There is much to be learned by watching. Standing alongside an arena fence, observing riders school their mounts, often can teach one something about himself. Some riders appear hurried, others vexed, some oblivious. Most stare at their horses’ heads and do not see; the riders give commands but never listen. Rare are the true horsemen, tuned-in heart and soul to the horses beneath them.
If you have an opportunity to observe the smooth orchestration of a real horseman at work, it might just open your eyes to the world of subtleties and silent communications that connect him to his mount. The horse doesn’t speak with words, but the horseman hears everything his mount has to say. The horseman trains with all his senses, always one step ahead of the animal, in a seamless conversation. No order is given mindlessly, no action wasted. Very matter-of-factly, the horseman stacks the cards in his favor, artfully compelling the animal to yield his power and do his rider’s bidding.
The vaqueros of old California lived in harmony with their horses, right down to the details of their equipment. The dangling spur chains under the heels of the vaquero’s boots, for example, often are thought to have been ornamental. But make no mistake; although the Californio was a fancy dresser, each and every part of his ensemble had significance. Those spur chains, accompanied by the slobber chains on the reins, jangled as he rode, encouraging his mount to find a good cadence and effectively cover ground.
If modern riders consider their horses with the same tenacity, they must acknowledge the importance of every cue and every detail in each piece of tack, from their headstalls right down to their spurs. Surely then riders today would become better listeners and, in turn, better trainers than they are.
The horse is not an accessory, nor a servant, but an asset, with athletic mastery infinitely beyond that of most humans. His fierce yet willing spirit calls to his rider’s very heart. Thus, the horse is teacher to a willing student. Every good horseman studies his horses, memorizes and learns their habits until he knows those horses better than they know themselves.
Prepare to Ride in the Hackamore
It is wise to incorporate the new with the familiar in any stage of horse training. When you’re ready to ride your hackamore horse for the first time, begin the session with the groundwork to which he’s grown accustomed. By working him on the longe or driving him, you allow your horse to get into his comfort zone with a workmanlike outlook and a relaxed mind. After a few laps, he can be ready for you to step aboard. Your horse has been refreshed to the feeling of the hackamore on his nose and is set up for a successful, confidence-building first ride.
If you’ve never before ridden with a mecate, you’re probably wondering what to do with the lead once you’re in the saddle. Here are a few options for fastening the lead when you’re horseback.
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers. Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life. For more information go to www.AlDunning.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 2