Horse Safety

There are numerous books and articles on horsemanship.  Most of it is “how to”.  There are some basic items that need to be mentioned in order to be safe.  I thought that I should share some of The Home Ranch Horse Philosophy that our wranglers read and practice.  We are very much committed to operating a safe and fun program, and felt that maybe by sharing our thoughts it might help other horse owners.

THE HOME RANCH HORSE PHILOSOPHY

This piece is written in the first person, as our horse program is near and dear to my heart.

We are a dude ranch.  I state this out of pride.  Many in the horse industry think that dude ranching is at the bottom of the barrel in the horse world.  Those of us in the industry know that it is quite the opposite.  I see these clinicians and all of the “top people” and wonder how they do it.  They generally don’t help most folks – we do.  The effect that we have on our herd, our land, and our guests and staff is unequaled.  I’m biased, but I think that you’re pretty lucky to be here, as am I.

The Job
This is not a job about horses.  This is a job about people.  If you are passionate about horses, this is probably not a good place for you.  If you are passionate about people and are willing to improve your skills with horses, we are a good fit.  This is hard, but enjoyable work.  You must be physically fit, as well as have a good mental disposition.  This is not a job about taking trail rides.  Each ride should be about providing the best experience one could ever have on a horse, or even more – the best experience one could ever have.
One little note: When taking a ride out, people always want you to know how much, or how little, they know.  Set something up to let this happen.

About Me
I’ve had a few years with horses and feel that I am qualified to teach a few folks.  I have been in the circles of polo, rodeo, dressage, cattle ranching, dude ranching and just plain riding for over 30 years.  I spent a summer riding nothing but troubled horses.  Having herds of 100 horses for about 30 years means that I’ve seen over 300 new horses come into the string.  More importantly, I am a student of the horse and the human.  I constantly read and visit with folks.  Am I set in my ways?  I am sure that there are plenty of things that I am stubborn about.  However, my horsemanship has improved about two-fold in the past five years.  Five years ago I was an above average horseman.  Today, I am an above average horseman with better skills than five years ago.  I attribute much of that to Curt and Tammy Pate, and I thank them for that.
I have worked hard to create a horse program that is fun and educational.  This program keeps improving, and we’re looking for you to keep it moving forward.

Commitment
This is a word that I find quite useful around the ranch, and in life in general.
Horses understand this word more than you can believe.
How many times have you heard of someone getting hurt because they were out for a ride?  You have to have purpose and commitment to ride a horse properly.  You also have to have commitment to catch a horse, lead a horse, load a horse etc…
I’m not particularly fond of the idea that once you fall off of a horse, you have to get back on.  I don’t want anyone riding unless they’re committed to it.
I’ve seen folks talk their relatives into getting on a horse.  Bad deal.  When I see this, I talk to the people.  I’m interested in their commitment – is it to stay on? Or is it to hit the ground.  You can tell.

Excitement and Panic
Working livestock properly requires patience and calm.  Whether it be cattle or horses, panic and excitement usually creates panic and excitement, neither of which are desired on our operation.  I have a phrase that I like to use: We won’t raise our voices over the level of normal conversation, and we won’t move so fast that I spill my coffee.  I like things calm and measured.  It has worked well for me for many years.  If you look at an operation that has lots of yelling and running around (and hot shots) – and there are lots of these around, you’ll see livestock that is panicked and looking for ways to escape.  It just is not a good way of doing things.
One thing that happens a fair amount on our operation is that a horse will bite another and they will fly back if tied.  Or they will kick each other in the corral.  This is normal stuff.  When we yell at them to stop it, they don’t hear us.  They’re not concerned about us.  Let it go.  Yelling just panics the horse that was standing there minding his own business.
When a horse gets caught in a rope or something bad is happening, calmness should prevail.  It’s always worked for me.

Competition
In the horse world, there is always this competition thing.  No, I’m not talking about barrel racing or bronc riding – I’m talking about just riding.  It almost always crops up.  “He’s not very good with young horses, or she’s just too timid, or why doesn’t he do such and such.’  There’s always a lot of back biting and sniping.  I don’t know what Curt and Tammy think of my riding.  I would hope that they like it.  I just always look forward to riding with them because I know I’m going to be better by the end of the ride.  Let’s try to talk openly and help each other.  Let’s try to leave the ego behind.

Honest Assessment of Skills
The horse business is one of the strangest things in the world.  It is the only one that by virtue of ownership, you are an expert.  Haven’t you ever heard “Go ask Charlie, he’s owned horses all his life.”  I’ve owned a guitar all my life, but I’m hardly James Taylor.  Also, location is not necessarily a valid credential.  (I’m from Texas, or I’m from Colorado, or I grew up on a farm.)
How many horses have you ridden?  Were they solid and reliable?  Have you handled a tough horse or a young horse?
I don’t care where you are in this sphere of knowledge, just so you evaluate yourself accurately.  Wrangling horses can be dangerous.  We don’t want folks getting hurt.  We’ll gladly teach if you are on the bottom rung, but don’t overstate in your mind where you are.
Don’t let pride put you in a bad situation.

Gimmicks
The horse world is full of gimmicks.  I should know, I’ve used them all.  Horsemanship today is a world apart from the one that I grew up in.  We used all sorts of things in the science of mechanical horsemanship.  Today, I view horsemanship in terms of behavioral science.  Sometimes, but rarely, will I go back to a gimmick.  Putting a rope behind a horse to load him in a trailer is an example of using a gimmick I might use if we finished a ride with guests in the backcountry and it was late.  I can tell you that the next day I would actually teach the horse to load.
Bits are great gimmicks.  It is my opinion that if you can’t ride a horse in a snaffle, you need to take a look in the mirror and maybe improve your skills.  Training wheels on a bicycle are not for the bike are they?

Conclusion
In conclusion, I would like to encourage you to more than anything enjoy working with the horses and each other.  Let’s work hard to make this the most fun, and safe, summer for all of us.
It’s great to have you here, and I look forward to working with you and improving our program.
I hope this piece is a help.  Please feel free to send your comments.

John Fisher
Home Ranch
Colorado

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One Response to “Horse Safety”

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