The last several years, the town of Pueblo, Colorado has hosted the National Little Britches Rodeo Association Finals Rodeo. Heartwarming, wholesome, family-oriented, hard-working, and inspirational are only five of countless words to describe both the participants and volunteers for Hope Counts of NLBRA. Some 2,000 kids, between the ages of 5 and 18, from 21 states compete in more than 275 “Little Britches” rodeos every year. Their most recent Finals Rodeo was held in July and members of Spalding Labs were again on hand to help with the Hope Counts Crisis Fundraising. According to Tom Spalding, President of Spalding Labs, “Of all the events we do every year, Little Britches is the most fun.”
The Hope Counts - Crisis Fund of the NLBRA was founded by Sydnee Christensen of Utah when she was a mere 12 years old. She wanted to help injured rodeo kids and their families facing catastrophic events. Sydnee started brainstorming ideas, lit a fire under her mom, and they began putting together the business side. Sponsorship Coordinator for the NLBRA, Sarah Faith Wiens, had this to say about Sydnee’s endeavor, "It's one thing for an association to start up a crisis fund, it's quite another to have a 12-year-old member start one. It makes me so proud to be a small part of an organization that has members willing to help one another in such a large way. The sport of rodeo is dangerous, there is no getting around it. Anytime you mix livestock, kids and a competitive atmosphere there are bound to be accidents and when that happens it's comforting to know that families aren't alone. NLBRA is truly an association where character is developed, western traditions live and legends begin!"
Sydnee’s base idea for fundraising was cleaning trailers for rodeo participants using Spalding’s Bye Bye Odor as they were checking in. Everyone who made a donation received the Hope Counts signature Blue Feather. The volunteers worked hard, cleaning trailers, for three days. Their youthful teamwork and dedication to serving others touched the heart of Spalding’s video director, Berry Landen who was on location shooting the Finals Rodeo. On the spot, Landen decided to produce the “Hope Counts: Kids helping kids get better” video.
Both Spalding Lab’s video and Blue Feathers went viral at that year’s NFR in Las Vegas.
Expanding on Sydnee’s trailer cleaning concept, Larry Garner with Spalding Labs, suggested they not only donate the Bye Bye Odor used to clean the trailers but then sell Bye Bye Odor at the event giving 100% of the proceeds to Hope Counts for unlimited fundraising possibilities. Garner said, “It’s a win-win-win. The kids raise money to help others. Spalding’s Bye Bye Odor cleans the trailers which means less flies, better smell and happier animals. We all know happier animals are better competitors.” The premier year’s overwhelming response was thanks to the many Little Britches alumni, now top professional cowboys and cowgirls who wore the blue feathers at NFR. The buzz in Las Vegas that year was, ‘what are all these blue feathers for?’ generating enormous baseline awareness for Hope Counts.
Again this year Spalding Labs had plenty of donated Bye Bye Odor on hand, along with some additional man power to help the kids clean the trailers, and raise over $4000. Hope Counts not only gives back to the rodeo community in need, but also teaches kids teamwork, volunteerism and selfless acts of service. Wise beyond her years, Sydnee states “Aristotle said ‘virtue is its own reward’ I think we all may get a little extra reward here.”
Angelea Walkup is a US Dressage Federation gold medalist best known in the horse world as web series host of HorseGirlTV and producer of the equibarre workout. She is a career content creator and holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. You can connect with her on Twitter @AKwalkup or her Facebook Page.
Anyone who has ever felt a horse with completely optimized thoroughness in his back will never forget it. I refer to it as floating, doing nothing and just enjoying the rides’ subsequent carriage. However you choose to describe it, this is a feeling you’ll forever seek to return to in all your future rides yet, in all its glory, is something challenging to explain to students as you have to experience it.
