Thursday, October 2, 2014

What a Picture is Worth

The other day I read an article about a lady who was swearing off “natural horsemanship.” She had the videos, the stick, the rope halter and the mecate reins. She’d made  her horse’s back sore backing up him wiggling the rope at him. His head would come up, back hollow, and voila, sore grumpy horse.

Head up? Back hollow? Don’t you know it’s not supposed to look like that? No, of course she didn’t. She was doing the best she could with the information she had at hand. She had no picture of what it should look like.

Back to Peter.

“If his head comes up, it’s because . . .” he trails off, looking around, wanting us to finish the sentence.

It’s because his FEET ARE NOT ATTACHED TO THE REINS, we chorus.

We’ve seen the picture. Peter asks Alice, or Jackie or Lollipop to perform a maneuver. Might be rolling over behind, could be bringing the front end through the other way. Might be Lollipop getting down cutting a frisky steer.


Their heads stay at wither level or slightly above. Alice might get a little stuck now and again, after all, Peter assures us she’s pretty green and has not had much riding. You’d not know it if he hadn’t told you.

“I have seen 160.000 horses in my lifetime.” He’s done the math for us, it’s a big number, but he started at age 10 and has been hitting the saddle hard for 40 years.

“I have seen maybe three or four horses that truly had a shoulder problem. The rest, all hindquarter. Couldn’t move the hind out of the way so the front gets stuck or falls in and people think it’s a shoulder problem. It’s not.”

I trained horses a lot of my lifetime. When I got smart enough to know what heavy in the forehand meant, I realized mine were. All of them. I went to work, moving the shoulder, lightening the forehand, backing them off the bit, I tried a thousand things. Heavy in the forehand.

It’s the hind.

I also ambush my horses like an outlaw robbing a train out of a nearby bush.

“You don’t back your horse up.” Peter. “You get them READY to back up. You don’t turn your horse around, you get him ready to turn around. He will take care of the backing and the turning if you get him READY.”

Monday at work, I got ambushed. There was a miscommunication about process and while I was in the middle of getting it sorted out so I could go on with my job I got slammed upside the head. Someone in authority, in my face, way too close to me speaking way too loudly and would not listen to a thing I had to say.

All I could do to not get up, walk out, say something snotty in return. Lose my temper in a kind of way to educate that person what a really bad idea they were engaging in. Hadn’t even had my coffee yet.

How many times have I done that to my horse? To my husband, my kids, coworkers. Or you? Right in the middle of your processing, here I come with my advice . . . or demands.

So anyway, I behaved appropriately. Huge light bulb moment for me what that feels like. Maybe it will help me do better all the way around in the future.

Get them ready, give them time to process, let them work at the wrong thing if they have to and when they arrive at the right place, it will mean ever so much more. Knowing when to step in and offer some direction so your horse (yes, back to the horse but you fill in the blank for yourself) doesn’t flounder, get lost, scared and mad, that’s where the artistry comes in.

“Give yourself permission to learn.” Peter tells us. “Don’t punch yourself out for not being in a different place than what you are.”

Another light bulb moment. Permission to learn.

“Be happy with where you are at. It takes a lifetime to learn a lifetime.”

Me, and just about everybody I know are afraid of looking stupid. Of being clumsy and unhandy. I am clumsy and unhandy. It takes practice to get good with anything and once you’re good, you have to stay with it to keep growing.

I know people who don’t want to come ride with Peter because they are afraid they will get in there and look like idiots. Guess what, we are all afraid of that, and NOBODY does. The ones that get the closest to looking really bad are the know it all’s. They are mostly there to show why they don’t need to be, and we all know right away what we are looking at. Peter even tries to help that kind though it’s the most likely to blow up in his face.

The ones who want to learn, he will go to the wall for.

Day two. We begin Foundation class at 9 a.m. Many of us are also in Horsemanship 1. We are clear that Foundation is exactly that, building. H1 takes it to the next level. No foundation, no business in that class but we see it all the time.

People are struggling today in H1. Not because they aren’t paying attention or have not worked hard, but because they are learning new things and giving themselves permission to learn. We can see the picture when Peter does it but getting it working for ourselves is a whole another animal at the beginning.

We are riding in pairs, walking fast, walking slow. Backing half circles, forward a full circle. All that requires feel and planning. Peter changes partners around to get people paired up with who can help if they need and he and his wife, Trina, are in the mix as well.

It isn’t at all about just getting your horse to move forward or backward around the floor. It’s not DRAGGING them around, not accosting them with your rein, spur and also, not letting them pull on you either. The circles are to be clean and beautiful, without the horse pushing on or through your leg. There is a lot more to this than a person might think . . .


Trina Campbell


There are tons of gorgeous photos of this and other clinics on the Peter Campbell Facebook page. I don’t feel it’s my place to post other people’s photos but they are sure worth rolling over there to see.

We ride over an hour longer than the class is scheduled until every single one of us can perform the maneuvers. We are happy, our horses are relaxed. Everyone now has their own picture, of what they and their horse need, in order to lighten up and get a thing done.

The Arabian? He’s not pushing on the bit so much today, not hanging around waiting to get bumped.

Once in awhile, that long neck turns the wrong way, or I’ll ask him to step a way his feet are not ready to go. I watch his head come up when we stop, time after time. It’s not flying in the air, the feet are not dancing madly around in rebellion, it’s just not as 100% soft and smooth as I know we are within reach of . . . the elusive stop with the soft feel.

Three years I have been asking him for that, and finally it happens. The feet are enough attached to the reins that he doesn’t in any way run through the end of them. The room got a little brighter with my smile and it’s a big room.

I had the pleasure of riding with Bob, a young man I watched ride his first clinic a few years ago who has come a long long way. It was a blast getting to know someone I hadn’t spent much time with and we were both pretty pleased neither of us got fired from the partnership.

Day 1, Peter told me not once, not twice but three different times to quit pulling on my horse. I would have told him and you, and myself that I really don’t pull on him all that much. Turns out, I do.

My goal for Day 2, stay out of Royal’s way. Not to pull on him with both reins. Horse tells me I am doing better.

The ears waggle happily in front of me; parti-color mane swings smoothly with his long strides. I watch with amaze as he picks up the joy radiating down my reins, through my body and he moves lightly along. Slow is not as easy for he or I but we get into the feel of it and from feel, comes timing.

After H1 is Cattle Working. All three classes build upon another. We had things to do in Cattle Working as well and that day, we didn’t get off our horses til quarter after 7  that night.  Never let anyone say in my hearing you do not get your money’s worth when you ride with the Campbell’s. Peter is in it, first for the horse, then him and then you. You are lucky to make the cut. Or, at least, I am.

Day 2

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