Harmony and Horsemanship ~Steve McClure (Reno)

Recently I was listening to a song in which a portion of the lyrics were “keep your eyes on where the trail meets the sky." Although I enjoy the song as well as the artist, I must respectfully disagree with this particular premise.

Allow me to explain. There is an old martial parable in which the prospective student asks the Master, “how long will it take to earn a black belt?” The Master pauses and finally answers “ten years.” The student, dissatisfied with the answer replies “what if I train twice as hard as any other student?” The Master pauses again and replies “twenty years.” Truly bewildered the student asks a third time “how long if I train day and night only stopping to eat and sleep!?!” “Thirty years” wearily answers the Master. The student now completely exasperated pleads “Master, why is it that the more I promise to work the longer it takes to receive true enlightenment?” The Master pauses and finally replies “it is because when you have one eye fixed on the destination you only have one eye left to find the way!”

The moral to this story is that in every endeavor we must pay attention to where we are now. We must live in the present. Progress is often slow and difficult. If I think ahead too much then I may well miss a lesson in the now and that can eventually prove to be harmful to training and potentially dangerous. The destination will be eventually reached and you will probably discover that the destination was only one step. Many more lie ahead. This is a very martial arts idea. In the East, the journey is savored much more than the destination. In the West, this is normally not the way we live. We want our food and our cars fast and our life is always in that fast lane dedicated to reaching some imagined goal.

My particular interest is in applying this philosophy to my work with horses. One of my black belts is in the martial art of Aikido. It is a Japanese art which literally means “the way or art of harmony” or blending. What does that mean? Well to me and I am only a student of the art, it means to re-direct energy in such a manner that it becomes useful or at least harmless. This means that as I interact with a horse I try to keep a real time sense of energy transfer between the horse and me. It cannot be a conscious thing because that takes to long and you end up back in time like a DVR which is minutes behind. You lose the sense of now. The Japanese call this “mushin” or the “no mind.” Action without thought and that takes practice.

Without getting any more “Eastern” suffice it to say that I believe the practice at being in the now while paying attention to the various energies between horse and human lead to a more harmonious relationship. The more you learn the more you realize how much you don’t know. I know more about martial arts than I do about horses but in reality both don’t add up to much and that's fine with me. It is the journey that is to be enjoyed.

~ Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights by Steve -- Sherwin

Insights by Steve -- Hobbling

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now

Natural Horseman  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

For me, Sun Fire Stables is a special place. It’s Jen and Dean and all the wonderful people and critters that make it what it is. I’ve visited many barns over the years and that is not always the case.  Now it’s always dangerous to single out one particular person in a group so special but it’s been on my mind to single out one other lady, besides Jen, who best personifies Sun Fire Stables for me. 

That lady, Karen Sizer, has been at Sun Fire a long time and she sure doesn’t need me to validate her but I’ll give it a try. If you’ve been a client at Sun Fire for any length of time I bet you know Karen and for all the right reasons. She’s soft spoken, gracious and one heck of a horseman.

As far as I know she has had six horses at Sun Fire, a veritable cavvy! Sadly three of them have since passed. Those three, Beau, Oky and Silli, now enjoying belly high grass, lived long productive lives. The surviving three, Nique, Lali, and Classi are now, I believe, late twenties and early thirties! This is not merely sheer luck but the mark of a dedicated horseman who cares for their stock. 

On many occasions, day or night, I would see a figure in the paddock, rain or snow, and sure enough it was Karen administering medicine or just checking on one of her charges. I’d come in from a lesson at 9:00 pm and there was Karen still  brushing one in a stall or cleaning hooves. That earned her a lot of respect from me and a lot of other folks. I’ve seen her in the saddle as well and that lady can sit a horse just as you would expect. She’s not “all hat and no cattle” but the complete package.

