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 Riding and driving horses had been replaced by the infernal combustion engine.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!

Perfect!

   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!

Foggy morn’

‘Woke up to find the world wrapped in fog. What a wonderful change fog is. It muffles all sounds, it prickles my skin. I can’t see beyond the first fence, I can only just make out the silhouette of an old oak outlined against the faint light beginning to glow in the East.

Fog means that the season is changing. This is the first harbinger of Autumn. I look up, and above me I can still see Orion,the hunter! So, I know this fog will “burn off” and leave us a clear, hot day. But the fog tells me cooler days are coming.

It makes me want to go clean the barrel of my rifle, and go to Walmart to get my hunting license. For, we need venison in the freezer. I noticed tracks of good sized deer in the mud beside one of the stock tanks as I rode by yesterday.

Cooler weather’s coming, folks. It’s right around the bend. That’s what the fog is telling us anyway. The best season of the year is about to be born; Fall in central Texas!

Computer Games

I found myself watching children playing a computer game a while back. On the screen were characters moving through a labyrinthine setting. The goal of the game appeared to be to rack up points by quickly assessing the movements of these characters and countering them with your own actions. 

The tool used to do this was a device consisting of buttons and a joystick. Of course like any game there was a set of rules. The kids were doing quite well by the sound of it. Along the way they were learning important basics of how to utilize personal computers. The  games were controlled by artificial intelligence, somewhat like I remember computer chess used to be, only a good deal more complicated. 

  Back at the barn, while working with a young quarter horse, getting it prepared to be saddled, then ridden, I realized that this was my computer game. The horse, a herd animal, had its own set of rules programmed in by the predator-prey relationship. It was my mind against his. I was at first perceived as a predator by the horse.

I was racking up points by directing his movements in a way that would give me a win by gaining his confidence. His actions were controlled by a mammalian brain which was loaded with thought patterns and an ability to process information to come to a conclusion.

It got even more intricate and complicated after I had been riding him a few weeks and went to the pasture to work some cows. There I had to link my brain with his to counter the thought processes and moves of a cow, while working with added assistance, and sometimes hindrance of three canine brains. I guess I’ll market this game as Equi-Box!