Book Review

Posted on January 7, 2019 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, history, riding, training.
Learning Riding Posture

Learning Riding Posture

“Dude! Did You Just Fall Off?” is a delightful kid’s e-book on Amazon’s Kindle that skillfully and humorously attempts to prepare the horse newbie for their first and, hopefully, subsequent encounters.  It boldly asks:  what would you do if you were invited to go horseback riding, had never even been near a horse, but really wanted to go?

Obviously this is not a common invitation for inner-city dwellers, but for the nearly 30% of rural school children, and even higher percentage of suburban students, a recreational weekend just may indeed include a friend’s offer to see their family’s stabled horse. Facing the reality of being near such a big animal and actually sitting on its back can seem adventurous,  but nearly everyone quickly discovers a sudden level of panic once they become face to face with such a large animal.

This is why we picked the “Dude!” book off the shelf of Amazon. This book stands apart from the plethora of previous books by the way it brings horseback riding into your home and helps you practice balance and posture before you even head out to your friend’s barn. The list of straightening and correcting exercises range from simple body adjustments to learning ready-to-use moves while in the saddle. It had such great ideas plus a wallet saving price of only $2.99. Download it to your phone or tablet and refer to it right on the way to the stable. Personally, we found it just as helpful for adults. Enjoy..

Bitless Riding & Driving

Posted on January 3, 2019 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, history, riding.

drivingbitlessfig3.jpg

Some Thoughts on the Hackamore
By Gwynn Turnbull Weaver

There are many different ideas floating around the country about the hackamore and how it is to be used. Its very makeup seems to be a mystery to many and its function even more elusive. How such a simple concept became so complex is beyond many dyed in the wool traditionalists but, be that as it may, some information about the hackamore is outlined here.

The snaffle bit came into play late in the game, in vaquero terms – showing up en mass when the British came onto the scene. Until then, the hackamore ushered most new mounts onto the payroll. It is no mystery to most that horses were started later in life in our not so distant past. Genetics, feed and the rigors of ranch life deemed it so. “Older blooded” horses were colder blooded horses – maturing later both mentally and physically. Feed, at least in many arid regions, fluctuated with the seasons and sparse times, along with long outside winters, held growth in check for many colts. It was not uncommon then for horses to grow substantially, well after their fifth or sixth year on earth.

What seems to stump most folks is the reasoning behind schooling the horse with the absence of a bit. Since the use of a bit is the end result down the road and since the horse has, in most modern day cases, already accepted the snaffle bit in its mouth, why then would we “change up” in mid stream and go to the hackamore? The most basic answers can be found straight from the horse’s mouth.

 

The Changing

 

One concept that fostered and continued the advocation of the hackamore was the changing nature of a horse’s mouth; particularly during the years that the teeth doing the changing are the ones directly involved with the bit. This seemed to line up with a horse’s coming four to coming five year old years. The changing of teeth marked the time a horseman did well to keep out of Mother Nature’s way and steer clear of their horse’s potentially sore and sensitive mouth.

Unfortunately, most modern-day trainers ignore the changing of a horse’s teeth. The best of horsemen are sensitive to the horse’s demeanor, ever searching for the subtle hints that indicate and instruct him on his journey. Only the keenest of horsemen, while paying attention to the messages their horse sends to them, understands that the condition of the animal’s mouth is one message he would do well to consider.

The hackamore was the obvious solution; it afforded the horseman the freedom to continue using and advancing his mount through the changing of his teeth. What most horsemen never counted on, however, was the added benefits the change offered them, while working through the differences the hackamore brought to light.

 

Horsemanship Exposed

What most good hands soon learn when using the hackamore is the simple fact that there are maneuvers and exercises that a horse might be “made” to do in a snaffle bit, but the hackamore requires that the horse be “taught” to do them.

The most valuable contribution the hackamore makes in the training process is the deficiencies it reveals in the rider. Few know or understand this principle. When using the hackamore it is essential that the rider set up his maneuvers correctly and fully support the cues he gives his mount. The rider’s body positioning, weight placement, timing and sensitivity must be correct in order for the hackamore horse to translate those cues.

