground up... but a very calm green horse. When I want to ride, I throw the saddle on and go. Dandy is expected to behave and work and I have achieved that goal over a few months. She will now go anywhere, completely trusts me and I trust her too, I have total faith in her. Trust is very important and you can only build it if you are consistently working or riding your horse, get to know them and they'll get to know you, be kind and remember that they are learning and they don't know what you are asking until they give you that right answer. Be patient and know your horse!

My two rescues have never been lunged either, since they are ex-racers, I don't even know if they ever lunged before! I bought them and they were considered unbroke to saddle, so, I threw a saddle on and away I went, they are 16 and 18 years old, so I wasn't too worried. The 18 year old had never seen a saddle, was nervous for the saddling and kept mini-rearing when I held her back (she still does sometimes), but after 6 months of trail riding, she has gotten really good. She is still very green and I would never put anyone else but me or my sister on her (We've trained about 15 horses together). The 16 year old is as bombproof as I've ever seen, nothing will get her in an elevated state of mind... she is mostly lazy, but can dish out great speed if you ask. She was probably a leadline horse and was asked to walk very slow as she still does. I would put most anyone on her, but she is a bit hard mouthed and does not understand all of the leg aids, but she can do basic stuff and will go right about anywhere.

To me it's not important if you lunge your horse or not, but if you do, do it right, don't just push your horse around to make him run... It is all about respect and the ability for your horse to listen from a distance.

Laura Crum said...

One Dandy Horse--there seems to be two schools of thought on lunging. Some people use it as a tool to let the horse buck and play and exercise himself so he can settle down to work when ridden. Others use it as part of the "work" and expect the horse to pay attention and not buck and play. Stillearning uses free lunging to let the horse play and lunging for work, so there's a comprimise. I don't lunge horses to speak of so have no particular opinion about it. I have used it for work (while teaching my son to ride for instance) and I have used it to exercise a horse when for some reason I didn't want to ride. In either case I'm not tolerant of horses tightening the lungeline, so I insist they behave. But I don't try to teach a horse much on a longe line. If he walk trot lopes and whoas on command he's good. I've never been big on longing. Its greatest use is to check soundness, in my barn.

OneDandyHorse said...

Laura, I understand the schools of thought, but I am of the opinion that if you free lunge a difficult horse to let him buck and play, he COULD pick up a habit of doing crazy stuff before going to work. I am not against making your horse run around, I did it to teach a wild horse to trust. Every time she would jump or pull back from me, she would run around the pen a few times, it actually worked and I didn't apply any commands, just have her run and work hard, since she was lazy, she'd rather put up with me than have to run again. I did lunge with commands, but I don't do this often. My idea is, if people want to control their horse from the ground at a distance, they should really enforce good behaviour on a lungeline, if they just want to make their horse a bit tired and spend pent up energy, then have them run! I've seen A LOT of people lunging horses in a really BAD way... the point of lunging is not to run after your horse and chase him, you could get hurt... it is to focus your energy to make your horse move, therefore "pushing" him with your body language and that only takes little movements, sure you have to walk around to keep that pressure. Make sure your horse is calm and responsive. If I think about it, I use both schools, if my horse gets disrespectful and doesn't listen, then I change my method to make them run around... but I keep pushing them so they won't stop on their own. I don't run them into the ground, I just let them know that I'm making the decisions and I suggest they listen. Again, I don't lunge any of my horses but I do use it for training difficult horses and unbroke youngsters. I no longer break a lot of horses because of lack of time (full time job and a farm). So not a useless practice at all, but not necessary in some cases.

Laura Crum said...

One Dandy Horse--I think the point of my post was that I don't want to have to lunge a horse before I ride it. Therefore I don't own horses who would demand this, nor do I teach my broke horses to expect it. My perception is that lots of people lunge or round pen horses that don't need this--the former owner of my Sunny horse and our pony, Toby, for instance. Thus the title, "Just Climb On". If a person is using lunging (or round pen) as a tool because their horse is stall bound or because they have a green horse, I can see the point. I do agree that letting a horse buck on the lungeline is a negative. What I was trying to say in my last comment was that I (on the few occasions that I have used the lungeline in recent years) just expect a horse to execute a decent walk, trot, lope, whoa on command. And by command I don't nmean vocal commands. I indicate the gate with body language and a cluck or body language and whoa for whoa. I have seen people use the sort of harried chasing you are describing, but they are mostly pretty ignorant folks. Pretty much everyone who wrote in here seems to know a lot more than that. So I think we're all on the same page. And I'm like you, I don't break or train horses any more either, so everything I own is broke to ride (sans pre-lunging).

