Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An open mind, an open heart

Not too long ago, I read that a true horseman loves horses. Not one breed of horses. Horses. All horses.

Can we doubt this to be so? We can have personal preferences, and we do, just as one dog owner may prefer a German Shepherd and another a Chihuahua. Is one better than the other? Of course not. We appreciate the differences in dogs as we do in horses. We find what works best for us, our lifestyle, our needs, our wants, and often times, where we are at, both physically and mentally.

With this in mind, as riders, we love to ride. Not just one way. For there is no one right way. Only our personal preferences. Once again, our riding reflects our needs, wants and interests. These may change, evolve. What’s right for me may not work for you, and visa versa. As an example, here: I live in the mountains and trail ride, teach and guide. Would I not be wasting my time and resources by remaining in the arena for hours at a time practicing side passes at different gates when there are infinite lessons to be learned out there on these trails that take me and my horses places the arena never could? Yet watch me and my horse attempt a Piaffe in an arena and you might laugh or cry. Don't worry. I might too.

There is no one right way, no one right practice, no one right breed. Though we as horsemen do have the responsibility to acknowledge wrong ways, as in, anything that might hurt or damage the horse or rider.

Otherwise, we keep our minds open. Open to other riders, at other levels, in other disciplines, from other backgrounds. We acknowledge our knowledge but do not claim it to be the only way.

Or if we do… why? What are we keeping our minds closed to? What are we denying? Why must we feel superior or inferior? As horsemen, do we need to judge our fellow horsemen? And when we do, why do we feel the need and the right to critique our fellow horse lover? Open mouths too easily can replace open minds, when a simple smile or gentle word of encouragement would probably be more than enough. Instead, too often, we hear horsemen pronounce their way as the only way, their path as the only path. The blindness is unfortunate, but the damage done to the recipient of these comments is probably even worse. Would we not be wiser to be silent and allow the other to learn and grow and gain confidence along with knowledge, all the while respecting the differences of the other person?

We expand our knowledge and enrich our life with horses, and in doing so open our minds, our hearts, and our lives.

I recommend reading the article, “Cowboy Dressage: An Evolution in Horsemanship” by Jack Brainard in the September/October 2009 issue of Eclectic Horseman. Here is a master horseman, at age 75, who shows more insight and wisdom because of and through his open mind than many half his age, with half his experience. To quote Mr. Brainard, “Horsemanship does not have to be a one-way staid method of training a horse. I think there is such a thing as creative development…”

May we learn from those wiser than us. But remember: the wisest often speak the softest. The old wisdom is often true: the loudest mouths have the least to say.

Be creative. Be constructive. Be our personal best, and do the best we can with our personal choices. And remember, the person riding next to you came from a very different place, and is headed in a very different direction. Tip your hat, and ride on in a positive way. We are all horsemen. We all share the goal of being the best rider and horse handler we can be. Our journeys are all different. May we therefore look upon our fellow horseman, whoever he or she may be, at whatever level, following whatever path, with kindness and encouragement. Is that such a crazy concept?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Identification, please..."

Who are you, as a horse person?

A question I had not considered before, now weighs heavy upon me.

Showing a horse for sale a few weeks ago, the buyer turned to my son who was standing with his horse nearby and asked him, “What kind of riding do you do?” My son looked at her blankly, not understanding the question. He rides. Period. He rides for work. It is his job, something he has had to do, has been expected of him since he was old enough to handle a horse himself. Probably before. At times he loves it, other times I am certain he hates it, but it is a part of who is and what he does. How could he define that to a woman he saw figured a horse and human in terms of disciplines. As in, “I do dressage.” Or, “I endurance race.” Or, “I rope.”

