Category Archives: Equitation

A Good Mount Nowadays is Hard to Find

I stepped on my wife’s dog. I didn’t mean to, I was just so focused on my Ipad. My eyes were glued to the screen. I’d watched trick riders, roman riders, mustang makeovers, but this precision drill to music with about twenty horses rocked me. 

They were all carrying flags, galloping, turning, twisting, flying between each other so fast that my eyes couldn’t keep up with their movements. These fourteen to seventeen year olds were performing like professionals, narrowly avoiding collisions, and smoothly transitioning from one movement to the next, right with the music. It was beauty, freedom, and artistic expression!  

At the same time it represented a huge investment in work, practice, discipline, and horsemanship,to say nothing of time and money. It was thrilling to watch and I bet it was even more fun to ride. 

   Now, I have to tell you, my first thought was “Where in the world did they get that many GOOD horses?” Because in my sixty years of training horses, I have seen only a small percentage of willing, sound, kind natured riding horses. It often seems that those good old noble steeds have gone extinct. In their place are nervous, high stepping, even downright difficult knotheads. So in a world where “a good mount is hard to find” here were over twenty of them, all in one place!

   The great thing about these drill team competitions, as well as other horse related activities is that it gets these kids out of their school desks, outdoors, and involved with each other, their horses, and their adult mentors.

They are engaged with the natural world, as well as involved in human interaction, not a computer or cell phone. So I’m all for that kind of healthy activity. And for it to work we need horses that will safely carry beginner and amateur riders, be they fourteen or forty. 

   Looking back into the twentieth century we see since the Second World War the slow disintegration of the horse culture in this country. Riding and driving horses had been replaced by the infernal combustion engine. Cars, tractors, tanks, and airplanes took over civilian and military equine jobs. 

After the cavalry remount was shut down, horse breeding was no longer as lucrative as it had once been. A growing market for recreational horses allowed some breeders to continue a profitable existence. That’s the good news.

The big prices, however, came with “high performance” horses. These specialists who could “win the world” be it rodeo, dressage, reining, or cutting, among other disciplines, are often not the same horses as those good old easy going, user friendly, farm and ranch horses. 

Now we are having horse breeding decisions driven by judging in the show arena rather than by common sense, and knowledgeable breeding practices. Winning stallions are now producing more offspring than less well known but often more solid producers of colts and fillies who can be counted upon to give an amateur a safe ride without thought of injury. 

   The most frequent request I get is for a horse that can be ridden by a child or a woman of middle age who can now afford the horse she has dreamed of since her teenage years. These are riders who want to enjoy leisure activities without having to work at it “pick and shovel.” And I have to tell you those ‘ol ponies are few and far between. 

   What I’d like to see is for breeders to pay less attention to show placing and put more emphasis on satisfying the needs of riders. About ninety percent of the nearly nine million horses and mules in this country are horses used for recreation. Even ranch work requires a more “watered down” version of cutting and roping horses.

Most folks, however, want a trail riding horse, or an equine companion they can enjoy on weekends, or an occasional show, or a pony to quietly ride down to the creek to watch the sunset. As breeders I feel that our job is to study and become knowledgeable of conformation, soundness, and trainability.

As riders we have an obligation as well. We have now at our disposal teachers, clinicians, books, videos, and ,oh yes, YouTube to educate ourselves to become better riders and horsemen, and women. 

  Well, the dog has forgiven me, and I’ll just get down off this high horse, now. See ya down the trail!


   We just enjoyed a long overdue visit with an old friend, Dr. Cliff Honnas DVM. This time it wasn’t on account of a sick horse. We were there for a pre-purchase exam of one of our Andalusian horses. It was a delight to reconnect with him and to see his smile as he greeted us at his spacious facility near Bryan, Texas.

   I was anxious, of course,as I anticipated the outcome. But his response reassured me, and made me proud of this ancient breed of horse. “Glenn just brings this ‘ol pony in out of the pasture without washing him off, or giving him a cookie…” he grinned. Then as he showed us the x-rays he said, “ He’s perfect”!

