Monday, December 5, 2016

Humbleness Of A Champion

There are people out there that you'd never guess that they won some big event, were incredibly talented or had the rightfully earned bragging list a mile long. They walk humbly, ready to give a lending hand at any moment's notice. These people are quick to bring up your accomplishments and slow to tell their own. I've been around some that walk humbly, but there is one man that I've been blessed to know that really embodies the word humble.

Growing up in a non horse family, I had to rely on others to learn all I could. Many kids have their parents to teach them, be their coach, and provide them the horse power they need to succeed, mine took me to the best people they could find to nurture my love for horses and rodeo. It might have been a blessing in disguise that I had to rely on others because in doing so, I had the opportunity to learn from some of whom I consider to this day - the best. As I entered high school rodeos my freshman year, I had always wanted to breakaway rope. It was then that Lowell Faris took me under his wing. Lowell, who is a very accomplished calf roper and trainer has more titles to his name than some can count, but you'd never know it by talking to him.
Lowell invited me to his and his wife Jan's home and we spent countless evenings in his arena roping calves. He helped me not only learn how to rope but to work with the horses that I was riding. With his quiet demeanor, I always thought he was a master at teaching these horses to do their job but to love it as well. I loved getting to opportunity to watch him work with a young horse and seeing those young calf horses grow in confidence with each run. When I would be struggling with something, we would go to the loft of his barn and rope the bale. Over and over, Lowell would critique each swing, the throw and the catch. I was never a natural and many would have given up trying to teach me. However, Lowell would stay and work with me as long as I needed, many times until long after the sun had went down.
The horse I started roping on, although a nice horse, did some things that were making me develop some bad habits. One night in the practice pen, Lowell offered to let me rope off his trusty backup, Duster. For once I didn't have to worry about my horse doing his job and I could focus solely on my roping. Never asking for anything, Lowell just said take him home and ride him. It was a gesture that I will never forget and allowed me to gain so much confidence in my roping game. Later when I was college rodeoing for Montana State University I called Lowell after my first rodeo and told him about the trouble I had that weekend in the roping with my horse. His response was come and get his good calf horse Doc; who would have anyone drooling and jumping at the chance to ride. He never thought twice about sending a horse that he could have sold time and again to NFR calf ropers with some piddly college girl that just hoped she could make the short go at a college rodeo. He just wanted to help and knew Doc would be the answer to my trouble. I was just one of the many kids that he helped over the years.
Lowell always looked out for the kids that he helped. I don't know how many times he came to my rescue in changing a tire or fixing lights on my trailer or even making sure that I made it safely home. In high school I got the itch to rodeo at the amateur rodeos. My parents with 4 other kids and businesses of their own, weren't always able to take me or be gone for the weekend so once again, Lowell took me under his wing and let me travel with him, his daughter Ali and son-in-law Chad to the rodeos. The time spent traveling with Lowell and his family, I was able to see even more into what an amazing man he is. He was always there to pick you up after a bad run. Telling you to shake it off and giving you the encouragement for the next run. He'd make a run to lead the rodeo and turn around and be quick to aide anyone else that needed a helping hand as others congratulated him on a good run. He'd say a quick "Thank you." and continue helping whoever was in need. You never knew by his demeanor that he just won the rodeo. I always admired his humbleness. A true champion in every sense of the word, you'd never guess with his humble and gracious manner.
Lowell has been such a huge mentor in my life. He taught me many lessons inside the arena and out and became a second father to me. I will never forget my time spent at his place roping and his teachings beyond the arena. He took me in as one of his own and for that I'll always be thankful. He taught me a true champion is humble and ready to give the next person a leg up to become a champion themselves. It's one of the many lessons from Lowell that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I hope that I am able to give someone else that leg up that he so graciously gave me!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Soft As A Post

A few years ago I had the great fortune and pleasure to attend a horsemanship clinic with Doug Jordan.  I had a horse at the time that when I was running, I had a hard time picking up the shoulder and moving over.  There was always a hesitation, a resistance if you will.  I remember telling Doug my issue.  He watched me ride my horse who really was well broke and you could place him anywhere doing slow work.  It was the fast work that I would get in trouble with.  I was expecting some sort of high powered drill.  Something that involved a lot more pressure mentally and physically than what I received.  Instead, I received a post.  Yes a post.... 