Riding for work. It is different. Our kind of work, outfitting and odd jobs with our horses in the back country. One horse must do many things. Likewise, must the rider. It is harder to define, to classify. We trail ride, we pack, we guide, we horse camp, we train, we teach, we ride to maintain trails, to get to our job in the Wilderness where we then live and work even more closely with our horses. Some days this may require a few dressage moves as we work our string of horses over and around fallen trees and mud pits and washed out trails and swollen rivers. Other days this may require roping or cutting as a pack horse pulls back, snaps the pigging string, and thinks back home is a better place to be. Other days still we may have to endurance race as we lead in our horses in the early morning hours, saddle up ten head, deliver a group of riders and their gear on a drop camp deep into the high country, and do not return home until well past dark.

What kind of riding do we do? Some days it may require all of the above, a little of each. Other days, none. Like now, as all I am able to do is feed my equine friends and family, talk to them, brush them, their thick, heavy and shiny snow coats as they quietly enjoy the simple attention in the warmth of mid day.

What kind of riding do you do? I believe she was expecting the answer to be one specific discipline, one easy and safe label of identification which would allow her to have put her classification of his riding on a neat and tidy shelf where she could comfortably understand it.

We need such boundaries in our lives. It is comforting. Knowledge we can understand, place and fit into a pre painted picture. It is like this for everything in our lives, not just “what kind of rider we are” or “what we do for a living” but in defining “who we are.” We all need to know. The unknown is not a safe place to be.

I make my living with my horses. I read recently that now only 1% of horse owners do. For me, this has been an important part of my identification. Why? Right or wrong, it has been the chosen genre, manner of categorization, the shelf of understanding whereby I could properly place a desciption and definition of my horsemanship, and my self. It has been my safe place. It was easy to grasp and understand and even explain. It was comfortable.

With a large, upcoming move in our near future, it is time to reconsider, recreate. We begin to start anew. Opportunities are not handed to us. We make them. What will we create this one to be?

Somehow holding on to the identification of “someone who works with their horses” is fundamental to who I am. It has been a part of my self definition for only 15 years, but it is something deep and essential to me, who I am, what I am, what I love. For my son, it has been a defining part of his life since he was three. For my husband, his entire adult life he was an outfitter. Even more, far more, a part of his entire life has been based upon working with horses. It has defined him. I find it remarkable he is willing to try something new. He has learned what I am only beginning to learn: he is not defined by what he owns or by his job. He is not defined even by a place. He defines himself, regardless of the opinions and expectations of others.

Being an “outfitter” has been an easy title. Not easy work, but a safe title I could understand, I could use to define and explain myself so others could understand me. As I give this up, I wonder what I will next create. What title will be I be able to use to allow others an understanding of what I do, and far more deeply, who I am? I suppose that is why we do need titles: to give an explanation for something much deeper than our job, our work, our career. It is a matter of self definition.

I seek the next title, the next chapter. I am re-defining my self. I will be what I create, with my husband and son, and horses. Change. It is frightening, but exciting. It is inevitable. A new world unfolds. A new definition. A new self.

“Identification, please…” we are asked. Fill in the blank for job occupation. If not "outfitter" and "guest ranch owner," then what?

I smile as I begin to paint the new picture. I like what I see unfolding.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Winter solstice. Winter begins. Cold and darkness begin. Time of heavy coats, for me, for my horses. We trudge in deep snow. I do not ride. I feed, and pet, and talk to them. It is their time off. Down time from a long, hard summer. We share the darkness. We recover, reflect, rest, rejuvenate. We will have to work again, to ride again, to run together up these high mountain trails. Later. For now, we are slow, dormant, tired. Summer is far behind, far ahead. We are here, now, cold and dark and I wonder if they get bored standing around waiting, do they need a job to do, a point and purpose, or do they revel in the nothingness that winter allows them? I look in their eyes, deep within. They will come to me, rest their big warm shaggy chin on my shoulder, in my arms. They will stand there in the swelling snow and follow me to another feeding, another day, in another storm. I believe they too are longing.

