To horse people, small details—like the way you tie a rope halter or tighten your cinch—make a big difference.

I was looking at some fabulous Western art the other day that was coming up in a sale. This particular artist always mesmerizes me with his gaping skies, realistic depiction of canyons and intricate details on his cowboys and horses. I feel as though I’m riding right along with his cowboy crew 150 years ago, inhaling dust and gazing at a breathtaking backdrop. I was set on buying a print of one particular picture, so I zoomed in on my screen (since lately it seems that all of the great things are done online).

Whoops! Instantly I decided that I couldn’t buy this print. And honestly, the little detail I saw made me want to pass on any of his other art as well, because it exposed how little he really knew about the world he was painting. One of the cowboys had his rope DRAPED (not tied) over his saddle horn as he descended into the canyon. Obviously no real cowboy on a long ride would do this. It’s impractical, irritating and even dangerous at times. And it somewhat entertained me how such a little detail made such a big impact on my opinion. 

But that’s how most of us horse folks and cowboy types are, am I right? It’s all about the little things. We all stamp ourselves with the attention to detail we exercise on our horses, tack and habits we form. We know a phony when we see it (try 75% of the Westerns, obviously made by people who have spent very little time around actual ranchers and cowboys). Just because a seller advertises a horse as a blue roan doesn’t mean we won’t know it’s gray when we see it. And most cowboys, horsemen and riders of all types can instantly get a feel for a rider’s style, experience and preferences in a glance at how they are outfitted when mounted. 

We also get hung up on details based on sensibility. It might drive a lot of riders and trainers crazy to see a rope halter tied improperly, or (if you’re me!) a halter left tied on the fence where another horse or human could potentially get tangled in it. Walking around manure piles in the barn alley is annoying, a fly attractant and just plain untidy. And let’s not even get started on how to effectively put up a latigo. 

When riding our horses, we often set big goals. Maybe it’s a group trail ride at the end of the year, or a specific competition or class that’s new and out of our comfort zone. Some of us want to win a certain amount of money or qualify for a championship, and some of us just want to get through a particular event with minimal embarrassment. Although it’s often a result that requires big concepts, the little things make big differences in our improvement. Leading a horse with feel can change him for life. Finding a bit (or nine!) that works with a particular horse can result in big gains. And a seemingly little detail, like a loose cinch, can be a huge deal if you’re going to go rope something! 

Because see, the little things really aren’t so little. Most of the things we do as aspiring horsemen have logic and reason behind them. We crave challenges that lead to improvements and efficiency. We also have our own unique sense of style and can often tell a friend from the shape of the back of his Stetson, or the way a certain trainer’s horses are broke to travel and carry themselves. The little things are one of our outlets for creativity – with our silver conchos, tooled leather tops or roughout saddles with a little buckstitching. 

All I’m saying is that in this great big world, with all the things I’m striving to grasp, learn and accomplish, I’m going to try like mad to stay on this side of being overwhelmed with the big picture. I say, work hard to find what you’re excited about saddling up for. Never stop improving. Darn sure, don’t discount the little things. 

And for goodness sake, double check your cinch!

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