When I think about the times before automobiles, or the Transcontinental Railroad, and the great migration West, I can’t help to think about the stock that made it all possible. I think about the many of thousands of miles that were traveled by wagon, buggy, horse, mule or donkey back. It was a way of life and the stock were used out of necessity. Riding down the trail was not done much for pleasure.
In today’s world trail riding in most cases is a hobby, a pleasure, a luxury. We can ride down the same trails close to home or venture out to new places and new territory. We can travel down well-groomed and traveled trails. Sometimes we come across the not so traveled path that can be difficult to maneuver. If we are lucky, we might be able to find a piece of untouched land to travel down and make our own path.
In the early days, the animals and their riders rode or drove day in, and day out, and never thought twice about it. That’s just the way it was. Today between work, family and our ever-busy lives, most folks are lucky to find a chance to ride part-time, maybe a few days of the week, just on the weekends or maybe only once or twice a month. With our limited time we want each trail ride to be safe and enjoyable.
I want to try to explain and help you understand body control and softness in our stock at all times, especially when we are riding, and definitely before we need it. In last month’s article I talked about the 5 key maneuvers that will help you be safe on the trail. 1. Forward movement, 2. Back up 3. Leg yield to the left 4. Leg yield to the right and 5. Stop.
It is very important that we practice these maneuvers at home, in a safe environment before heading out on the trail. If you cannot get these steps when your animal is in a controlled and calm mind, you will NOT be able to get them when the situation gets heightened or out of control. I cannot stress enough how important it is to practice these steps before you need them. It seems that people don’t have the time to do it right, but we always have the time to do it over.
Commonly, when things start to feel unsafe, go south or get out of control on a ride is when your mule/horse/donkey does not feel confident to go forward. Forward movement is the 1st key maneuver that I would want all my stock to have. Without good movement, especially moving forward, you cannot get softness in your animal’s body or mind. Remember, the feet are connected to the mind. Move the feet to get to the mind.
For example, if you come across a scary bush or rock, or man-eating hiker and your mount will not go forward, you’re either staying right there or you are turning around and going back in the direction you came from. Hopefully it’s the way back home or to your trailer, or you got your bedroll and some grub for the night! All joking aside though, what happens if it is a more serious situation and you need to go that direction? What then?
Without forward movement, you are not going anywhere. So, practice at home in a safe environment before you need it. I sit up, apply my seat and legs to encourage and keep moving forward. DO NOT pull back on the reins while trying to go forward. Don’t worry if you get forward movement with a little sideways or moving into your leg. Work on and reward one thing, which is the forward movement.
Once you have forward movement that is consistent and with good cadence, you can now work on the 2nd key maneuver, the Backup. The backup, when used properly can eliminate bolting, running off or getting in a hurry. It will also help build the 5th key maneuver, the Stop. Between forward and reverse is a stop. On the opposing side of lack of forward movement, you might have too much forward movement, which would be your animal bolting or running off when they are unsure or afraid of something. This is a very unsafe situation. Unless you can ride ‘em like you stole ‘em you might want to work on your stop and back up!
To build a backup from a standstill, I sit down, take the slack out of the reins, pull back softly on the reins until they move a foot backwards. Remember your soft feel. Take note that I am not pulling back on the reins hard to pull them back, but I’m firm enough to not let them go forward. If they are moving forward at a walk or faster gait and I want to backup, I take my legs off, sit down, ask for a soft feel, exhale, say whoa and wait for a step back before I release.
You need to practice the backup and the stop at home before you need it. If you are on the trail and your animal runs off, you’re most likely going to get stiff and braced in your body and the more you pull the reins, stand up in your stirrups with a tense body, the faster they will run. There is the chance that they will stop before the cliff or the tree, but will you?
The 3rd and 4th key maneuvers that I always practice and know before I go out on the trail are the left and right leg yields. The leg yields are very important body maneuvers that allow you to keep your animals from running into your legs. For example, if you are traveling down the trail and your animal spooks at that same scary rock or bush that they wouldn’t pass earlier or you need to move off the trail for that man-eating hiker, you will need to be able to move them of your leg. When they spook or shy at something, they tend to move left or right running into your leg. I like my animals to stay in between my legs as well as move left or right off my legs.
Like all the key maneuvers, practice your leg yields in a controlled area first. It is best to be moving forward, then ask for a soft feel (giving to the bit), slow the forward with both hands as you apply one leg to move sideways. Release as soon as you feel them move sideways. When using my legs for any movement, I start with my seat, then compress my calf, then if I need, I will bump my leg or use my spur. Only use what you need and no more. Remember, both legs at the same time means forward or reverse, where one leg at a time is one side, moving off your leg laterally. Repeat the same steps on side two.
I feel in order to build and maintain a safe ride we must understand ALL these key pieces of control! It is also important for a rider to not only understand the pieces, but to know how to achieve them. With our limited time to ride and enjoy our animals, why don’t we take the time that is needed, before we need it? It is no different than driving your pickup down the road and staying between the lines. It is unsafe to go into oncoming traffic or to hit the ditch or go too fast or too slow. This is exactly how I ride every animal. I want to stay between the lines, I want to go fast and slow, stop and backup and move left and right.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice all these maneuvers before you need them. It might just turn an okay ride into a great ride! We owe it to ourselves and most importantly to our stock to the take the time that is needed. They will thank you in the long run.
Please contact me @ (760) 403-3922 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Check out www.jerrytindell.com for a clinic near you. We also offer in house lessons and take in training stock throughout the year. You can also find related training articles on our Facebook page Tindell’s Horse and Mule School, Humans Too! and Mules and More YouTube channel. Stay tuned for next months article!