by Laura Crum
After reading Linda’s post yesterday, this post seems even more appropriate then it did when I wrote it a few days ago. Its been rolling around in my mind for awhile. Every time I would read a post on a horse blog about someone who had been hurt and or scared dealing with a horse and was now afraid to ride, the thought “they need to find a solid-minded horse” would pop into my mind. And then Linda pointing out that her body wouldn’t tolerate much riding put another spin on what a solid-minded horse can do for you. But it was Kate who really got me intrigued with the subject when I read some of her recent posts.
Kate, over at “A Year With Horses”—listed on the sidebar-- got me thinking about what a solid-minded horse really is. Kate had been talking about “inner softness”, which to my mind, and I may be misinterpreting, is a horse that trusts the rider, even when the horse is scared, and is willing to remain reasonably calm and follow the rider’s direction at all times and under all circumstances. Now I’ve had horses like that. My two horses, Gunner and Plumber, both of whom I owned since they were three years old and trained myself (and they’re still with me—both retired now), trusted me at all times. They were sensitive, reactive horses, and to the end of their riding days they would spook, but neither of them EVER bolted, or resisted my direction when they were nervous. Neither ever bucked with me—other than a happy crowhop during warmup when they felt good. Neither ever threatened me in any way. I never came off either horse, and they were my mounts for ten and fifteen years, respectively. They trusted me, even when they were nervous—the worst either ever did was a startled jump and some prancing when something made them anxious. They did not panic; they remained obedient and responsive to my cues. They were “soft” on the inside, to use Kate’s expression. They trusted the rider and drew confidence from him/her at all times.
Now that’s a nice kind of horse—but its not the kind of horse I want (or have) as a riding horse now. What I want (and have) these days, for both myself and my son, is a solid-minded horse, one who takes care of himself—and me with him. They don’t so much derive confidence from me as I feel confident in them. They are confident in themselves. I said as much in a comment on one of Kate’s posts and then realized that I said nothing about how to get a horse like that—which isn’t very helpful. I started thinking about what I might say, and realized it was far too long for a comment. So I began writing this post.
First off, I want to say that the following thoughts are just my ideas. I didn’t learn them from an expert—they are simply thoughts that arise from my observations over the years. I’m not sure I’m right, and I don’t mean to tell anyone else what to do or think. But if these insights are helpful to someone else, that’s great.
Second, I have a specific background in the horse biz, and all of my experience (with a few exceptions) lies with cowhorses—QH type horses that have been used for ranching, roping, cutting…etc. I’m not sure if my insights will translate to horses of other breeds and disciplines. So I’m going to be very specific in what I say—and it doesn’t mean that other types of horses and disciplines are lesser, or less inclined to create solid-minded horses. It just means I have no knowledge on that subject.
Now what I mean by a solid-minded horse—one who is confident in himself—has almost nothing to do with inner “softness”—at least as I understand that term. My horse Sunny is not soft in any sense—either inner or outer. Sunny’s first impulse, when given a cue, is to be minorly resistant. I know, that sounds awful, but in actual fact the horse does everything I ask him to. I just have to be firm.
Why is this good, you ask? Well, it wouldn’t be, if I were trying to do dressage. Sunny would be quite frustrating. (And I believe his former owner did try to use him for dressage and found him frustrating.) But I am using him as a trail horse, and for easy gathers, and I find him perfect. Because Sunny is confident in himself, and when something unexpected happens, like the time we ran into a bouncy house full of screaming kids on a solo trail ride, and the time the sprinklers went off in his face (see my recent post “What Would You Do?”) Sunny reacts like a solid-minded horse. He gives the thing a good hard look. He rarely spooks. And when he does he is not panicked. He is never out of control. There is always a level of inner calm. Yes, he has confidence in me, but that’s not the bottom line. Sunny would (and has in his past) pack a very inexperienced rider and behave much the same. Not because he is taking care of his rider, but because he is confident in his ability to take care of himself—not particularly afraid of the unexpected and startling things that happen. He assumes he’ll be OK. All the rider has to do is stay with him, and he/she will be OK, too.
Sunny (and Henry, my son’s horse) is the opposite of a reactive horse like my horses Gunner and Plumber. But since a non-reactive horse connotes a dull horse, I don’t like to use that term. Neither Sunny nor Henry is dull. They are alert and eager to go on the trail. They look at everything, ears forward, and they move out readily. They are calm and solid-minded because they are confident, not because they are dull.
