Striking A Match

Thank you for all the comments on last month’s article.  Since the response was so great, I decided to go more into the subject of becoming a match with a horse that you have purchased.  As I said last month, it can take a long time to become a match with a new horse even if the previous rider had jelled with the horse.  “Does it always take a long time?” was one of the questions that a reader asked me through an e-mail.  The answer of course is that there is no set time when the match has been struck and a fire begins to burn. 

I trained a horse named Man O War Leo and rode him to the AQHA Honor Roll title, the Nebraska state championship and won the first AQHA World Championship Show on him as well as money at every Pro Rodeo that I entered.   He achieved a superior rating in Barrel Racing and was great no matter where you ran him.  He was stiff on the right side from the beginning and every day’s warm-up had to consist of a loosening up on his right side or he would flatten out and go by the first barrel.  When I bought him, he had a big cut tongue with a flap in the middle.  So, he had been through some bad mouth treatment and was a little wild.  It was hard to get his feet cleaned out before a race because of his dancing around and nervousness, etc.  But, he got a check almost every time he entered the arena and sometimes would outrun the competition by a long ways. 

I had a call from a lady in the East who had just lost her rodeo horse and she wanted to buy him.  I told her that his nickname was “Snorty” and that I didn’t feel that many people would get along with him.  But, she flew in from New Jersey to try him anyway.  She got on him and ran him a couple of times.  He flattened out on the first barrel on her and ran wide on the second two.  It looked like a wreck and I already knew in my mind that she would not buy this horse.  But, before that day was over, she had paid for the horse and flown back to New Jersey.  He was delivered to her in a van that week.  I had written a note on how to keep his right side loose and sent along his bit.  (The only bit that he would work in was a straight bar bit with a 7” shank).   To make this long story short, Lorraine Alexander won the next 13 rodeos in a row and winded up making the NFR two times on Mon O War Leo.  She set some new records in the Eastern Cow Town Rodeo on him. The match was ignited immediately upon his arrival in New Jersey.

The point of saying all of that is to re-enforce the point that you cannot put a time on how long it might take to strike the match.  In this particular case, it was instant.  There are some factors that you need to consider when trying to learn a new horse. (One you did not train.)

1. How seasoned is he and in reality how should I expect him to perform?   The greener the horse is, the more time you should expect to get with him.  If he is looking around and not solid and you are having to concentrate on how to ride him, you cannot expect to achieve the all important timing factor at the beginning. You are better off to take some time and get your pattern solid at home and in exhibitions before competing. When you achieve automaticity and everything happens from instinct and not from concentration – then you are ready to go to the next speed. If you speed up before things are automatic, you could get into some problem habits that are hard to break. 

Even if the horse is more solid and seasoned, he is getting used to a different rider as well as you are trying to get comfortable on him.  The greener his is, the more he will be affected by all the changes that have come in his life.  Some of the new things he may be facing is a new barn, different types of feed, waterers, fencing, trailer, different saddle, saddle pad, Farrier, rider, etc.  Think about all the changes that this creature of habit is facing when you bring him to a new place.  So, we have many other things to consider in this transition besides competition.  If he has not become comfortable in his new environment, he will not be himself in competition.   

2.  Always continue to consider that every horse is an individual.  Do not expect him to be like any other horse that you have ridden.  They are individuals and the only way that you can learn the personality of your new horse is to be around him and handle him.  Some horses are very aggressive and try to take over as boss and others are very timid and scare easily and some are in between.  The more aggressive horse will take advantage of any hole in a new rider’s program.  They will find your weaknesses faster than a magnet finds a piece of metal.  And, they will try you to see in what areas they can take over.  I have seen horses that I have never had one moment of trouble with start to do things to the new owner like not wanting to load in the trailer etc.  The more timid horses will require that you move slowly and give them confidence.  I tell my interns, “you can be in a bad mood, be hyper or be having a bad day, but you had better leave it at the door of the barn when you plan to ride a horse.”  Horses can pick up on your moods and you can set yourself backwards by not being consistent in your dealings with a new horse. 

3.  Remember that as you speed up, everything takes on a different feel.  When we speed up, our thinking has to speed up and our re-action time has to speed up.  As we speed up, our smoothness needs to increase – not decrease.  If your pattern falls to pieces when you apply speed, then back up a notch and get back to smoothness.  Continue to work for smoothness and soon it will be easier to achieve fastness.  Continue to get your gather correct and your pockets consistent and you will know when to apply speed again. 

4.  Remember that each horse you ride is a teacher.  If you are teachable, you will learn something from every horse you ride.  If you are having problems with a horse, it is an opportunity to move forward in your horsemanship – not to get discouraged – but to grow from.  I have learned more from difficult horses than from the easy ones.  Man O War Leo taught me many things about keeping a stiff side of a horse limbered up and ready to win. Anything that you can learn from each horse will help you with the ones to come. 

5.  When you strike a match, there is a rough surface to go through.  Striking a match usually requires patience, growth, and understanding.  We all wish for that quick and automatic ignition, but the truth is that they are few and far in between.  Whether quick or slow – my desire is that you and your horse can strike a match and burn through the arena as a team.  There is nothing like it! 

Send mail to joycekernek@windstream.net with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Joyce Loomis-Kernek
Last modified: January 05, 2014