HorseOfCourse said...

I guess I am too lazy to lunge, and I find it very boring too!

On the other hand, I love to ride my horses.
So once they are reasonably OK with carrying a rider I take them out on trail, and walk part of the way.
Much more interesting than circles in the arena, both to me and the horse.
They get to see a lot, and get a better training than they would get on a flat surface too.
I am a firm believer in varied work.

I also agree that you often get what you expect, i.e. if you expect the horse to behave, they often do.

I must say that to me, a good turnout is very important. Our horses are stabled during the night, but out all day. I believe you avoid a lot of potential problems with this, and get happier horses too.

Henry is still doing well, Laura?

Mel said...

Great post! You summed up my thoughts nicely. I did extensive ground work with all my new horses in the first 30 days, but after that they were only put into the round pen or on the lunge if I have trying to figure out if something was wrong (for example, if there was something just off about her attitude after a ride and I wanted to get a good look at her moving and see how she intereactged with me). If I have an injury that requires no riding, handwalking etc. I may go back to ground work during that time - teaching long reins etc., but I don't do that if everything is going well.

Laura Crum said...

Horse Of Course and Mel--it sounds like you guys are on my page. Essentially I just find lunging boring and I think the horse does, too. And Horse Of Course, so far Henry is fine, but I am a little bit paranoid. After his weird colic one year after surgery (see my post "A Strange Story), I have been careful to get him out every day for walking and grazing and I am feeding him three smaller meals a day, rather than two larger ones. Once the mud is gone and we can ride regularly again, maybe I'll go back to being more relaxed.

HorseOfCourse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HorseOfCourse said...

Laura, I believe we talked this over last time he coliced, and if so you have to forgive me for repeating myself.

I had a horse once with large colic problems. She got bad every month, and I was really worrying my brains out what to do with it. Vets couldn't help me either.
I got a tip from a friend with several senior horses to try Bailey's Digest Plus, a prebiotic.
Look at it here: http://tinyurl.com/ykpf5k3
After starting her on it the problems were gone. Vanished. Absolutely amazing.
I could sleep at nights again.
I have never seen anything as efficient ever.

I do not know whether you can get hold of it in your part of the world, but you might try something similar?

Deb said...

I think the most important word in the post is "dink". If you 'dink around', whether on the ground or in the saddle, you are not accomplishing anything either way.
Turn out for play is great, as is groundwork that actually IS work, with purpose.
I personally wouldn't enjoy a horse that NEEDED a lot of groundwork before mounting, but I think in many cases it is the personal preference of the rider, if they enjoy that form of communication before climbing on - not so much that the horse NEEDS it.
I just think that more people should think about what it is they are trying to accomplish, and then do what it takes to get that done - often people are just following a routine they don't understand or don't put any real thought into - and yes, your horse can tell if you have a purpose or not!
As far as boring circles go in the arena - why make it boring? Spiraling in and out, moving the center of your circle down the arena, and changing speeds within circles are all great things to do! If you have to 'work', as opposed to bopping along a trail (and there are tons of ways to work on trail if you choose!), there are a hundred things to think about on a circle - where are his shoulders? Haunches? Is the speed consistent? Can you vary speeds within the gait (slow, fast, and medium trot or lope)without losing the bend?
There is always so much to think about and learn, if you choose to - and dinking is never good unless you deliberately set out to do it, as well!

Laura Crum said...

Deb, you raise some interesting points. I did a post in January about "What Do We Want in a Horse" that addressed the idea that we all want different things. If what you are doing is working for you and your horse, than I think it is a good "way". The "work" you are talking about doesn't resonate much for me--after over twenty years of pretty constant training and competing, what resonates for me now is strolling down the trail enjoying the beauty of the natural world. My horse and I are both happy. But I think if the work you are doing pleases you and you and your horse are both happy, that is great. I am totally comfortable with the idea that there are many good "ways".