02 February 2011

Some Ideas About The Rope

Berlin is an almost 18 hand Oldenburg gelding that I purchased as a yearling. He came with a good many problems and he's taught me a lot. (A story for another time perhaps.) The thing is, he's not really what one would consider a cow horse. Instead, he's wonderfully bred for jumping and dressage. He would excel at either one and perhaps one day he will.

Right now, he's going through all the same training as any other horse that comes to the farm. Part of that training involves a rope. Why? Because I want him to be fearless. I want him thinking. I want him desensitized, but I don't want him dull. Ropes are fantastic tools to accomplish all these things.

You see, I went to a gala event in SE Florida a few years back. Lots of dressage - one of my all time favorite disciplines. Famous riders and horses were there. It was an Olympic qualifying year. The opportunity of a lifetime to see riders of the highest caliber competing for their chance on the team. All of it, everything about it, was a wonderful experience. The rides still stand out in my mind, but something else is there, too. Before the competition started, I was walking around the grounds. In between the barns and the warm up ring I observed a mounted competitor being led to the warmup by two grooms. Each groom had a leather shank with a chain over the horse's nose. The poor creature was beside himself with fear and required both of the grooms to keep him stabilized.

My first thought? What a shame. I had no choice but to make several assumptions:

  1. The horse was unmanageable outside the show ring.
  2. He was rarely, if ever ridden outside the dressage ring. More than likely, he was led to the ring each day and was mounted and dismounted there.
  3. He was spooky.
  4. His rider was afraid of getting hurt.
I know there could have been a thousand reasons for what I saw, but it still got me to thinking. I had a way to help horses overcome their fears of the unknown. That way was a rope.

I have a 60 foot XXX soft with a Brannaman honda. I like this length because it enables me to reach all parts of the round pen and still keep a hold of the end after I throw it. This allows me to stay relatively still while working a horse and after the throw I can easily coil the rope back to me.

Now I'll be the first to admit, I don't rope well. But that is not the point. It's not about catching something. It's about the horse's confidence. If I throw my rope out to a horse who's traveling around the pen, they soon learn that the repeated snakey thing doesn't hurt them. A coiled, swishing, flying through the air, landing on the back, neck and loins of a trotting horse guarantee of safety. After a while that rope has little or no meaning. It's just a rope. Nothing to be afraid of.

At that point, I bang all those coils along their back, neck, under their belly, in front of their chest, over their ears and down their legs. The sound and feel of the rope just doesn't bother them anymore. They've learned to trust me, regardless of how they feel about the rope.

Next, I stand beside them and throw it away - high up and out, causing it to land in a heap far away. Then I coil it back to me, right in front of their noses. They watch it approach, they snort, some feel the need to leave, but I just keep repeating the process until they no longer care. More trust.

Then I mount and bang those coils all over. That done, I let a few coils out and have the horse drag them. Now that snakey, swishing thing is following them. Oh no! Maybe they run away, maybe they just boogie eye it. Regardless, by the time I'm finished, the full 60 feet is dangling about back there while the horse is contentedly trotting along.

These are just a few things I do with my rope to build confidence in a horse. One thing is certain, Berlin has a lot of confidence, he is very manageable outside a ring, he's not at all spooky, which causes me to have no fears about getting hurt.


  1. Sounds so simple :)

  2. It is a favorite technique of mine also...

  3. While visiting a boarding facility yesterday, we stopped to observe the on-site dressage trainer in the arena working w/ a horse. The horse was loaded with all types of apparatus. A halter with chains over his nose and straps connecting his head to his chest, while the trainer flipped a long whip at him. He was moving/moping along with no interest in her with his head wrenched away from her. We inquired about her experience to which she replied she had been a "trainer" for about 15 yrs.