Sensei  with permission from author Steve McClure, originally written July 30, 2012

The word Sensei is a Japanese word and simply means “teacher”. But to the Japanese, a teacher commands great respect. I remember listening to a famous Japanese Aikido (way of harmony) Master and his most important piece of advice to train successfully was to first find a good teacher. Jen Gaudes - Raemisch has been my sensei, in all things horse, for many years. Jen’s a wonderful teacher, funny, totally unflappable and a fantastic horse person. She continues to add to her knowledge by attending seminars and takes classes to improve her skills in multiple equine disciplines. I always kid her that she has the equivalent of a black belt in Horse Kwon Do.  She has forgotten more about horses then I will ever know.

She is also a stickler for safety. At her barn (Sun Fire Stables) the aisle floors are always kept clear and clean. The gates are kept secured and reins and lead ropes never touch the ground. Tack is kept in good condition as well as properly secured when in use and the health and well-being of both rider and horse is closely monitored.

She sees everything. She can tell you are missing a stirrup strap from 100 feet away in the dark and it’s on the side opposite of her view!  I once texted her a picture of me on a horse as I was trailing cattle in South Dakota. It was a beautiful day. The grass was green and the sky was a deep shade of blue. The picture showed the herd directly in front of me and my horse's head happened to be included in very bottom of the picture. She texted back that the picture was indeed beautiful but that the strap of my headstall was not in its keeper and I looked down and it wasn't. Busted from a thousand miles away! Don’t get me wrong. I agree with her approach. It’s her business and she has to keep it safe for all concerned.


Busted Horse Strap image

Riding a lot in the West I have noticed that people often do things differently out there. A working ranch can be a very busy place without the liberty or luxury to observe the strict safety concerns of a student barn. When I am working as a hand it is not up to me to critique the methods employed but it is safe to say that I will not do anything I consider dangerous. Eventually I do find myself cutting corners to get the job done but that “Jen alarm” goes off in my head whenever I do or see things that would not fly at my home barn.

When I’m on the ground I was taught early on to hold the reins so you don’t lose the horse. It’s embarrassing to chase your mount down or have someone get him for you and hand him back. We’ve all seen dropped reins and it can be dangerous for the horse, their mouth and any bystanders. Typically if I am on the range with my own rig I have a rope halter under my bridle with a lead rope attached to my saddle. If there is a need to stop and dismount for any length of time I can unbridle the horse and tie him with the lead rope to a tree or some other object.  I was also taught to tie high and tight to prevent the horse from stepping over the lead rope and causing a potential wreck and I've seen those as well. But out West I have been instructed to tie longer so the horse can graze. I do what I am told but my “Jen alarm” still goes off in my head.

Once out in the middle of nowhere the ranch boss stopped the herd to wait for the truck with our lunch to arrive. Naturally, after dismounting, I held on to the reins of my horse.  This time I was not equipped with my normal rope halter under the bridle setup and my horse’s pasture halter and lead rope were in a trailer some distance away. There was nothing to tie to anyway, just sagebrush and grass. The other riders just got off and dropped their reins. I didn’t know what would happen with my horse. It was my first day on him and I was told he had not been worked in some time. Nothing is more embarrassing than to lose your horse and watch him head back home. You never want to be caught afoot on the range after losing your mount. I was beginning to wonder how I would accomplish eating and holding on to this horse while still looking “cowboy”. Finally the boss walked over to me and said quietly, “Steve, I bet that horse would stay right there if you just tied your reins around one of his stirrups”.  I thought to myself “maybe in your world boss” but it was his show and sure enough I tied him, as instructed, and he stayed put.  But I kept an eye on him!

Back at home I sometimes find myself getting a little lazy. Reins may accidentally drop to the ground or I am guilty of inadequate grooming (not me personally but the horse I’m brushing). Jen calls this a “cowboy brush” and I get called on it. I tell her that I’m practicing in case the cattle get loose and I've got to get saddled quick. She just laughs and tells me that I am her job security. I know it’s important that I follow the rules of the barn since bad habits have a way of spreading so I do my best. In the arena I do work on ground tying and I employ the rope as a tool of trust and between myself and the horse. She is also very supportive of my training with Steve Lundean who is another very talented horseman and my mentor for all things “cowboy”. Some teachers would feel threatened to see a student train with someone else but Jen respects Steve’s knowledge and sees his style and approach as a valuable resource. She’s always looking for ways to add to her knowledge and bring fresh ideas to her training. It is the mark of a true teacher.

The more you learn the more you realize that you don’t know. Folks will now ask me questions concerning horsemanship and I feel woefully inadequate to offer an answer. If the question seems like a simple one I may offer my opinion but with the caveat that I’m a student just like them and I’m pretty much always wrong.

I have taught martial arts for many years and can tell you that if you want to find the way in any discipline you must do what that Aikido master told me so long ago. “Search for a truly gifted instructor and learn from them”. That’s what I did!

~Steve McClure