The HouseSitter

Specializing in peace of mind for you and your pets.

Guest Ranches have one of three options for stocking the barn with suitable horses, those for all abilities of riders. Some raise and train their own herd, this takes time (years)  and skill. In Colorado there is a company, which rents “dude” horses by the month. Many of their horses are bred, raised, and trained by the company’s staff. The ranch I worked for in Oregon bought new horses, when needed, during the winter.  This way the person running the barn during the winter would have plenty of time to find out if the new horses had any quirks and acquaint them with the area.
I do not know how Tiger came to be known as Tiger. What I do remember about him, he was built like the old time ranch, working cattle, Quarter Horse, yet far taller. He was 16.2; red  with two white socks and a small star between his eyes.
A few days after he arrived I trotted out to the pasture to catch him. He saw me coming, lifted he head and waited. There was no silliness about catching him, no flip of the head while I slipped the halter over his nose, no dancing about as we walked away from the herd.
Tiger was nothing but gentleman while I bushed and saddle him. He accepted the bit to his mouth, even lowered his head when I brought the bridle over his ears. 
He stood stock still while I  put a foot in the stirrup then settled in the saddle. My goal was the arena; he walked off when I asked him to.
When we were in the middle of the arena I asked him to stop, he did at the slightest hint. Tiger was happy enough to perform a circle to the left at both the walk and trot. He would shift from stop to trot easy as you please.
We were having a grand old time, I started thinking, shoot, dude horse my hinny; I’m going to ride him.
Half way through one of our trotting circles to the left I asked Mr. Tiger to change the bend of his body for a circle to the right. Imagine my surprise when the choice he made was to bring this front end off the ground. He didn’t even give me a warning, no shake of the head, no pulling on the bit, not even a swish of the tail, Nothing! One minute his back was horizontal in a delightful trot the next I was sitting on the Lone Ranger’s horse in full rear complete with Tiger’s hooves above his nose. 
What the heck was he thinking? He did it in slow motion; I guess that was nice of him but Holy Hannah! He went from big to huge in a matter of seconds.
When gravity would no longer allow him to dance on his hind feet he slammed back to the ground.   For those of you who ride, this is the reason every riding instructor you ever had is always screaming “Heels Down!”  If you keep your weight in your heels and your bottom light in the saddle your balance is far better to deal with such silliness from a horse.
With Tiger’s feet back on the ground, I asked him to bend his neck to the right. I didn’t care if he moved his feet I just asked him to bring his nose to the right. His response was to grab the edge of the bit on the right side
in his teeth, where leather meets steel,  and yank. I was both surprised and impressed. He didn’t move his feet and once the pressure was off the right side of his body he was happy, stood there like I had not asked and he had not refused.
Some horses are more like cars; they have to be moving, if slowly, to bend their bodies.  I asked Mr. Tiger to walk in a straight line from where he had landed after rearing. He did as I asked with little fanfare. When we came close enough to the arena fence to be forced in to a choice of direction I suggest to Tiger he go right. Man! Is he fast! He grabbed the right side of the bridle in his teeth and turned left. It is much like preparing to turn a car to the right, you look right, your body is turned right yet, and the car goes left. Very strange.
I started to wonder if he was physically unable to bend his neck/body to the right. I mean he was so nice about every other thing, what gives!
I asked him, with only left hand turns, to go back to the center of the arena. I hopped off the horse and walked about to his right side.  I put my left hand on Tiger’s shoulder and my right hand on the bridge of his nose. With a small amount of pressure from my right hand I asked him to bring the tip of his nose to his shoulder. I thought for sure it was going to feel like attempting to bend a 2 by 4; I was wrong. Silly horse gave me his head, bent his neck to darn near touch his shoulder with is nose.  What gives?
He never bothered about the bridle, no toss of the head, no chewing the bit. Still, perhaps there is something wrong with his mouth. I stuck a couple fingers between the lips on the right side of his head.  I was looking for bumps, sores or even tenderness. Silly horse didn’t so much as acknowledge my hand was in his face much less did I find pain.
I shifted my body around so I was standing shoulder to shoulder on his right side, facing the same direction. I placed my left hand on the right rein and applied the slightest amount of pressure. Ya would have thought someone nailed him with a bb gun. Quick as lightening he twisted his head to get the right edge of the bit in his teeth, and then he reared so he could have better leverage to get the rein out of my hand. Once he had control of the right rein he dang near when back to sleep.
It was the wackiest thing. Tiger didn‘t show any pain, any anger or much of any emotion perhaps it was just fun for him; perhaps this was Tiger’s “thing”.
Many horses have a “thing”, a ploy they have used over and over, perhaps to scare the rider, to avoided doing what they were told. Some horses shake their heads, some run backwards, some buck, some stomp their feet, some rear. I know horses that run off to get out of work, sure seems counter productive.  
I think the choice of what works best for them is somehow decided by their personality from the beginning. Some horses are kind yet a bit playful so they choose a “thing” which is entertaining but not dangerous.  I know horses that prance sideways to avoid doing as they are told, how can ya not laugh at that.

