When horseman and clinician Chris Cox won the prestigious 2007 Road to the Horse event, it was no surprise to anyone who knew him. When he won it again in 2008, the victory was a resounding affirmation of the practical horsemanship techniques he uses every day.
Born a cowboy, Cox is as common sense as they come. His down-to-earth methods were developed out of practical necessity through years of using a horse as a working partner. He doesn’t rely on gimmicks or fancy equipment, but uses knowledge, skill and proven techniques to communicate with the horse and establish trust.
Cox’s talents with a nervous, unhandled colt at an event like Road to the Horse are nothing different from how he typically works with a young horse at home. “The key is to build a solid foundation using a step-by-step progression,” explains Cox. “I don’t advance to the next step until the horse fully understands and has accomplished each lesson. If you skip steps or rush ahead, your horse is going to have gaps in his foundation that will hinder his performance down the road.”
Hailing from a ranching family in central Florida, horses and cattle were central to Cox’s life from childhood on. He was barely a year old when his father, intrigued by the opportunities in Australia, bought an island off the coast. The family packed up everything ““ including a 96-year-old great grandmother ““ and moved to Prince of Wales Island in Australia. “Growing up on that island, everything in my childhood revolved around horses and cattle,” recalls Cox. “The only transportation we had on the island were our horses and a Massey Ferguson tractor, so my two brothers and I rode horses everywhere, every day.” By the time he was in his early teens, Cox was already breaking colts on his own and helping “muster” cattle during roundups.
His passion for horses drove him to learn better training methods and to use techniques that would respect the horse, rather than force him to obey.
After high school, Cox attended Longreach Agricultural College in Queensland, a two-year institution where he scored the highest marks of any student at the time in horsemanship and won the school’s horsemanship award.
In 1986, Cox returned to the United State to further his career with horses. He has trained horses for a variety of disciplines, both Western and English, and has a great fondness for working horses, cutting horses in particular.
A popular headliner at horse events around the country, Cox has also given many demonstrations using newly adopted, unhandled mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management. His Diamond Double C Ranch in Mineral Wells, Texas, is an ideal setting for Cox’s week-long horsemanship courses. Today, Cox travels the United States, Canada, South America and Australia appearing at expos, conducting clinics and horsemanship demonstrations. In 2006, Cox launched his successful “Come Ride the Journey” tour.
His Western Horseman training book, courses, tour stops and DVDs are all designed to make it possible for horse owners to master techniques that can dramatically improve their horsemanship skills and increase their confidence.
Horsemanship Tip: Teaching your Horse to Lower his Head.
Chris Cox teaches all his horses to lower their heads on command because this teaches them respect, and on the practical side, makes them easier to handle. This method works because you don’t fight the horse and force his head down. Instead, you reward him when he gives to the pressure from your hand.
- Stand next to the horse and never put your head over the horse’s neck or poll when teaching this lesson.
- Stand on your horse’s left side and place your left hand on the bridge of the horse’s nose.
- Place your right hand atop his neck.
- Gently begin rocking his head from side to side using both hands.
- As soon as the horse starts to lower his head at all, release the pressure from both hands.
- When the horse accepts this rocking motion by lowering his head, move your right hand from his neck to his poll.
- Spread your fingers out so they cover the poll area between his ears.
- Keep your left hand on the bridge of his nose just to maintain contact.
- Gently exert pressure on the poll with your right hand until the horse lowers his head.
- DO NOT PUSH the horse’s head down! The goal is to establish a hold, which is completely different from pushing.
- Hold the pressure steady until you get some response from the horse. This teaches him to seek the relief of pressure that comes when he lowers his head.
- As soon as the horse begins to lower his head, release your right hand and rub his neck.
- Leave your left hand resting on the bridge of his nose.
- He may not lower his head much at first, but he will improve if you reward him by releasing the pressure as soon as he drops his head.
- Be consistent with your pressure until you get results.
- Once your horse learns to lower his head with your hand on his poll, you can begin asking him by exerting downward pressure on the lead rope.
The head lowering technique is covered in detail in the new Western Horseman Book, Ride the Journey, by Chris Cox with Cynthia McFarland. To order the book, just visit the website at www.chris-cox.com or call Chris Cox Horsemanship Company at 888-81- HORSE. On the website, you’ll also find information about the “Come Ride the Journey” tour, upcoming course dates at the ranch, training DVDs/videos and equipment.