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"cowboys" for breaking/despooking horses?

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  • "cowboys" for breaking/despooking horses?

    Saw another thread on the merrits of cowboys and their ability to despook horses. I'm just wonder what exactly they do differently than "regular" eventing trainers. Do they simply have more stickability because of their saddle?

    Although I do agree that 'cowboy' horses always seem quite bomb proof, I wonder if it has more to do with the breed of horse (ranch and quarter horses) than their training methods.

  • #2
    It has nothing to do with anything. I am not sure where this whole mystery of the "cowboy" has cropped up? Is it the fact that there are none on the East Coast?

    A good horseman is a good horseman and they will break and/or despook horses in their own way. A good trainer, regardless of discipline, will settle and instill confidence in any horse to have trust in their rider.

    At the same time, it is the rider/owner who must have their own confidence that the horse can trust because no matter how good the trainer, the rider can destroy all of that effort if they are timid and hesitant at every possible spook.

    "Cowboys" simply spend time riding their horses confidently in hundreds of situations.



    • #3
      Mostly the cowboys around here (Maryland) have nothing to do with cows They do usually ride Western, but that's about it. They tend to be people who specialize in breaking difficult horses. IME, the really good ones don't DO anything really radical--basic groundwork and then flatwork. They just tend to be amazingly good at staying on the horse and staying calm no matter what.

      The guy I saw do it has since retired, but he was about six feet tall and rail thin, and he would chuck that big Western saddle on the horse, take it for a walk, and then climb on. And sit there. NO matter what. The horse that wouldn't go forward would cave eventually and go. The horse that blew up when you tried to make it stand would put its head down and chill. And the buckers and rearers just wouldn't, mostly, but if they did he stayed in the middle of them like it was nothing, and they just gave up. If he got a horse he couldn't turn around in a month, you knew it wasn't going to be rideable.

      Rayers is totally correct. I think if I had to define "horsemanship" I'd skip Jimmy Wofford's arcane qualifying system and just say: being able to react correctly, at the correct time, to whatever the horse chooses to do. You can't teach that, and you aren't born knowing it either


      • #4
        Highflyer stated exactly why I sent that OP to a cowboy. Seemed from the post that this person was a first time horse buyer with an unsuitable beginner horse. Cowboys are unbelievably patient and generally specialize in really 'taming' a horse. Whereas, most eventers specialize on getting the horse to event. We don't hobble break our horses or throw tarps on them and such. Our goals are different and I just steered the person to what the horse probably needs.
        Even duct tape can't fix stupid


        • #5
          I've sent about 20 OTTB's to a cowboy in Southern California...the best thing he did was take TIME and form a partnership with the horses...really get them to enjoy working with people. He'd spend a couple of days in the round pen before he even got on them, then he'd ride them in his big arena in a snaffle and get them to give to the bit and put their heads down. Then it was out to herd cattle and explore the trails. Fantastic for any horse.
          There are hundreds of guys like Neal out there who could have been bigger than Monty Roberts but didn't care about the glory. The reward was in forming the partnership with the horse, and seeing that horse really begin to enjoy working with his rider.


          • #6
            I have sent horses to both types of trainers. And I have ALWAYS been more satisfied with the work of the cowboys.
            I think the difference is TIME.
            I had a naughty 17.3 hand dutch warmblood that I showed in the eq. He was rude, nasty, and liked to stand on his back legs when he was unhappy. At this time I was in FL and the horse lived at my trainer's, a very BNT. He would get tacked up by the grooms and trainer would ride him for 20 mins then put him away. He eventually got to the point where my trainer said "He needs a cowboy." So we sent him to the best cowboy trainer in FL. He was amazing.
            My horse did not know what hit him. The only time he had to himself was a few hrs at night. He was not fed a ton of grain.
            The horses all had "runs/chains" hanging from their stalls where they stood tied. They were tacked up every morning and stood tied all day. About 3 times a day, they were worked. Hard. They were ridden EVERYWHERE. My horse was ridden through cows! He was ponied off the cowboy's horse a LOT.
            And this was no nonsense work.
            I was very active in my horse's training and was there frequently. It was odd to see my big WB in western tack. But it was even odder to see the respect instilled in him. And yeah, he came back looking a little "rough around the edges," but he was a much better horse! In the end he was just way too big and strong and didn't want to event so I sold him.

