Horse Mavericks

Book Review: Ride the Journey by Chris Cox along with Cynthia McFarland

Ride the Journey by Chris Cox along with Cynthia McFarlandRide the Journey by Chris Cox along with Cynthia McFarland have put together a clear and concise guide to how to improve your horsemanship skills and achieve a more satisfying partnership between you and your horse.  Using the minimum amount of gear and gimmicks, Cox has created a program which starts with easy lessons and builds to more complicated skills.  He covers topics such as equipment, groundwork, trailer loading, riding posture, rein management and cues, how to create a natural headset and the list goes on.

Cox grew up on the backs of horses on a ranch in Australia.  In 1986, he flew to Florida to build a career with horses.  The 2007 and 2008 The Road to the Horse Champion is a highly sought after horse clinician and star of Chris Cox Horsemanship on RTF TV.  He helps millions of people improve their expertise and relationship with their horses.

Ride the Journey is an asset to horse owners across the country.  Not only does he describe techniques and methods, but he also talks about the horse’s mind and how to connect and communicate with them using rhythm, timing and personal presence which he describes as energy levels.  It takes more than technique to train a horse.  It requires a feel from the rider which is developed through practice over time.  Through Ride the Journey, Chris Cox not only provides you with more knowledge, but he also helps you understand a horse’s psychology better.

Maverick Saddle Fitting
June 30, 2009, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Horse Health | Tags: , ,

WJoel, Lanny West's grandson, riding Gamblerhile un-cinching Gambler, I stopped to wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand.  I removed the saddle and my brand new Best Ever Saddle Pad.  A dry streak ran down the horse’s spine.  “Hey Lanny,” I said.  He was sitting on the edge of the cement slab of his barn looking at a colt in his round pen.  “Does this mean the saddle doesn’t fit?”

Lanny threw a piece of hay into the dirt and shook his head.  “You’re gonna hear a lot about dry spots,” he said.  “Everybody talks about dry spots. Let me ask you something.  When you sweat does your shirt get wet all at once?”

My t-shirt clung between my shoulder blades.  I reached back and pulled on the seam to un-stick it.  “No.”

“You get wet here and there depending on where the air is running under your shirt.  Same thing happens with a horse.  It depends on where the air is running under the saddle.”

“So what do you look for?” I said.

Lanny drew his feet under him and stood.  “Let me show you.”  He took his finger and circled it on Gambler’s back.  “I look for this,” he said pointing at the mussed fur.  “His hairs should be laying in their natural direction.  Unless you work your horse really hard and he’s wet all over, dry spots aren’t necessarily a good indication of how well the saddle fits.”

As I led Gambler out of the barn to his pasture, I thought about how, after hanging out with Lanny West, some other more experienced horse owners might feel the need to “help me out.”  They might notice I don’t use a currycomb because it irritates Gambler.  I only use a soft bristled brush unless there is a bad dirt clog on his back or under his girth.  They might notice I don’t pick the hooves before each ride because it removes the horse’s natural hoof support.  If there is a rock bothering him, I’ll pick it out.  And now, I’m gonna allow dry spots under my saddle.   

When I mentioned this to Lanny over lunch he said, “Yeah well, who are you gonna listen to?”

I knew what answer he was fishing for.  “The horse.”

“That’s exactly right.”

When I thought back to when I saddled Gambler, he stood quietly licking his lips and nonchalantly swatting flies with his tail.  He didn’t seemed to be bothered by anything while I rode him.  Judging by the way he acted, I have to assume Lanny is right.  The saddle fits just fine.

Green Horse on Red Trails
June 23, 2009, 6:32 pm
Filed under: Horse Training | Tags: , , ,

The sky expanded overhead in an endless display of blue.  Hills covered in dry grass rolled into the distance and eventually rose into snow-capped mountains.  I sat on Gambler in the shade of a live oak watching Lanny West.  He rode Tucker, a seasoned sorrel horse, while he lunged a buckskin colt around them.   Lanny wanted to put a lot of pressure on the green horse to make make sure he was safe before letting Dee, the colt’s owner, get on his back and ride down the trail.  “When I take my colts for their first few rides, I like to keep them moving,” Lanny West said.

Lanny West and Tucker lunging the coltThe sound of horse hooves fell hard on the earth in rhythmic thuds.  Dry grass rustled.  Small rocks and dirt clogs crunched.  Tucker’s ears drew back, his eyes widened and he tossed his head making the mane stick straight up.  “See right there?”  Lanny said.  “I am putting too much energy into Tucker.  I’m gonna send my energy to the colt.”