So what makes them this way? That’s a good question. And I don’t entirely know the answer. I’ve never trained a horse that ended up having this trait. The horses I trained that I kept as my mounts were more like what Kate is describing when she talks about emotional softness. They were “with” me. They trusted me and were confident in my leadership. But I wouldn’t say they were particularly confident in themselves.
The horses I’ve known that were solid-minded and confident in themselves shared several things in common. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize a horse that has this trait, and these days I select for it. But I’m really only theorizing when I talk about how they got this way.
First off, I’ve never known a young horse to have this trait. They may have the potential to have it, but truly solid-minded horses get that way after years of experience. All the solid-minded horses I have known have been at least eight. And all of them had a lot of miles on them by then. As you might expect, solid-minded horses are not overly reactive. They may be sensitive horses, but if so, over time they’ve learned not to overeact to stimuli of various sorts.
What else do they have in common? Well, now I’m going to say something that a lot of people probably won’t like. All the solid-minded horses I have known were trained by some pretty tough methods and used pretty hard in a pretty tough discipline—for many years. They were hauled plenty of miles, and covered plenty of country. And they all came from a past where no one was overly sentimental about them. Some were well cared for overall, others were not. At least one that I knew (and loved) was genuinely abused in his past.
Despite the fact that these horses were trained without ever really having much “connection” with their human trainer/riders, they weren’t trained by dudes. Again, a lot of people won’t like to hear this, but good intentions and much reading about horses and even “love” are not the same as a genuinely tough, competent rider/trainer, one who can stay with a horse through all kinds of “storms” and effectively punish the horse when he is resistant. Yes, some horses cave under this sort of training, and it isn’t the way I trained horses, but I can tell you for a fact, those horses that come out the other side of such a program with their sense of self intact have some real inner toughness. They are not big babies, fearful of all sorts of things and needing reassurance. They know what they’re supposed to do—obey the rider—and they know they can do it, even when things get difficult. Because they’ve been tested—hard—and found out that it won’t kill them. They can handle it. They are confident in themselves.
The horses I’ve known that were trained this way and came out solid-minded, were all team roping horses. I’m not saying they were particularly well broke, in a conventional sense, but you could count on them when the chips were down. Whether you were scrambling down a steep, rocky trail, chasing cattle through rough country, or facing the sudden, unexpected scary thing (see my recent post “What Would You Do?”) these horses stayed confident and sure of themselves, and continued to obey the rider. Yes, they might spook a little when startled, no they did not panic and bolt.
I think team roping has something to do with this, because it is such an intense thing for a horse to learn. All the whirling ropes (initially a horse’s worst nightmare), having to hold perfectly still and then run full speed on command (and remain under control), the need to stop hard at the rider’s cue and/or pull heavy dragging, leaping things—I can’t think of another discipline that requires a horse to tolerate and eventually cooperate with, more adversity, from an equine point of view. By the time a horse is a competent team roping horse, he’s dealt with a lot. And the good ones throw in with it. They know how to make a run, and they don’t mind doing it. They’re proud of themselves and confident in what they can do. I’ve seen this many times. And I think it takes the intensity and adversity of something like team roping to create this confidence. A horse who is babied along his whole life doing walk, trot, lope and minor trail rides has no opportunity to develop this sort of confidence and toughness. He CAN”T become solid-minded. In my view, it isn’t possible.
I do believe it is possible to train an obedient, pleasant riding horse by many methods—including persistent walk/trot/canter/trail rides. But I don’t think you can teach a horse to be confident in himself in the face of unexpected adversity without training him to tolerate a lot of adversity, such as a horse must tolerate in order to become a solid team roping horse. I don’t think de-spooking can do the trick—no matter which method you use—because there is no point to it that the horse can grasp. Team roping horses get the point of what they are doing—that’s part of what creates (or can create) their confidence in themselves. They understand that the point of all this struggle is to catch the steer. And the good ones, as I say, throw in with the goal.
