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Dave Seay Clinic Report

(or How Jay Fell in Love with His Horse)

4/29/01

Jay Koch (jay@HorsemensVoice.com)

 


When I sit down to tell a story or give a clinic report, I usually know how I am going to open it. But this time, I can’t decide how to start this report on spending five of the last six days with Dave Seay.

 

First try:

 

Everything I have learned so far in my study of horsemanship was just a foundation for my real education that started this week. I have been trying to learn something about horses for about four and a half years (OK, so this does not seem like a long time to some of you, but I discovered horses late.), but it all seemed to come together this week.

 

Or how about this:

 

I have heard people say that everyone gets one horse that is perfect for them in a lifetime. Hoss is my one special horse. We developed a special bond this week that I have never felt with my other horses. And it doesn’t hurt that Hoss is a “babe magnet.”

 

Or maybe this:

 

 There are some lessons in horsemanship that I seem to keep learning over and over. I have always tried to be soft with my hands when handling a horse, but this week, I think I really got it. Why, then, do I have the feeling that I will probably be saying this same thing again some time in the future?

 

One last shot:

 

This week was the first time that I felt like my horse enjoyed what we were learning as much as I did. I truly believe that Hoss enjoyed this week. I think he was happy to finally realize that life is different from his rodeo days, and that I am keeping my promise to not ever hurt him. He also turned loose to me and has started looking to me as not only a leader but a partner.

 

 

OK, so I can’t settle on a catchy opening, but I think you can see that I am wound up about this last week. I think a good word might be “euphoria.” Yeah, that pretty much covers it. Not only did Hoss make a lot of progress this week, but I did, too. Some may say that Hoss did well because I did well. It could also be said that I made progress because Hoss is just the right horse at just the right time for me. One thing is for sure, though, we both made progress because Dave was there to guide us along. He helped bring us together.

 

For those who don’t know, Hoss is a big, gray and white Clydesdale cross that Nancy bought at auction in December. Because of the big numbers branded on his hip, we are fairly sure that he was a rodeo horse, possibly bucking stock. The guys at the livestock auction said that he was probably at the sale barn because he didn’t want to buck any more. When we got him he was very suspicious of people and would shy away from human contact. I couldn’t throw a rope over his back without him having to move away. He was very head-shy. And Hoss never put his head down when he was around us. In the last four months, he got calmer and would do some tasks, but he NEVER trusted us enough to drop his head and relax when we were close.

 

And, because he was likely a bucking bronc in his previous life, I was not going to throw a leg over him without major help. We have been looking forward to Dave’s colt starting and problem solving clinic for quite some time, and we knew that Dave would help us. The colt start was three days this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I, of course, brought Hoss. Nancy brought Patch, a four-year-old horse we rescued last year. Amber, our daughter, rode another of our rescue horses, Antonio.

 

Day One, Tuesday:

 

Dave limits his colt starts to five horses, which was a great way to get plenty of individual attention. In addition to our three horses, there was Junior, a five year old Morgan, and Hammer, big dark bay. Ava, Junior’s owner, said that junior had had some training two years prior, but has just been turned loose in the pasture since. Hammer, who was ridden by Melanie, has had quite a bit of training, but was in the clinic because he bucked at the canter.

 

We started in a round pen and turned the horses loose. Each of the five students stood in the middle of the pen with a flag (a plastic bag on the end of a stick) and asked the horses to move around the pen in the same direction. We would ask for a walk, then let them all stop. Then we asked for a walk, then a trot, and let them stop. And, then, we would ask for walk, trot, and canter, and let them come down. This helped our horses is several ways. First of all, they all got to know each other and work out their relationship in the herd. Second, they got to work on gait transitions, and that when the life came out of the person with the flag, they didn’t have to keep careening around, but could stop. That was a big lesson. It’s OK to stop. They didn’t have to run away. Third, horses are always trying to figure out who the leader is. They all started to recognize that the person with the flag was  the one in control. Finally, the students got used to asking for just enough to get the horses moving, but no more.

 

After we caught our horses, we did a little ground work. We asked them to circle around us, but not like we learned in our PNH ways. We would ask our horse to move out, but then walk out beyond the hind end of the horse. If we walked toward the horse’s middle or head, we would kill the energy. And then came the lesson of the week. Dave’s philosophy for dealing with horses seems to be summed up in one sentence:

 

If you can ask a horse to yield his hindquarters, everything else is easy.

