Ranching Blog: Baby Steps

Ranching Blog: Baby Steps

Considering the “why” may help you build your horse up for success.

Ranching Blog Farrier

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By Jenn Zeller


Who, what, when, where – the oft-asked questions when it comes to information gathering. It could be information for a report, for a trainer, or for a recommended service provider, such as a farrier, for example. But to go further, have you ever thought about the “Why” of a situation?

Let me explain. 

Have you ever had a horse that stood amazing for one farrier and then, for whatever reason, you had to change farriers and your horse can’t for the life of them be quiet or still? You’re thinking to yourself, “What the heck is going on? My horse is always good for the farrier!”

I’d venture to say, it’s not the horse. 

It’s likely the farrier.

Let me explain.

When you find someone who has good energy and no ego bubble, your horse will always do better. I had this experience recently where my always-good-to-shoe mare was jumping out of her skin with a different farrier. Two days later, she had her first experience with the dentist. He never sedated her and she stood quietly, happy to be having her teeth fixed. I was, too, as she was dropping a lot of oats!

At home, we trim our young horses for the first time in a round pen, usually with no halter and certainly not tied up. We work really hard to help them realize that standing quiet is the easiest thing to do. If they can’t make it, we start again. It’s how we condition them – with our patience – and good attitude to try. It’s part of teaching the horse to become a willing participant in the process.  

I see this all the time in the barrel racing pen. Girls who have trouble getting their horses in the alley will: 1. Look at the back of the horse’s head, thus sending all their energy to the horse instead of out front where they want to go; and 2. Upon arriving in the alley, or prior to getting there, they will be spanking the horse or kicking them relentlessly. Would you, as the horse, want to go somewhere that is exceptionally uncomfortable and troubling? I’d say that’s a big “No.” 

It’s better to make that space comfortable, and realize it’s not likely that horse is doing it to embarrass you or be naughty, it just hasn’t been a good experience for them so far.

The same could be said for the branding pen. We typically choose which brandings we will take a colt to, because some just get plain wild. Getting a colt in a wreck the first time in the branding pen is probably not going to help him have any confidence in the process for future brandings. Same with dragging 50 calves the first time, as he’ll be overwhelmed and exhausted. We’ll choose a quiet branding, drag five to 10 and let the colt feel like he was the most successful horse on the planet that day. With handy people around to help your colt, you set them up for success. The next time that horse goes to the branding pen, he may be ready for a wilder situation. But first we have to make it a good experience to prepare him for days like that.

So, next time you start a project with your horse or have a professional handle him, think about the “why.” You might find yourself reaching a different conclusion than you did before.

Happy Trails! 

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.