Think First, Then Ride

My last post, about natural-horsemanship clinician Leslie Desmond, netted me an interesting email. It was from my friend Paula Zdenek, a local trainer and riding coach who’s helped me with my own horsemanship over the years. (That’s her in the photo at a Sacramento horse show.) Paula told me she especially loved Leslie’s point about collaborating with rather than dominating a horse.

“It’s like being an excellent work supervisor,” she wrote. “You make a suggestion, then let the horse do his job. If he doesn’t do it, it means he doesn’t know his job or understand fully what you’re asking. Correct him, show him again, then ‘let go’ to get true control.”

Paula, who’s been training for the public for some 35 years, learned from some of the best, including the legendary Bobby Ingersoll. In 1970, Paula cut college classes in San Francisco to drive over and watch Bobby win (in a tie) the first-ever Snaffle Bit Futurity. It was held back then at the Cal Expo Fairgrounds.

“Bobby was always connected with his horse through unbelievable feel and timing,” she wrote, explaining why she took lessons from him. “Back then, trainers didn’t tell you why or how come, or explain in detail what you were trying to accomplish. Bobby would just say, ‘Do it again. Think first, then do it so the horse understands it.'”

Like Paula, I’m a huge admirer of Bobby Ingersoll, who was one of the first inductees into the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Hall of Fame (along with Greg Ward–see my first post). I’ve written about Bobby many times. Most recently, I quoted him in a commentary I made on how point of view can desensitize us to harsh training methods.

Bobby, who’s made 22 AQHA champions in his time, is one of the world’s authorities on the time-honored Spanish vaquero method of starting and training a colt. And, serendipitously, here’s where his and Paula’s paths crossed again just a few years ago. Paula, a journalist as well as a horsewoman, helped edit Bobby’s manuscript into what is now perhaps the most visually beautiful training book ever published. The Legendary California Hackamore & Stock Horse chronicles the history of this great training style and Bobby’s approach to it, all illustrated with gorgeous photographs by Western art photographer David R. Stoecklein.

More than anything, the vaquero method takes time, patience, and a thorough understanding of how a horse’s mind works. The end result, as Bobby says in the book’s introduction, is “a horse that enjoys his work and is controlled with a light rein.”

And isn’t that what we’re all after?

(Photos courtesy Paula Zdenek and Stoecklein Publishing.)

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