 

If the horse was going to the left, we would walk toward the end of the horse, with the rope in the left hand, then reach across with the right hand, and make a V in the rope to ask the horse to step across with his left hind in front of the right hind, thereby yielding his hindquarters. If you want more explanation of how this is done, see the articles about Dave in the March, April, and May issues of Western Horseman. When the horses crosses his hind legs, he gives up his power, and has turned himself over to the person on the end of the rope. Of course, we worked on getting this ask as soft as possible.

 

Next, we saddled them up. We prepared our guys for saddling by throwing a rope over the back, then getting them used to being rubbed in the area the cinch would go. I was glad we had put in some time in the prior week getting Hoss used to a saddle, because saddling him wasn’t much of a problem. After Hoss was saddled, and we were waiting for Dave to do something else with one of the other horses, my first wonderful moment of the week happened. When Hoss standing next to me, he dropped his head and closed his eyes. It was the first time –ever- he had been that relaxed around me. It was the first, but not the last time, this last week that tears welled up in my eyes. It was the start of our partnership.

 

When all five were saddled, we turned them loose again. Just so that we knew that none of our boys would have a fit with their saddles, we sent them out around the pen, again going through the walk, trot, and canter transitions. We also sat on the fence and asked our horses to come up and under us in preparation for mounting them from the fence. Dave believes in mounting from a fence or using a mounting block, especially for starting colts. He feels that trying to stick a foot in a stirrup while standing on the ground is not only dangerous when dealing with an unstarted colt, but puts a lot of stress on the horse’s back.

 

The real excitement came in the afternoon. I had thought that I would get on Hoss’s back sometime in the week, but I didn’t know it would be the FIRST DAY!!! It was more than a little scary. Dave started with me first, probably because he figured I was the most anxious about it. But the way he set it up in small increments made it possible to do. Dave held Hoss’s lead rope, so that I didn’t have to deal with it, and so that Dave could control the horse when I was flailing around trying to get on. He asked me to drop the mounting block at Hoss’s feet. If Hoss moved away, Dave would ask for a hindquarter yield, and I would pick up the mounting block and place it beside Hoss again. We did this several times until Hoss stopped moving away. Then I stepped up on the block. Hoss moved away again. I stepped down, moved the block, and stepped back up. Again and again. No Stair Master workout needed for me that day. When Hoss stopped moving when I stepped up, Dave asked me to put a foot in the stirrup.

 

This is where I started making it hard for myself, and got in a little trouble. My biggest problem was that I didn’t have a clear picture of what Dave was expecting me to do. I thought that if Hoss moved away, I should step down. Dave wanted me to stay there, and throw my weight over the saddle and stay with him. So, I hit the dirt more than once as Hoss moved away. Each time Hoss moved away, Dave asked him to yield his hindquarters. My heart was pounding, and it was scary. I tweaked my knee at least once by landing on it wrong. When I finally got the picture that I could step in the stirrup and stay with Hoss as he moved, I think I stopped hitting the ground. The fear was still there, though. I tried a couple of times to swing my leg over, but had to step down.

 

Notice that I didn’t implicate Hoss in any of this mess. Yes, he moved away from me quickly several times, but it was his own self-preservation. Dave firmly, but kindly pointed out what I did wrong. “You kicked in him the side when you put your foot in the stirrup. Point your toe forward.” “Hang on the mane.” “Hang on to the back of the saddle, and not put your hand on his butt.” (Actually, it was Melanie that noticed that.) I was so nervous that I was doing a zillion things wrong all at once. If I had been better and more polite to Hoss, NONE of the excitement would have happened. Yeah, it’s easy to say it now, but it was scary at the time.

 

When I did finally swing a leg over and plopped my butt in the saddle, Hoss jumped a little, but did not go bucking off as I had feared. I knew with my head that he wasn’t going to. My heart, lodged firmly in my throat, told me differently. I was still tense, but triumphant. It was a cool feeling. Until Dave asked me to get off.

 

Hoss again moved away more quickly than I would have liked, and Dave started on the litany of things I did wrong. “Your leg hit his butt as you brought it over.” “You kicked him in the gut with your toe just before you got down.” In several more mounting attempts, I got a little better and Hoss got a lot calmer. Dave said, “This is good. He’s going to get better because you suck.” Thanks, Dave. But it’s true. Hoss was emphatically telling me everything I did wrong, and I was able to get away with on more “seasoned” horses. When I got better at mounting, Hoss said, “Yeah, that’s more like it. I’ll relax some, too.”