The message the actual hackamore itself can offer is so subtle that the horse will feel for the accompanying cues from the rider’s legs, weight and posture to confirm the message before acting on it. If the rider is out of position or offering inconsistent cues elsewhere, the horse will quickly lose confidence in the hackamore’s cue and become muddled and confused.

This unique characteristic of the hackamore might possibly be its greatest contribution to the equine world. It requires a level of horsemanship and handiness to operate it successfully. A cowboy must know and understand all of the peripheral cues used to position his horse as he should before he can support the hackamore the way it must be supported.

The hackamore is a key phase for this reason. It trains or reinforces the concept in the rider that the horse is to be taught to respond to messages, later called signals, in the final stages of putting a horse in the bridle. It is extremely important that the rider know how to set up, support and deliver his cues consistently with all the tools he has to work with.

 

Horses and Thermoregulation, by Dr Clair Thunes

Posted on December 14, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, health, history, therapy.

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Q.How do horses survive in the cold?
A. Horses are mammals and as such are warm-blooded just like humans and so when the air around them is colder than their body temperature, heat transfers from them to the environment and they get colder. To survive they must regulate this heat loss, however such heat loss is not always detrimental, for example if the horse is too hot and needs to cool down.  According to an article by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, “estimates for the lower critical temperature (LCT) for horses are between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit depending on hair coat, body condition, wetness and windchill”.  They go on to give the lower critical temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit based on hair coat as follows, wet or short hair 60, moderate length hair coat 50, heavy coat 30.  Once the average temperature reaches the LCT human intervention is required such as shelter, a blanket and or extra feed.

Q. Why should diet matter?
A. Once at the bottom of its comfort zone the horse reaches its critical temperature and the body speeds up chemical reactions within the body in order to burn more calories and to create more body heat. This requires an increase in dietary energy intake because if there are not enough calories in the diet to meet the additional needs for maintaining body temperature the horse will utilize its body energy reserves (fat).  If this deficit continues for too long then the body condition will be compromised and the horse will lose weight. Well-fed horses adapt better than those who are underfed.
Adaptation should be considered when contemplating a horse’s lower critical temperature.  A horse who has spent a good amount of time in Arizona where the average summer high is around 95 degrees Fahrenheit and average winter low is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit may hit its lower critical temperature at a relatively higher temperature than a horse who lives in Maine where the average summer high is only around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but the average winter low is around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. For the horse from Arizona the lower critical temperature may be 60 degrees even with thick haircoat. The age of the horse is also worth considering.  Older horses are generally less efficient at both digestion and thermoregulation and so are more susceptible to extremes in temperature.  They will therefore need a diet that is more easily digestible and may require intervention earlier than their younger counterparts to stay warm.  Young horses especially those under a year of age are also less able to handle cold weather in part due to the large amounts of energy that are being utilized for growth.  They should be provided with good shelter and ample access to good quality hay.

Q. Horses run around a lot when it’s cold. Does that help?
A. Exercise produces heat from energy burned by muscles so moving is another way the horse has to stay warm but the energy for movement has to come from somewhere, either the diet or body energy reserves.  This may be one reason why horses seem to run around more when the weather is cold.  Muscle contractions don’t just occur though as a result of the horse physically changing locations they also occur as a result of shivering.  The energy produced from these muscle activities raises the horse’s core temperature.
Also, like us, horses can make their hair stand-up, which is called piloerection (think of goose bumps), which acts to increase their hair depth and traps air next to their bodies creating an insulating layer.    It is because of this function that you might hear people say that well cared for horses are quite alright out in the cold as long as it is dry.  Once their coats get wet the hair is unable to stand up and create this insulating layer.  They then rely on the oils in their coat to prevent their skin from getting wet, which is why you should not bathe a horse that lives out in the winter or use a body brush which drags the oils through the coat, as they need the oils to stay near their skin to act as a protective barrier.  Horses living outside need to have access to adequate shelter such as a 3-sided shed as such shelter has been shown to reduce heat loss by 20% not only because it allows their hair to stay dry but it also reduces heat loss from wind chill. A blanket flattens the horse’s hair and prevents piloerection.  If in turn the blanket is not thick enough to adequately insulate or it leaks, the horse will be cold and will not be able to use piloerection to stay warm.  This is not to say that blankets should not be used. If you have a horse who does not carry much weight, with a thin hair coat or decide to clip your horse because it is in heavy work, a blanket will be necessary.

