When you meet a new person, you begin learning things about him or her immediately. You ask questions, you talk, you listen. The longer you know a person, the better you know that person. It’s the same with horses. The more time you spend with a horse, the better you come to understand that horse.
“Reading” a horse is something I do on a continual basis. I evaluate him all the time— his demeanor, his eyes, his ears, the tilt of his head, his body position, and his expression. Is he licking his lips and blinking his eyes? Those are signs of relaxation. Are his eyes wide open and his head raised? He could be nervous, unsure or upset. I have to pay attention to what my horse is doing and learn to read the signs he’s giving me. A relaxed horse is a comfortable horse, and usually more accepting of learning. I need to pay attention to what my horse tells me. Whether I’m on the ground or on his back, I watch that horse. Some people say the horse doesn’t have expression, but I disagree. I think the horse has all kinds of expression and ways of showing his feelings.
Pay attention to what your horse is trying to tell you. There are so many things you can learn by simply watching a horse. Look at how he’s standing. Is his head up? If it is, the next thing that’s going to move might be his feet, either to leave there or to strike out. Is he standing hipshot, with one hind foot cocked? If so, is he relaxed or getting ready to kick? When you’re around a horse, don’t take the experience nonchalantly. Always watch, observe, compare, and remember. Those things help keep you healthy, too! As soon as you get too relaxed or take things for granted, that’s when you might get hurt. Horses are big, fast, and instinctive. They can hurt you, whether by accident or on purpose. You need to be careful. Watch what you’re doing around the horse: where you stand, where you tie that horse, even the way you mount and dismount or who you’re riding next to. Those things can make the difference between a safe or unsafe experience.
Because he’s a prey animal, the horse is very much about survival. That is his primary goal in life—survival. I need to be smart about how I act around him. When I’m at a clinic or at someone’s barn, I make a point to look and observe and watch every single horse. By evaluating these horses, it keeps the rust off and makes me better at reading any horse.
Remember: Your most valuable asset is your experience, and you should work constantly at improving your skills. Truly watching and learning about a horse—reading that horse—is an important asset in your journey as a horseman.
“In The Box”
When I talk about slow hands, I also talk about keeping my hands “in the box.” This is an area approximately a foot and a half square in front of the saddle horn, where I want to keep my hands when I am in the saddle. The box is the working area for my hands, and where I maintain control.
One of the worst mistakes a rider can make is carrying his hands too high, too far back or too far forward. When your hands are in a bad position, your reins can be too long or too short, and you can lose control or position of the horse. Having your hands out of the box also can make your entire body be out of position. Remember: It’s all about communicating, positioning and helping your horse.
Your hands are normally about six inches in front of the saddle horn when doing a maneuver. But don’t forget that you have to adjust to fit the maneuver or circumstance. No matter what you are asking of the horse, and whether you are riding with two hands or one, your hands should be steady and quiet.
A Native Texan Craig Cameron, one of the original clinicians, is on the road more than 44 weeks a year covering 80,000 miles demonstrating the style of horsemanship he has perfected in the last 23 years. Called the “public defender of the horse,” Craig dedicates himself to those who educate their horses by first educating themselves. At an age where most have long since retired the thought of starting colts, Craig Cameron, known as “The Cowboy’s Clinician,” starts hundreds of horses each year. Learn more about Craig Cameron at www.CraigCameron.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 6