Getting to Know a New Horse

Early on in my quest for a team roping career, I was such a poor horseman that I went through a lot of horses. There came a time that I realized I needed to improve greatly in that area if I was going to get any better. I used to think a horse was a machine that had to do exactly what I told him to do when I told him to do it, and if he didn’t it was up to me to make him do it. The cool thing about roping to me now is working with my horses and having a relationship with them. You have to ride and treat each one differently, and if you listen they’ll tell you who they are. Most of it is about dealing with the mind of the horse. I’ve found that if you can keep a horse stable and confident, you can take him from point a to b, and get your desired result. But you have to be willing to go at the horse’s pace and not your own.

After 30 years of experience, what I’ve come to do when I get a new horse is spend the first week or two not making him do anything I want him to do. I’m going to let him tell me where he’s at, physically, mentally and how he’s broke. After he gets a chance to be relaxed underneath me and I have a good read on who he is, then I make a game plan for improving him and helping him better suit me. Throughout all this, I’m also evaluating the good things about this horse that I don’t want to mess up.

A lot of people want to fix everything about a new horse on day one. That only confuses the horse and frustrates the rider. That’s not how you start the relationship on the right foot. I’ve gotten so much better results by just chilling out and giving a horse time to show me who he is. Then, little by little, I start showing him what I’m looking for and who I am.

There’s a lot of patience involved here. It might take months to get some small changes made. But that’s how you get lasting changes and the best results. It used to be if I couldn’t back in there, run 20 in a row and have a horse do what I wanted then I thought I had to start training on him and correcting him. I was going about it all wrong. (David Key heading)

You also need to learn a horse’s limitations. There’s a point where horses start coming apart, and getting fidgety in the box and strong in the bridle. Probably 90 percent of your horses have a limit. If you cross it, those horses go down from there. It takes a heck of a horse to stay hooked and maintain that high level run after run.

Everything about our lives is time-oriented. Roping’s the same way. I’d love to have a horse I could go rope 30 steers on in 45 minutes, then go do something else. But when we do that we mess our horses up. They quit working, and we wonder why.

I very seldom run more than eight or nine steers in a row on a horse. Most of the time I run five, six, seven steers, then get off and get on another horse. When you juice a horse, you go backwards. If you’re smart and take small steps, you’ll maintain a horse’s mental stability and build slowly toward a really strong foundation that’ll last. STW

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