I looked down at Dee who stood in the shade next to Gambler and me.  “How do you send energy to the horse you’re driving and not the horse you’re riding?”  

Dee just shrugged.  

Lanny West directing his energy at the coltI don’t know how he did it, but I know what I saw.  I could feel the assertiveness of his presence decrease. Tucker’s ears came forward, the muscles in his jaw and neck relaxed, and his eyes calmed.  Tucker seemed to understand that the ordeal wasn’t about him.  He walked and turned while Lanny asked the colt to move his feet and trot.  

“OK, Dee.  Get on.”

Dee approached her horse and stepped into the stirrup.  As soon as her seat touched the saddle, Lanny led them down the red dirt road at a trot. The sound of pounding hooves grew quiet as they disappeared.  The air stilled.  Silence engulfed us.  There wasn’t even the sound of a fly buzzing or the rustle of leaves in the breeze.  Gambler licked his lips.  I blinked a few times and thought, Shoot!  I better catch up.

Loosen That Cinch!
June 17, 2009, 5:18 am
Filed under: Horse Training | Tags: , , ,

Dee riding the colt and Lanny on Tucker.  The buckskin colt trotted counter clockwise around the round pen.  His ears stiffened, his back arched.  The colt was getting ready to crow-hop.  Lanny West stood tall, shoulders wide and relaxed, his gaze focused on the colt’s girth.  He was driving him forward to keep his feet moving.  “Don’t do it,” he said.  He slid his right hand up the lead rope and tilted the nose to the right.  Dirt exploded beneath the horse’s hooves when he changed directions.  

Tucker, a sorrel gelding, stood quietly by the fence inside the round-pen licking his lips.  Dee, a tall lean woman with brown hair rested her forearms on a crossbar and watched her colt respond to Lanny.  I stood on the outside videoing the entire thing.  This was going to be the colt’s first ride and Dee wanted the event documented.  

Lanny lunged the colt back and forth.  He pulled on the halter to make sure the colt would give in to the pressure and turn his head.  He turned the colt the other way.  

After a while, the colt’s head dropped and the muscles in his neck, shoulders and rump relaxed.  The colt’s inside ear faced Lanny and he trotted calmly around the pen.  Lanny crouched and stepped toward the horse’s rump.  He shifted his hind end around, faced Lanny and stopped.  They both stood quietly for a few breaths.  Then he picked up a slicker which was hanging on the fence.  He rustled it around the horse’s feet and over his body. He placed the coat on the horse’s back and let it sit for a few moments before he pulled it down to the ground. 

As soon as the buckskin’s head dropped, Lanny stopped.  “A lot of people think sacking out a horse deadens him,” he said.  “I’ve never had a problem with it.  The main thing is you don’t irritate them.  As soon as they start working, stop.  Over-doing it deadens them.”

“Tucker,” Lanny said.  The horse stood there.  “Hey Tucker,” Lanny said louder.  The gelding blinked a few times, turned his head and approached Lanny.

Lanny held onto the colt’s lead rope and got onto Tucker.  He lead the colt around and went through the same exercises as he did on the ground.  He kept colt’s feet moving, he put pressure on the head with the halter to make sure he gave in and he sacked him out.  He whacked colt’s the saddle, leaned the weight of his body onto the seat of the saddle and then hit it some more.  

“Ok, Dee,” he said.  She entered the round pen and went to her colt.  She slapped the seat of the saddle. Lanny studied the horse’s reaction.  The colt didn’t seem bothered.   “Get on,” Lanny said.  She put the toe of her boot into the stirrup and swung her leg over.  As soon as she settled, Lanny led the horse around the pen.  He held his head high, his ears worked back and forth, but they didn’t stiffen.  He wasn’t threatening to crow-hop.    

“Some people like to sneak their first ride.  I don’t sneak around my horses,” he said.

Dee smacked the saddle, petted his neck and kept up one sort of ruckus or another.  Lanny lead the horse, put pressure on the halter and released as soon as the horse gave.  He changed directions often, anything to hold onto the horse’s mind whenever his attention seemed to drift.  

As soon as the colt settled into the new experience, Lanny stopped.  “That’s enough for the day.”  Dee got down and loosened the cinch.  Lanny got off Tucker and they stood quietly for a few moments letting the dust settle in the pen.  Then Dee led both horses out.  