More often than not, riders try to make a connection through force. They try to create a fictional rhythm and relaxation by putting weight in the reins with their hands and body and driving the horse into that weight with their legs and seat. This is hard work. Riding should not be hard. Riding should be easy. True connection is impossible to achieve with force as horses are significantly stronger than riders and therefore attempting to create connection with pure physical strength is, at best, futile. Fictional connection is the results of driving the horse into your hands creating the appearance of a horse that is “on the bit” but in actuality is a horse that is stiff in the back, heavy in the hand and not pleasurable to ride. By working in a systematic training style that focuses on finesse over force and resistance instead of restriction, riders’ true feel is achieved and the results of connection comes naturally. Feel is defined by how well you listen and how quickly you react with your timing. I focus on the systematic use of basic aids to develop the riders’ awareness and feel. With feel, the rider will not only excel leaps and bounds closer to that often-misunderstood word connection but also simultaneously advance in their personal strategies, competition skills creating a willing and unblocked horse. The end result of communication by a question and answer method is an unblocked horse. With the question and answer method you apply tactful mental and gymnastic exercises to entice the horse to become looser, in turn creating more physical strength and likewise, allows you to win his trust to work with you. Whether feel comes natural or is learned by the rider, it’s the main ingredient that leads to an unblocked, open, free moving, relaxing on the bit connected horse. I am often asked how to get their horses on the bit. With a question like “on the bit” and discussions of connection, it’s best to step outside the sandbox and take a look at the training pyramid. When all the precursors to this mystical “on the bit” are defined and understood is when a true connection through feel and harmony, not opposition or fake connection, can be achieved. Rhythm (Speed Control) The training pyramid starts with Rhythm, as without a decent tempo in life or in the sandbox, one goes nowhere. Rhythm is defined as with energy and tempo but I prefer to call it speed control. You need to be able to set your horse on cruise control with the proper amount of RPMs to create rhythm. Easy, right? Well, most people translate energy and tempo (and all too often the word forward) as running. This could be furthest from the truth. By using the word speed control we step outside the preconceived notions of energy and tempo and learn that the rider sets the speed and not the horse. Speed control exercise: Try riding to a metronome or gate matching music. Keeping with the beats of the metronome you’ll likely find yourself riding to the tempo. Don’t worry about where your horses’ head is at this point just work on asking him move in a steady beat matching pace. Next try riding over properly placed ground poles and note how your horse must pick up his feet, hopefully in an active manner, to step over the poles. This is an extremely basic way to explain energy without making one think energy means running or fast but instead focusing on the RPMs and activity. When proper speed control is understood, you’ll have the basics of tempo and energy and be riding with Rhythm. Relaxation (Advanced Speed Control) Next is relaxation. After you grasp the basics of speed control work on relaxation or advance speed control. Relaxation is defined as elasticity and suppleness. Most riders think bending is the only avenue to a supple horse. A bent horse is not necessarily a relaxed horse so I try to not focus on asking for a bend or flexing but rather talk about seeking relaxation in the swinging of the horses back. If you turn that metronome you rode to find your rhythm upside down it resembles a pendulum and when your horses tail swings like that pendulum naturally right and left with a soft poll then you’ll find you’re riding in relaxation naturally. Advance speed control exercise: A tap of both legs applies the gas and a squeeze on both reins equally is the brakes. We do not apply the brakes and gas simultaneously. I work with escalation of force principles or action, pressure, reaction, reward. Essentially you tap, never push, with your legs for the gas, if you receive a reaction from the horse you enjoy the ride and do nothing. If you do not receive a reaction from your horse you apply escalation of force or pressure in the form of an increased aid (in this example more firm tap with both legs), if you receive a reaction from the pressure you enjoy the ride and do nothing. Escalation of force with no reaction using this as an example would then become a tap of the spurs and lastly a tap with the whip until the horse moves effectively off the gas pedal. The horse receives your action, reacts and is rewarded by you doing nothing and simply enjoying the ride. Your action is the question and his reaction is the answer. When the question and answer method has been successfully applied your horse will relax and open himself to you. Connection (An Unblocked Horse) Stepping up the pyramid we move on to connection. Connection is defined as acceptance of the bit through acceptance of the aids. This is an open horse. You’ll feel when your horse is moving in rhythm with energy and a quality tempo (speed control) and relaxed with a swinging back (advanced speed control) that he’ll reach to the contact of your reins. This rein contact is often misconstrued as front to back, originating from the bit to the hands