            I would send one to a cowboy any day. The dedication to my horse was incredible. He really wanted to fix him! I think the biggest difference was the amount of work he was asked to do every. single. day. He was not treated like a "foo-foo baby," he was treated like a naughty horse.
            If riding were all blue ribbons and bright lights, I would have quit long ago.
            ~George Morris


            • #7
              Another thumbs up for working with a really good cowboy for starting your horse(s). We send all our youngstock out to be started and they are better for it...he takes his time, bonds with the horses and is just a fantastic horseman 100% dedicated to his job of building trust with the horse. When it comes time for competition, they are just more settled, focused and obedient and that is coming from a dressage rider who events a little!

              This is a 3 year old filly who had a very rough delivery and subsequent 'life saving' measures had to be taken, whether the filly wanted attention or not...she liked people well enough but was more interested in her 4 legged friends. She's been at 'camp' for just 30 days in the video - Out hacking, he told us she is the most brave and confident youngster he's ever sat she'll be pointed towards an eventing career.
              Watermark Farm
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              • #8
                Here is what I find very funny. EVERYTHING everybody is describing is exactly what I was taught when I comes to breaking and training horses. And I have always been in h/j barns. Maybe it is simply a sign of the times? I grew up with old horsemen/women who were from the cavalry schools. None of it had anything to do with cowboys. Maybe western riders are the only ones nowadays who are still old fashioned horsemen?



                • #9
                  Originally posted by RAyers View Post
                  EVERYTHING everybody is describing is exactly what I was taught when I comes to breaking and training horses. And I have always been in h/j barns. Maybe it is simply a sign of the times? I grew up with old horsemen/women who were from the cavalry schools. None of it had anything to do with cowboys. Maybe western riders are the only ones nowadays who are still old fashioned horsemen?

                  I'm with you, Reed. Correct riding and training is correct riding and training, period. Discipline distinctions need not occur. No worries, though-- there are still plenty of english riders who have their convictions in the "old-fashioned" style of horsemanship.


                  • #10
                    I think it's more that breaking and re-starting horses is a skill in and of itself. And it can take a lot of time so an event trainer or dressage trainer may have those skills but not be as interested in using them so they send the horses to people who DO specialize. If I want my horse broke for the first time I don't really think sending it to Steffan Peters is a good use of my money. He's a great rider - of upper level dressage horses. He may also be good with the untrained 3 year old but probably not as good as the person who deals with untrained 3 year olds all day every day.

                    For whatever reason, the 'young horse specialists" are called "cowboys" - probably because they look like them - in this neck of the woods your attire can lable you!

                    I sent my young horse out because while I got the concepts and was OK at it, I wasn't GOOD at it - and she needed "good". The person who was both good at it, and wanted to do it, used western tack.
                    I don't think she had any cows.


                    • #11
                      Here is what I find very funny. EVERYTHING everybody is describing is exactly what I was taught when I comes to breaking and training horses. And I have always been in h/j barns. Maybe it is simply a sign of the times? I grew up with old horsemen/women who were from the cavalry schools. None of it had anything to do with cowboys. Maybe western riders are the only ones nowadays who are still old fashioned horsemen?

                      I second this.

                      Here's my theory: I did send my horse to a cowboy after she unloaded another rider (not me) she disrupted a professional barn and was asked to leave.