Where is the warmth of the sun, the green of the grass, long days and open trails? Where are the tourists now? They ask. I ask. We look around the cold dark air hanging heavy over our thick coats. We remember, we long. We sigh and the winter begins and passes. We can feel the growing grass beneath this deepinging snow.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beginner's mind for a horseman

How many times have you been at that point – in horsemanship or anything, for that matter – where you realize the more you learn, the more you don’t know… therefore the more you find you still need to learn? It is a snowball effect of sorts. On one hand, it is a frustrating place to be. Full of questions, self doubt, uncertainty. On the other hand, it is great, rewarding, exciting, because it reminds us of our progress and hope for betterment. We can see a difference, even if we don’t quite know what to do with it yet.

It is a paradox of learning, of life. How do you know how little you know until you start to really see? "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few," wrote Shunryu Suzuki. A reminder to remain a beginner, always, and keep an open mind. If I claim to be an expert, my mind will close. I remember this every time I look around and feel lost. It is a start, and a better place to be than if I looked around and told myself (or someone else) that I knew it all.

Of course this applies to every aspect of our lives. However consider the impact of this notion on horses, horsemanship, and horse training. Imagine if we were always learning. Why can’t we be? There are no easy answers. There is no one right way. The best way is what works for us, and for our horses. And even that should be reviewed regularly updated as our knowledge and experience grow.

Drat. I wish there was one person who knew it all. I would like to study from him or her. Or read his or her book and feel confident that I had all the right answers, all the right moves, all the rights ways and means figured out. Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t that be easy?

But no one person does know it all, though teachers can be found all over. We can learn something from everyone we meet, if we keep an open mind, even if our lesson is seeing what we do not want to do or be.

Everyone has at least a little bit of wisdom. Everyone. I think we are lucky when we find a teacher with a lot of wisdom. However, we need to remember that our teacher is not simply wiser. Only that he or she has more information relevant to our growth process then and there. Tomorrow may be different. Our needs may change. Our knowledge base may have grown, or we may find set backs. The same teacher tomorrow may not be able to provide us with the knowledge we need then. We must keep an open mind. We must not drink the Kool-Aid and assume one teacher has all the right answers. Keep an open mind. Always be open to learn, to grow, to expand, to be a better rider and horseman. Remember the Zen beginner’s mind…

I thought about this recently in view of The Old Way, versus The New Way, and many ways in between. Horsemen on all levels can have a way of certainty. Many will tell you their way is The Right Way. And those with less knowledge and experience will probably be the first to say this.

So, how do we look around and know what is right? One teacher told me, “The horse will tell you.” That is a perfect answer, however getting to that point is difficult when we don’t know how to get there. We make many mistakes. I suppose that is one way to learn. My most frequent way.

Consider next the question of tradition. The value of tradition, versus holding onto tradition when perhaps it is time to let go and move on. How do we know what is right? Simple observation balanced with a gut reaction may provide the answers.

Consider this tradition. The raising of ranch horses. Hundreds of them every year, all because of a good blood line, a good name, the same name. (And we wonder why the horse market is dropping? Here’s one more factor.) The mares are mostly untouched. Rounded up and driven into a squeeze shoot just to be de-wormed (yes, I know we’ve all had horses we would have liked to do that with). The colts are rounded up as yearlings, roped and branded – sometimes with many separate brands I suppose because the ranch has so many horses they need all these numbers and symbols to keep track. That’s about it for human touch. Then they are rounded up again as two-year-olds and “broken.” Ah, but a “new and improved” more kind and gentle way. It is rushed. There are many colts. We must be practical here and get the most results in the least amount of time. Invariably, the colt is petrified of the situation due to lack of previous positive human handling. Look at his huge wide eyes, quickened breath, sweating chest, and tight muscles. He or she will probably try to buck. “Let him buck,” we are told. It is the “respectful” thing to do. I wonder. Would the colt need to buck if he was not so scared? Would he be less scared if he (and his dam) had a little more gentle human handling before training started? Consider how much time must now be spent by the trainer just to get the colt calm, peaceful, accepting of the human handler. Let alone trained.

