2 Factors That Improved My Horsemanship

Getting ready to saddle up and go check cows

For the past few months, every time I’ve crawled up on a horse, they’ve worked like a dream. (Other than that one time when my front teeth nearly got shoved up into my eyeballs, because my buddy-bound horse dropped his brain cells out his hind end.) Even the persnickety horses that other people have problems with. I swing my leg over, and it’s like I’m the cop sitting next to a wanna-be juvenile delinquent – suddenly everything is in ship-shape order.

Now, as much as I’d like to think I suddenly woke up a horse whisperer, I know that’s not true. But what is true is this: I finally learned to be patient and to relax. All the way on both those points.

A few years ago, I was bucked off in a bad way. I stayed on for a couple jumps, but he flung me through the air in a superman, rag doll sort of way. I lit on my bum bone, right on a pile of rocks. I was alone and lying there waiting to be able to move again was enough to make me take notice.

I didn’t get back on that day, and I think that was the right decision for the situation. It played havoc with my confidence, though, and it’s something I’ve been fighting ever since. Mentally, I was in a terrible place any time I set a foot in the stirrup on a horse I wasn’t confident on. Not only did I know it, so did my horse. You can’t ride a horse the way you should when you’re all tied up in your brain.

Finally, things have fallen back into place this summer. I am confident again in my riding abilities, to the point that I can handle the probability of being dumped. That’s an important place to get to, and the only way I’ve found to get there is to just keep riding. Keep riding, and don’t give up on getting there. It took me years.

My patience has gradually been growing as well. The truth is, training Doc to do everything from work cattle to stop chasing cars has been an invaluable learning experience in working with animals. Even though I’ve spent more hours than I can count handling cattle and riding horses over the past two decades, the patience factor didn’t fully click for me until after I started training my first border collie.

Also, learning to slow down has been instrumental. Not really physical speed, though there is an element of that too, but mental speed. Horses are like people. Some of them pick up things really quickly and have a good, confident attitude about it; others don’t.

If you’re interested in the technicalities of horsemanship, Jenn Zeller has been doing a great series at The South Dakota Cowgirl on her recent trip to Iowa to ride with Buck Brannaman. She’s been to three of his clinics now and has been kind enough to share her insights.


  1. Thanks for the mention. I’d suggest you try to make a clinic out your way next year, and if you haven’t seen the movie, Buck yet, you must watch it!

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