This spring and early summer have been extremely wet so far, making it harder to get horses trained, as the mud is slick and deep around here most of the time. That being said, there are no complaints up here as we have already grown more than enough grass to make it through the rest of the year and well into next spring. All the stock looks fat and sassy in the lush grass they are inhabiting.
After spending five weeks touring the other ranches working horses, it is good to be back home up here in South Dakota. The work can get back to normal as we have begun to put some of the young horses that are ready to work on the few bison calves we keep at the house. The Ranchlands Remuda has some very talented youngsters coming up the ranks, and we are excited to see them develop over the next year or so. Thinking of that makes me reflect on where we are and the many blessings these horses give us on a daily basis.
I always say that each new colt I start teaches me something new, and I often take that for granted. I am a firm believer that if you ever stop learning and gaining knowledge in horsemanship as well as life, you might as well pack it in and quit. It never ceases to amaze me how many new things I can learn as I work with whatever horses are in my string that day. Whether it is a colt being started or one that is further along in his or her education, there are always things that they will teach us if we approach each session with an open mind and a willing heart. If you don’t approach it that way, you miss many things to be learned. You also may miss the things that the horse will tell you about who he is and what kind of horse he wants to be.
Now we have certain things we want all of these horses to learn, the “fundamentals” if you will; these are the things every horse needs to know to be a functional riding horse. The fundamentals include things like good manners and a respectful attitude that makes them easy to be around and work with. They also consist of being soft in their face as well as through their entire body. Softness, or “suppleness” as some call it, means that they respond promptly to the slightest pressure. Here at the Wilder we like to have them soft in the face, at the pole, in the shoulders, in the ribcage, and in the hindquarters. This is what I call “True Softness,” and it means they are soft and supple from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail. Softness is not physical, it is almost entirely mental and it takes a well-established relationship with your horse to achieve. The horse has to trust you enough to accept your leadership. Most horses were created for leadership, and they crave it. If we as horsemen and women do not display good leadership, we can cause a lot of stress and problems in these horses. For instance, if a person is timid and too weak with our cues, the horse will decide you are not to be trusted when things get stressful. The horse will try to handle it himself without the knowledge or experience to do so, that usually ends in a pretty good-sized wreck. In my experience, more people get hurt in this situation than any other. The other extreme is that you are an overbearing leader who is too harsh and possibly even abusive to the horse. This usually results in a horse that just shuts down, doesn’t enjoy his job, and doesn’t offer much to you. These horses get pretty lethargic and stiff. These aren’t universal examples for every single situation, but they are the most common.
In a relationship with a horse, it is obviously a sort of dictatorship in the beginning. Not a cruel one, but one where we establish that we are the leader. As the relationship grows and develops, it hopefully morphs into a mutually respectful relationship that becomes a partnership and eventually a deep and intimate friendship where the horse almost knows what you are thinking and responds as you think a certain cue. I have had some folks question that this can be achieved, and it is a fact that not every horse reaches this point. That being said, if you ever achieve this with one, there is no better feeling in the world.