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

Saddle Tracks  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

I own a decent saddle. It’s not the best but it is adequate for the job. It was not made for me although it was ordered with custom stirrup leathers to accommodate my long legs. It is a bullhide covered Wade tree ranch saddle and what I like most about it is that it comfortably fits me and the horses I ride. I’m used to it and it suits me.

It is pretty plain in appearance and that’s the way I like it. Standing out from the crowd is not something that appeals to me. My mission in the saddle is to get the job done quietly, have some fun and stay on!

I get all kinds of comments concerning my saddle. Kids often remark that it is “a really big saddle”. Anyone who has lifted it says that it is “a really heavy saddle”. Jen calls it the “EZ Boy” saddle because, being a ranch saddle, it sits my heels way ahead of my hip and head thereby forever bars me from (that and so many other reasons) any success in equestrian competitions.

But once in a while someone looks my saddle over and remarks “I see you’ve got some spur tracks on this saddle” Well it’s true, it does, and they were unintentionally inscribed by me. Now I don’t always wear spurs. I use them only when they are required for the job and there are, as of this date, two distinctive rows of tracks that decorate my saddle. I recently had a conversation with Steve Lundean about it and he told me that each track was a story in itself and that they made a saddle unique.

The first one was caused by a wreck I had in Nebraska. I had worked safely all week on a ranch and I was literally getting ready to dismount and open the last gate on the last day (this is the type of irony that I excel in). As I stopped and started to swing over the saddle the horse apparently spotted a snake in the tall grass.  The horse spooked, bucked and reared. As is almost always the case, I recovered while still in the saddle and I thought I had ridden it out. I then dropped my guard and before I knew it the horse bucked again and off I went. 

Now I have had more than my share of “unintentional dismounts” and so much so that I have been able to rate my falls as to duration, body position and landing style. For me it is a surreal experience and time seems to slow down as I float through the air.  I find that I prefer the prone, belly up posture as I await the inevitable impact. During this particular performance I was able to hear one of the cowboys reprimand me with “don’t let go of that horse!”  Sure, I thought, I’ll get right on that!  My free fall was probably a 7 or 8 in scoring although I was pretty sure that I would land on the snake and be fatally bitten. I got up quickly, bite free but ego bruised, and noticed that my spur rowel had caught on the the right side of the seat and created an artful engraving right down to the skirt. But I did hold on to the reins!

The second instance was on my daughter-in-law’s horse, Emmitt, at a clinic at West 20. Of course it happened during the short time my daughter-in-law and my son were in attendance. I was not “in the moment” and Emmitt knew it so he intentionally stumbled, fell forward and I tumbled off. I didn’t get much air time on this one so I was unable to assume my normal approach to impact. I improvised something before I hit dirt and got up quickly in the forlorn hope that no one had seen me when of course everyone had (men always think that way). I soon noticed that I had rolled my rowel completely across the seat of my saddle. It was a perfect diagonal and, in my embarrassment, I quickly conceived the idea of running my rowel in the opposite direction. Maybe it would look like it was the original design!  But reality eventually set in and I realized it was no use. I got back on, suitably humbled, and made believe that as long as my butt was covering the damage it really didn’t exist. You know, out of sight out of mind.

I know you’ve got to “cowboy up”.  We all fall down but we have to get back up. I can heal the bruises to my body as well as my ego (what’s left of it) but I sure hate to mess up that saddle!  Nice try Steve. They all may be a story in themselves but, all in all, I would prefer that they were not there.

 ~Steve McClure (Reno)

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

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

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

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.

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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

Hobble Training  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

11/21/18

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.

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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.

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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.

~Reno

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