Here lately, I’m learning that getting “life” in a horse does not mean boosting its acceleration.
Becoming a better, more well-rounded horseman has been my goal during the past several years. I came to Texas four years ago wanting to learn as much as I could about working cattle horseback. I’ve made it a priority to focus on patience with my horses, and I’m constantly collecting little tricks and methods that help a green horse become more seasoned and an older horse become more supple. Also, I’ve attained valuable information from knowledgeable resources on breeding and raising horses.
I realize that what I’ve learned is just a small drop in the bucket compared to most, but I feel that I’ve grown and learned a lot.
But here lately, with a herd of my own horses of different levels and abilities, I feel that my newest season of horsemanship is going to be a challenging one, yet one that comes with a lot of reward. It should improve the way my horses naturally move their bodies, respond to cues, perform a job outside and work a cow. See, although I’ve attempted this for many years, I’m finally beginning to understand the difference between life and speed in my horse.
Sounds simple enough, right? Speed is the act of going fast. Moving the hooves. Acceleration. Quickness. Momentum. It’s what often happens when you are riding away from the barn to the arena and realize you forgot your husband’s cup of coffee, so you turn around, point your horse back home to grab that Yeti cup, and your horse magically quickens his pace. His feet get to rolling. You get somewhere faster. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that your horse is going forward in any direction with an intent to solely travel with his rider.
The concept of life in a horse is a different level than mere speed. By life, I don’t mean the living, breathing, heartbeat kind. I’m referring to that extra little spring in the step. Pricked ears and willing feet and a happy, confident way of traveling. Impulsion. Liveliness. Responsiveness. An eagerness in your palomino pal’s acknowledgment and response to your cues. Life can happen at a slow speed. It can happen when leading, grooming or loading in a trailer. Ultimately, a horse with life is one that is ready and willing to be with his rider or handler, whatever the task.
A horse that is lacking life is fairly easy to spot. Often, his feet drag and his tail might swish in protest when asked to move forward. Just because he doesn’t have life doesn’t mean he’s slow. A horse without life may be quick and have plenty of go when ridden, but leans against the tug a lead rope. Speed can often mask the fact that a horse is resistant, dulled or even numb to certain cues.
I’ve known about the concept of building life in a horse for quite some time. Most disciplines encourage a happy, responsive, forward animal and the ride is usually better when you are on a horse that is a willing partner. To build life without speed is a tricky task. Bigger spurs and more pressure is not the answer. It doesn’t work to scare a horse into moving brightly or to nag one into it either.
It’s a concept that revolves around pressure and release, without the release being solely about shooting forward in a direction. It’s understanding how to tie your cues to your horse’s feet. When I ask my gelding to go left, for example, if he does it with life, he will be under my reins as I move them in that direction. His legs will propel him into a “ready” position because that’s where his mind is. Some horses are better equipped for this naturally. A horse that is more sensitive, or who hasn’t had a whole lot of pushing, nagging and coaxing in his career will be easier to build life into. A lazier horse always requires more work on this topic.
Gosh I’ve struggled with this concept. It can be improved in some form with just about any and every horse I’ve been blessed to ride. But as a new season of learning, riding and starting colts falls upon me, I’m really looking forward to working towards the concept of building life, not speed.
One brisk, lively and prick-eared step at a time.