Now that we are learning, many are becoming more open to an even better way. Wouldn’t you be curious to see a study done on the difference between these ranch colts and the imprinted colts? Who is more likely to buck? Who is more willing to learn, eager to please, easy to train, and in general, a better partner?

Just one example. There are many. I look around, observe, question what I see. How else will I learn and grow?

Ah, but it is a tradition, they tell me. Therefore…therefore I am not supposed to question, but to look upon this way with reverence. Because it did work. And now? The old ways are not always the best ways. Learn from the past, I remind myself, and move toward the future.

The questions are never ending. I suppose that’s how it has to be. We always need to ask more questions, strive for more, seek improvement. Our lives are a balance of the foundation of knowledge and the desire for betterment of ourselves, our horses, our neighbors, our world.

I look at some of the old timers who keep an open mind. After all these years of doing something one way, they are still open to see and listen and learn. What an inspiration! I hope to always be willing and able to learn something from everyone I meet. And from every horse I work with. When I am old (no wise cracks here – I’m only 43…) I hope I will not be tired of learning and more content with keeping the ways I had learned. I hope to always strive towards a better way.
I consider myself old fashioned, in many respects. But there are some things worth changing. Slowly, I see myself progressing, but I still have so far to go. I hope I always will. Acceptance won’t get me closer. Questioning will.

With everything we do with our horses, we can look at it all anew and learn something. Not because it was done is it wrong, but because perhaps there is a even better way. For our horses’ sake, it is worth considering.

I sit back on my horse, look around at the awesome landscape before us, look down at his soft and wise eyes, and remind myself to strive for a beginners mind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside

Come inside, little horse.
If I ask him, he will go. He will follow.

My little stallion, Flying Crow. What I wanted to do here was lead him through the kitchen, over by the wood stove, and have him pose before the Christmas tree. It was going to be the perfect photo op for this year’s Christmas card. Warm and cozy for a change. Our winter pictures always seem so cold and snowy.

He would have, too. But his feet were snow packed, icy, wet and slick. And after his first step off the rug onto the wood floor, his foot slipped. He would have gone, and I would have been fool enough to risk hurting him because I really wanted this picture. So we stopped here. I led him no further. My boys smiled and rolled their eyes at my attempts.

I remember my responsibility. I am amazed how he trusts me now. I do not want to destroy his faith in me. Lose his confidence for a photo op? Not worth it. I will remember this too at other times in other seasons, as we run through the mountains, up the trails, through the open meadows and across the creeks. I have a responsibility to lead. I have earned his respect. I chose to keep it. There may be times I need to push him into danger, and I will go with him, we will go together. I will lead, he will follow, he will trust.

Sure would have been a cute photo, though…

Of course, I’m also amazed that my husband let me try. The things they put up with because of our love of horses…

Saturday, December 12, 2009

One good horse

We all have heard such stories… stories of the one good horse, stories of that partner unlike any other. This was the horse that stuck by you through thick and thin; who brought you up to the winner’s circle, or safely down the steepest of slopes every time; who carried you home in the harshest of storms; who carried you farther along the trails and trials of life than any other; the one who led you where you never thought you could ride, or who you led away from his dam that very first time; or maybe the one who taught you to balance patience and kindness and softness and leadership. This was the one really special horse, the one in a million, at least for you; the one who stood by you, grew with you, allowed your weaknesses and forgave your faults, and loved you when at last you’d figure it all out just right.

I have not known that one good horse. In retrospection, I see parts of this “one horse” in all I have ridden, all I have intimately known and spent years working with. Or perhaps parts of me brought out, born and developed by each of these horses. In part, every horse has been, or has the opportunity to be, that one good horse for each of us. Perhaps, I wonder, it is up to each of us… What relationship do we choose to foster?

