Idaho horseman Wade Black directs the equine science program at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon. Growing up on ranches in the Great Basin area, Black buckarooed with his father, Martin Black, and other top horsemen. While at college at Montana State University, Black took the knowledge he’d gained starting colts and applied it to his equine science degree. To complete his master's degree in equine nutrition, Black wrote the “Foundation for Perfection,” a program he uses to teach students and horses at TVCC.
Read more about Wade Black in “Breaking Down Walls,” featured in the February issue. For more information on Black visit trainingforthecross.com.
Q: When loping circles to the right my horse feels heavy on the inside. How can I get him to lope circles in a balanced frame?
Jenny, Alberta, Canada
A: When a horse is dropping its shoulder in a circle, it is either dropping to the inside or leaning to the outside. That is a problem with direction. When the horse’s front and hind feet aren’t following the same path as its head, then we have problems. It sounds like that is the problem we are having here is stepping with the inside front foot, which drops the shoulder.
The problem I see is that people are riding too much with their hands. The hands give direction and the feed drive the horse. A couple of things, maybe even on the ground, are to take the slack out of the rein and get the hind foot to step up and behind that outside front foot. This pushes the shoulder up. Then, get on and work on this. What’s happening is you are taking hold to go in a circle, and the horse is leaning in. You need to take hold of the reins and stop the inside front foot, and then use your feet to drive the inside hind foot up under the horse. With my rodeo students, I get them to start walking around a barrel and getting the proper position. Then, move outward and keep the correct position, like a “C” in the horse’s body. When you can get the horse’s face connected to the inside hind foot, you can walk, trot or lope a nice circle.
Q: My gelding is great at home, but when I take him on a trail ride with other horses he is very skittish. He even sets back when I try to tie him to the trailer. He never does this at home. What is the change and what can I do to change his behavior?
A: I teach that a horse has driving factors, and everything a horse does is driven by these factors. The three primary are self-preservation, comfort and companionship, and the two underlying are confidence and energy. Horses are prey animals and whenever they lose confidence in a situation, they are going to seek comfort and companionship somewhere else. The horse obviously has confidence when it is at home with the other horses, but it is obviously losing confidence when it is somewhere else, back at the barn or wherever and is pulling back. Two things she can do there is either increase the confidence or decrease the energy. That energy is like motivation or determination, its the fuel that is driving that horse. If I go to a branding on a horse I’ve never roped before, I will lope around and I won’t even go to the branding trap until I have decreased that energy quite a bit. Gotten a little moisture on its neck and sweated a bit. Then that will decrease the energy fueling the self-preservation. That is a little bit like the cowboy mentality, of decreasing the energy. But, if you are not increasing the confidence, as you are decreasing the energy then as soon as the energy comes back the self-preservation will still be there. So, if you gain more confidence, you won’t have to decrease the energy as much. Then, you won’t have to decrease the as much until the horse has his energy and you can direct it in a positive manner.
The more she can try to think about what the environment at home is like and what is different with somewhere else, with different horses. Try to duplicate the environment at home when she goes somewhere else. I don’t know how much she rides by herself at home. At home, try not to do the same thing over and over. Try to mix up [your] routine at home a little bit more in preparation to go somewhere else.
Q: My friend and I are having a debate about the time spent riding. She prefers to ride every day, even if it is only 30 minutes. I prefer to spend more time with my horse and ride for several hours, even if it is only on the weekend. What is best for the horse and what should I do?
A: You know, I think that depends a lot on the horse. If it is an older horse with a solid foundation, then I think it is personal preference. If it is a younger horse, personally, I would ride it more often for longer periods of time. A young horse is a herd animal, and it needs comfort, companionship and confidence. Say that horse is in a pen where it is comfortable for 24 hours a day and you take that horse out of that environment for only 30 minutes to do some drills, that horse’s driving factors are focused on the herd it left behind. You haven’t gotten that horse’s thought. I prefer to ride a horse longer, like moving cows, because a lot of times the first hours the horse’s mind is somewhere else. Doing a job decreases the horse’s energy that is fueling the comfort and companionship it seeks, and gets the horses thought. Then you can redirect those driving factors and accomplish your goal of teaching the horse something.
In my business riding colts, I will take them for eight hours all day and, shoot, those horses could get ridden for one hour a day the rest of their life and not learn as much. Mentally, you are getting to the bottom of that horse by staying on it. That is a lot of the problems with horses, you don’t know how far to push them. If the horse has a solid foundation, then riding time is personal preference. It all boils down to the mental capacity of the horse, and energy is an underlying factor.
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