 

While I still had a pulse of about 200, and a couple gallons of adrenaline coursing through my veins, Dave left me alone, still mounted, while he helped others mount. Nancy was just as nervous about getting on Patch, because we are fairly certain he has had no one on his back before. She didn’t have as much trouble as I did. Maybe she learned from watching me make all my mistakes. Amber did well getting on Antonio, and Melanie had no trouble at all with Hammer, because she had been on him many times before. Poor, Ava, though, had to watch all of our tribulations and was the last mounted. Junior was not much problem, I don’t think. I really can’t remember clearly, but I do remember that Ava was scared, and that I was glad that I was able to go first and not have to wait.

 

Not satisfied with having some terrified riders on new mounts, Dave upped the ante. He told us to not use our reins at all and started moving us around the pen. Yup, just like earlier in the day, Walk. Trot. (gulp) Canter. We were not to steer, just hang on. It was an exciting ride to say the least. Ava had the most trouble because she hadn’t had as much time as I did to settle into the saddle. Dave said that it was important that we didn’t try to stop them with the reins so that the horses knew they weren’t trapped and they could move their feet, as well as allowing them to learn how to carry out weight.

 

Next came the first incident of the week that we can point to that says, “WEAR YOUR HELMETS!” Every one was done and dismounting. Nancy was getting off Patch, and she must have kicked him or something because he took off at a trot around the pen. She couldn’t get off, so she just balanced her weight on the saddle with both legs on the same side of the horse, and was just going to ride it out. She was fine until Patch ran into the middle of some other horses and stopped suddenly. Nancy pitched on over Patch, and landed on her head and shoulder. The helmet saved her head from injury, but the shoulder took the brunt of it. Two hours at the E.R. confirmed no major damage in the shoulder, but her sternum was cracked.

 

Even though the day ended in injury, we were all in good spirits and proud that we mounted our horses.

 

Day two, Wednesday:

 

This second day wasn’t as scary, and even more triumphant.

 

The E.R. doc told Nancy to do whatever is comfortable wit her injury. She wasn’t going to let any old cracked sternum ruin her fun. I think that the fact that she got up and got after it kept her from having too much pain. If she had stayed in bed, as the doc probably expected her to do, she would have been worse off. Nancy successfully made it through the second day of the clinic with little pain, and it wasn’t until evening that it started to really hurt.

 

My day was excellent. I had been talking to Dave the day before about how sometimes the hardest thing about “set it up and wait” was believing that what you were doing was a) the right thing to do, and b) was going to work. If have faith that what you are doing is going to work, time disappears, and your patience extends practically forever. On Wednesday, I had such an experience.

 

Dave asked us to mount up, this time by ourselves. If the horse moves away, hindquarter him, and ask again. (Yes, in Dave’s lexicon, “hindquarter” is a verb as well as a noun. I guess it’s easier than always saying, “ask him to yield his hindquarters.”) I got off to a bad start by dropping the mounting block on Hoss’s back foot. After that, he wasn’t going to stand still for anything. I would set the block down, and Hoss would move away, and I would hindquarter him. I would move it again, and he would move again. Another hindquarter. And again. We went around and around and around. Dave watched a while, and he took over for a while. He upped the energy and even bumped Hoss with the mounting block while pulling a little harder on the lead rope when hindquartering. I took over with the higher energy behind my asks, but still bringing down the energy when Hoss wanted to stop going in a tight little circle. I’d drop the block, and he’d move again. I felt like I was doing it right, because Dave moved on to help others. And since I had seen the process work the day before, and I have faith in Dave, I knew that if I kept it up, Hoss would finally decide to stand still.

 

It took an hour.

 

I was certainly tired, and I bet Hoss was tired of going in circles, but he finally got the idea that it would be better to stand still. I never got frustrated or impatient. I knew it would work. When I finally got on, I was exultant, but not ready yet to pump my fists in the air. I was, after all, on a horse that I had only ridden once just the day before. I rode Hoss around for a while, but was still afraid of a blow-up when I dismounted. When I took my foot out of the stirrup, grabbed the mane and rein, and swung my leg over to dismount – and I didn’t die – it was finally time to pump my fists in the air. I never knew that I would be so excited about just getting on and off a horse. Just as I was glad I didn’t die, Hoss was glad I didn’t kill him. We both emerged unscathed. It was a big step in our rapidly developing partnership.

 

The rest of Wednesday was just a blur. I did do some riding, but my big accomplishment was mounting and dismounting successfully, and each time Hoss and I got better. I tried not to poke and kick him so much, and he stayed still better. The coolest part about it was that I made the big breakthrough after working so long while we went in circles.