                      I sent her to a "cowboy." Most people do not have the right "personality" to do what it took to get her over her bad temper. It took total physical strength to hold on to the long lines and hang in there until her temper tantrum was over. There were no spurs, harsh bits or magic involved, but there was boat load of what might be determined as harsh disipline. (And this bad behavior was always brewing under the surface. I backed her and had her walking trotting and some cantering when she just said "no I won't be subservient." )

                      30 days later and weekly lessons for me I took her home. The next year was not easy, but I learned how to deal with her temper and reproduce what went on for those 30 days. She will never be dead quiet, I learned how to deal with her bucking and nope she has not gotten me off yet.

                      I had a blast at the last event and yes, she's definately worth it. Most people especially my age are not willing to keep it up and not give up. I also just went to Jim Wofford clinic and he loved her

                      A lot of trainers also can't risk getting on a horse that is unpredictable and I can't blame them. Also, most horses end up at a "cowboy's" after numerous people have tried and failed.

                      So, the bottom line is most people are not willing to or have the capabilities to get the job done when a horse like mine presents itself. sorry for the ramble, but I will also add that one of the most important things I learned was that numerous "bad" horses have no respect for humans. My mare was the alpha baby born to the alpha mare in a herd. She had to be taught that "human is alpha, horse is subservient." She viewed every living thing as a servant of hers. Not any more. Manners begin on the ground.

                      I've actually been told that "no one would have hung in there" like I did.
                      RIP Kelly 1977-2007 "Wither thou goest, so shall I"

                      "To tilt when you should withdraw is Knightly too."


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by RAyers View Post
                        Here is what I find very funny. EVERYTHING everybody is describing is exactly what I was taught when I comes to breaking and training horses. And I have always been in h/j barns. Maybe it is simply a sign of the times? I grew up with old horsemen/women who were from the cavalry schools. None of it had anything to do with cowboys. Maybe western riders are the only ones nowadays who are still old fashioned horsemen?

                        Reed, I third you!

                        I learned from some very old school horsemen - who would find some of these conversations hysterical. One man I rode for specialized in difficult horses and ponies like Eventer55 had. I learned more from my time on those horses than I could in a lifetime riding packers.


                        • #13
                          Good starting techniques are good starting techniques. What you'll find is these horsepeople use a mix of English and Western tack and methods.

                          I send mine to a woman who has cattle and hosts ropings at her place. There's a lot of activity at weekends and the young horses in training get ringside seats in pens along the roping arena.

                          She does very little ring work and lots of trails and cattle-sorting. My fillies have all loved working cattle-- it gives them confidence and it was fun rather than work. That same determination to get the job done translates very well to XC.


                          • #14
                            I sent my girl to a cowboy (he calls himself that--rides in an Aussie saddle) because she was a notch too much for me to start on my own. He did some round pen work and basic under saddle kindergarten stuff with her, turned her into a new woman. :-)

                            I think it does not matter so much what the person uses for tack, but how they approach their job with horses and what they want to specialize in. Advanced riders in a specific sport do not specialize in Kindergarten, and that is what the first 30-90 days under saddle is all about. In my neck of the woods, most folks who focus on retraining dangerous horses and starting youngsters ride in Aussie or Western tack and don't come from a show barn or specific discipline.

                            Like all professions, starting/retraining rogues has great people and terrible people available. A good Kindergarten teacher is a treasure!


                            • #15
                              I could wear out the multi-quote button on this thread!

                              I just sent our young 3 yr old gelding out for his 60 days. I prefer to call it his experience and exposure lessons. We've started our homebreds before here at home, but then it all changes the moment you go someplace new. Exposure at a busy barn is hugely important. I believe that getting this out of the way first makes it a whole lot easier for a horse to give you his focus for the rest of his education when you get down to the finer riding lessons after they've grown a bit more into their confidence.

                              I hestitate to label the guy a 'cowboy.' He starts all breeds, they all get the same kindergarten, and that analogy is spot-on. I especially liked his spin on working with mules, that he had to spend the time first convincing them that he 'liked them!' No mule will work for anything less than that. They are a lot smarter than given credit for.

