I Can't  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

Seems everybody is in a “rush”. Modern living demands we pack as much into our day as humanly possible. Everything is structured to minimize downtime and achieve goals whether imagined or real. Everyone is on a fast track to some destination

Whether it is sports, a career or the newest machine to quickly and efficiently cut your lawn, the race is on. Sabermetrics tracks every detail of a professional baseball player and to save time and increase performance some athletes turn to artificial methods to boost their stats.

Such pressure is bound to leave some on the sidelines (literally). Eventually all of us succumb to the inability to take it to the next level. The phrase “I can’t” is uttered and we are at least in our own minds “a failure”.

To the Western mind when you to fall to the ground you have lost. To get knocked down is a failure. In Aikido you are trained how to roll up from a fall and start again. There is no disgrace or stigma to losing your balance as long as you use that energy to rise again both physically and mentally.

Of course we all must realize our limitations. Typically, as well as correctly, a teacher should never ask more of a student than they can do. I had an instructor some years ago that would never allow the phrase “I can’t” to be used. He would say “Don't say I can't, say I am unable to do it at the present time Sir!”  He simply wouldn't tolerate it.  He expected you to at least try and certainly not give up. Maybe success wouldn’t happen today, tomorrow or ever but it was the attitude that counted and that can take you a long way. You would be surprised how often that methodology produced positive results.

I think it is the same for our work with horses. Everyone wants that DVD that guarantees success in thirty days or expects those memorable breakthrough moments with their horse on a regular basis. But that strict adherence to schedule doesn't always work when there are two “brains” involved. Horses have good and bad days just like we do and sometimes it doesn't take long to realize that no matter what your plans for the day are, your horse just isn't in to it.

It's also important that we do not ask the horse to do more than they are most likely be able to do. A horse may respond to that request by becoming frustrated and just shut down. If you work on the moves needed to perform a technique the concept can be more easily understood when they are put together.

I just like to sit on a horse and I try to give both of us a rest when we have been successful or felt the “flow”. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and get back to employing what hopefully is best for both of us. I was taught that horses don't learn from the application of pressure but from its release so the rest is a reward for good work done.

It's not always what you want. When my grandchildren say they “want something” I tell them “there is wanting and there is having. It's two different things!” and it's true (don't worry, they get plenty). I am not saying just to settle for things but try to appreciate the positive things you do have.

I don't think horses ever say “I can't!”. I think they express frustration when they don't know what you want or you aren't attending to their needs. I stick to basics, build on them, move as well as encourage stillness and try not to “rush”.  Remember, it's the journey not the destination.

~Steve McClure (Reno)

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

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

Sherwin ~Steve McClure (Reno)

I’ve rode a good share of horses. Years ago, after attending a number of his cattle clinics, Steve Lundean thought I owned my own cavvy since I was always on a different mount. He didn’t realize that Jen always kindly lent me a critter since I was horse poor!

Out west I always ride a company horse like the other hands do. These horses know the job, the stock and the land. Day workers often bring their own mounts but they already know the layout and the job.


At Sun Fire Stables, I rode them all. The steady Coda, Windy, Fire, Ceton, Bob, Ti, Little Bay, Pal and so many others. I’m proud to say that I was given the opportunity to help start some of them for Jen. When I began helping Steve at clinics I rode more than I can remember. I've rode dressage horses so tall you'd get a nosebleed and little stinkers that I should have passed on. Steve once wrote in a blog that “Reno will throw a leg over any horse at the request of any clinic participant without hesitation or fail.” I’m real proud of that. I've had good instruction.

In the martial arts you spar with as many different partners as you can. That way you stay fresh and each encounter teaches you something new. I believe the same can be said for riding.

That is until Sherwin arrived at Sun Fire Stables around four years ago. I first saw him down below in Sunset Lane soon after he arrived and he reminded me of Fire, a buckskin, that I thought very highly of. Now he didn't have the conformation of Fire but I liked him nonetheless. With Jen's permission I began working with him and we got along fine. He learned fast and I tried to learn from him.

Now Sherwin has a personality and likes to mess with you. He will try to pull your hat off your head when you are cleaning his front hooves as well as being very mouthy. I know I should work on eliminating both vices but it's kind of how we communicate. Well that and an apple once and a while.

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In no time he was following me around like a puppy. We ground tied and he accepted hobbling.

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Got his feet moving and following instruction on the ground including some lateral. In the saddle he had an easy to ride trot and that sold me. They say the best way to "straighten" out a horse is getting him to bend. And sure enough he soon softened and began to bend and supple up. We rode together indoors and in all weathers. He quickly took to ropinand dragging. To this day I catch him with a houlihan throw.

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With Jen's permission I began bringing him to Steve’s clinics and he took to cattle as well.

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Steve Lundean teaches low stress cattle movement and that's how it's done out west. "Slow is fast" he always says. As a team we aren't speedy but we're steady.

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Sherwin has been in pens with them, pushed them in the open, cut and sorted them, filled trailers as well as roped the beasts. He loves to lower his ears and give a little nip to the recalcitrant ones. We've worked in the heat as well as the rain and mud.

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In the meantime my granddaughter Chloe, a fine horseman, was training Sherwin for competition. She sure got him looking good.

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They both earned many a blue ribbon in both western and english together and she loves that horse.

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I've learned a lot from Sherwin. I consider him a partner as well as a friend. He'll be 13 this coming March and is still young. He has some physical complaints but don’t we all. If you've got a mind, ask Jen if you can ride him in a lesson. Put some miles on him. Be sure to tell him that Reno says "Hi". He'll know.

