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December 2019
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The Man With The Big Hat

In a bar in Arizona
On a sultry summer’s day
A cowboy came in off the road
Just to pass the time away
And he pulled a stool to the bar
And pushed his hat back on his head
I listened to the stories told
To the words the cowboy said
And he said:

“I could tell you stories about
The Indians on the plains
Talk about Wells Fargo
And the coming of the train
Talk about the slaughter
Of the buffalos that roamed
And I could speak of all the
settlers come out
lookin’ for a home”

–Steven Fromholz

(with A Montana Cowboy)

Jem joining up with J

My ten year old Canadian Cheval, Jem, wasn’t too sure about all this Natural Horsemanship business at the beginning of last Tuesday’s (September 16th) session with Montana cowboy J.E. He strode through the barn door in full-length chaps, spurs, a 50 pound saddle, a big hat and a look that said “I am not to be trifled with,” and she beat a hasty retreat around the round pen for a good half hour while J waved his flag and asked her to change direction. “Why is she acting like that?” a clinic auditor asked. “Aw, she’s just bein‘ disrespectful ’cause she can,” J explained patiently. Jem does have a fairly intense case of strong-headedness. That’s because she’s a Canadian Cheval. These horses come by it honestly. They are the national equine of Canada, where they are known affectionately as “The Little Iron Horse” and live outside in the fierce Canadian winter climes, often existing on meagre rations. They are tough but loving horses, and are thought to be the forbearers of the American Morgan Horse. In this shot Jem has decided after half an hour of spastically running around the pen to “join up” with J. That means she’s elected him the Alpha Horse and has decided to listen to what he has to say. I’m curious to hear what he has to say too.

Jem Sidles Over To The Rail
Jem worked herself into a veritable lather before deciding that she’d go check out the rail with J. This mare is actually a wonderful and gentle riding horse with one chief flaw (o.k., two, but I won’t get into the second flaw just yet): she refuses to stand still for mounting. Now this is annoying enough in an arena, but for a trail rider like me, it can be downright dangerous. Trail riders (well any riders, really) have got to be able to mount and dismount at will; sometimes in quite arbitrary places. I’ve used other folks’ porches, rocks, park benches, etc. at various times. I also mount from the ground if there’s nothing else around to give me a boost. In this photo J is suggesting to Jem that it might be a good idea for her to line up parallel to the rail. He also lassoed her easily, stating frankly, “okay, I’m gonna halter break her right here.” We were all impressed.

Jem Still Isn’t Sure

Well, she still has a few doubts, but by the next frame she’s up against the rail and J is sitting on her side saddle, moving on and off. He explained to me that it was important not to mount astride (i.e. with one leg over each side of the horse, getting ready to ride) until she could prove herself trustworthy enough to stand still. It was quite impressive to watch him do this, especially with a very homemade round pen set-up, which included two of my panels and about 20 of someone else’s. Thing is, I was afraid the fence would just collapse over on Jem, with J still hung on it. But cowboys have amazing reflexes, which is part of what makes them such good horsemen. They know the split second at which they need to do something, and they’ll wait patiently until that second arrives before taking action. J wasn’t worried about the fence. He took action at the right time. And, by golly, my horse stood and waited for that time too. By the next day I could mount her without her moving off on me. Thanks, J!

Jon Lopes Along on Raydar

Raydar is a three year old Canadian Cheval gelding who belongs to my neighbor. He is also Jem’s son. Raydar has less training than Jem but all of her potential and plenty of her attitude. J spent a lot of time riding Raydar, and I love this shot of him easily loping the colt along. Cowboys typically ride in a style I try to emulate: with a fluid seat and a soft hand on a loose rein. J is reining with both hands in this shot, probably because he wants Raydar’s head in a certain position so he can maximize the torque from the horse’s hind end. Young horses have to be taught to bring their hind quarters underneath them. But notice how correct J’s position is and how loosely he holds his foot in the stirrup. In Western riding the horse generally has a job to do and the rider gets out of the way and allows the animal to get the job done. J’s seat is comfortable for Raydar, which allows him to lope along without feeling bound up or restricted.

Raydar Loping
I like the set-up of this headstall and the rope reins. I ride with a loose rein on the trail myself, and I prefer neck-reining with one hand because then I can keep a hand free to immobilize overhanging brush that often threatens to decapitate me on old logging roads.

Raydar Flexes Right

I love this shot of J helping Raydar to flex right. He accomplishes this via reining, seat position, and the unique use of a dull set of spurs. I asked Jon about the correct use of spurs, which I had always been taught should be used for lateral, but never forward, motion. J told me that this is often the case, although he will occasionally ask for forward motion via the aid of his spurs. Although his spurs have rowls, they are dull and therefore act as an extension of his leg rather than as a cruel torture device. In this shot he taps Raydar in back of the cinch and infront of the surcingle to get the right bend. Once again, the legendary cowboy patience is in evidence. J takes his leg off Raydar and asks again when the time is right. These movements are almost imperceptible. You have to watch closely to catch them being executed. Watching Jon work these horses made me want to move out to New Mexico immediately and work cattle all day!