                              What this genre of training does for me specifically is it teaches the horse that they have a huge degree of responsibility, with few excuses, in the horse/rider relationship. They learn to wait, be patient, be calm and take direction. The bad behavers learn to get over themselves. They learn a work ethic and respect. They find a happy place where they can feel safe and trust the rider.

                              Here's my boy the cowpony he's a little tall for a cutting horse

                              Here he is in the pond No water issues now!

                              And here he is 1 week after his 60 day start at a dressage show! Actually a full multi-discipline show with driving, contesting, jumping, etc all kinds of new things to see (and windy cold weather starting out each day, plus still dark for warmups for an 8:05 first ride time!) this pix is the second ride during daylight

                              He's a little tight, he had NEVER seen nor been in a dressage arena before. I said just steer him around and let him take it all in. It's about building the confidence first. What an education he has had this fall!! I can't wait until he goes relaxed and long and low next time. He was trying to listen and look at the same time!

                              If you are in the midwest and you need a recommendation give Ed Chambers in Roachdale IN a call, he puts the honest time into a horse. He listens to the owner's concerns, he has an open barn policy, and makes time each week to work with the owner with their horse. His young assistant Alyssa has an English background and she really puts the attention into each horse. Both of them are kind and patient. Their focus is very quiet and they are not busy selling themselves. And that says a lot about who they are.

                              What really struck me when I researched and decided was that this trainer really liked all horses. I never heard him put down any horse or any idea, or any person for that matter. Never have anyone train your horse who doesn't like that particular animal. That is a deal breaker for me.

                              And I liked the short learning episodes. Very positive. Then the horse stands tied and gets to think. Little bits at a time and the factor of the consistency. The consistency is why I sent him there, that is missing here at home, the time that it takes to be that consistent. The young horse needs that kind of programmed start.

                              We need these specialized talented people who so quietly work behind the glamour of the spotlight. They need to be recognized for the patience and good humor that it takes to do this over and over on their daily basis. God bless them for putting up with all the owners and the youngsters!!
                              Last edited by pony grandma; Oct. 27, 2009, 02:26 PM.
                              The cue card kid just held up an empty cue card. For a minute there I thought I had lost my sense of humor. --- Red Skelton


                              • #16
                                My so is a cowboy and he has the patients of a saint. He works with all my ottbs and I can say that mine are really good about almost everything the one is still afraid of turkeys but can you blame him? Nothing bothers him where I get frustrated and stop he keeps going works thru it and for that my horses are better than the average I think they all have been roped off and will pull logs out of the woods dont get flustered when in a tight spot and seem to be more confident about life in general they dont seem to be as nervous as my friends ottbs who have been off the track the same amount of time.
                                MIDWAY SOCCER 08' First Season!!!!!!


                                • #17
                                  My warmblood/TB filly was started by a cowboy (30 days) and I don't know if it is the start she got or if I just got lucky but she's FANTASTIC.

                                  She learned things there that can so easily get skipped over in competition-focused barns. She has no problems with wester saddles flapping around on her back, four-wheelers zooming around, pigs, cows, things brushing her legs or belly..... She learned to ground tie, be vacuumed, and not to worry about the pack of jack russells that regularly bolted through the barn. Sure, it's just common sense stuff but it's also stuff that is easy to pass over when you've got a "bigger picture." Now she's with a trainer who is focused on a goal - get this horse eventing to go show in 2010.... But the cowboy's ONLY agenda was to create a QUIET horse that could stop, go, and turn at the walk, trot and canter...

                                  Now in all fairness, I did it this way because I was on a wait list to bring my filly to her current trainer, but I certainly don't regret the time spent in the cowboy barn and I'd probably do it that way if I had it to do over again. (IT WAS ALSO A LOT CHEAPER THAN MY EVENTING TRAINER)
                                  The rebel in the grey shirt