 

 

Day Three, Thursday:

 

Nancy’s pain from her injury had started to slow her down, and fear was taking hold. Not only was she worried about her own fall, we witnessed the second incident of the week that says, “WEAR YOUR HELMET!” Ava was getting on Junior, and he spooked and moved off. After she hit the ground, Junior moved too close to Hammer, who got annoyed and kicked at Junior. The problem was that Ava’s head was in the way. Fortunately, Hammer’s foot broke Ava’s helmet, and not her head. She went away with a headache and nothing more.

 

So, with the images of the accidents in her head, Nancy got more and more tense. She did the wise thing and got off Patch. Since she was tight, she was just going to make Patch tighter, and he would eventually cause her a problem. At first, Nancy was ashamed of quitting for the day, but after re-assurances from all around her, she realized it was the right thing to do. Dave really emphasizes not getting out of your comfort zone. He wants you to stretch it occasionally, but to try to stay within it. Nancy, who no matter how much she tried to deny it, was really injured, and that added to the anxiety. The real courage was in deciding to quit, and she made the right decision.

 

In the mean time, Amber was having the best time she has ever had on a horse. She had taken a couple of clinics, and had not really had good experiences in any of them. But Dave made her feel safe, and helped her be successful. He made her stretch her comfort zone, and it grew. Dave had said that Antonio was the most dangerous horse out there, because he had a real hard time yielding his hindquarters. Antonio was the most likely to run off with the rider, which is true. After some good work by Dave and Amber, Antonio softened up some and got better. But in the meantime, Amber was afraid of riding the “most dangerous” horse in the class. She never had any problems, though, and finished the day very happy.

 

I was again, having a breakthrough day, but it wasn’t easy. I was still tense riding this big horse, and my self-preservation caused me to yank and pull on my horse. Two things calmed me down. First, I realized that Hoss would never go any further than Antonio. If he sped up faster than I wanted him to, I knew he would stop when he got back to the comfort of the presence of his herd leader. Second, I was really tense when a dust storm blew through. I just knew that we were going to have a blow-up. But when the wind died, Hoss and I were both still alive. And I relaxed a lot more.

 

Dave had to raise his voice more than once to me before a couple of things got through. First, I kept asking for the hindquarters with my rein first, and not my leg. I couldn’t seem to ask with my leg first. Second, during the windstorm, I was getting Hoss riled up because I was afraid and was pulling on him too hard. When I relaxed and let him go, he relaxed too. For the rest of the day, and the upcoming weekend, I worked really hard on not pulling too hard, and asking very softly. I found out that not only would Hoss still respond with the light ask, but he was much, much, much happier with the arrangement. I think I finally get this softness thing. Ask lightly and quietly, and the horse WILL respond. I have said this in past, and each time I have gotten softer, but this time I really mean it… until I figure out next time how to get even softer. I asked Dave at the end of the day why I have to keep learning the same lessons over and over. Actually, I don’t think I forget the old lessons. I just get better at what I do know. What is so cool about this horsemanship journey is that the lessons never end.

 

Day Four, Saturday:

 

After a day off, Nancy and I returned to Santa Fe with Hoss and Rambler, Nancy’s long time mount, for a Progressing Horsemanship clinic. This clinic is reserved for people who have ridden with Dave before, and there were seventeen riders, I think

 

I had become completely relaxed around and on Hoss, which allowed him to relax, too. I worked on really getting my requests for him as soft as possible, and he got a lot softer. One ground task was to ask for a lateral step after the horse disengaged his hindquarters. I would ask Hoss to move, then reach across with my opposite hand to ask for the hindquarters, but then quickly lift up the rope and move toward his front end. This would cause him to move his front end away at the same time as the hind end, thereby moving laterally. After Dave showed me the correct timing, I would ask and Hoss would squirt forward and away from my pressure. After several times of doing this, I realized my ask was too strong. Even though, I only lifted the rope up about a foot, it was still too much. I asked again, but just moved the rope four or five inches, and six feet away, Hoss quietly and beautifully stepped sideways. I was in the corner of the arena with no one around, so I don’t think that anyone heard me laugh out loud. I had just made a breakthrough, and Hoss showed me how. All I had to do was slow down and pay attention. Why is that so hard to do?