 Doug had me position my horse at an angle to this post (about a 45 degree angle) that when I put pressure on my leg that the horse could go forward (avoiding the pressure) or turning into the post (giving into the pressure).  Doug put me and my horse in position next to the post (and fence) and told me to put a little pressure (and by little, I mean slight, barely readable) as if you set a post right there, and just leave that pressure on until my horse responded.  You didn't increase the pressure, you just left it the same. Then he left me! Like, literally left me to make his rounds to the rest of the clinic participants.  I thought, well what in the world am I to do now?  There is no way that this horse knows I'm asking it to do something with this little of pressure.  

So I kept the pressure the same as when he left and watched him as he made his round to the rest of the clinic. Probably 5 minutes later my horse finally moved.  He didn't move just to move, he moved away from that pressure and turned into the post, giving to pressure.  I let him basically do a walking roll back and walk out.  Bringing him back to our original position I thought he was bored and that's why he did what he did.  Heck, by that point I was bored myself! I was prepared to sit there again for awhile.  Much to my surprise as soon as I put that slight pressure on my leg, he turn and gave way to the pressure.  I'm talking as light of a pressure as a fly would put on him if it landed there.  So slight I didn't know if I was putting pressure there or not. Doug didn't care how long it took to get a results, that's why he left me and gave me but most importantly my horse time to get uncomfortable with that pressure and move away from it.  I needed time, patience, and a steady pressure.  As Doug said, I was like a post.  

Sometimes we can get in a hurry.  We think we have patience but really we expect results right away when we ask a horse to do something.  We don't give the horse time to figure out the answer by itself. I've found that if we give the horse the option and opportunity to put the pieces of the puzzle together by itself, that that lessons sticks much better than if we force it.  We make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy but not always do we give the horse the time to make that decision for itself.  

My husband is an excellent horseman and his forte is starting colts.  The colts he starts have a confidence about them that is undeniable.  They are soft in the mouth and their sides and they have little if any resistance, working under willing submission. He can have those colts trotting backwards on a loose rein.  Something that I am NOT good at doing.  I have a tendency of getting my colts stuck.  When they get sticky in their feet, it's easy to start pulling on them, even ever so slightly.  As I'm riding a colt by Philip and struggling to get this colt to back the way I want, he reminds me of the lesson that Doug had showed me before.  Leaving my hands still and giving those colts time to figure it out, it took nothing before my colt who was sticky in her feet started driving from her hindend, picking up her feet and backing up on a loose rein. 

September seems to be the month of weaning colts and of course halter breaking them.  Every year we bring the colts home from the ranch and go through the process of gentling them down, halter breaking , picking up their feet and getting them accustomed to life without their dams.  Some take it harder than others, but most are halter broke within the day.  One critical item I use in halter breaking training is a tie post.  A regular sturdy post buried into the ground with nothing else is invaluable to me.   Much like the lessons mentioned above, the post gives those colts the opportunity to sort things out themselves.  The post never takes slack away from the colt if it pulls back, it's pressure stays steady, the same.  Sometimes that post can be the best teacher in halter breaking a colt as it learns for itself that when it gives to pressure, it gets a reward, a release.  

I think often to how much the lesson Doug and Philip gave me has helped in my riding and everyday working with a horse. When people have fairly soft hands but have a tendency to pull on one as we all can get, I think of being soft as a post.  There is a pressure there that doesn't change.  It doesn't pull harder, it doesn't snatch or take a horse by surprise.  It literally gives the horse two options - give to pressure or pull against pressure.  There is only one release and that's when they fully give themselves into the pressure. They can't lean and get the release. They are not pressured to give the release.  The post gives them the time to figure it out for themselves. They learn the right thing is to give to pressure, and they crave that release, that reward.  Sometimes to get the best response you don't need to pull harder or put more pressure on them; you just need to be as soft as a post.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Champions Don't Always Wear Gold Buckles

On my daily scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I came across a post that caught my eye.  It read something to the extent that thanks to Facebook and social media that anyone can make themselves a world champion and trainer.  This person mentioned that they missed the days of having to prove yourself with a gold buckle to show your worth.  I'm of course paraphrasing but that was the jist that I received from it.  I agree - to a point.  

Today the people that you can interact with and "follow" thanks to social media is astounding!  Getting to know these people through the net we get the opportunity to see into their lives.  The people we have access to range from the next door neighbor to the world champion barrel racer, celebrities, and well beyond.  There's a thing about social media though that many over look.  Many who post their lives on social media only post (or mostly post at least) about the good in their lives.  We don't see those that have fallen and gotten back up.  We can't see those that are riding the high under false pretenses.  It's a take what you see with a grain of salt kind of world on the net.  You don't see those with all the talent of the world but choose to stay home for various reasons, are injured, etc. You need to be the judge of who is worthy of "following". 

