Creating a Masterpiece

A great reined cow horse bridle horse (or any horse for that matter) is a masterpiece that isn’t made overnight.

A great reined cow horse bridle horse (or any horse for that matter) is a masterpiece that isn’t made overnight.

The endgame, says AQHA Professional Horseman Benny Guitron, is the finished bridle horse, and it begins with making the hackamore horse. Journal photo.

“The long, worthwhile road to a finished bridle horse begins with understanding the art of the hackamore.” Agreed.

In the September issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal, Annie Lambert, a special contributor to the Journal, begins a three-part series with AQHA Professional Horseman Benny Guitron. The focus of the series, and the focus of Benny’s life, is a creating a finished bridle horse.

A finished bridle horse, to Benny and to many reined cow horse enthusiasts, including me, is a masterpiece.

Benny, of Merced, California, says it takes “consistency, time and patience” to train the ultimate bridle horse, and it’s true. A great bridle horse isn’t born overnight. A great snaffle bitter doesn’t automatically make a great bridle horse. There’s a lot more finishing and quite a few more chapters in between the two.

The endgame, Benny says, is the finished bridle horse, and it begins with making the hackamore horse.

For the past few years, I’ve experienced the joys of a finished bridle horse in the form of TC Lena, the gelding with whom I won my working cow horse world championship on at the 2006 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show. “TC” was a fresh-faced bridle horse then. A strong foundation in the hackamore, returns to the two-rein (another vaquero training tradition) from time to time and years of training in the bridle have made him what he is today – a National Reined Cow Horse Association Supreme Cow Horse.

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In “The Endgame,” Annie sits down with Benny to determine just what steps a reined cow horse needs to reach that pinnacle of performance.

“In the process of training a (cow) horse, we use the hackamore to develop the sensitivity and the lightness of the horse,” Benny explains. “Horses must get a reward – when they respond to pressure, they get the release. The horse feels the signal coming from our hands as we develop communication with him, beginning with the hackamore.”

Whether you follow tradition, or interrupt or postpone hackamore training to introduce your horse to the snaffle, a good bridle horse must understand the hackamore, according to Benny.

And that’s where I’m at with my 5-year-old mare, Lenas Fillynic.

We’ve been taking our sweet time with “Nikki” (arguably too much time) to bring her along as a show horse. However, my dad and I, along with our trainer, AQHA Professional Horseman Don Murphy, recognize the importance of getting her broke in the hackamore before moving to the next phase. My short-term plan is to show her in NRCHA two-rein classes next year, but my goal is for her to have the longevity of a great bridle horse.

For many reasons, I love Benny’s insight into the long-term training of a cow horse in “The Endgame.”

“Because of the (Snaffle Bit) Futurity and the fact that so much value is put on a horse’s career over one event, we lose sight of the big picture,” Benny says. “An artist’s painting is not admired until it is a finished product; why wouldn’t you do that with a horse? Everything we do is to end up with that finished picture.”

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But Benny’s insight isn’t wasted solely on reined cow horses. Benny’s training techniques go straight back to vaquero tradition, which stresses respect of pressure and the fine tuning of response to direct and indirect rein pressure.

“Not every horse is going to be a great hackamore horse,” Benny says. “I still maintain that the disciplines they learn in the hackamore are vital toward making a bridle horse. The hackamore training makes the two-rein a viable aid to help bridle a horse, to make a finished product. The end product is a bridle horse whose reins can be turned over to anybody to do whatever this horse has been trained to do, and the horse will do it every time.”

If you’re a subscriber to The American Quarter Horse Journal, be sure to look for Benny’s how-to’s on training in and selecting a hackamore in the September issue of the Journal.

Not a subscriber to the Journal? That’s OK – you can sign up online and immediately enjoy the Journal Plus, the Journal’s online digital magazine, while you await the arrival of your print magazine.