Old School Horse Training

I was talking to a good friend of ours the other day. He’s cowboyed his whole life and loves horses like I do. It’s always nice to get to spend time talking to him. This time horses came up, they don’t always. HE talked about horses he’s had in the past, his father and his horses, and training. It was fascinating to hear the things we talk about now in scientific terms come up, referred to by different names but obviously the same things.

One of my favorite things was that he had rode so many Morgan crosses in his life. They’ve been around here forever and were very popular before styles changed and a more modern breed of stock horse became preferred. Of course talking to him I could see some of the reason for the change. He liked a Morgan quarter cross, they had the staying power and go that Morgans have plenty of but were quieted down by the quarter horse side. He thought the quarter added more cow sense too. I , of course, disagreed and thought that it was the Morgan blood that gave quarter horses their cow sense in the first place 😉

He talked about taking cattle cake or ears of corn out with him to catch the horses and how much easier they came when a little feed was offered. Positive reinforcement, just without any fancy names. He talked about the people who wouldn’t make pets of their horses because they wouldn’t work for you if you were nice to them and how silly that whole concept was. We agreed that when you’re nice to a horse and treat them well they will do anything for you. How his dad, an excellent horseman who could ride anything you could get a saddle on, didn’t have too. While he was able to buck them out he chose instead to take his time. To teach them everything they needed to know before he got on. Once he was ready to ride them they seldom bucked and instead just rode out nice.

He said his dad would break them proud. Instead of being shut down and dead inside, they held their heads high and had life to them. If that’s not a description of learned helplessness vs good training I don’t know what is. One of our friends favorite horses was a horse his dad started who was born the same year our friend was. The horse bucked with him for the last time when they were both eighteen. But the big black horse, half Morgan of course, was careful about it and would buck back underneath him if he was starting to fall off. Talk about a learned behavior and not bucking because of fear or because he was upset. He mentioned a semi load of hay shipped in from clear across the state basically thrown away because it was moldy and he wasn’t going to kill his horses feeding bad hay.

It was so interesting to hear about good horses and excellent horsemen who were using many of the same techniques we do without knowing the science behind them. We don’t always need proof coming from some test done in a lab to know what works. It’s easy to see, if we pay attention, that when told what a good job they’re doing a horse will want to do that job again. I would like to say that out here where we spend so many more hours on our horses doing jobs most people wouldn’t dream of, out here where we spend our lives in amongst the animals, caring for them and seeing to their needs, that we know better. That we have learned how to go about things in a way that is kind and effective. The unfortunate truth though is that farmers and ranchers are people, just like any other people, with good and bad. There are those who care for and love their livestock and there are those who pay no attention and think making a pet of your horse will ruin them. Just be sure not to forget all the good there is. Don’t be fooled by terrible propaganda into believing that those who care for the land and livestock don’t love them just as much as those who keep them simply as pets.


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