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My Experience With Humbling Horsemanship

I was talking last week about the fact that you don't have to be in some kind of organized horse competition to want to improve your horsemanship skills. Just the fact that both you and your horse are working together towards a higher level then you were in the past should be enough motivation to embark on the journey. I've said it before but you don’t know what you are missing out on until you’ve experienced it first hand.

It's been my experience that most disciplines look rather straightforward and simple until you get involved in them and start to learn all that's going on behind the scenes. I will give you an example that applies to me personally. So years ago, I was riding some colts, day-working on local ranches. I was using my horse to rope on and to do doctoring as was needed from time to time. And a neighbor and friend of mine, Tom Bews, has a nice indoor arena just down the road from my place occasionally, would host team roping clinics for the public.

Well, like I said before, I was already roping in my cowboying duties, but I thought, what the heck, what could it hurt to go and brush up on my roping and get some practice? Well that clinic really opened my eyes to all the things that I didn't know about roping.

Most of my skills that I had with a rope were all self taught by trial and error. Or by watching others and performing my rendition of what I perceived to be going on. That clinic showed me so much of what I didn’t know.

This really got me to thinking I had heard or read somewhere that it is what you learn after you think that you know it all that really counts. I realized that if there was so much to learn about roping, a skill that I thought I had a pretty good handle on, hell, I could rope and doctor a cow without any major wrecks, then maybe there was a lot more for me to learn about other things as well, including horsemanship.

So from that point on, I went to many different clinics with many different instructors. Now in doing that, I really changed the trajectory of my life. Going to these different clinics showed me that there was so much more out there involving the horse that I had no idea existed. Now don't get me wrong, I had ridden my whole life, and I was getting pretty good! My horses didn't look too bad, at least, that's what I thought. I could gather cattle, open a gate, loap a circle, pack a mule. You know? All the essential stuff.

But I was beginning to see there was still a lot to learn about a lot of things. Back in those days, there seemed to be a lot of ranch horse competitions being held in our area. And I thought they looked like fun! So I decided to go to one. I checked out what they all entailed so I had an idea of what to expect when I got there. It looked to be that you had to loap a pattern, do a few lead changes, maybe a spin or two and then a sliding stop. After that you got to chase a cow down, rope it and stop it. You didn't have to get down and doctor it; how hard can that be?

Plus, you were in a nice groomed arena and not a pasture ridden with gopher holes. So I entered up and loaded my cow pony for town! We were off on another adventure.

Well, we'll file that as yet another learning experience. It turned out that your circles had to be round and in the same location each time. Your lead changes had to be in the middle of the arena, and it mattered where you stopped your horse! There was also a correct way to spin your horse. Go figure.

Well, to make a long story short, my first experience in a ranch horse class was a humbling learning experience. I don't even remember what I marked, but I know it was a lot less than what it took to win anything. Driving home after that event, I can remember thinking that I was pretty comfortable doing what I was doing. Just riding my horses out in the hills, cowboying, getting work done and enjoying my horses. But I remember thinking about something that Joe Wolter has said, that "you have to take your horses to town and enter up once in a while to see where your training stacks up."

Now, many year later, I realize that I’m thankful I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and decided that maybe I didn't know it all, and still don’t. That search for knowledge is a journey that I am still on to this day. That first clinic showed me that there was still plenty more to learn about a subject I thought was pretty simple.

So your goals might not be to compete with anyone but yourself, and that's just fine, but I believe the more you learn, the more you will want to learn. You’ll be amazed at how handy your horse will get by you simply making the resolution to up your game. And your horse will thank you for it.

So that's what I have strived to help you do throught Cowboy Campus. Share some of the skills that I have picked up over the years from many different mentors, and my horses have appreciated it.

-- KJS



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