Ask Our Expert - Craig Cameron

 Craig CameronCraig Cameron is known as the “cowboy’s clinician.” He travels the country, presenting clinics and sharing his philosophy on training and riding horses. Cameron also hosts clinics at his ranches in Bluff Dale, Texas, and Lincoln, New Mexico. His goal is for riders to build a relationship of trust and confidence with their horses.


Craig Cameron

This Month's ExpertCraig Cameron

Craig Cameron is known as the “cowboy’s clinician.” He travels the country, presenting clinics and sharing his philosophy on training and riding horses. Cameron also hosts clinics at his ranches in Bluff Dale, Texas, and Lincoln, New Mexico. His goal is for riders to build a relationship of trust and confidence with their horses.

In 2010, Cameron won the Road to the Horse colt-starting championship. He also is known for creating the Extreme Cowboy Race, a competition that tests competitors’ skills through all types of challenging obstacles. Cameron hosts a program on RFD-TV called “Ride Smart,” the title of his 2004 Western Horseman book. In the brand new Western Horseman book, Ride Smarter: On to the Next Level of Horsemanship, Cameron helps readers learn to see things from a horse’s perspective, and offers advice on a variety of topics, from horse selection and bit choices to disciplining a horse and traveling with horses.

Q: My 4-year-old gelding has always had a very soft mouth. He had some time off this winter, and now he seems to want to root at the bit. He is current on all dental work, so it’s not a mouth issue. I ride him in a twisted O-ring snaffle. He is not obnoxious about it, and he will still give to the bit, but I don’t want the problem to escalate. Is it time to change bits, or is there something I can do to regain that softness that he had?

Mike, Louisiana

A: That’s a good question. Sometimes we run into these problems where a horse might root at the bit. One thing I would do is get out of the twisted wire snaffle bit. The twisted wire can tend to callous the corner of a horse’s mouth. So I would get out of that twisted wire, but I would stick with a snaffle bit. And I would go back to some original foundation work of flexibility, position and control. I’d get this horse soft in my hands from the ground.

Then, after that, there would be nothing wrong with checking this horse up. In other words, when we check the horse up we might take one rein and check him laterally to the left and laterally to the right. In other words, he’s going to learn to give to his own pressure. When he’s good, I would check him softly in the vertical position, teaching him that again when he gives to pressure, there’s something in it for him: release, relief, relaxation and reward. And then again, of course, ground driving this horse with a soft touch, working one rein at a time. Then when you get up on his back right there, be sure that you ride softly, with a guiding motion, not a pulling motion. So much of the time we’re pulling back. We bring our hands toward our body and the horse just pulls the opposite direction. Be sure and guide him to the right and to the left, and not pull, and again, re-establish the foundation of giving and yielding to pressure.

Q: I’m teaching my yearling to load in my three-horse slant trailer. At a show I saw people both backing their horses out of their stock trailers and some would lead them out. What is best and how should I teach my yearling so he is good later on?

Kim, Arizona

A: Well, you know, for me I like a horse to be able to do both. I like to be able to back him out of the trailer. I like to be able to lead him out of the trailer. Because you never know what you might have to do. Sometimes when I’m trailer loading a horse in the very beginning, if I have room I’ll actually turn him around in the trailer where he’s very familiar with it. And then again, it is important that he be able to back out of the trailer.

So the way I start, a lot of times, is to simply back my trailer in a lower position where the step-off is not very big. It’s that step-off that will scare your horses. Again, I get him to where the first time I might load him halfway; in other words, just get the front feet in, then I’m going to step him gently backwards. Get him to where he can step halfway in and simply back him out. Then finally I’m going to put him all the way in.

Be sure your horse knows how to back before you do this kind of work. And work one step at a time. Make the trailer be the sweet spot, the soft spot, and the resting spot, and I think you’ll have a great result.

Q: I’m a trail rider who used to ride good, but now at 60 years old, don’t have the ability I used to. I got a “dead broke” Paint from a stable close by, and it was good for awhile, but now the horse is prancing all the time. When we ride alone, he prances. When we are with other horses, front or back of the pack, he prances. It’s not only embarrassing to be on a goofy horse, but not great for my back. I’ve tried to stop, back up and even run the horse in a round pen before I ride to get his energy down. What can stop the prancing?

Gail, California

A: That’s actually a very tough problem because once a horse does something enough times, then it becomes a habit. Again, I would say most people don’t ride their horses enough. The answer would be, say if they lived in Texas, to ride him to Montana and back. I guarantee by the time you got back that horse would be more relaxed. So again, we’ve got to spend a lot of time. We have to season our horses. And again, ride with a friend. If that horse gets prancy, say I’m riding with a friend, I might just start circling that friend while the other guy is just walking. I’m going to give my horse someplace to go and something to do. Again, changing directions. I’m going to get where I can walk, trot and canter around my buddy while we’re going forward.Sometimes another good exercise is to just stop, ride a hundred yards straight, come back to the herd. When you get back to that herd, ride him around. Again, you’ve got to ride this horse enough to give him a reason to change.And don’t forget that a tired horse is a good horse. What we mean by that, you have to ride them enough that they want to put effort into slowing down. Again, you’re going to have to start at the beginning, warm your horse up, do a lot of riding, take him a lot of different places, and again, work for the change.

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