Berkley, who taught me a horse can be as much of a companion and personality as a human…
Apache, who taught me to race bareback and hold on tight around the curves in the road…
Jackson, who allowed to me ride into the herd, and sit back and let go as he’d cut out just the right one…
Ben, who showed me the way on the unknown trails and always knew just where to stop…
Tres, who allowed me to learn lightness, a new method, a new way, and a better life for all my horses…
Quattro, who loved to go and with a mutual trust would let him go, moving at his own rapid pace up the mountain in whatever direction I asked…
Flying Crow, who taught me to teach horses and teach myself in the language of the horse, with his infinite patience and kindness…

Yet with all these horses and more, with all these years living and working together, none have been “the one.” Yet. But all have been parts of the one great horse. And I feel very lucky for that.

Now, Tres is busy raising babies and managing the herd when I am not. Quattro is close to retirement. Crow, my dear little Crow, we have many years to work together still... Will he be the one? And will it really matter? We will both give all we can for each other. That is plenty to ask for. He will have plenty to teach me. He does most days. I suppose every horse does. As every person does, if I only take the time to listen.

So many have taught me so much and sill I have more to learn. Will I ever find one horse that is all these things for me? I think at times I cannot, for perhaps these lessons have already been taught, or new lessons are always right around the corner on every trail, in every stall in every barn. We move on, together or apart, to new lessons, new needs, new relationships, a new set of measures and emotions defining what makes that one good horse.

What about growing together? Yes… there is so much in that. What is it then? Ah… I believe they all are good. They all are so good, each and every one. It is not like choosing my husband. I am allowed many. How rich our lives are with horses!

I’m a late bloomer. It took me a while to find my husband. Perhaps it will take me longer to find that horse, that “one good horse.” A part of me believes, or maybe just hopes, that he is out there. The one. Just like with my husband and son. Another part of me believes it is like the people we meet, each one a special relationship, each one a unique individual with lessons to teach and stories to tell and a history and a future. Every relationship is what we make of it.

In every relationship, we have potential for awesome loves, lessons and partnerships. We keep our hearts open. The relationships I have now, the horses I have now, they are all together that “one” for me now. Who will be next? What lesson to I next need to learn?

It is different for each of us, as are all aspects of relationships. Goodness, however, that vague quality, remains the same within us all, within all horses, and throughout time. Although it is so hard to define, that is our measurement, our goal.

How do we know when we have that horse, that one "good" horse? How do we choose, or do they choose us? Will he come to us, or will we make him?

Perhaps we will make each other... good.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Trilogy of the trail

The voice of the trail rider is spoken not in words but hoof beats even and smooth along a well worn trail. We speak softly. We do not scream. We are there for the silence, for little more than the sound of the wind through the trees and the powerful breath thrusting from the chest of our horse. We are there for the silence within our minds that finds this soothing yet exhilarating melody through riding, the unity of being together, being there, being present, at such an ease that allows us to so simply forget all those worries left far behind, long ago, if only at the trailhead.

We are there to listen more than to speak. Our voice is the unspoken words between horse and human and the wild world we roam through, if even just for this ride.

It is the trilogy of the trail that draws us: human, horse, and nature. Much more than the individual parts, it is the blend, the balance, the merging that happens when the three are together as one.

Trilogy of the trail. I think of this, of the three separate and unique elements uniting, and the voice that sings from… what is it? The land, the rider, the contented horse?

Listen... it is a harmony sung only in unison of the three. A quiet song, whispered only on the trail.

Friday, December 4, 2009

On fear, knowledge and comfort

A good part of my job (there are many good parts) is and has been for the past 15 or so years: working with people who might not be comfortable in the mountains or with horses, and helping them to feel more at ease. Can I do it? That is my challenge. And when I can say, “Yes, I can!” you can see how rewarding that feels. Dinner conversations at my table change from mechanics talk and construction and snow… to the rewarding trials of the day on the trail. The boys listen to me, to my enthusiasm. They know it was a “yes” day. On those very few “no” days, I remain completely silent.