 

Hoss seemed to appreciate my efforts at trying to communicate without being too strong. I think if I had taken one of my other horses, I would have remained too strong. My expectations would have been that they should respond quickly and without argument. I bet that they would have, too, but the resentment would be there. Since my relationship with Hoss was new, I had to really pay attention. Because he was so frightened and tender, he forced me to take it easy. And he responded well. I bet no other person in his life ever listened to what he needed. He taught me to slow down and lighten up. I gave him an opportunity to be a calmer, more confident horse. Dave paid me a big compliment at the end of the day after he rode Hoss and said that of the several students’ horses he rode, Hoss was the softest. And, by Saturday, Hoss had learned to stand completely still while I mounted him.

 

I had thought that when I bonded with Hoss, I would lose interest in working with Cody, my main mount for the last couple of years. However, I now want to play with Cody and offer him my new, softer attitude and hands. I would like to get him to forgive me for my previous transgressions. Maybe I can work out some of the resentment and rigidity.

 

As I mentioned in one of my intro remarks, Hoss is a babe magnet. The girls ooh and ahh over him. I first noticed this as we returned from lunch during the first day. I was heading back to the class, and a very attractive young woman came all the way across the parking lot to ask if she could pet my horse. She said she had been watching him all morning. As we walked away, I chuckled and told Amber, “My horse is a babe magnet.” As the week progressed, the joke grew, but it really wasn’t a joke. Lots of people (and not just the babes) came up to me and told my how cool my horse is. As the Saturday clinic started, there were a lot of people who hadn’t seen the colt start. It was fun to tell them that we rescued him from slaughter and that was he was formerly a rodeo horse. Of course, I coolly would throw in the fact that I rode him the first time just four days before. Oooh! One time someone in the audience told me that Hoss had his tongue over his bit, which he did half the time. “Yeah, I know. He’s still learning how to deal with it. The first time he had a bit in his mouth was two days ago.” Ooooh!

 

There was a real cowboy in the clinic named Slim. Not only does he really own and work on a ranch, but he dresses the part including a black hat, black scarf, and handlebar mustache. Susan told Slim that I thought Hoss was a babe magnet. Slim drawled, “Well, I guess it pays to be optimistic.” But, later that day, I was asking Hoss to do something while I was riding, and he walked right over a mounting block, and got it tangled in his feet. It made a lot of noise, and may have sent a lot of horses skittering away, but Hoss just walked on past it. Slim dryly commented, “I guess he’s broke.”

 

Jack not only noticed that Hoss was probably rodeo stock (from the numbers branded in Hoss’s butt), but calculated that in twenty years when Hoss is 26 and I’m 63 we may both be ready to stop riding. Kelly said that Hoss has a “kind mind.” Sari said, “Jay finally found a horse that is big enough for him.” And many other people admired my horse. Did I love this attention? You bet.

 

Day Five, Sunday:

 

I was pretty worn out by the end of Sunday. I had spent a lot more time in the saddle than I have for a while, and my hips, knees, and legs were aching. I was sitting in the warm sun Sunday afternoon, and Hoss and I were both zoning out. He was sleeping with me on him, and I couldn’t pay attention to what Dave was saying any more. I just got off and watched the rest of the afternoon. Over the course of the week, I had made more progress than I had ever expected, and I didn’t want to mess anything up by trying to ride while I was not in a good condition.

 

I am pretty sure that Hoss enjoyed the week, too. He calmed down a lot and we formed a bond. I think he appreciated feeling safe with me, and he responded by doing everything I asked. Sunday morning we were standing next to our horses. Hoss and Rambler were both asleep with their heads down. Rambler leaned into Nancy, and Hoss leaned into me. I all of a sudden got the feeling that Hoss was thinking, “I am finally the horse I always wanted to be.” It really touched me that he felt safe and confident enough that he would completely relax and let me protect him. Dave said that when he had his riding center, the horses would bond so much during the clinics that the students had all sorts of trailer loading problems because horses didn’t want to go home. We suspect that was why we had a hard time loading Hoss at the end of the day. He had never given us any problems before, but he really resisted that evening.

 

I know that Hoss is not the best horse in the world. But he is the best horse for me. He is kind, gentle, and playful. He’s big enough that I don’t feel guilty about lugging my overweight frame onto him. I have already learned a lot from him, and I expect to learn more. He’s cool looking, and it always touches my heart to know how close he came to going to the killers. I hope I am the best owner for him.

 

(Notes on photos, Lynne Pomeranz took the black and white photo. Libby Pattisall provided me with the pictures of Dave working the Hoss. The ones with me wearing the plaid jacket were taken by Nancy in December right after we got Hoss. If anyone has any pictures of the clinic I can put on this page, I'd love to see them. - jay)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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