Not all team roping horses are solid-minded, by any means, but a lot of older team roping horses will qualify. They are used to keeping their heads and continuing to obey when things get exciting and scary (team roping runs often get pretty wild—due to the unpredictability of the cattle), they are used to tolerating less than perfect rider cues, because even the best riders give less than perfect cues when roping—it is impossible to focus on catching the steer and pay full attention at all times to how you cue your horse—can’t be done. Team roping horses forgive that less than perfect cue and keep on trying to follow directions—and this can be a very useful trait in a horse. Because a team roping horse must be a steady platform to rope from, they aren’t taught to be nearly so touchy and responsive as the cutters and cowhorses I used to ride—and again, this is a good thing when you don’t want that sudden sideways swerve because something moved in the bushes. I’m sure there are horses of other disciplines that would qualify as solid-minded just as well. Polo comes to mind, though I have never been around polo so I don’t know. Perhaps someone else can chime in on this in the comments.
Now I can hear you all wondering if I think this sort of training/background is a good thing for a horse in an overall sense. And I have to tell you, I have mixed emotions about it. The horses I trained myself, Gunner and Plumber, are really attached to me—in some ways they are more like dogs than horses. They will snuggle with me and show affection; they would never, ever hurt me in any sort of purposeful way (any horse can step on you or knock you down by accident or drop you on the ground by spooking—this isn’t purposeful—but in fact neither Gunner or Plumber ever hurt me in any way), they nicker when they see me—even if its not feeding time, even if they’re with their equine companions…etc.
Solid-minded little Sunny and Henry, on the other hand, were trained by some pretty tough cowboys. Neither horse likes to be petted or messed with, unlike Gunner and Plumber. Sunny and Henry are very interested in me (primarily as the bringer of food), and they know they must obey me. They are perfectly accepting of this, though Sunny has a need to “test” me in minor ways. They are reliable, solid horses to handle on the ground and ride—at all times. They can (and do) tolerate weeks off at a time and remain steady, calm, and dependable (though I must point out that I keep them turned out in big corrals where they can run and buck if they want). I certainly would not say they were affectionate with me, though I believe they trust me—I don’t think they are interested in affectionate gestures from people. Since I have owned them, both horses have become much more expressive, by which I judge that they are happy and trusting that they are in a good place with good owners. And I love them. I don’t need them to be affectionate—I just need them to keep us safe and let us enjoy having horses and riding—and they are wonderful at this. They are just what I need and want. I can climb on Sunny once a week and walk him around for five minutes, if that’s all the time I have to give to riding, and he is quiet and pleasant and enjoyable. It makes me happy.
I loved and still love Plumber and Gunner, but I love Henry and Sunny just as much. I know that my current horses are perfect for us right now—I don’t want to have to be attuned to and reassuring to my horse. I want a horse that has been there and done that and feels confident in his ability to handle the things that happen in the world. A horse that can take care of me (and my kid) as we ride the trails. A solid-minded horse.
Such horses do exist and you can find them—for all of you who have been scared and/or hurt and are looking for a way to enjoy horses again. Look for a horse in the double digits who has been a solid team roping horse (readers, please supply other disciplines) and is known as a reliable “babysitter”. Be forgiving of a few arthritic complaints, perhaps. Don’t expect a perfectly broke, cuddly, dream horse—value your horse for his solid-minded reliable ways and how safe and confident you feel on him and with him—because sometimes that IS the perfect horse. At least it is for me—and perhaps there are others who feel this way, too. Any thoughts?
I agree that the retired team roping horses are golden. They just seem to be "been there, done that" kind of horses. I also think that they are greatful to those who take them on after their roping careers are over. They seems to be the kind of horses that need a purpose or some activity and understand that this new job is a good one. The trainer at my old barn bought one for his 5 year old son. This horse had been roped off of for years, was a little arthritic but nothing that prevented him from packing a small child/person around at the walk trot and lope. He would offer up as much as the rider could handle. nothing more, nothing less. He would stand tied for hours without fussing, he was easy to catch in the pasture, and respectful in the stall. He didn't seem to dislike or like affection, seemed to enjoy being brushed, and once he knew what a treat was he would take one with but he was never pushy about it. We all tried to love on him because he was such wonderful horse but he really could have cared less.
I think that geldings for the most part are more apt to beome solid minded horse. Not that mares can't or won't I just don't think it happens as often.
ps laura... I rarely clean my horses feet out either! And they have never had any problems. I have to say that most of the time when I do go to clean them they are already clean. Maybe our horses have self cleaning feet. :)
Oh kel--you made my day. Most horse people seem to believe that a horse's feet must be picked out every day--or dire things will happen. And though I'm sure there are situations/horses where that is true, overall I am here to say its just an old wive's tale. And now I'll be burned at the stake by the zealots (!)