Q. What about stall protection?
A. Often the coldest part of the night is around 6am, as the sun comes up areas reached by sunlight warm up quickly compared to those areas still in shade such as the inside of stall, so horses in stalls are subjected to cold for far longer than those horses that can get out into the sun.  This can cause a real conundrum in spring and autumn when your stabled horses are blanketed at night and you need to take their blankets off early in the morning before you go to work because later in the day they will be hot.  In these instances you have to know your horse and know whether it is better for them as an individual to be too hot or too cold.  The hard keeper who is lean, gets cold and is stressed easily would probably be better left with the blanket on versus the horse carrying more condition who won’t be at any great detriment if he is a little chilly for a couple of hours.

In summary, horses do adapt to cold over time, according to Dr Cymbaluk of the ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Ontario Canada. However, horses typically require a 10-21 day adaptation period.  A horse’s ability to adapt depends on the duration of the cold weather and the horse’s energy intake.  A horse isn’t going to be able to adapt to a sudden winter storm and so will require more intervention.  Therefore, energy intake is more critical.  Your horse will tell you if he/she is cold, pay attention to the warning signs and make adjustments to hay intake and overall management as necessary to insure that your horse comes out of the winter in good condition.

Dr Clair Thunes, PhD Nutrition. 2005. University of California, DavisMS Animal Science. 1998. University of California, Davis, BSc. Hons. Animal Science. 1997. Edinburgh University. web: summit-equine.com

Minimalist Horse Training I

Posted on December 5, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, riding, therapy, training.
*Jentry rides her pony round the cones

*Jentry rides her pony round the cones

Minimalist training is exactly what it implies. When circumstances demand our absence from our horse for long periods of time, the moments we spend with him can be highly productive by minimizing and focusing what we try to accomplish with him. Training the horse takes place every time we touch our horse. The horse learns how we prefer him to behave. Minimalist training does not attempt to build muscle on our horse; only daily, vigorous forward riding can do that. But it can produce an obedient, trusting animal in only a minimal amount of time. Well structured, short sessions always produce ample results, and sets the tone for subsequent training sessions.

Whether you have been away from your horse one day or sixty days, it is always best to start an exercise session by either free- lunging your horse, or on the long line before doing anything. This gives you a chance to see how the horse is moving, specifically if he is favoring or limping on a leg or hoof. Even though you were away and and haven’t seen the horse, he could have twisted or stepped on something in his turnout, or paddock time. Once you determine he’s moving fine it’s time to exercise.

If you are able to ride once a week you can actually accomplish a lot with the use of  cones. With just two cones you can address bending, balance, and response time to cues.  Three cones is a luxury where you can set up a spacious triangle, or a straight line, and combine threading and circling to promote bending and re-bending. Cones provide a great short cut to helping your horse learn how to stay on the intended circle; not to change speeds on his own; and to bend both to the right and to the left. As he gets the hang of it at the walk then you can pick up a trot, taking care in keeping him balanced and adjusting his tendency to dip around turns.  Practicing halts, changes of stride from longer to shorter, using transitions between the walk and the trot, these changes keep your horse’s attention by keeping him focused on the work. Remember, you are not developing muscle so much as alertness to cues, and obedience to direction.  If you are able to move to canter work you will find endless options for practicing figure eights, flying changes, and even counter canter.

Ground poles can expand your cone lessons by changing the focus from turning and flexing exercises to lessons on lifting and carrying.  This helps activate your horse’s hind quarters, and subtly addresses ‘dragging toes’, a problem where the horse drags his back feet across the ground which causes stumbling. One of my favorite uses of ground poles is to lay down two parallel poles in three different places in the riding ring, placing a cone at the ends of each group of poles. Then I have the horse step over the center of one set of ground poles, bend right around the end cone, come back and step over the center of the poles again then turn left, (making a figure eight), and as we step back over the center of the ground poles once more then we move into either leg yield/shoulder-in/or half-pass toward the new set of poles where I can repeat my figure eight. None of these activities require extensive muscle strength, but they do address alertness, suppleness in bending, and stepping the hind legs under the horse’s barrel. Remember that minimalist training is for infrequent riding, focusing on building behavior, response, and trust. I have found it fully effective with horses ridden as little as three times a year! Muscle strength and stamina, however, can only be developed through a daily, vigorous riding program.
Next: Minimalist Training II  Scaling it down even further.

