Students at Treasure Valley Community College learn various horsemanship skills, from starting colts and roping to proper cattle handling, and they’re taught by Road to the Horse Wild Card Champion and lifelong horseman Wade Black.
For Black, true understanding of horsemanship that applies to stockmanship came from the years he spent starting colts with his father, Martin Black. Growing up on the Stampede Ranch in Nevada, Black recalls being asked daily, and sometimes multiple times a day, “Do you feel that?” Riding wasn’t so much taught as talked about.
“Being raised in the environment I was, there was a lot of [discussion about] feel. Tom [Dorrance] and Grandpa talked about feel, timing and balance,” Black says. “Feel is something I’ve been on a journey to teach.”
When he was at Montana State University as a master’s degree student, Black labeled the individual steps he took to create a foundation on a horse, teach skills and eliminate resistance in a horse doing a job. The result was the “Foundation for Perfection.” He uses the system on his horses and teaches students to benefit potential employment in the Western industry.
Based on Black’s style of Great Basin stockmanship, he’s applied the principles of the “Foundation of Perfection” to working stock as a ranch or feedlot employee. He defines stockmanship as the “ability to read flight zone and balance point to influence the speed and directions of an individual animal, or a herd of animals.” This is a measurable quality that his students have to learn how to feel.
In order to learn how to read the flight zone and balance point, Black teaches students vocabulary words to apply to a horse’s response to pressure. Then, he teaches students how to best handle that response, which is usually a form of resistance against what the student is asking the horse to do.
There are three driving factors that cause resistance:
- Self-preservation—due to lack of confidence.
- Lack of communication—the horse needs more time, patience or teaching.
- Disobedience—due to false teaching there is resentment to commands.
Once students can see what kind of resistance is driving the horse’s actions, then Black focuses on the best means to work through it. The ultimate goal is for the horse to seek comfort and companionship with the rider or person working with it on the ground, and not resist.
There are four factors to consider to eliminate resistance:
- Willing Submission: After initial cue, the cow/calf willingly performs task without influencing flight zone, or balance point.
- Good Communication: According to Black, learning to read, feel and understand what the cow is saying in response to our request is part of good communications.
- Balanced Life to Direction Ratio: First, understand that “life” is the flight or pressure zone response, or the bubble around an animal where their self-preservation kicks in. The other factor is the balance point, which influences direction (forward, backward and stop). Having these two factors in mind when working stock helps eliminate resistance.
- Solid Foundation of Maneuvers: The first part is mechanical, or understanding how to stop or direct movement. The second part is mental. The horse and rider receive insight moving together in perfect unity to accomplish a job.
Black goes into detail defining feel in the January 2020 issue of Western Horseman.
WADE BLACK is a horseman and teacher. He and his wife, Amaya, own and operate Training for the Cross in Homedale, Idaho, producing bridle horses for the public. He draws on his own experience starting colts as well as the horsemanship foundation he built under the instruction of his father, Martin Black, his grandfather, Ray Hunt, and mentor Tom Dorrance, while growing up in Nevada. Black teaches at Treasure Valley Community College where he instructs in the Equine Program and certifies instructors through the Training Quality Assurance curriculum. In 2019, Black won the Wild Card division at the Road to the Horse colt-starting event, earning a spot to compete in the main event at 2020 Road to the Horse. For more on his training philosophy, visit trainingforthecross.com.