I agree about geldings--but of course I'm a huge gelding fan. I don't own any mares. That horse you are talking about sounds EXACTLY like my son's horse, Henry. Which just emphasizes the point--they are out there and you can find them--and they are worth owning, at least if what you want is a horse you can ride without a speck of anxiety.
I don't really have much experience with quarter horses, but I was in Colorado on holiday recently and was amazed by how reliable, sure-footed and patient the horses were at the ranch where we were staying. They were mostly quarter horses.
I think I know what you mean by solid-minded. I think Kwintus was a double whammy: solid-minded, and quiet-minded too. He had a lot of self confidence and made me and my daughter feel safe. Then again, there was his tripping problem, whch didn't make us feel safe...but that wasn't his fault. Mentally, he was perfect. He's enjoying his retirement.
Qrac isn't solid-minded, but I think he has the potential to become that way. He's a sensitive boy, can be a spooky, but if I tell him "it's ok" he won't make too much of a fuss. He's incredibly affectionate, and has started banging on his stable door when I appear. The more I ride him, the more confident I feel, so I'm definitely happy with the choice I made when I bought him. But of course, I wasn't looking for a bony fide trail horse, I wanted an elegant, comfortable (I tend to have minor back problems), not too complicated dressage horse. His stallion behaviour has subsided a lot, but I'll definitely have him gelded over the winter.
Great post, Laura.
Great post. I'm owned by a confident and yes stubborn aka intelligent Haflinger mare. After experiancing a shying TWH for three years, I'll take a little "opinion" from my horse gladly any day. Love her confidence, just did a ride that involved several things she'd never experianced, covered bridge, corn cannons (these had my Iraq veteran son run for cover last year, that's how bad they are), goats, chickens, bicycles/joggers careening by on a bridge. Was she perfect "NO WAY", did she keep her head, therefore keeping us safe "YES". The bridge thing nearly had her I must say. Of course riding with another mare more experianced with these situations made it much easier for her/me.
Personaly I think mares have more balls than some geldings I've known "literally".
And no, I didn't pick the trail!
I whole heartedly agree with you! I have been around Quarter horses and Qurater "type" horses all my life. I have very few life experiences with the spooky sideways,spins, spooky blah blah blah horse that I so often read about. I wouldn't and won't put up with it. I don't want to be on a ride where I am constanty on edge wondering what "situation" could be around the next turn that's going to make my horse lose it's mind, that is not fun to me. I think encouraging a horse that might be in an unknown, possibly scary "situation" is great, but coddling? It's not for me. Horses like to have a job, define the job with high expectations and that is what you should get. Obviously there are always exceptions, I just prefer to take a pass on those. Oh, and give me a gleding any day, not into the whole hormonal ups and downs, I have enough of my own.
Lots here to think about . . .
Maybe a post coming . . .
How does a horse become a solid-minded horse? - it's a combination of experience and training, as well as innate disposition. I don't think there's any amount of training that could make Dawn a solid-minded horse - she's wired too tight, but training can bring her down the road a ways to mental softness, which at least improves things. Pie will be a solid-minded horse if I don't mess him up - he's wired right and has a good start and a good mind. Drift has potential - he was badly spoiled when I got him which is one way to NOT make a solid-minded horse, for sure, but he's still pretty green (at age 10!) and I see some real potential there.
The relationship between softness on the inside and being solid is an interesting one - I did note your comment and have been thinking about it. I think it's important, though, to make a distinction between a solid-minded horse and one that's shut down emotionally and just plugging along - some horses with calmer dispositions can do that with rough treatment where the more sensitive ones will fall apart.
More to think about - thanks for the post!
Francesca--I don't mean to imply that everyone wants/needs a solid-minded horse. Qrac seems perfect for you, and being a little looky is not a bother for many competent riders.
Susan and Mary--Obviously you value many of the same traits that I value.
Kate--A solid-minded horse is a different thing than a "good horse". My horses Gunner and Plumber were not what I would call "solid-minded"--they were great riding horses, though. I didn't need or want a solid minded horse at that point in my life.
The kind of self confidence that Sunny and Henry have can look "shut down", I suppose--but it isn't really that. They are confident in themselves and don't need much rider support--a terrible rider could undermine their confidence, sure, but it would take a lot of negative crap to really rattle these horses. Being "soft" and being "solid-minded" are two different things.