*photo from Jennifer Buxton; Braymere Custom Saddlery

Minimalist Horse Training II

Posted on December 4, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, riding, therapy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Many riders are fortunate to have an indoor riding facility to help continue their horse’s training through the long frozen months of winter. But many of us struggle to find ways to keep our horses in shape while enduring harsh weather. This means we have to minimize, or scale down the training activities with our horse.  I have discovered that during inactive winter months, changing my goals from muscle development to developing my horse’s obedience and co-operation, has a powerful impact on his behavior and addresses his trust/confidence issues. Minimizing my training this way confirms the simple fundamentals of attitude so that at the end of winter there is less resistance when returning to our strengthening exercises. How can that be?

We keep our horses mentally active by providing a learning atmosphere each time we’re together. For instance, have you ever noticed as you begin to groom, how your horse pushes his nose close to your hair and takes a long smell,or nudges your arm?  The way you respond to him reveals your emotional state. Many years ago my first horse taught me that when he would sniff my hair he was actually nudging me to determine: “How’s your attitude today?”  He knew immediately if I was impatient as I would quickly shove his head away. However, on days that I was cheerful then we’d play a little, and if I was in an academic mood then I would try to teach him a new ground trick. So by responding to the nudging, physical contact of my horse, I was recognizing his attempted ‘conversation’ with me. Every horse will do this, even if they come from abusive or rough backgrounds, because horses communicate with each other through physical contact. It is the pathway to his mind and shows how he learns and how he reacts in different situations. The time you spend grooming your horse, or hand walking him outdoors is the time to use to find special ways to reach out. Grooming is such an excellent way to discover your horse. Every horse is quick to reveal their good and bad ‘zones’.  Notice, as you groom, that he makes faces at spots that need extra scratching or rubbing. These are good ‘zones’.  Sensitive spots or bad zones, are the areas he doesn’t want touched. You can take the time to work with him until these areas can be gently massaged or brushed.

If  you can ride occasionally during the winter months, but have only a very small arena in which to work, you can minimize your activities to focus on objects or behaviors that typically frighten your horse. Is he always afraid of flags,balloons, loud noises? You can create a safe learning environment in which your horse can finally face his fears with your encouragement. Perhaps he is reluctant to walk over tarps, or bridges, or perhaps carrying a flag on the pole has always sent him running the other direction. Use the winter months to creatively tackle these problems at a slow, deliberate pace.  Encourage the horse’s obedience and acceptance of your direction. It shows him how to begin to trust your decisions and how to control his ‘flight’ instincts once he learns these things aren’t harmful. If he is determined to cling to his fears then be creative and start with walking over ground poles placed next to tarps, and hang flags on the wall that catch the breeze as you walk by.  Your goal is to eventually walk over the tarps and bridges, and to carry the flag, but only with his co-operation.  Once the two of you are working as a team and trust one another you will find most of these formidable objects become boring to him and you’ll need to find new challenges for him. In this way, your horse becomes happy about learning and meeting challenges, and he will be mentally ready for the trails once spring arrives.

*Photo from Valley View Ranch,Dallas,Tx

Clipping Your Horse for Winter Riding?

Posted on December 2, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, history, military, riding.

If your winter plans include clipping your horse’s coat to reduce drying time in cold temperatures,  then here are some ideas on how to use your most creative ideas to highlight your horse’s best features, (or hide the worst!).These horse owners have used drawing and stenciling techniques to transform their horse’s coats into distinctive works of art.   Happy clipping!

From the Barn Manager Blog:

This one of the New York skyline from Natasha’s Equine Spa

One of my favorites from Horse Care Courses:

From Equine Ink comes the military clip!

and the Zebra-esque look (very clever)

and also our equine giraffe coif

 

So if you thought this winter you were planning to clip something similar to this:

Perhaps now your heart is set to design something more like this:

(From the Literary Horse)

or this!