Some years ago I was doing the evening feeding. It was January, had snowed heavily the day before and the the temperature was now sub-zero. I loaded hay on the trailer hitched to the four wheeler and headed to the paddocks behind the outdoor. I got stuck past the pump house and I had to unhook the trailer to get the four wheeler moving. In the process I realized I had frozen the tips of my fingers and headed for the barn to check it out. Karen was there checking on her remuda and quietly asked me if I was alright and how she could help. She kindly offered me hand warmers to continue that night and extras for the next day.  That’s Karen. On social media, she is always writing a positive comment or encouraging someone’s effort. Always cheerful, I have never heard her utter a disparaging word about anyone. She always answered my equine questions and I’ve learned a lot from watching her interact with the horses. She works at the Project Day in the spring and helps out at the Fun Show in the summer. She’s good “eyes” at the barn making sure that things are safe and the critters are alright. I could go on but I’ve embarrassed her enough.

When you think about it she is kind, loyal, walks the walk, takes good care of the stock as well as being modest and dependable. Sounds like a real cowboy to me. 

~Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights by Steve -- I Can't

Insights by Steve -- Saddle Tracks

Insights by Steve -- Harmony and Horsemanship

Insights by Steve -- Sherwin

Insights by Steve -- Hobbling

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now

Horse Geology?  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

(Bear with me, I promise I’ll link the two together)

My love of geology was born in the West. It so happens that my particular interest is in bedrock geology. In Wisconsin, we live on the ancient stable craton which is often covered by glacial fill and the bedrock is therefore covered. The West, however, reads like the Rosetta Stone of bedrock history.  Even now when I drive out I am still riveted as the continent’s margins and its active geology are continually exposed. As I travel towards its western edge younger and not yet eroded, mountain ranges appear on the horizon and when I first saw Yellowstone in the 50’s the theory of continental drift was not really accepted and the hot spot that forms the Yellowstone caldera was only speculation. Heck they thought the Moon’s craters were volcanic! Dang I’m old!

My love of horses and the West came from my Mother. As a child I begged to ride a horse any chance I got. I’m a city boy but on any trip, near or far, I looked for stables. As a married adult my wife, Pam and I rode whenever we could. Nose to tail trail rides or a straight rental, we didn’t care. We went out West when we could afford it and had some great rides. I never had any formal lessons and I knew this would eventually pose a problem.

On a cruise stop in the Yucatan Pam and I booked a horseback excursion offered by the cruise line. We left on a small bus and traveled endlessly to get to the stable. I was getting a bit uneasy especially when the driver began to to pick up folks along the road, some of whom were carrying live chickens and I’m the dork in the back dressed in shorts and a “worlds best grandpa” T shirt. It also doesn’t help to see uniformed soldiers carrying automatic weapons with razor wire at various intersections along the way.

I sure didn’t know where I was but concentrated on the fact that the Yucatan Peninsula was next to the site of the asteroid impact crater (Chicxulub) that wiped out the dinosaurs sixty million years ago. See that’s that geology thing again.

We finally pulled into a stable, of sorts, and were off loaded. Mercifully the chicken folks went on with the van. There was a fully decked out Vaquero on his trick horse doing various maneuvers in the center of a clearing. That horse was sitting and laying down as well as rearing up all on command. That vaquero had more silver on his rig than the Denver mint. We were met by a number of wranglers who led us to our horses.

All our wranglers looked cowboy enough except that they were all wearing tight black polyester pants and that bothered me. Man it was hot. This was the jungle. What was it, a uniform? I didn’t know that they made pants like that anymore nor, in my opinion, should they.

We got on our horses and finally rode out. We passed through a lot of jungle and a few clearings at both a walk and a trot. We stopped at some ancient ruins and thankfully one of the wranglers spoke English and explained their meanings. I had a suspicion that some of the ruins had been nothing but relocated stones and more were recent recreations of ancient artifacts. It’s was kind of like the “Wonder Spot” at the Wisconsin Dells. What a miracle to just happen have a “gravitational anomaly” conveniently and precisely located on a busy corner at the upper Midwest’s biggest vacation Mecca. But I didn’t care. It was vacation and I was on a horse.

