Category Archives: conversation


“What’s working equitation all about?”

“Well, go ahead and unload your horse and get saddled. Then come check cows with me.”

The visitor, we’ll call him Wade, saddled up and met the rancher in the corral.

“What are you doing now?”

“It’s called doubling, or nowadays, flexions. It’s like a preflight check, to see if my horse is listening to my rein aids. If he gives easily to both sides and ‘kisses the stirrup’ with minimal, or even no pressure, then I know he’s listening to my hands.”

“Okay, so, should I do that with Pokey here?”


The rancher then began to slide his leg back toward his horse’s flank as his mount was bent around with his head relaxed at the stirrup.”

“What are you doing that for?”

“I’m getting him to move his hind feet away from my leg. Ray Hunt used to call it disengaging. When he steps away, I quit asking.That way he actually learns to do it off a soft cue. I’m wanting to educate my horse to work from signals rather than making him do things with force.It’s called lightness, and it makes my life easier.”

They started off together. The rancher side passed up to the gate, opened it, slid around it, and held it for Wade to pass through. then he sidepassed his horse to close it. They visited and joked as they rode along for the few minutes it took to get down to the creek crossing. The rancher’s mount walked easily across the concrete ford in about a foot of running water. But Wade’s horse stopped. 

“Just let him stand there looking at the water awhile. He needs to think about it.”

The horse finally let out a deep breath, and lowered his head toward the water.

“Now, back away from the edge, and turn him around both ways, using that leg to disengage him, and move those hindquarters. Then bring him back up to the edge and let him rest there. It’s called making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy.

This procedure was repeated three more times, then the horse stepped into the water,and finally walked across, lifting his feet high, but not bolting nor jumping.

“There, now, rub his neck and just relax. He did good. You did good.”

They continued on, crossing a rough field, pocked with hog wallows and shallow swampy sloughs. A deer burst out of the brush and Pokey spooked.

“Just flex him around both ways several times until his feet stopped moving. Give him time to calm down, then rub his neck. Don’t punish him, just use the flexions like a tranquilizer. Then ride on.”

They continued on down a dirt lane toward the cow herd. Then from behind them came the rancher’s son in a big tractor carrying a large round bale of hay. Pokey spun around, head high. 

“Flex him and disengage him ‘til he stops moving his feet. Keep him facing the tractor until it passes, then follow it. He won’t be as scared if it is moving away from him.”

Later, ducks exploded off a stock tank, and a white dog appeared out of nowhere from behind them, and Wade practiced flexions and ‘yielding around’ of Pokey’s hindquarters until his feet stopped moving, then he rubbed his horse’s neck. A chupacabra-looking burned out hollow log got slowly investigated until Pokey put his nose on it. Pokey was pretty apprehensive as they rode through the cattle, but with multiple flexions Wade made it through. 

“Little twenty seven has a new heifer calf!”

“I didn’t see anything.”

“That’s because you were busy with Pokey. But when you can, look up and out. Notice the new baby calves, listen to the birds, enjoy the clouds.”

On the way back to the barn, Pokey crossed the concrete ford easily as he followed the rancher’s big fleabit gray. When they had returned to the corral, Wade asked, ”Now, you never did answer my question, though– what’s working equitation?

The Third Times a Charm

“You gonna get on’im today?”

The question hung in the air like a challenge. It was as if a huge bell rang just over the trainer’s head. He took a deep breath and answered the best way he knew how.

“If he says ‘yes’.”

“Whaddaya mean, he can’t talk!”

“He’s telling me yes by staying near me instead of running right now. At first when I tried to get near him he said ‘no’ by running. Then as time went on I got more ‘yes’ as he discovered it was easier to stay with me and get rubbed, than to leave me and have to work.”

The trainer flapped the coiled lariat on the colt’s back. The colt snorted, raised his head and moved away.

“That’s a no. Now if I continue doing that, until he drops his head and relaxes, like that, I stop instantly. That’s when he learns. It’s not the pressure that he learns from, it’s the release of pressure.”

The trainer kept irritating the colt with the rope until the colt relaxed, then he immediately stopped. He did the same thing by lifting all four legs, and playing with the tail. He wrapped the lariat around the colt’s middle and sawed it back and forth until the colt licked and relaxed.

“Now he’s ready for the saddle. We’ll just rub this old Navajo blanket all over him. There, he’s lickin, head’s down, and he’s relaxed again. So I’ll just ease this ol’ ropin’ saddle on him, and cinch it up. But I want to warn you, this may get ‘western’!”

As he said this he pulled the cinch tight. The colt took three steps then broke in two with a magnificent high flying sun-fishing buck! He bucked and bawled like a rodeo bronc, then settled into a high lope around the pen. The trainer kept him going, turning him back both ways until he slowed to a trot.

“Now he’s saying ‘yes’ again. So I’ll ride him.” The colt sidled up to him, lowering his head for a rub.

“Holy crap, he just put on a triple herniated, wall-eyed fit! And you think you can get on him? You’re crazy!”

The trainer continued to work the colt, then quit as the colt came back and stood next to him. The trainer then began even more irritation by holding the saddle and hopping up and down beside the colt. Finally with his hand on the saddle horn he put a foot in a stirrup on each side.

“I’ll ask him if he can let me stand in the stirrup.” As he stepped in each stirrup over and over, the colt lowered his neck again and started to lick and chew.

“That’s another yes. So I’ll stand in this stirrup until he licks again. There, he’s okay with that.”