(From Horse Nation)

Good luck!

 

Remembering the Pit Pony

Posted on October 26, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, health, history.

An article from: Making Sense of Mining
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Horses have been used for many years in different industries to help provide power or transportation. Coal mining was no exception, with horses used to transport coal from the pit site to local users. Horse-powered engines (gins) were commonly used both in agriculture and in mining. They were used in some cases to replace manual winding up and down shafts, the horses being able to lift
heavier loads and for longer periods. The use of steam power, firstly for pumping and later for winding coal and men, had an impact on horse use at the pit surface. Steam winding was used extensively by the 1840s, but in common with many other pit innovations, older gins continued to be used at some small mines well into the twentieth century. After the 1842 Act which prevented
children under the age of 10 and women from working underground, horses and ponies were used more to pull tubs of coal and materials
underground, where roof heights allowed. Gradually, though, much of this work was done by haulage engines, particularly on long, straight roadways.
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The number of working ponies reached a peak just before World War I, with 70,000 ponies in 1913. After this the number declined, firstly due to the demands of the War, and after that, as more machines were introduced. This meant that by 1932, only 32,000 ponies were used by mines. In 1947, the coal industry in the UK was nationalised. This made the process of modernisation quicker, and so fewer ponies were needed. By 1962, only 6,400 ponies were used underground, and the number continued to drop. In 1978 there were only 149 ponies employed to work underground. A very small number of mines continued to employ ponies until the 1990s.
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Understanding the Mounted Police Horse

Posted on October 3, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, history, riding, training.

Providence Mounted Patrol

Providence Mounted Patrol

Thanks to Delfin Vigil for his following article:
Officially founded in San Francisco, California, in 1872 (two years after New York City’s), the mounted patrol unit has been trotting through the city’s streets fighting and preventing crime in three centuries. While in its — ahem — heyday, there were upward of 30 badge-wearing horses, and although at one point every substation in the city had horses, there are only 13 on-duty patrol ponies left at the department’s stables in Golden Gate Park. Although some critics write off the mounted patrol as a chance for police officers to joyride through the park, many don’t realize that the horses are putting their lives at risk.
During one of the initial and largest protests against the current war in Iraq, the mounted patrol unit was brought in to help the first officers on the scene, who were being backed in and surrounded by protesters near Third and Market streets.
“Eleven horses were brought in to save the officers,” remembers Sgt Downs. “We were able to part the sea of protesters without hitting, stepping on or even touching a single person. That’s the beauty of the horse.”
Aggressive dogs are probably the biggest danger to the four-legged officers.
In November 2003, a woman was walking Nettie, a pit bull mix, in Golden Gate Park when she decided to take off the dog’s leash to let it play with other dogs. But instead it went after police horse AAA Andy.
AAA, who is not in the insurance business but was given to the department by the company, was bitten several times in the belly and legs by the dog, which continued to chase him for about a half mile as AAA Andy tried to find his way back to the stables. The officer was thrown to the ground during the frenzy. Another officer had to shoot the dog (who survived) to stop the attack.
AAA Andy went on disability for a couple of months. Within weeks of being back on the job he was in the news again for galloping down the “Spider-Man” burglar who had a record of more than 60 acrobatic burglaries through skylights and ventilation shafts in Sunset District buildings. This time, “Spider-Man,” a.k.a. 27-year-old Kristian Kwon Marine, was on the run after snatching a purse at a cafe on Ninth Avenue and Irving Street. With only a good old-fashioned “he went thataway,” tip, AAA and Officer Kaan Chin chased the burglar down in a field in Golden Gate Park.
“What people don’t always understand is that most of what all police officers do involves crime prevention,” says Kaan, who rode AAA Andy. “But these horses are very capable of fighting crime in heat-of-the-moment ways as well. Once that saddle is put on, their personalities change and they are ready to work.”

BLM Mustang Serves Military

Posted on September 18, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, military.