For what its worth, I think it is possible to make "soft" horses without much adversity--not so solid-minded horses.
Oh, Laura, I know you weren't saying that everyone needs a solid-minded horse!! I was agreeing that people often need different types of horses at different stages of their lives.
The type of soft I'm talking about does stand up to adversity, and a horse that can't deal with unexpected stuff or hard work or lots of stuff isn't soft, no matter how soft the horse appears to be. I actually think that what I mean by soft is in fact your solid-mindedness with the addition of responsiveness and willingness, as well as physical softness. And it does take pushing the edges and dealing with anything that needs dealing with - that's what I mean by adversity - and the horse needs to know that you have a job for him/her to do and that you mean it - you have to direct, and firm and provide leadership. No rough stuff required.
And I think why so many people have trouble with mares is they won't take any sh*t off people and have opinions and as a result often have behavioral issues trained in as a result of being mishandled (leaving aside, of course, the hormonal stuff, which varies a lot from mare to mare). I've had amazing, solid mares and geldings both.
Yes I agree... I had 2 TB youngsters... both 4yrs of age, both raised by the same dam, both went to the track. One is very solid minded and is now coming on 11 - I feel I can do lots of different things with her and I'll be o.k. If I'm uncomfortable, it really is more ME than her...and my own weird brain bugs.
The other? Not much solid in his mind at all. Pretty much a screamin' ninny. I took a chance thinking he'd be more like my mare and he isn't at all like her other than they look very much alike.
Young horses are a crap shoot. I had to learn that and it's fine. I learned.
However, next horse I bring home will be trained, been to shows, been trailered, have a history... and I won't go younger than 8. A nice 10 yr old would suit me just fine. grin. Let someone else deal with all the young horse trials and errors as they become solid citizens. :)
Well, Kate--I think we might have to agree to disagree on this one. It may be a matter of semantics. But what I mean by a responsive, well-broke horse, like my horses Plumber and Gunner, is not what I mean by a solid-minded horse. A solid-minded horse like Sunny is not particularly well-broke or responsive, but he is solid-minded and confident in himself. Its two different things. They might both be present in the same horse, of course, and ideally, they would be. But the trait of being solid-minded is not always linked to well-broke, responsive horses, and vice versa. I don't think "rough stuff" is required to produce a solid-minded horse, though I have known, as I said, many horses that were trained in what most people would call a rough way that did turn out solid-minded, and also known horses that were ruined by being handled roughly. A horse does have to have the innate disposition to become solid-minded. I'm guessing your Pie does have this. When he's eight and has had lots of miles and many experiences, he may be just that ideal horse that is both solid-minded and well-broke and responsive. The hallmark of a solid-minded horse is that you can put anyone on him and he will remain confident and reasonably obedient--though he may well take a small bit of advantage of a beginner.
Francesca--When I was younger I was all about responsive, trainable, talented horses. It was only in my old age that I got interested (very interested) in choosing solid-minded horses.
Shanster--Your Sera is a perfect example of a horse that became solid-minded. I so agree. And they don't all become solid-minded, and they don't any of them start out that way. And it is a crap shoot with young horses, just as you say. Like you, I now choose among the older solid-minded horses that fit my current needs. Well said.
OK--after thinking about Kate's comments, I'm going to try one more time to explain what I feel the difference is between a solid-minded horse and well-broke horse who is "with" you. Here's a story.
When I was riding Gunner, my very well broke but not so solid-minded gelding, we one day ponied a young horse who was in training to be a pack horse. This young horse wasn't used to the pack rig, and at one point came unglued, bucking, bellering, bogging his head...etc. I was forced to stay with him, get out of his way, try to bring up his head and control him, all while riding my sensitive, spooky, ex-cutting horse. Big fun. Gunner was definitely scared and yet he remained "in my hand" as we stayed with the broncy colt and eventually were able to get him turning in circles and under control. My cowboy friends were very impressed. "That horse's eyes got as big as saucers but he stayed broke," one guy said. That's what I mean by "with" the rider or well broke. Gunner was scared but he trusted me and followed directions.
Now if this had happened while I was riding Sunny, Sunny would not have been scared. He would have continued to follow my direction--a little reluctantly, no doubt, as he doesn't like to work hard, but he'd do what I told him. So the net result is the same--sort of. Gunner stayed in my hand despite being scared and Sunny would not have been scared and is never that much in my hand because he isn't that broke, but he would have continued to obey me as he usually does. Gunner is "with" me; Sunny is solid-minded.
