Horseback Riding

Tried and True

May 30, 2011

Build your horse’s confidence with Buster McLaury.

From America’s Horse

Cowboy and horse out in a field

Giving a young horse many different good experiences helpes him learn to trust his rider. Journal photo.

“A lot of times, if you’re having trouble with a horse, if you could ask the horse what was going on, he’d tell you: ‘I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and, besides that, I was afraid.’ ”

It’s the sort of advice you might expect from cowboy clinician Buster McLaury, who tries to look at each situation from the horse’s point of view. He inherited the philosophy from renowned horseman Ray Hunt, one of his teachers.

“That’s a big deal to understand, right off the start,” Buster says. “The horse is never, ever wrong. Where he’s coming from, in his mind, he’s doing exactly what he thinks he’s supposed to do or what he thinks he needs to do to survive.”

Buster, who has worked on legendary Texas ranches such as the Moorhouse, Pitchfork and Four Sixes, offers clinics across the country, and America’s Horse caught up with him at a 2009 clinic in the Kansas Flint Hills. It was an immersion in the art of thinking like a horse.

“If the human could just learn to give a little bit, then the horse could learn to give it back. Ray always said if the human could just give 5 percent, the horse would come up with the other 95 percent. But it’s pretty hard, it seems like, for the human to learn to give. Most everybody, they want to take. They get on (the horse), and they want to take him over this direction, take him over there, speed him up and slow him down,” Buster says.

Solid fundamentals are the key to success in the saddle. AQHA’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship will give you the inspiration, skills and confidence to create a more rewarding relationship with your horse.

And while those changes in direction and speed are important pieces of the horse’s foundation, the trick is to allow them to happen, not force them to happen.

“You’re trying to get that horse to think about the same thing you’re thinking about,” Buster says. “You let your idea become his idea.”

It’s easy to say, right? But how, exactly do you go about doing that? Buster has some concrete suggestions:

One way to meld horse and rider into a single unit is by offering the horse support when he’s afraid. If he’s properly supported by his rider, the horse’s fear will turn into curiosity, which will then turn into confidence.

“Here a while back, I was on the Muleshoe Ranch starting some colts, and it was the first time we rode outside,” Buster recounts. He and the other cowboys came across a wire gate that had some trees grown up through it so the opening was only 6 feet wide. The horses –¬ natural claustrophobics – were skittish about going through it.

“So it took a little time for those boys to get their colts ridden through there,” Buster says. “And after everybody got through, we said, ‘Let’s go back through the other way, let ‘em see it with the other eye, from a different side.’ We just stood and worked at that. We were there for maybe 15 minutes. But the first thing you know, those boys could just point their colts at the gate and go right through there with all the confidence in the world.”

In AQHA’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship, learn how to create a better bond with your horse that will give you more confidence both on the ground and in the saddle.

Buster knew the exercise was way more important than just getting to the other side of the fence.

“We’re preparing the horse early on for what’s coming later. Every time you work with him, you’re trying to get him a little more prepared for after while, tomorrow, next week, next year. All of that comes through confidence and understanding on the part of both the horse and the human.”

And it’s not just rough-and-tumble ranch situations where that confidence in the rider comes in handy.

Whether it’s the finals at a big show, or just extra pressure caused from being in strange surroundings with strange horses, if you’ve been forcing your horse to perform, rather than building his confidence, Buster says, “when things really get tight and you’re really got to call on him, don’t be surprised when things fall apart.”

But like so many things in life, Buster says horsemanship is really pretty simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

“Fix it up, let him find it. Allow him time to learn. … You learn to take care of your horse and help him when he’s afraid. First thing you know, he’ll take care of you.”