Monthly Archives: November 2016

What is “The Knife Edge”

Anyone who’s trained reining horses is aware that horses magnetize to gates, and avoid certain places in the arena. Trail riders are familiar with the problem of getting a horse to go straight, finally convincing him to quit pulling left, he immediately pulls right. Horses with problems seem to express their disagreement in resistance and we oppose this resistance until it seems to suddenly give up. There often isn’t a gradual development. It’s a “struggle, struggle, struggle,” then the horse flips the other way. This is called a knife edge phenomenon, and is common in many situations, not just horse training. Sometimes it is referred to as the tipping point. Picture yourself toiling up a slope, climbing, you finally reach the top, and there’s a sharp drop off. Now you’re sliding down the other side! Or It’s a little analogous to paddling a canoe into the wind. You fight to push it to the right to straighten it until the bow crosses the axis of the wind one millimeter, now you’re being blown to the right. Here you are riding a young colt alongside a fence. You ask for a turn into the fence with a leading rein. He resists, continuing on forward. You insist and persist, then suddenly he whirls into the fence and swaps directions, heading back the way he came. If you took advantage of the tipping point you would quit asking at exactly the moment he made the decision to turn on his own. Since horses learn from the release of pressure, you have taught him to turn with light signal. Or at least you’ve started the process. Assuming that “lightness” is your goal, using timing, rather than strength, or hanging on the reins, is your key!

I find that I have to watch carefully for the knife edge phenomenon when starting colts. If for example, I am trying to discourage a colt from his attraction to the gate, I put the rein, seat and leg corrections in before I get to the gate, when I know he’s going to pull toward it. I moderate my aids to use the least force possible, and when he passes the gate and gives up suddenly, I give up just as suddenly and allow my body to go back to neutral. If I were to keep “asking” for too long he would “over-correct”. Another use of the knife edge effect, particularly in the matter of “giving to the bit ” is softly, repeatedly “sponging” the reins, or “milking the cow” without increasing pressure, just repeating the squeeze about three times, then releasing, rather than pulling. Each squeeze is followed by a release, and the colt will finally “give” to the rein, at which point I relax my hand. It all starts again soon, but he gets the idea that he is responsible for being soft in the jaw and not resistant. In the end you want willingness.

Mid-November Thankfulness

Check it out; it’s mid November and we’re still eating “homegrown tomatoes!” As Guy Clark sang! Another wonder of living in Texas! Among the things we have to be thankful for, as if summer finally being over weren’t enough! So here we are in the season of Thanksgiving ( the feast of Saint Martin in European countries), when we are supposed to reflect on what we have to be thankful for. Well, for One thing, since I grew up with all my relatives far away, some half a continent away, I am just really glad to live in the same town with my family. I even live on the same ranch with my grandkids. We can even visit each other horseback! Being as I am kind of a nature boy, it’s pretty wonderful to live in the country, and in “a” country where the wild natural places are preserved: Forest, mountains, prairies and seashores – even deserts!

No, as to turkeys, you can have them! Oh, I don’t mean the bird, it’s a pretty cool critter, eats bugs, and keeps to itself and looks neat flying through the trees. It’s the meal. I guess I am not into football all that much either. I’d rather ride out on a good horse, with the clear blue sky for my ceiling, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a blanket with dogs and grandkids all around. Our friends sometimes bring stuff on a trail ride too. It even gets a little like the parable of the Loaves and fishes. I bring a couple sandwiches, then they bring tater salad, barbecue, sodas, beer, chips and guacamole ( walk a moly). Friends are super! Yeah, when it comes right down to it I’m mighty thankful for the friends and family in my life – I’ve been darn sure lucky! THANKS!

Some Molasses in a Bit

Among my equine students is a little three-year-old quarter horse stallion named Rusty. He’s here to be started under saddle. When I worked him at liberty he showed a lot of willingness and intelligence. He “sacked out” pretty easy, not very spooky. The first few saddles I put on him while he was out in the working pen with no halter or any restraint. I was riding him at the walk soon after, with no indication of pitching or wanting to run. But the day I decided to put a snaffle bit in his mouth he broke the contract. He swung his head, knocked off my hat (a cardinal sin) and even reared up once. So, I went back to square one and did a lot of “Round pen” work, then I was able to put a Bill Dorrance “be nice” bridle on him with an old lariat. When he jerked away it applied pressure, and automatically released when he “gave” and turned toward me. Next I put a “lip string” on him. It is a piece of sash cord that runs under the upper lip in the groove of the gum. When he pulls it squeezes. Eventually it taught him to lower his head, and then to chew. At that point I slid a molasses coated snaffle bit into his mouth. He chewed and licked. His face almost seemed to light up. When I slid the bit out he reached for it with his tongue. I poured more molasses on it and said “oh, now you like the bit! ” After several more sessions that day I didn’t need the lip string anymore. I could slather molasses on the bit and he’d come gobble it up. Now I leave the snaffle in his feed box. Several times a day I offer it to him with molasses on it and he’s getting real good at taking it. Only problem now is my hands stay sticky all the time. I’ve even been tempted to suck on the snaffle myself!

Fried Egg Sammich

Sometimes breakfast is truly just that, no more than breaking a fast, just before you head out into a full day of work, or play. Many’s the day I’ve watched cattlemen at our local “watering hole” grab a fried egg sandwich to go with their black coffee before driving off to pen cattle for hauling to the sale. This morning that’s what Sally was hankering for, so I got her to teach me how to make it since this was one of many holes in my education.

Somehow it seems this is a perfect addition to a chuckwagon cook’s menu.In a skillet drop a good amount of butter, olive oil or bacon grease for “slickum” and turn the heat to medium high on the stove, ( or a glowing bed of mesquite coals.) Break one or two eggs into the skillet and poke the yolks. Salt (garlic salt is best) and pepper these eggs. Then slice up some homemade sourdough bread and butter one side of each slice. When the egg is “set” flip it over and put a piece of cheese on it (we use Velveeta or American cheese. We call it “dog cheese” because that’s what we wrap pills in for the hounds). Then put a slice of bread on it butter side up. Now flip the whole stack over again and put the other slice of bread on top, also butter side up. When the cheese starts to melt, flip it over again to toast the second slice of bread. When toasted, take it out, wrap it in a paper towel and off you go! Eat it with a “slice” of black, boiled, chuckwagon coffee.