1stfun
Lonesome on front left

His name was Marine Sgt. Trevor Johnson, a young Marine who was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan.
He was a fifth-generation boy from Montana who grew up riding horses, herding cattle and mending fences.
When the young soldier was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on a cold winter day, a symbol of the fallen soldier’s ranching roots helped to escort him there.

Lonesome, a horse donated to The Old Guard’s caisson platoon from the Montana Bureau of Land Management lead the caisson that carried Johnson’s casket.
Lonesome was born at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding facility in Butte, Montana on Oct.12, 1995. As a young foal, he was freeze marked, a white identity mark that is clearly seen, today.
2-lonesome

Lonesome was originally adopted by Mark Sant, a BLM Archeologist. Sant soon learned that Lonesome was exceptional in many ways. He was smart, strong and had a great personality.

When Mark Sant heard the Old Guard was looking for large black mustangs for their Caisson Platoon, he could think of no greater honor than donating Lonesome to be a part of that prestigious team.
Lonesome, the stunning black mustang of the Caisson Platoon, has since participated in hundreds of funerals as well as the funeral for former President Ronald W. Reagan, and the 55th Inaugural Parade.
Lonesome has turned out to be a wonderful ambassador for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program as well as a beautiful, well-trained and loved member of the Third Army’s Caisson Platoon.
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How the horse came to assist in the interment ceremony for Marine Corps Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson at Arlington took some initiative by Mark Sant. Although he had never met Johnson, he wanted the Marine’s family to have a symbol of the state as they mourned the loss of a loved one so many, many miles from home.

Mark Sant e-mailed the office of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to seek help finding Lonesome – the horse Sant had donated to the military several years ago.
An Aide for the Governor contacted the Montana National Guard, which in turn contacted the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or Old Guard, which assists in burial services at Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s not a request the Old Guard hears often, but one that was easy to oblige, said Major Steven Cole. “It’s stories like this that show the depths of care that all Americans have for their service men and women,” Cole said.
Cole further stated that to his knowledge, Lonesome is the only mustang from Montana.
article and photos from:Simply Marvelous Horse World

Mustang Training Methods of the Blackfoot

Posted on July 29, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, handicap, health, history, riding.

by Steve Lock

indian-boys.jpg

“Na notoas inik wa akana inewa”  or translated: “My horse has killed many buffalo.”
The Blackfoot hunter who could speak such words had both wealth and power because a good buffalo horse was highly valued by the Native Americans of the Great Plains. The buffalo horse helped a man provide his family with more than just food. It also carried him into battle and bore him in honor during tribal parades. A well-trained buffalo horse was just as appreciated as a well-trained event, dressage, roping, or cutting horse of today.Initially, the tribesmen had to be taught the skills required to train their horses. Their teachers were usually the people they received the horses from, and it was mostly in this way that training methods were passed from tribe to tribe. Little has been written about actual horse training among the plains tribes, but the methods of the Blackfoot are well documented by John C. Ewers in his book The Horse In Blackfoot Culture. Even though, for our purposes, we are looking at the training methods used by the Blackfoot, other plains tribes are known to have used similar methods.

To begin, the Blackfoot started training the horses turning two to three years old. Young men trained their own horses, but elderly people often used the teenage boys within the family to train their horses. Blackfoot boys and girls rode well by the time they were six or seven years of age, but an actual training career for a boy could begin between twelve and sixteen years old, depending on how quickly he obtained his skills.  Mustangs were halter trained at first, then riding training commenced using a few different methods. Before beginning actual training, the trainer and his assistants caught and restrained the horse prior to placing a bridle in its mouth. The bridle the Blackfoot used was made from rawhide, or from hair taken from the forehead and forelegs of the buffalo. The material used was braided into a light rope sixteen to thirty feet long. The bridle was formed from this length of rope by tying a loop in one end of the rope, creating the end of one rein. From the loop, the rope ran along the neck of the horse to the mouth. Once at the mouth, the rope was tied in two or three half hitches depending on the severity required, placed around the horse’s lower jaw, and tightened. From there, the rope continued along the opposite side of the neck making a second rein, which then passed through the loop at the beginning of the first rein. The excess rope was folded, tucked under the rider’s belt, and used to keep possession of the animal if the rider was unseated. This type of bridle could also be quickly transformed into a halter.