So that's the difference in my mind. Does this make sense to anyone else?
Laura in your post I swear you were talking about my hubbys gelding Jonesy, older ranch broke QH gelding. He has a few scars so I know hes not had a easy life but he sure appreciates his cushy life he has now packing hubby on the trail. He does anything hubby asks him with no complaints. Hes not affectionate but the other day he did stand in the tack room door and look at the treats, back to me and begged as much as he could think to do. And it worked Hes the second "retired" ranch horse I have gotten for hubby and they are great, go where he points em, no drama and seem to appreciate the life they have now. When its time for Jonesy to retire I will get hubby yet another "retired" ranch horse.
doublek-I was going to say "ranch horses and team roping" horses in my post because I have known some great older ranch horses that are just as you say. The only thing is that in my experience ranch horses are more of a mixed bag. Some of them that I knew were really not that solid--didn't really know how to do much of anything, hadn't ever been ridden by anyone with any skill. I've tended to select from team roping horses because overall, they HAVE to be somewhat "trained" and "solid" just to execute the job. And this is not to say that there aren't plenty of goofy not at all solid-minded team roping horses, cause there darn sure are. But as a group, there are a great many solid minded individuals among them. And I would say there are a great many solid-minded ranch horses as well and they are also a good "pool" to look in when you are searching for a solid-minded horse.
I do understand what you mean - guess I want the whole package and tried to get my two most recent horses with that in mind. Pie's going to get there - although he's more solid-minded than soft at this point, and the soft is come and go. Drift's a question mark but I'm hopeful.
One other thought that occurred to me (if I'm not nattering on too much) is the question of affectionate/not affectionate and the tendency of many people I see to baby their horses in a way that sometimes seems to me inappropriate and in fact downright unwise. I don't want my horse to be my baby or my best friend - I like being nickered at but don't mind if the horse would rather do something than hang around with me. I think the solid-minded ones can seem a bit standoffish - they're comfortable in themselves and don't need a lot of reassurance. Horses that have been imprinted (I'm not a big fan of this - a prejudice of mine) or have been spoiled/excessively babied are often apparently affectionate but a lot of that is in-your-face and annoying to me, and some of these horses can have boundary problems and/or be insecure. I like to think of my horses as working partners and want to have a working relationship with them - like with someone at work - where we're serious and have a job to do together.
I enjoy being with my horses and grooming and such, but try very hard not to baby them - in an odd way I think that's disrespectful to them as working horses, and I think it makes it harder to get to that place of solid-minded and/or soft, however you define it.
Don't know if that ramble makes any sense . . .
Kate--It does make sense--lots--but I think anything I would say would just be repetitive. I have some thinking about what what you say--but I need to think about it longer.
Just got a chance to read this post.
Sugar spent 60 days with a roping trainer before I got her. I know that is not long, but I have to say she is very solid minded. She is a four year old mare that rarely, if ever spooks. I have owned her for a year and have maybe seen her spook once.
I got on her after a 4 month break (for winter), and this little mare didn't skip a beat.
She tests me every now and again, which I don't mind.
I will add that she is a halter bred APHA horse with many Quarter Horses in her recent history.
I wouldn't trade Sugar for any other horse in the barn. She's got just enough friendly in her to make a 22 year old girl (me) happy and just enough solid to make a timid rider feel very happy.
Minus Pride--Sugar sounds like a real gem.
Don't have time to comment properly on this, but Laura, I wanted to just mention that if the horse isn't stabled and isn't shod, I too see no reason to pick feet every day.
Stabled horses because the dirt isn't getting knocked out by movement, leading to damp feet and disease, and shoes because although I have almost never seen an unshod horse with a rock wedged in its foot, I've seen lots of shod ones, and they often aren't lame enough to spot the problem without picking out their feet.
Laura, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some common mental characteristics in the type of horse that becomes a solid team roping horse. Or working ranch horse. They tend to be solid, tough, using horses.
And a lot of it has to do with the hours, plus a low tolerance for crazy behavior, I'd say. If a horse doesn't make the grade, they're not going to be around, too, which means it's a self-selecting process when you look at retired team roping horses--those are the ones who made it.