Here's what rubbed me a little off on that post.  That the only true champions and ones worth paying attention to are those with the buckles to prove it.  Let me be the first to tell you, if you think that only those that are worthy of learning from or listening to are those with a "gold" buckle adorning their belt, then you are sorely missing out.  Having had the opportunity to ride and train with many who have not won the gold and a few that have, I have learned far more from those missing that bragging right than those that have it.  A champion doesn't always wear the buckle to prove they are a champion.   

A champion can be many things.  I know many who have just as much talent as anyone around that instead of chasing those lines on the road are busy tending to a ranch, getting a college degree, taking care of their children, running the family business, etc.  Their priorities weren't on the gold buckle and the bragging right that comes with it although they could give those going down the road a run for their money on any given day. If a "champion" is the only one worthy of learning from then a champion to me is someone who works hard, has a level of grit and determination, a master at their craft, humble, and always willing to lend a helping hand among other things. 

If we judge someone by their accomplishments and not by their talent, we are missing out on a huge opportunity to learn and better ourselves.  I've always said that you can always learn something from everyone; whether it's something to do or something not to do.  You see the real champions don't always wear gold buckles.  They could be your parents in the stand, your spouse, your grandparents, a family friend, someone that showed you the ropes and took you under their wing; each one helping, supporting and rooting you on as you work to reach your full potential. If you feel that only a champion with a gold buckle to prove it is worthy of learning from, your losing out on a huge education and opportunity. 

I'm so thankful for the "champions" that have been involved in my life and journey.  I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for them! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Musical Bits

We've all played the game "musical chairs" when we were younger.  You never know when the music stops what chair you're going to get.  You need to be prepared for when that music stops that you have a chair within your reach.  I never put much thought of how this would relate with horses until I was warming up at a rodeo.

I had just came back to my trailer, to boot up and stretch.  There were about 20 girls left before I was to go and two tractor drags so I "thought" I'd have plenty of time. In fact, I thought it would be about perfect timing for my mare who was also a little gate sour but would walk into the gate at the first pass (at this point in her situation, going by the gate beyond pass 1, you were in for a fight but that's a whole new blog post). Being lazy, I left the bridle on while I threw the halter over top of it to tie up my horse while I retrieved the leg boots from the trailer.  My normally non-itchy mare decided the skin below her eye was being attacked by ants as she inched over to the ledge on the trailer and proceeded to relieve her itch like a mad woman.  However, with her itch relieved and all well with her world she realized that she had gotten the edge of the chicago screw stuck on the trailer.  I saw it all in slow motion as she threw up her head, breaking the headstall beyond repair.  

By this time I only had about 10 girls left to go and the tractor had already drug once.  I was in a panic.  I couldn't do anything in a pinch to fix the headstall.  Although I had other bridles in the trailer, I wasn't comfortable riding her in any of them because she only had "her" bit and it'd been a struggle to find a bit that you could call "hers" in the first place. In a fury I ripped apart a headstall to put on her "Highness'" bit.  I made it to the gate just as they were saying last call.  

I don't remember much about that run.  I remember it wasn't good.  After that I vowed that I would ride that mare and any horse in any and every bit that I had and I'd be comfortable throwing anything on them.  It would have been easier for me if  I'd been able to throw on a spare bridle on my mare and continue on our merry way.  As it was, my mare was panicked as we loped from our trailer to the gate and I sure didn't have my mind where it needed to be after that fiasco.

There will be bits better suited for each individual horse but most of all the riders hands.  However, it's really important, as I learned on that July day that it's best not to just stick to ONE bit.   Being the bitoholic that I am, I have a lot of variety to chose from in the bit department. Although I have my favorites, I still change things up almost every ride.  I've heard the argument that you're to never ride you horse in your competition bit.  I don't necessarily agree with that, but I do believe that you need to keep them fresh; keep them guessing.  They need to learn how to "pack" different styles of bits but also they need to learn to rely more on YOU than a given bit.

That particular day was the start of a different journey for me and the gray mare you've heard me talk so often about, Holly.  We'd already been on a wild roller coaster journey previously, but this was the start of something special.  We learned to work together.  Our partnership wasn't based on tack in the end, it was based on just that - each other.  

Because of that important lesson back at that rodeo years ago, I learned how "musical chairs" played into horses but also just how important horsemanship is to achieving success as well! 

Mae Holly Fire returned to that same rodeo that this fiasco took place several years later to redeem ourselves by placing with a tough group of horses.
Photo by Tina Graham.