Training Methods

One training method used required a surcingle. Once the bridle was in place the rider mounted, passing a long band of rawhide under the horse’s belly as he did. Bringing the ends of the band up along the sides of the horse, he enclosed his knees and lower legs within the band and tied the ends in front of him. By exerting an outward pressure with his knees, the rider was able to make his seat more secure. The assistants released the horse, which was ridden until it tired. This procedure was repeated daily until no longer necessary.
Another training method was to use the pad saddle. As in any horse culture, saddle making was a specialized craft. Among the Blackfoot, women made the saddles. Saddles were considered valuable pieces of equipment, and women who were skilled saddle makers could use these saddles for trading purposes. The pad saddle was made from two pieces of soft skin cut in an hourglass type of shape, and placed on top of the other. Two rawhide lines were stitched down the center, spaced so they formed a gullet between them. The edges were sewn with sinew and then it was stuffed with deer of buffalo hair. There were D-shaped tabs on the sides for a rawhide girth and stirrup leathers.

For training purposes the pad saddle was placed forward, probably as far as the withers. The rider sat behind the saddle and held on to it for security while the horse tried to unseat him. Both the surcingle and the pad saddle method of training required an experienced rider, and were usually used when more preferred methods were not available.
The oldest and most common ways of training were the water and boggy ground methods. Using the water method, two people rode double on a trained horse and lead an untrained one into a stream, or pond, until it was up to its shoulders in water. The rider of the trained horse then held the untrained one steady while the person riding behind him jumped onto its back. One session of thrashing about in deep water was usually enough for most horses. They tired quickly, and could then be ridden to shore. After this, the horse was ridden bareback until ready for a saddle. Swampy or muddy ground was used in the same manner as water – the object being to bog the horse down. These latter two methods were especially good for people inexperienced in horse training. They were easier, and the rider was less likely to be injured if thrown. Once a horse was trained to be ridden, it may then be selected for further training as a hunting and warhorse, racehorse, or draft horse.

The choosing of a horse to be trained for hunting and war was not taken lightly. This would be a man’s best and most valuable mount. Since it helped him obtain food and raw materials for clothing and utensils, it was also an important animal to his family. Not just any animal could be trained for hunting and warfare. A buffalo can run nearly as fast as a horse, so a desirable mount had to be able to run at speed for some distance. Buffalo can also wheel about and turn very quickly, so a horse had to be agile and respond immediately to its rider’s direction. The uneven ground it sped across made it important that a horse be sure of foot. One other important quality was courage, because the horse had to be able to run among animals it naturally feared.

Young boys between ten and fourteen years old were the first to expose young horses to hunting. After the adult hunters started a buffalo herd running, the calves would soon fall behind. When that happened the boys gave chase on their young horses, shooting arrows at the calves. In this manner, the horses started becoming accustomed to chasing buffalo. Whether a horse could overcome its fear, only time and the hunt would tell. The buffalo horse had no small bill to fill.
While some mares were used, most horses chosen for buffalo hunting were geldings. The horse had to have shown itself to be fast and intelligent. Usually a four-year-old was preferred. Hunting and war horses were trained to a high degree, responding to leg aids and shifting of the rider’s weight. This allowed the rider to keep his hands free to use his weapons. Once a horse responded well to its rider’s direction, it was taken on the hunt. Using his whip, and much patience, the hunter taught his horse to move in alongside a buffalo, hold steady while he fired an arrow, and then move away to avoid the animal falling or attacking. It commonly took three arrows to bring down a buffalo, so handling this maneuver at speed was important. A good buffalo horse would act with minimal direction from its rider.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition documented the skill of these buffalo horses. While driving horses they had obtained from a friendly tribe, the party encountered a herd of buffalo. Upon seeing the buffalo, the horses “immediately set off in pursuit of them, and surrounded the herd with almost as much skill as their riders could have done.”
The buffalo horse also served as a warhorse because the same qualities were needed. For its duties as a charger, the horse was trained to allow the rider to hang from its side while it ran, to carry two people at a time, and to stay close to its dismounted rider. To teach the horse to stay near its rider, the trainer placed a rope around the horse’s neck, mounted, urged it into a run, and then stopped quickly and jumped off. When the horse tried to move away, the rider forcefully jerked on the rope. Survival in battle made it essential that warhorses remain near their riders. The buffalo/warhorse was indeed a valuable animal. The only horse the Blackfoot held in more esteem was a winning racehorse. A winning racehorse brought pride to the entire tribe, and enriched those who were smart, or lucky enough, to bet on it.