One of the wranglers kept riding abreast of Pam and “in my opinion” was kind of hitting on her. As we approached the end of the ride he asked her if she wanted to canter. Now I know that as a horse sees home after a ride it doesn’t take much to encourage a faster gear. Well she picked up the canter and he and my wife took off. My horse naturally wanted to follow so off we went. My wife did fine but I didn’t know how to ride the canter so I’m grabbing leather and I remember thinking right then that if I get home (which was questionable at that point) I’m going to learn how to ride!

When we arrived at the stable and dismounted the vaqueros quickly whisked Pam into the Cantina to buy her a cerveza. Are you kidding me! I’ve got fourteen vaqueros bent on stealing my wife and I have no idea where I am. I’ll be murdered, buried, (or the reverse which is really bad) and my wife will be … well I didn’t want to think about it. To distract me they kept urging me to watch the damn trick horse. Undeterred I finally demanded to know where she was and we were grudgingly reunited. Everyone was yapping about having some more cerveza but I sure wasn’t going into that cantina. Adding to my concern was a sneaking suspicion that Pam was not totally against the idea of having a few more beers with the boys! Damn, she’s turning on me and now I am totally alone. I’m an American in Mexico and there are monkeys jabbering in the trees. Cruise ship companies don’t care about me. They are registered in, like, Libya! What’s one more missing gringo to Col. Muammar Gaddafi (now deceased)?

Mercifully the van did arrive and squealed to a stop in a cloud of dust. It was all I needed. All the wranglers began to check out the next group of customers getting off. I used this distraction to separate her from her admirers and when the opportunity arose I quickly shoved her aboard. We hunkered down all the way on the trip back to the ship. What a guy will do to catch a ride on a horse! That was definitely my last cruise but not my last ride.

Around the turn of the century (boy that sounds weird) my wife and I sold our house in Milwaukee (Greenfield to be precise) and moved out to Waterford, WI. We were fortunate that my son and his wife also moved to Waterford and ended up about two blocks from us. My daughter-in-law, Liz, mentioned a stable close by on Hwy. 20 just west of town. I jumped at the chance to finally start my lessons. Thus began my long association with Jennifer Gaudes-Raemisch at Sun Fire Stables, my mentor for all things equine.

 ~Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights by Steve -- Working Together

Insights by Steve -- The Circle

Insights by Steve -- Natural Horseman

Insights by Steve -- I Can't

Insights by Steve -- Saddle Tracks

Insights by Steve -- Harmony and Horsemanship

Insights by Steve -- Sherwin

Insights by Steve -- Hobbling

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now

Working Together  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

I like to find jobs that I can do from a horse. Horses and I seem to do best when we attempt to complete a task as a team and I enjoy that kind of partnership. When I trail ride for recreation, I find myself looking at the fence for potential repair work and it’s not even my fence! That’s just the way I am.

I am particularly interested in ranch work and learning cowboy “skills”.  I’ve ridden more than a few horses these past years and have had the opportunity to work out of the saddle for many hours at a time. This work requires miles of walking as well as the occasional trot. The saddle is the office and except for meals (usually), gates or doctoring work you are pretty much mounted the entire time.

The mythological symbol of the Centaur is no mere accident. The half human – half horse is a reality for anyone who spends a long time in the saddle. Until I rode, I never really fully understood what that imagery meant.  When you ride a horse for long hours, day after day, you find yourself and the horse becoming one. It seems more natural to be on the horse than afoot and for a short while, after you dismount, you feel diminished.  

When I am in the saddle, I am taller and can see much further.  Mounted I am stronger, faster, more agile and possess much greater endurance. My hearing is enhanced because I find myself aware of the horse’s ear and head position and I find myself turning to look see what he has heard or smelled. Each of us becomes aware of the others energy through the connection of my seat. The tradeoff for the horse is that he gets the use of my brain and my ability to plan ahead although I fear that, in my case, the horse often gets the short end of the stick concerning that particular transaction.

People sometimes ask me what drives me to continue to ride. I tell them it’s not just for the experience when I’m mounted but for the diminished feeling I get when I am afoot. I need to re-experience the connection between that living animal and myself.  For many folks the ideal of the modern day “cowboy” is the motorcycle rider or the semi truck driver. Both are laudable avocations but, for me, they do not compare to two brains working as a team and combining their abilities to get a job done. 

~Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights by Steve -- The Circle

Insights by Steve -- Natural Horseman

Insights by Steve -- I Can't

Insights by Steve -- Saddle Tracks

Insights by Steve -- Harmony and Horsemanship

Insights by Steve -- Sherwin

Insights by Steve -- Hobbling

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now

McCarty  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

Mecate - (Pronounced "mek-cah-tay") In Spanish, the word "mecate" means "rope" or "cord." A long rope that serves as reins, lead rope, quirt, and more.

I have a particular interest and respect for the Vaquero or Great Basin type of horsemanship. I in no way infer that I am an example of one only that I am a fan of the way they make a horse. The progression from halter, hackamore, snaffIe, two rein and finally the spade bit, making the finished horse, takes time and skill. In addition they employ bosalitos, alamar knots, get down ropes, romel reins and rein chains. I have read that the Californios were able to spend so much time in training because of the mild climate, very large ranches with abundant grazing and an adequate workforce. It is said, jokingly of course, that a Texas cowboy could gather a pasture before a buckaroo (a derivation of Vaquero - don’t ask me!) could get bridled!

For some time I had wanted to try a hackamore setup. Jen had some nice ones but I wanted one of my own. The hack is comprised of two parts, the bosal and the mecate. The bosal is the rawhide braided ring that fits over the horse’s nose and the mecate is a horsehair braided rope that is tied to the back of the bosal above the heel knot and becomes the reins as well as a get down rope.

Now these setups get expensive. The bosal is rawhide braided and the mecate is horsehair. They also come in different sizes and diameters. I was fortunate in that one day Steve Lundean arrived at Sun Fire Stables to trim a horse. He saw me and called me over from the round pen. He went to his truck and hands me a large plastic bag full of hackamores. “Reno, pick one out” he says. Apparently he had ordered a bunch from a friend out west. He would take nothing for it despite my insistence. He’s a good friend, cowboy and a real gentleman.

We both got back to work. Steve trimming and I went back to the round pen. I had left Fire (a real fine buckskin owned by Bart Actenhagen) there and he was immediately nominated to be my first victim. The hack came with a leather hanger so on it went. It is a 5/8” bosal and the same diameter mecate. I adjusted it for Fire and it seemed a good fit. The problem is that if you ask ten people how to fit the hackamore you will get ten different answers. I did what I thought was proper, checked the rein length and tied the get down rope on the saddle.

Now the hackamore is a signaling device. The pressure is applied to the horses lower jaw, nose and cheeks as well as the mecate along the neck. The hack can put quite a bit of pressure on the horse so you soon learn that less is better. Few riders think to look at the horse’s bars or it’s tongue for damage after using a bit but a burn on the hide of a horse’s nose from the bosal gets some attention. It teaches a rider to have a light feel and encourages more use of the riders body to communicate with the horse. In the Vaquero tradition the hackamore is only a transition tool to get to a finished horse.

I really like the hackamore and I highly recommend it. I have learned a lot from it’s use. I use it while moving cattle as well as general riding. Sherwin seems to do better using it although I think he is also a snaffle horse. I don’t work him in anything else. I hope someday to try him in a western bit (half breed).

Out west you often hear the word “mecate” anglicized to “mcCarty”. It so happens that a year or so later Jen asked me to tie up her bosals with mecates. In our conversation I used the term mcCarty and boy did I get it! Well, heck they got buckaroo out of vaquero! I’ll never hear the end of that one.

If you wish to learn how to properly use the the hackamore seek professional help. Like all equine activities it certainly involves a certain amount of risk but it is another way to expand the connection between horse and rider.

Steve McClure (Reno)

 ~Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights by Steve -- Horse Geology?

Insights by Steve -- Working Together

Insights by Steve -- The Circle

Insights by Steve -- Natural Horseman

Insights by Steve -- I Can't

Insights by Steve -- Saddle Tracks

Insights by Steve -- Harmony and Horsemanship

Insights by Steve -- Sherwin

Insights by Steve -- Hobbling

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now