Fear of the wilds, mountain trails, and these thousand pound animals is real, and for good reason. We can get hurt. This is a fact. The fact has created our fears. However, a group of other facts are the cure to alleviate, or at least reduce to a manageable position, those same fears. Acquiring knowledge tends to be the first step in elevating fear.

That’s where I (and hopefully all outfitters and wrangers today) come into the picture. Sharing knowledge – of the horse and the mountains – is my job. My goal is almost always the same. To allow the person the information which enables him or her to feel more comfortable. Knowledge empowers us. Slowly, what once seemed so frightening is now understandable. This new knowledge, or a confirmation or refresher of this knowledge, helps us lift our heads, raise our eyes, and so, “Oh, yes! That makes sense!” Knowledge replaces fear with comfort. We might sill have a respectable dose of fear of the given situation, and that’s probably a good thing, but at least we can manage it now. When it’s all more manageable, it’s all more comfortable. And when you’re more comfortable, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy yourself more. Folks come here for vacation. Shouldn’t they enjoy themselves?

It’s a natural progression. Fear is replaced with knowledge. We can see the progression. We help by teaching our guests just a little bit of how, why, what to do, where to go, how to get there. A little bit about the language the horses speak, and how to speak it. It is rewarding to see our riders start to sit back and breath. And our horses in turn soften their eyes, relax at the poll, swivel their ears, and begin to listen to their new rider.

With every new rider, I, too, have the opportunity to learn anew. What works best for the rider? What works best for the horse? These things matter to me. Simple riding skills, I know, but a trip horseback in the high mountains may always turn into something other than simple. And we all have a much better chance of keeping things simple if we take time for every rider, every time, to share a bit of basic knowledge. My horses thank me most sincerely in their own way.

There is no sense in condemning. If you’re not doing it right, I’m not teaching it right! I, too, learned to ride. I was not born with this knowledge, was not born into this knowledge, and still (and will always) have plenty more to learn.

As outfitters, teaching riding was not always considered our greatest strength. “Dudes” were put in the saddle, a pat on the horses’ rump would get the horse moving, and we trusted our horses to follow along the trail and get everyone back… safe and sound? More or less. Ask most folks who used to ride at Dude Ranches back in the day and you’ll hear some wild tales. Unfortunately, most were true. This is what happens when we ride without knowledge. And the crazy thing is: more often than not, the horse actually did get the rider home in one piece. I think we all had the horse to thank, not the person on top holding on for dear life, kicking or pulling in random progression meaningless to the horse. The horse was not happy, I can tell you that. And the rider, well, he or she was just plum lucky.

We used to think a bigger bit might make a better ride. Keep the rider safe, the horse in line. I know this sounds terrible, but it’s true. And at the end of every ride, I don’t know how the rider was, because I was far more concerned with my horses. They’d be more agitated and frustrated every time. At the end of each season, they would be progressively more desensitized. Kick and pull was the name of the game.

Time to change the game.

Today, my husband smiles at me and smirks as he listens over and over and over again to my crash course in tail riding.

“Hold onto the base of the mane as you mount”
“Settle softy onto the horses back”
“Sit deep like a sack of potatoes”
“Shoulders back… and breathe”
“Remain centered on the horse”
“Be riding all the time”
“Keep a lose rein”
“Focus first”
“Suggest with the reins”
“Use leg pressure only if need be”
“To stop, ask your horse first”
“Assume he will do what you ask”
“The more politely we ask our horses, the more they will listen to us”
“Don’t try to fight your horse, he’s bigger, he’ll win”
"Follow through, stay with it, and wait for the horse to respond"
“Give an instant release when you get the results you want”
“Don’t be so quick to blame the horse, see instead what you may be doing wrong”
“And don’t forget to breathe…”

Five minutes, maybe ten. That’s all it takes. But it makes an infinite difference to my horses. And guess what, tomorrow I may never see the rider again, but the horse? I live with him. I work with him. I rely on him for my livelihood. I care for him and want him to enjoy his job as I enjoy mine.