  I once knew a horse, no matter what you did to him, if he didn’t want to do what he was asked he turned to stone. Yeah, you could beat him all day and he would not move. Personally I prefer a horse that has a reaction of some sort, at least of they are in motion you can harness the energy to redirect. If there is no motion, what are ya left with?
Maybe this rearing, grabbing the bit trick was just that, a thing Tiger learned to avoid work. Many trainers feel if you can set up a problem for a horse so they are fighting them selves instead of a person the fun is drained out of the fighting so they stop.
On to plan ‘B”.

There was an area of small outside stalls where we put horses that did not play well with others while brushing and tacking them for guests. I walked Tiger to one of these small spaces.

I took the right rein off the bridle then ran the left rein though a loop at the back of my saddle. With the smallest amount of pressure Tiger bent his neck to bring his nose to his shoulder. This was a very simple way to ask a horse to bend, to get them to understand they can bend not only their neck but he had to bend is body just a bit as well. I relaxed the rein and shortened it several times, each time Tiger did exactly what I asked with so much as a “Are ya sure?”.

Horses are designed in such a way they do not understand if they can do a thing in one direction then the other direction is the same. This is the reason ya have to teach both sides of their body and brain repeatedly from both directions. One of the reasons some people balk at horses off the track is because they were ever only taught to be balanced and sane one direction, the direction the track bends.

When I switched to Tiger’s right side he didn’t tense until I laced the right rein though the saddle loop.  Wanting to be out of his way if he decided to detonate I quickly tied off the right rein with plenty of slack so he didn’t feel completely confined but tight enough he would not get hurt.  I backed out the small space, closed the gate and watched.

Some horses react to this training method by walking in circles, some fight before bending enough to get the pressure off their face. The idea is to get them to relax with their bodies bent.

Tiger only reared once he was unable to grab the rein as he had done before. When his feet hit the ground, he turned to stone with his body bent to the right. He did not relax instead he started dripping a clear sweat. 

Horses,  when working hard will sweat a white foam. If you are in the presents of a horse dripping clear sweat he is freaking out from the inside, he is fighting every instinct he has to behave. This was not a good sign from Tiger as fast as it happened. This was not pain; it was stress perhaps even fear.

Time to try something different. In a heart beat I had Mr. Tiger out of the pen, the bridle together and me in the saddle headed in a direction away from the barn.

For those of you who have not read enough of my stories, I was, back in the day, both immortal and invincible. There was not a horse around I would not crawl on just to see what would happen. It did not occurred to me, taking an explosive, rearing horse into the BLM space behind the ranch alone might be a problem. 

Tiger and I trotted up the road, past the main house, through the open back gate, to the hundreds of acres of playground the horses and wranglers wander during the guest season. Most of the land was flatish, with soft sand paths weaving in and out of pine trees, over creeks and through canals. The wranglers were shown the far reaches the land we were allowed in, within those boundries we were allowed to design our trail rides as we saw fit.  I loved the options I had; I could create a ride suited to the horses and guests I had with me. It truly was great fun taking out rides like this. The guest ranches I had worked before this one had specific trails you had to stick to. This was far more fun. 

Once through the gate I asked Tiger to follow the path, I did this more by will and body than with the reins. I wanted to see if he would just accept he was in control of his feet with the guide lines I gave him. He was a star; I asked for a quite trot, he gave it to me. Tiger the wonder, did not so much as hesitate leaving the herd behind. He didn’t flinch at the new surroundings; he didn’t balks at creeks, ditches or rabbits running across his path. He was a perfect gentleman staying on the path I gave him with a nice quite trot. I was impressed and a bit giddy he was such fun.

We went left, we went right, we did trot circles to the left, we did trot circles to the right…he was a completely different horse. He was so in tune with what I was asking when we came across a bit of straight path with a slight incline I asked Mr. Tiger to canter, when that went well I suggested he go a bit faster, he was still sane so I asked him if he wanted to go faster, what I got was that huge brute of a beast running like the wind with me giggling.

The trail was starting to narrow so I asked him to slow, he replied with “How slow?” I answered with “Trot to a walk would be grand.” Tiger did exactly what I asked him to. 

When we arrived back at the barn, gave him a quick bath and tossed him out in field with the other horses. After I hooked his halter on a nail in the tack room I went to the office. We have a file box full of 3x5 cards one with each horses name, age, description, and a space for “Other”

Under “Other” on Tiger’s card I wrote: avoid the arena, and small spaces. Tiger is claustrophobic .


Copyright © 2012 Aperry. All rights reserved.