Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lots of Fun and Learning at Joe Wolter's Home Ranch Clinics

In March I had the opportunity to spend four days in Aspermont, Texas, attending a ranch horse and roping clinic at Joe and Jimmie Wolter's home ranch.  It was a transformational experience for me and my horse Mason, and we both came away from the clinic with much more confidence and trust in each other.  Plus, we brought home new skills to practice and improve.

I bought my Quarter Horse, Mason, in early 2008 and during our first months working together, he bucked me off while working a small bunch of cattle.  The buck off came without much warning and it kind of spooked me because I ride alone and across farm and ranch land where it could be awhile before I'd be found if I were really hurt.  After the incident, my trust in Mason was pretty low and I could tell that he wasn't very confident in me, so we weren't working well together as a team.  I was riding defensively and he knew it!

This went on for about a year and wasn't getting any better so I decided to get some help.  I had read about Joe Wolter over the years and I'd purchased and use his ranch roping video as I teach myself that art form.  Joe and his wife Jimmie run clinics across the U.S., but they also have periodic clinics at their ranch in Aspermont, Texas.  Since Aspermont was only about eight or nine hours away -- just around the block here in Texas -- I decided to go.

One of the first benefits for me was having the clinic on the calendar!  I started riding and practicing my roping with renewed dedication, and I challenged myself to try new things and ride new places with Mason.  We were finally making some progress again when it came time to load him into the trailer and head for North Texas.

That progress accelerated under Joe's direction.  I arrived at the Ranch just about sunset and Jimmie helped me get Mason settled and fed in the barn.  She also showed me around the very comfortable bunk house where most of the clinic participants would be staying.  The clinic includes breakfast and lunch every day, and there were also plenty of leftovers in the refrigerator to make an evening meal if we wanted that.  One of the other riders, Josh Elliot, was a master with a barbeque pit and had brought meat with him, so the bunkhouse residents also enjoyed the great food that Josh turned out every evening.

The clinic started early the next morning and we had lengthy morning and afternoon sessions every day.  Joe had us ride our horses through a series of maneuvers early on so he could assess our skill levels and our relationships with our horses.  From then on we were riding -- sometimes improving our arena riding, sometimes working with cattle, and sometimes roping.  It was a demanding program, but Joe made it clear from the beginning that we could take a break whenever we or our horses needed one.  Joe also worked with us individually to help us with particular problems and sometimes as examples for the rest of the clinic riders.  Riders ranged in age from early 20s to mid 60s so there was a great mix of experience and skill levels represented.  There was a tremendous improvement in my riding each day I participated, and both Mason and I became more relaxed and worked better together each day.

Now that I'm home again, Mason and I are still working to get improve, but the Joe Wolter clinic sure helped us take a great leap forward.  One big difference is that before the clinic, Mason had his head elevated and I had rein contact whenever we trotted or loped.  Now, I can trot and lope him on a loose rein with his head held in a natural position.  It's just one sign of how much Joe helped us.

If you're thinking of treating yourself and your horse to a clinic or if you are stuck in a rut like I was, please consider attending one of Joe Wolter's clinics.  Your horse will thank you for it!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sometimes Young Horses and Mature Riders are a Good Fit

This post was contributed by Nanette Levin, owner of Halcyon Acres and author of the Horse Sense and Cents website and blog.  Please visit her websites for more great information!

Special young horse teaches trainer a new lesson

It stands to reason that putting a young horse with a green rider – or a more mature tentative rider who harbours deep fears from prior injuries – is a recipe for disaster.  This year, I was again reminded that there are no absolutes. 

Once in a while, you find a very special horse that goes against all the norms and, in so doing, speaks to you (sometimes it takes shouting – he’d been telling me what he wanted for a good number of weeks – probably more like years – before I actually heard him). Buster is such a horse.

Buster’s Born

I bred Buster. He was born very correct, cute and unflappable. I wasn’t overly impressed with him at first because he was so nonchalant about everything. Everyone who met him fell in love. At first, I thought they were silly to be so charmed. Later, I realized I was the fool. For so many years, I’ve been focused on spotting high level performance prospects. Such equines usually show their proclivity due to what that kind of heart brings into mix in early handling lessons in ways that make them challenging, but delightful when you know what will happen if such energy and precociousness is channelled.

Once I started Buster under saddle, though, I knew I was working with a very special horse. He was old in his wisdom while careful in his youth as he willingly tackled new experiences. With far less than thirty days under saddle (I’ve never had a youngster I would have trusted with this one), he was carrying my young nephews around and figuring out their confused cues for steering, stopping and going (they had never been on a horse before sans a single pony ride).

Young horse has to scream to be heard

Last month, a trainer friend stopped by Halcyon Acres to look at a few horses here for a client, including Buster. She brought some friends. One gal had broken her neck in a horse wreck and wasn’t even looking for a horse, but had decided if she was ever in the market, it would be an old, seasoned mount. I turned Buster lose fully tacked after I hopped off him (he usually follows me around like a loyal dog in such situations) and he spent the trip to the gate with his nose glued to her back. The next week, I received a call asking for some time with Buster that resulted in an immediate offer (it was a shock). This was not the home or career I had envisioned for this horse.

I had a lot of interest in Buster, from Colorado, to Virginia, to Pennsylvania – places where he would have had a much more visible and esteemed career, and the purchase price would have been significantly higher.

Buster chooses a home – probably for life

Sometimes destiny plays a role in life, and with horses. A horse communicator friend of mine called me to let me know Buster had chosen this mature rider and pushed me to consider his wishes. I spoke to the trainer who brought the friend and learned more about the buyer and the home he would go to.
Yesterday, Buster trucked out of here to a new home where he calmly walked off the trailer, surveyed his surroundings with an easy and quiet comfort, gave a heavy sigh and dropped his head to graze.
He’s three. 

This little kid wanted to do this. He chose a job that gave him more satisfaction than glory (and I don’t care who may argue horses don’t think this deep – in my experience, some do). Buster will take care of this mature rider in ways that might not be possible with an older and more experienced mount, because he’ll quickly strive to understand her wants and cues and remake his reactions to reflect her needs. This old-brained soul has never spooked in his life and is as sure footed as they come – important considerations in this situation. His new project guide is a seasoned and patient equestrian, so he’ll thrive with her attention and give her the confidence to get back into the riding game.  

Horses teach you new things every day

I’ve spent decades cautioning against putting green horses with riders who are not seasoned and/or confident. It’s tough to return to riding as a mature adult, and usually, a young horse would be the wrong choice for an older rider looking for pure pleasure. In this case, I was proven wrong. It’s a first, and may be a last, but I hope not. I hope to have the opportunity to breed another horse like Buster with a more cognizant ear on his or her wishes. As hard as it was to say goodbye, I’m thrilled to have played a role (thanks for the help, Buster) in putting these two together. The idea of producing a horse that loudly chooses to be a safeguard and partner with a rider who needs him is more rewarding than I would have imagined. It will be so fun hearing about and learning from the experiences the two have together.  I hope she’ll choose to share her updates and experiences publicly through this blog.