~ Steve McClure (Reno)

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

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

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

Hobble Training  ~Steve McClure (Reno)


In my time out west I have seen hobbles used many times. When a cowboy gets off his horse for an extended period of time they will often hobble their horse. Typically it is done in pasture when the rider needs to attend to a cow or maybe some fence work. Surprisingly enough the horse can roam a little and will often graze (yes sometimes with a bit in its mouth). Some folks see the hobble as cruel or dangerous to a horse. To the contrary, when properly introduced and applied, it can protect the animal from injury and encourage a calmer demeanor. As prey animals, horses will usually try to run when they are frightened or contained. This can lead to disastrous consequences should they run afoul of barbed wire in a field or suddenly frightened when they get hung up. The hobbles teach them that flight is not always the answer and to accept the containment of their legs. It also increases the horses trust in you as the leader.

Some years back I asked Jen if I could try to hobble train a horse. We discussed techniques and safety measures and she told me to proceed but do so carefully.

I’ve seen hobble training. Sometimes it pretty much consists of some groundwork warmup and then just tying them on. Now i’m not judging, it’s just that for me things take longer because I like the process. That’s where I learn the most.

I enlisted Sherwin for training since he is my go to for all things cowboy. Now Sherwin has a personality and although he is smart by a half we’ve managed to work successfully together since he arrived at Sun Fire Stables. I trusted him and I hoped the feeling was mutual.

My plan was methodical and would take several sessions . I began using a soft lead rope and loosely wrapped it around Sherwin’s lower front leg using pressure and release to induce him to move his foot as well as conditioning him to the feel of confinement. I also invested in a couple of single picket hobbles and strapped them on each leg as well. I would use the same lead rope through the ring on the hobble to move his feet.


Like all disciplines there are differing opinions whether the hobbles should be fastened to the pastern or above the fetlock. Jen suggested that we should stay above the fetlock and I agreed.

Once he got used to the feel of the hobbles I proceeded to the next step of connecting the hobbles together. I used bale twine since I reasoned that if things go bad he would be able to break the string and regain his footing. In addition I started with a longer string in the beginning and got shorter as we progressed. All this was done in the round pen with a rope halter and lead rope. He was contained, the footing was good and we were alone. Sherwin did well. He stumbled a bit but stayed calm. When kneeling down to fasten the hobbles, always facing forward and out of the way of his forward movement, you could bet that you’d eventually feel his hot breath as he bent down to pull my hat off. I know that I should stop that habit but it’s how we get along. I holler at him, he snorts, quits and goes back to ignoring me.

During the next lesson it was time for real hobbles. I used a set of leather “Great Basin” hobbles I had received from my good friend, Steve Lundean. They were crafted by Gary Winkler of Coeur d'Alene, ID. Beautiful workmanship.

I put them on, “off” side first, stood up and used the flag to gently move him. He quickly became accustomed to the pressure and the reduced mobility. Contrary to what some believe, a hobbled horse can move quite efficiently. Sherwin pretty much just stood still since that was his natural state anyway. He is trained to stand on cue and he’s lazy to boot.


I will still hobble him when we are together just to keep us both trained and those hobbles are now hung proudly from the “near” side of my saddle. Sherwin is now a hobble trained horse and I believe he is all the safer for it.

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


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

Insights By Steve -- Roping Practice

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now

Harmony  ~Steve McClure

I recently saw a post by our own Sara B. regarding her recent lesson riding Pal. She expesses her initial fear but eventually she breaks into that moment when she and Pal "blend" and become one. It is an exciting moment when energy, motion and timing become one and I firmly believe that it is those unique times that make us come back and saddle up whether it be a sunny afternoon or a miserable winter night. Sara knows that Jen would not assign a horse that she couldn't handle but what Sara perhaps doesn't realize is that Pal also experiences the same blending and learns (hopefully) that less is more and acting as a team, with trust, is much less work than resisting.

Anyone that knows me well is aware that I am a martial artist. I’ve studied and taught for over forty years. I have black belts in both Taekwondo and Aikido. I see everything through my martial "eye". I am constantly amazed at the similarities between martial arts and riding especially in relation to Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese martial art and literally means "the way of harmony". In this particular art the intent is to redirect, with as little energy as possible, an opposing force and thereby restoring harmony. This is especially important in regards to a one thousand pound horse where absorbing the energy is not a good idea. We use rythmn, timing and feel to blend with the horse's motion to hopefully create a "harmonious" outcome and so does the horse. We apply slight pressure until the hores moves and then we let off when they respond. Soon the animal moves with the slightest cue because they have learned to blend.

In Aikido we normally partner up for practice and the person attacking is called "nage" while the reciever is called "uke". It is uke's job to redirect nage's energy (attack) so it is render harmless. It is unfair of nage to "sucker punch" uke because sooner or later the roles are reversed and the new nage will avenge the sucker punch! The point is that both parties work to better each others skills, in other words both sides gain. It is likened to the "knife" and the "stone". The knife (nage) sharpens his skill on the stone (uke) and then the roles are reversed. Both must do their best so that the practice is successful.

I like to think of our horsemanship the same way. Both the horse and rider must gain for true success. If both horse and rider understand and trust each other then there is harmony. And harmony leads to enlightenment. I took a lot of poundings and bad falls in the martial arts but I would return just to experience that brief moment when less was more and I blended with the energy and simply flung it off.
Sara found that moment when Pal's head lowered and both became one but I think Pal felt it as well. In this, both gained.


To read more by Steve McClure--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Sensei