Oh yes, it’s all simple stuff. But if we don’t teach this to a rider, all they are is a passenger, and usually a passenger who is trying to stay in control of game they have no idea how to play. I can pretty well guarantee that my riders today return home happy and comfortable and confident. They return a better rider than when they started out. That is very rewarding to me. I believe many in the horse industry, in the guest ranch or outfitting industries, are doing the same. Lucky for the horses, lucky for the riders. Lucky for us who spend our days working with horse and rider.

Our rides may not be the wild, reckless adventures of yesteryear, but my riders are safer, and my horses are happier. And with each ride, I am allowed the lesson of clarity of communication with both horse and rider. I still have much to learn, but learn more every year, with every ride.

What once was fear was conquered by knowledge and replaced with comfort. Me, my horses, and hopefully especially my riders, can all feel this difference.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A modest proposal in praise of rope halters

Recently, I read an article putting down the rope halter and comparing it to, seriously, a torture device. First, this made me roll me eyes. Then it made me a bit angry. I know my horses. I live and work with them. When I put a rope halter on them, I can promise you, they are not being tortured.

Being outfitters, we often leave our halters on beneath the bridle so that when I arrive at a fishing location, a picnic spot, or at camp, I can jump off my horse, clip on light lead ropes to each of the horses halters, secure the horse safely to a tree and slowly unbridle, loosen the cinch or unsaddle as necessary. I have the safety of many horses, and riders, to attend to quickly. It’s a practical, although I have been told, rather unattractive practice most outfitters choose by necessity. We may be a rough breed, outfitters, but we are practical, and those I have known, care for their horses, and know their horses, as well or better than those calling this practice ugly. Our horses are not only our passion, they are our life.

The rope halter, under the bridle, is far lighter and less distracting for both horse and rider than the heavy nylon web halter. In addition, if one claims this “torture device” is so powerful that a horse would be hurt should he or she pull back, well then, in my job, that’s fine. Don’t pull back. However, I’m afraid I haven’t found them that effective!

I am certain there are pros and cons to all kinds of halters, out of all kinds of materials. I do believe it all comes down to personal preference, and knowledge of use and handling. I would like to keep an open mind, and to use what works best for me and for my horses. I would not like to condemn others for using something different. This would only prove my ignorance. It is he who talks the most who knows the least. (Stop me before I go on too long!)

Regarding calling the rope halter a torture device, I can not say I have seen this to be true, however I can say this: the same argument has been used against all kinds of tack – from a leverage bit, a spade bit, hackamores, spurs, riding crops… you name it.

There is no replacement for good horsemanship. No tool will make us handle horses better. Or, I believe, worse. Only through our own growing knowledge of the horse and improvement of our communication skills will we be better horsemen.

So you can blame the bit, or blame the bridle, or blame the halter. Me, I’ll blame the handler. And I’ll take the blame if I am torturing my horses. But when they run to me and turn their head softly towards me as I ask them to slip on their halter… somehow, I think torture may not be the right word.

Here was my response to the finger pointed at the halter:

“Is it the tool or the handler? Any tool can have harsh results in harsh hands. Likewise, lightness from the so-called harshest of tools flows from light hands…
I make my own …they are cheap, light and handy, quite comfortable for my horses... for my use… they work for me. I work well with them. I think it's not the tool, but the handler. Likewise, with spurs, leverage bits, etc. Perhaps for folks assuming rope halters are 'natural' and therefore, only gentle, we should remind them that they, like any tool, can be harsh and cruel if used improperly. Know your tools. The best of horsemen can learn to use any tool with lightness. Rather than rely on a tool, rely on a touch.”