The trainer stood in the stirrup again, this time leaning across the saddle so that the colt saw him over his head with his right eye. The colt stayed calm, so the trainer got down. Then, to his friend’s surprise, he mounted the colt, putting his right foot in the stirrup! There was still no halter or bridle on the colt’s head. The colt stood for half a minute. Then he began to chew. The man dismounted.

“Well, not a bad first ride. He did everything I asked him to do, and stayed relaxed. All I have to do now is keep not asking for much, so I don’t overload his confidence and he’ll be alright.”

“I guess I can breathe, now.” Exhaled his friend. “I just saw your life flash before my eyes!”


Getting his attention part 2

“So, here you see our Mr.Colt galloping around the pen.”

“Yeah, you wanna git’im good an’ tired!”

“Well, that’s where a lot of folks go wrong. They misunderstand. We don’t want to get him tired, but we do want to get his attention. And since he is basically lazy, and work averse, he won’t want to run very long before he wants to stop and take a breather.” As he said this, the colt stopped, head high, nostrils flared, whites of eyes showing, both eyes and both ears tensely aimed at the horse tamer.

“ Now, see, I’ve got his attention. I want to reward that. The release of pressure is the reward, so I’ll turn and walk away.”

“Well, then how do you catch him to put the saddle on him?”

“I don’t, I’ll let him catch me.”

“How’s that work?”

“I’ll keep going toward him and walking away, advancing toward him,and retreating when he stays put, until I can touch him and walk away.”

“Why don’t ya just rope’im?”

“We want to build his confidence, and trust, in us. Roping him right now wouldn’t help that.”

“So you can sneak up and slip a halter on him , now, right?”

“Like GOTCHA?”


“No.” And the tamer started slowly softly caressing the colt’s withers. “I’ll rub him here a little , then walk away, once again releasing the pressure of me being too close, before he leaves me. One of my mentors said the if he will stay put for four seconds, I need to leave in three.”

“Why’s that? Why don’t you just catch him so’s you can saddle him?”

“You have seen two horses in a pasture facing in opposite directions, rubbing each other’s withers haven’t you?”

“ Yep.”

“They are being buddies, bonding.” The man continued rubbing and caressing,but never patting, as that might scare the colt. He gradually rubbed more areas making sure not to startle the colt. “I’m trying to become his pard.” The man stepped away from the colt a little and the colt turned and took a step toward him. If he gets to rest when he’s with me, and has to work by running around the pen when he leaves me, he will eventually choose to stay with me. It’s called making the right decision easy, and the wrong thing difficult.”

“ I’ve heard people say that before, but I guess I never understood what they meant.”

“Okay, good, you’re starting to see how horses think. Now look, I can walk up to him, rub him and walk away, and he follows me.”

“ Like there’s magic in your hands!”

“ Well, he’s starting to trust me, like he would trust another horse because he sees that I’m not here to hurt him.”

“So now you put the rope on him.”

“ Pretty soon, but I’m going to rub all over a little bit more to make sure he will stay with me.”

After a few more minutes of rubbing and stroking the colt all over, he lowered his head, let out a deep breath and started licking, chewing and swallowing.”

“Now we can put the halter on him and take him back to his stall to eat. That’s going to be a big reward, and big release of pressure.We’ll probably saddle him tomorrow”


Getting his attention

“You break colts?”


“You a bronc stomper?”

“Well, not exactly.”

“What do you do, saddl’em up and buck’em out?”

“No…actually, we gentle’em. Then we teach’em to be rode”

“I don’t understand. How do you get’em to stop bucking?”

“You don’t let’em start! Let me ask you something.”


“Did ya ever try teaching something to a kid?”

“Tried, but I gave it up. They won’t listen.”

“That’s because you never got their attention!”

“How in heck do you do that?”

“Well, did you ever see the science show on TV ‘mister wizard’?”

“Yeah, so?”

“He got kids’ attention by building a volcano, then blowing it up! Kids love to blow stuff up! They like unexpected things, like jumping off a cliff in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, or the downhill run in “Man from Snowy River”!”

“So, how’s that relate to being a bronc stomper?”

“It doesn’t, i’se jest messin’ with ya!”

“Aw, man!”

“No, really, it does relate. Ya cain’t reason with a horse, just like ya cain’t preach to a kid. You gotta use “horse language”.

“What the tarnation is that?”

“The ABC’s are position, movement, pressure and release.”

“What’the’ ?”

“Okay, I’ll give you a fer instance.” He explained. “You got a colt in a small corral, and you walk in. What’s the first thing he’s gonna do?”


“That’s right! Then what do you do?”

“Rope him”

“See, that’s the difference. If you want to speak horse, you let him run. You might even keep looking at his rear end and move toward it, to encourage him to run until he slows down a little. Then you sort of step in front of him some. Most times he’ll suddenly stop, and turn toward you, and look straight at you with both eyes, and his ears forward at you. That’s when you have his attention!”

“Then what do you do?”

“Turn and walk away. That’s the reward for giving you his attention. You release the pressure of being scarey to him by turning your back, and walking away. You aren’t something scarey anymore. Releasing that fear pressure IS the reward for focusing his attention on you.”

“Then what?”

“You repeat that in the other direction. You do it over and over until he stops, looks at you (gives you bother eyes) and begins to lick, chew, and swallow. Now you have his attention and you are beginning to gentle him. He’s watching you like a hawk, waiting to see your next move, you’ve got his attention!”


“I guess I got your attention!”

“Yeah, now what?”

“Come back tomorrow and I’ll show you how we use that to keep him from bucking.”