FD--I agree. Stabled horses may need the regular hoof picking (mine aren't stabled) and I, too, have seen shod horses with a stone wedged in a foot. My horses are barefoot most of the time, and my rule is very simple. If I notice ANYTHING odd in cadence or just anything, I pick the feet very carefully. If I see anything suspicious, I pick the feet every day for a week. I also quiz my farrier every six weeks--any signs of anything--thrush, bruising...etc, so I have another eye besides mine checking, and when he pares the feet he can see much more than I can. However, for many, many years I have been virtually free of hoof problems, so, at least in my light, sandy ground, my system works.
joycemocha--I totally agree with what you say in your comment. Team roping horses who get "retired" are by and large the good ones worth acquiring as a solid riding horse.
Just sort of a different question on roping horses - in my very limited experience I've heard they don't take their leads. I think it's something about how roping works...
I have both ends of the spectrum. My only caveat is that a horse that is used to having a job can get to a bad place if they have a long lay off. That happened to Lily. Now she's back and pretty solid. But she has to have a job and consistent work because we are such weekend warriors.
Breathe--Most rope horses prefer the left lead--some are very hard to get in the right lead. It is, as you say, because they need to be in the left lead when they make the turn in a team roping run. If you buy a retired rope horse you can either try to teach him to lope in the right lead comfortably, or, if you, like me, do mostly trails and not arena work, you can simply lope in the left lead--it isn't a big deal unless you want to do lots of arena work. We trot in both directions, but when we lope, we lope to the left--cause that's the lead Sunny and Henry are comfortable in (and much smoother). This doesn't have to be a problem.
As for a horse needing a job--many retired rope horses, including my Sunny and Henry, are just fine if ridden only occasionally. They live in big pens where they can run when they want to, and they are laid back, solid-minded horses, as I wrote about in the post. Not all retired rope horses will be like this, of course. I believe you said Lily was a barrel horse. I'm not intending to insult her or anything, but in general, barrel horses are not known for being laid back and solid-minded. There are exceptions, of course. A lot of barrel horses have a tendency to be excitable, shall we say. I could explain why I think they are different from rope horses, but that would be a whole nother post (!)
Some further thoughts sparked by your post over on my blog.
(Drift was bred to be a barrel horse, don't know if he ever ran them.)
As always, your posts are insightful and interesting and make me think - thanks!
I'm with you on this one. I have a couple of those horses, too--all ranch bred and cow-trained. They know they're horses and we're people, and they prefer their own kind, but do the job for humans.
My one horse who was bottle-fed and raised by his humans is the most spooky, undependable horse I have. People raising horses like dogs doesn't work. I've thought, too, about why this is and I do not know the answer, but I think it has something to do with the make-up of the horse's mind--too much tinkering by humans causes problems. I do not subscribe to getting out there and working with my horses every day unless I have a real plan and a real job for them, otherwise, I think they're better off learning from each other. A horse has an excellent memory for previous training, and I don't think needs daily reminders.
My previous trainer was born and raised on a ranch and to train our horses she always took them to the ranch and rounded up cows all day. When we'd get them back from her, we could go anywhere and do anything with our horses because they'd seen and done it all and were confident. Even dressage riders sent their horses "to the ranch" for her training. Everyone understood it gave them better minds. She used to take our bottle-fed horse every spring and when he came back, even he was a solid mount. She didn't raise a hand against a horse, but she rode them hard and expected them to work. They all respected and sought her out. There wasn't a horse she took in for training that didn't prefer her over their owner by the end of two weeks.
I should add, if they weren't "working" they were standing tied--even if it meant all day. And, another thing--not all horses made the cut with her. If they didn't have potential she sent them home after the first week. She wouldn't waste her time with a project horse. I wouldn't say she sent back a ton, but she sent back enough. She came from a real ranch family and grew up tight on money. They didn't have money to spend on rescue horses--a horse had to earn its keep. She also DID NOT understand why anyone would want to keep a dangerous horse around. Period. But she also understood that often times it was the people who made their horses dangerous.
Kate-- I really enjoyed your post. I left you a comment, but realistically I would have to write another post to talk about all the things that came up for me as I read it. But really, what a fascinating and appropriate subject--how to train horses such that they become reliable riding horses--certainly a subject we all care about.
Linda--I agree entirely with what you say, and I also agree with everything you say about your trainer. I feel exactly the same.
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