With decades of experience training top-notch reined cow horses, National Reined Cow Horse Hall of Fame inductee Bob Knudson, Stephenville, Texas, fundamentally believes that teaching a horse to stay balanced is key to any maneuver, be it on a cow or around a barrel.
Knudson looks for opportunities to offer the horse a reward in exchange for effort, earning respect in the process.
“If you spur a horse hard, that’s punishment. I don’t like to do that unless a horse just flat ignores me. It goes back to the preparatory command. I like to press, and I push harder if I need to, until I get some respect,” he explains.
If a horse ignores his cues, Knudson makes it a point not to pick at that horse, but uses the amount of pressure needed in order to generate a response.
“I don’t just poke at him and irritate him. I can push one from the ground with a spur in my hand; I’ve never had to get after one on the ground. I use a spur with no sharp edges. I’ll pull that colt’s nose to me a little bit and push about where the cinch is. If the colt gets away from it a little bit, I’ll release it as a reward. I’m looking for a young horse to find that the comfort zone so he starts looking for that comfort zone where the pressure comes off.”
Knudson emphasizes that horses develop an understanding of pressure and release gradually.
“I don’t ask for any of it all at once. A little step here, and a little more in a day or two until I can just press that spur lightly. Then I go ask for a little more, but keep it real easy for a while. When they give, I release that pressure instantly, and everything gets comfortable. I can pull that horse’s head towards me and the shoulder away, and the ribcage is out of the way so he can turn a lot easier.”
Be sure and check out our BHN’s “Cow Horse Cross Training” feature in the March issue to learn more about how some cow horse influences can be successfully adapted to the barrel pattern.