   Smiling, we drove away with one less horse in the trailer, feeling very happy that a knowledgeable horsewoman had chosen to become the new owner of one of our steeds. It was last year’s winner of the basico championship in Doma Vaquera, TCR Leonidas, ( Banbury Ella X Trovador ). Then I realized, of course he passed his exam! He’s a Lusitano! At least he’s half Lusitano, and the other half Spanish (PRE).

   You see, those two countries have spent the last five hundred years carefully breeding horses under the watchful educated eyes and hands of experienced horsemen, ranchers, and cavalrymen. Moreover, in Portugal, the breeding stallion was only allowed to produce offspring after being tested in the bullring. The Rejoneo, or mounted bullfight has kept the bar high for soundness, athleticism, and trainability in the Lusitano. Once again, survival of the fittest comes through as our Leonidas sailed through a pre- purchase exam with flying colors! He will now change his career from ranch using cow horse to dressage competitor in the hands (and saddle) of his new owner, Heather Kilby. 

Our thanks to Heather, as well as her coach Pam Grace. In addition, I thank my own coach, Manuel Trigo, without whose patient teaching I would not have understood the structure of a training program for true collection in a dressage horse. Muchisimas gracias don Manuel! 

Finally, I thank Donna Meyer, my dressage teacher for putting up with me weekly as she has strived to help Leonidas, as well as several others (“all those gray horses”) put up with this old cowboy trying to learn the art of classical equitation!


Sallie and Carlos and I sat on the front porch in swings and rocking chairs. Carlos was recounting some episodes of television cooking shows. We all agreed that the current trend toward rapid fire competition cooking bothered us in some way.

 It seems that the emphasis in many endeavors is speed. But, what about Kevin Browning’s melt in your mouth brisket that takes a whole day to slowly develop flavor and tenderness over oak and mesquite? Or consider the classic French Beef Bourguignon that simmers for hours blending the flavor of wine and browned beef and vegetables into a world famous stew? Some things just don’t happen in thirty minutes or less. 

Those of us who have demonstrated the poor judgement to engage in the art and science of colt starting have sooner or later paid the price for rushing the job or cutting corners. Our students don’t understand “hurry”, and being much bigger and stronger than us, we’ve ended up back on Mother Earth abruptly.

 When we don’t take the time to do it right, bad things happen to both horse and man. Ancient principle: a job worth doing is worth taking the time to do it right. Having been told this as a child, I’m still trying to learn it in my seventies! 

The old hackamore men of California considered two or three years in the bozál almost adequate amounts of time to prepare a horse to carry a bit in its mouth. We’ve all seen the amazing white stallions of the Spanish Riding School dance and perform awesome leaps.

 I’ve been told that the majority of those talented charges are old enough to vote! They didn’t learn those movements overnight nor by force.  It’s like the saying, “I had a big list of things to do today, but now I have a big list of things to do tomorrow!” Here in south Texas we use a Spanish word for tomorrow — mañana.

How to Rein a Horse with a Feather

Tom Lea, the famous artist and author from El Paso, Texas, tells about a horse trainer in his book, The Hands of Cantu. This was a bronc starter of the old-school, probably the late 19th or early 20th century. In those days, a horse was “used.” They had no infernal combustion engines, cars or trucks, so everything was done horseback or horse drawn. The “pure-quill” horse trainers were usually divided into amansadores or “gentlers” who did the initial training, and arrendadores who were the reinsmen, or finishers. The end result of the old Spanish method was a trigger-light stock horse. It could be reined by taking a hair of the mane, tying it to the reins and galloping to sliding stop, or a spin, while holding only the hair between the thumb and forefinger.

In this book, the trainer tells  the young amansador,

“There are only four qualities that a horse trainer must have, they are: perception, judgment, fine hands,and patience indestructible! To lack one of them is to lack them all!”

I have seen a few followers of this art; some still exist among the hackamore men, especially those west of the Rockies who train for the spade bit. It is an arduous long drawn-out process. It takes at least two years to get a horse in bit. That’s starting with four and five-year-olds. Then finishing can take a few more years. But those horses are as light to the rein as a feather. It’s like one trainer said, “Don’t wear a wrist-watch when training horses.” Probably you ought not to even use a calendar, especially if it has a horse show on it as a deadline.