To transport children and others who could not walk or ride, a sled was used. This sled is commonly referred to by its French name, the travois. For travois pulling, larger mares over four years old and of gentle disposition were preferred. The travois was made in an A-frame shape using two long poles with a platform for the cross piece, and was drug by the horse. It was not originally developed for the horse, but was adapted from its use on dogs. Tipi lodge poles were also drug by the travois horse. These were tied in bundles, and attached to both sides of a horse. Household goods were more commonly carried on a makeshift platform attached to the lodge pole bundles rather than on a travois.

One way horses were trained to pull the travois was to first place a rawhide rope around the base of the horse’s neck. Next, a length of rope was tied to each side of the piece around the neck, and extended behind the horse where they were attached to a dry buffalo hide. The hide had to be tied far enough behind that the horse could not kick it, or more importantly, the boys riding on it to provide weight. Another way to accustom a horse to pulling was to have it drag two wooden poles, which crossed near its head. Whichever method was used, it was repeated until the horse became used to the weight and pulled quietly. Then it was ready to pull the real travois, or lodge poles. An unloaded travois weighed around fifty pounds, and the average load a horse pulled was 250 to 300 pounds.
The European method of mounting horses from the left had a practical design at one time, related to when men carried swords. The Blackfoot method of mounting a horse, while differing from that of Europeans, had a practical design also. Their method related to whether a person was left or right handed. They claimed it felt more natural to mount from the side of the hand the rider used most. If a person was right-handed, that meant grabbing some mane in the right hand, placing the left hand on the horses back, and then swinging up onto the horse. If you should wish to try this at home and find it difficult – remember their horses’ height averaged around fourteen hands. A sixteen or seventeen-hand horse will present a bit of a challenge. You may end up with a face full of shoulder.

Women rode astride, wearing long, loose skirts that facilitated easy movement, and covered their legs while riding. They usually used a wooden saddle. The pommel and cantle were of equal height – about ten to twelve inches. They were set into two sideboards that served as the panels. The entire frame was covered with buffalo rawhide. Soft skin stuffed with grass was used under the panels to protect the horse’s back. When a woman mounted, she put one foot the stirrup and pushed the opposite leg between the pommel and cantle; they were too high to swing a leg over. Imagine mounting a western saddle with two horns about a foot high!

To start a horse moving, the Blackfoot made the sound “sh” several times, while leaving the reins loose. To slow or stop, the command “ka” was said while pulling back on the reins. This latter command was also used to quiet horses while dismounted, especially in dangerous situations. No voice commands were used in turning, which was accomplished by using an open rein in the desired direction of travel. The better trained horses would turn in response to knee pressure on the opposite side, or by the rider shifting his weight in the direction of the turn. The horse would continue to turn until the rider’s weight was centered again.

In training and using horses, Native Americans took some of the European’s methods and adapted them to their way of life. The use of a wood-frame saddle covered with hide, the use of stirrups, the whip, the lariat, and the practice of gelding were among the things borrowed from Europeans, mainly the Spaniards. The horse owning tribes did not generally adopt the use of spurs, a bridle with a metal bit, or the practice of branding as a means of identifying their horses.

Compared to the overall history of Native Americans, the horse era covered a relatively short period of time, but they quickly learned to use these animals. The generations that grew up with the horse produced excellent riders, and the horse became an inextricable part of their lives. They undoubtedly experienced the same joys and frustrations of horse training that we do. That they were successful can be seen from the colorful accounts of their expert horsemanship written by Europeans and others who encountered the horse owning tribes. Success to the trainer of a buffalo horse meant meat in people’s bellies, clothes on their backs, and shelter over their heads. That was why it was important for a hunter to be able to say, “Na notoas inikwa akana inewa.”

“My horse has killed many buffalo.”

photo from engraving by William Cary, 1874

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