with everything else falling into place thus the whole “getting on the bit” misconception. True contact originates from that swinging tail and thrust of the hind leg created from relaxation. Hence, “getting on the bit” is never achieved by pulling on the reins but rather the horse coming equally and gently into both reins from the hind end. Unblocked horse exercise: Practicing the question and answer method and starting with the basics of speed control your horse will naturally soften off your legs and in your hands. Building on your speed control exercises gradually lengthen and shorten the reins. Your horse should continue to reach for that contact and stay open and unblocked to you. This is not to say the horse reaches down or up but stays with you open to hearing where you’re going with the connection. If your horse begins to hang in your hands or get sticky in his pace, soften your aids immediately and tap with both legs to get your horse to move forward until you feel him carrying himself again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until your horse remains unblocked and until the speed you have set can be maintained throughout all gates, transitions and connection positions. It’s often easier said than done but with the question and answer method it truly is simple. By utilizing proper speed control to develop an unblocked horse the next steps in the pyramid; impulsion, straightness and collection will naturally happen. A good dressage horse is only a pleasure to ride when he has nothing blocking him and only on an unblocked horse will you ever feel true connection and ultimately collection. Angelea Kelly started her career in Internet Technologies at OpenDoor Networks then accepted a post university position with start-up WebRing. After WebRing's acquistion by Yahoo, she began freelancing and traveled the world with her dachshund, Piccolo. Angelea founded HorseGirlTV.com in 2007. She is a USDF Gold Medalist training her last horse from an unbroken 4 year old to Grand Prix and has been a Fly Predator and Bye Bye Odor customer and fan since 2012!
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It is a common and widespread belief that horses, being a flighty prey species, automatically fear predatory species. It seems logical to believe this.
The horse is a prey species. It is a grazing creature that, in the wild, always lives in herds on grasslands. It evolved millions of years ago surrounded by hungry predators mainly of the dog and cat family. This included wolves, lions and saber-toothed tigers.
Unlike many grassland prey species, such as wild cattle, sheep, goats, rhinoceros, and elephants, the horse is equipped with neither horns nor tusks. Its primary defense is flight. The horse’s anatomy and its physiology are designed to sprint from perceived danger.
What precipitates flight is the perception of predation, not the presence of a predator.
I became aware of this for the first time in 1949 when the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus came to Tucson. I was amazed to see a full-grown Bengal Tiger riding on the back of a horse. “How is such a thing possible?” I thought. “Doesn’t the horse, a prey animal, automatically fear a tiger, a predator?”
I had seen wild horses that had never had human contact panic when a man first approached them in a pen. That seemed “normal”. In time I observed that when such horses were approached by children, or most women, they were less inclined to panic. Why?
Similarly, when such horses were approached by a friendly, casual ranch dog, it did not result in blind flight. Weren’t dogs predators?
Predation usually take two forms:
I have been twice on veterinary safaris to East Africa. There one will see lounging prides of lions, a short distance from grazing herds of zebra, a close relative of the horse.
As long as the lions are resting quietly, the zebra, always aware of the lion’s presence, do not flee.
But, if a lion arises and stretches, the zebra focuses on it. If the lion then casually moves away from the zebra, they go back to grazing.
If, however, the lion crouches, becomes motionless and stares at the zebra, they immediately prepare to flee.
I noted, long ago, that when stallions want to propel their range herd of mares and youngsters into flight, they assume a predatory stance. They lower their heads, crouch, and fix their eyes upon their “quarry”. This motivates the herd into flight away from the predatory behavior even though that behavior is being displayed by a fellow prey animal – a horse.
Thus I learned that horses do not fear predators. They fear predatory behavior, the stalk and the charge. So anything unfamiliar to the horse that is stationary is alarming. It might be just a trash can, or a discarded box, or a rock that somebody painted their initials on, or a resting animal that it has never seen before like a pig or a llama – anything! This is why horses may shy at an unidentified stationary object. It isn’t stupidity. It is nature’s wisdom. In its natural environment in the wild, this is how horses manage to survive.
Similarly, anything unfamiliar, unidentified that moves towards the horse, may be identified as predatory behavior, and for the horse, the best way to escape a predator is by flight.
If we respond to such behavior by inflicting pain, as with the whip or spur or violent reining, we establish permanent fear of whatever caused the “spooking”. So if a horse shys at a sheet of paper on the trail, it is thinking “I see an unfamiliar stationary thing. I had better run away from it or it may hurt me”, and then if we hurt the horse, we have confirmed its fear. And, horses don’t forget. Horses with poor memories did not survive over the millions of years.
