I was recently at the barn working a few horses with some interns. I enjoy both. I started working one of our ranch-raised Quarter Horses who’s been handled some, but never really asked to do anything. He’s seven-years-old physically, yet two-years-old mentally. Named Big Time, he’s a beautiful black gelding. He’s enjoyed free run of pastures on the ranch with other horses his entire life. If the weather turns bad, he’s brought in.
When a life is what you consider perfect, why change? It takes effort to go somewhere you never needed to be before. And, it doesn’t make sense unless you understand the why. It is hard enough for people to change, even if they understand the reason. Big Time is so smart, I knew the best way for him would be to let him think it’s his idea. Let him learn at his pace in ways that he learns best. Just like humans, all horses learn differently.
Being that he was born and raised on our ranch, I knew Big Time had the mental and physical ability to do what I was asking. He’s by our stallion Jax Buenos Nochas (registered with National Foundation Quarter Horse Assn.). We also still have his dam. That gave me a training advantage. If he was not raised here, I could have looked at his registration papers and gained some insights from the bloodlines. I knew I needed every advantage to make this experience great for him and for me.
The Opportunity to Succeed
As I mentioned, Big Time was mentally a two-year-old. He acted that way. Most of the time he was fun to be around, but when things didn’t go his way, he would have a fit—just like an adolescent. My goal was to show him that having a fit wouldn’t help get his way, but simply cause more work. As I told the interns watching, you need to give your horse the opportunity to succeed.
When I started walking Big Time into the round pen—which he’s been inside many times before—he refused to go. He put on the brakes. He didn’t want to work or cooperate. Big Time wanted the day off, so he threw a fit. All four legs and his whole body locked in unison. When I turned to him, he started backing up. And, I let him. In fact, I encouraged him. We backed up 100 yards.
I led him back toward the round pen and Big Time wanted to back again. This continued multiple times, each episode a shorter distance. I became his eyes. Unwittingly, he’d put himself in a position to rely on me. My job at that point was to help him understand it is easier to go forward.
Eventually, it did become easy to lead him into the round pen. We went out and back in. No problems. He was happy to be in the round pen, less work, and his trust for me increased. Win-win. When Big Time was backing up, I had control. I became his eyes. He had to listen and trust me even though it was his idea to back up, not mine. I just gave him his wish. While he was backing up, I could see everything and directed his body. He couldn’t. He basically trained himself to rely on me. I thanked him for the opportunity.
Later in the day, I rode Big Time and he was doing terrific. Then on one turn, his backend hit a panel in the round pen and he went from happy to upset. Just like a two-year-old. It spooked him a little. Mostly, he got upset at the panel. If he’d flexed a little better, it wouldn’t have happened. By the end of the lesson, he not only accepted the panel, we were leaning up against it.
Cooperation & Try
Once we cross the bridge in training from no desire or understanding to full cooperation and “try,” the future is incredible. Big Time improved with some work, was rewarded, and his desire to do more increased. He likes learning and the new experiences this come with it. The result will make Big Time a perfect all-around horse who gets to go on the road, work cattle, and become one of the lead horses we depend on. Along with his new life talents and experiences, Big Time will still be able to enjoy what he used to think was the only way to live. Big Time understood and embraced his opportunity to succeed.
If he didn’t require some extra direction, he might not have needed me as much and our relationship wouldn’t have developed as it did. I’m glad Big Time offered such a chance to work together for a positive outcome and understanding from both of our perspectives.
One last takeaway from Big Time to you: Only go backwards, if it helps you go forward!
Author Scott Knudsen is a 5th generation Texas cowboy with a Fortune 50 background as an award-winning national sales rep, Knudsen, brings the best of the West together with business acumen. Headquartered at Lightning K Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, he owns Knudsen Equine Center, Knudsen Horses, and Knudsen Cattle Company. An AQHA Professional Horseman and AQHA Ambassador, Knudsen’s ridden rough stock to race horses, team roped, penned, and sorted. He’s ridden cutting horses, worked rescues, and trained Thoroughbreds to Morgans and Mustangs. In 2005, he was struck in the head by lightning and had to relearn how to read and write. As President of the Board for Fredericksburg Theater Company (the San Antonio area’s top-rated), Knudsen’s turned the non-profit’s balance sheet into a $1 million-plus operation. Now host of COWBOY ENTREPRENEURⓇ , an online magazine-style show packed with fascinating people and places, Scott takes viewers behind the scenes to discover the elements that become cornerstones to success.