If an unfamiliar object comes towards the horse, say a kid on a bicycle for the first time, or a hiker with a big backpack, or a golf cart, or a tumbleweed, the horse’s natural reaction is flight. It’s not stupidity. It is nature’s wisdom. It’s the key, for a horse, to survival in the wild.
Horses can be desensitized, with amazing speed to any sensory stimulus, no matter how severe, providing that it causes no pain. Thus horses can become oblivious to the loudest noise, the strongest smell, the sight of anything no matter how vivid, and the touch of plastic sheets or electric clippers, or ropes on its body, and even a tiger riding on its back.
That’s why horses were so vitally useful to mankind for so many millennia in warfare.
Once we accept the concept that horses do not automatically fear predators but they do fear predatory behavior unless they are methodically and properly desensitized to it, we can understand how to best get along with and communicate with horses.
We will discuss such methods of desensitization in a future article.
Since horses have infallible memories it should now be obvious how important the first experience of any kind will be to a horse, regardless of its age. The first experience with people, dogs, cattle, curry combs, electric clippers, wheelbarrows, flags, halters, bridles, saddles, foot trimmings, fly spray, motorcycles, crossing a puddle of water, whatever, will be remembered forever. If that memory results in what we regard as an unsatisfactory response, it can be changed. However that requires skill, experience, patience, persistence, and empathy. Anger, impatience, and violence will worsen the problem.
Now you can see why determined, aggressive rapid movements and a fixed gaze on a completely green horse causes the horse to regard us as a predator, whereas a casual relaxed, soft approach, halting and even retreating if the horses reacts in a frightened manner is the best way to initially introduce a horse to anything new. Retreat is non-predatory.
Later, after the horse accepts the new experience with the indifference, then you can gradually increase the intensity of the experience. As long as it doesn’t cause pain the horse can accept it.
Horse training consists simply, of giving horses a choice between comfort and discomfort. The discomfort can be mental or physical and it can be quite mild. It does not have to be severe. The ultimate goal should be 100% respect and response, but zero fear. It can be done.
In 1949 my father gave me a Christmas present; a pair of kangaroo cowboy boots. They were handsome but a size too large. No matter! I only used them for riding.
One day I was practicing calf roping. I threw a bad loop, began to dismount prematurely, lost my balance, and fell over backwards. My foot hung up in the stirrup, the horse veered, and I found myself dragged down the arena at top speed.
It was a frightening few seconds. Then my over-sized boot came off.
Many years later, I made a video called Safer Horsemanship (Video Velocity, 1999). It teaches methods of avoiding injury to both horses and humans who work with horses.
Because of my 1949 experience I included footwear. One of the recommendations in the video is to wear riding boots a size too large.
I am on the equine and veterinary lecture circuit, so I attend many expos, clinics, schools, and other equine events. Since Safer Horsemanship was produced I have had three identical experiences; all of them separate unrelated events. At each event an older gentleman came up to me and said, “You saved my life.”
I asked how that was possible. Each told me the same story. They had ridden all their life but, obviously, no longer had the agility and coordination they had when they were younger.
Riding a trusted and well-trained horse, it spooked on the trail. They went off, hung up in the stirrup and got dragged. But, because they had seen my video, and promptly bought new boots a size too large, the boot came off preventing serious injury.
Safer Horsemanship is based upon my experience. I started working professionally with horses at 15 years of age. In my twenties I became a wrangler, a cattle ranch hand, a packer for the U.S. Forest Service, a rodeo contestant, and, most important, a “bronc buster”, starting “colts” mostly four or five or six years of age that had never before been handled. Then, as a vet, I mostly did horse practice. I still ride.
In seventy-five years of working with horses only once did an injury caused by a horse put me in the hospital, and that was when a 90-day old foal ran into me at top speed and knocked me flat, injuring my knee.
However, I learned how to minimize the chance of injury, knowing that the equine, a flighty, fearful prey species is also very swift and strong, and highly reactive.
So that’s what inspired me to do a video on Safer Horsemanship.
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