“There’s a lot of different methods people use to start a colt.  I don’t care what kind of method you use.  The main thing is you have to make sure the horse understands what you are telling them, and when they start working, leave them alone.  Don’t over do it.”

I led my gentle, well-trained gelding into the round pen and it struck me.  The principles Lanny West used to start the two-year old colt were the same principles he taught me to get along with my horse.  Make sure Gambler understood what I was communicating.  Don’t irritate him.  When he started to work, stop.  Don’t over do it.”

I lunged Gambler back and forth.  Then I got on a rode.  Lanny sat in the shade of a tree playing with his grandson and talking to his wife.  Dee stood on a hill videoing me.  After a while Gambler I started to get along better.  

Lanny shouted.  “Get off.  Loosen that cinch.”

The Life of a Roping Mommy

Sage Riding the Dummy“You’re chopping it.  You don’t want to chop.  You want to deliver,” Lanny West said.  He was sitting on a stump in his barn.

Ok, so I’m chopping it, I thought.  But what did he mean?

A loop hung from my right hand and the coils in the left.  My arms dangled at my sides.  The roping dummy, a lifeless and, I might add, poor imitation of a real steer, seemed to be mocking me.  

“You’re not watching the video.  You have to watch the video,” he said.   

He was right.  Months ago I had filmed Lanny roping, so I could take it home to study.  Back then I had watched it several times, but I hadn’t seen it recently.  

“You’re not practicing,” he said.

Again, he was right, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Every afternoon I picked up my rope, put on my gloves and set the dummy in the driveway while the kids played.  Inevitably Daisy, my four-year-old, would trip and skin her knee.  Sage, my 22-month-old, would ask for help to put on her bike helmet.  When that was done, Daisy would start climbing a slippery, rattlesnake-infested, dirt bank and fall.  After I got her smiling again, Sage would need a diaper-change.  Then they would both be hungry, and, sure enough, I would look at the clock and it would be dinnertime.  Then we would all take a grand exodus inside to find food.  

All told, I would have thrown maybe ten loops and that’s it.  So yeah, Lanny’s right.  I haven’t been practicing much.  The bottom line:  I choose to put my kids first.  

Still if I could just figure out what he meant by “chopping it” at the very least, I might take an incremental step toward improvement.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said.  “I’ll watch your video everyday for a week.”  I knew if I told him I would do it, I could pull it off.  

The first night I came home, I watched it.  I didn’t pick up on anything new.  The second night, I didn’t watch it.  The third night, I watched it twice to make up for the previous night.  I took the time to slow it down studying the way his hand rotated for the delivery and how his arm crossed in front of his body for the follow through.  

And then it dawned on me.  I was “chopping it.”  My hand was coming down like a sledgehammer.  Lanny’s hand floated parallel over the horns.  

The next day, I went through the usual routine.  I pulled on my gloves, placed the dummy in the middle of the driveway and threw the rope.  The kids were in a good mood and entertained themselves while I tossed loop after loop without interruption.  Out of 45 tries, I missed five times.  An 88% average.  Not too bad.  Not professional standards by any means, but not too bad.

I coiled the rope, gathered the girls in my arms and jumped on the trampoline which sat on our front lawn.  We steam-rolled each other, bounced high and performed gravity-defying tricks.  After all our giggles and laughs were spent, Daisy decided she wanted to go back to riding her bike and Sage wanted to get down to pick dandelions.  I went back to roping.  

On Monday, I’ll take the two-hour trek to Lanny’s house to listen to his advice and try again.  There is something valuable in pursuing an activity which requires a little discipline.  I hope my girls will learn through watching me that effort for the sake of effort is valuable.

Moment in the Desert

photo by ChuckthePhotographerIt has been two weeks since I have seen Lanny West.  I have been waking up every morning trying to think of something to write about, but my mind is as dry as the Mojave Desert.

Lanny has a way of putting things so that they stick in my head.  I can almost hear him saying, “There are no excuses.  There’s no such thing as hot or cold or tired. If you’re gonna make it, you have to do it.”

Nonetheless, the excuses pile, one on top of the other.  Now it is Tuesday morning.  I’m just now writing something down, but the vast desert in my head seems to be extending its borders and there is no water in sight.

What does making it mean, anyway?  For me, it is writing Lanny’s biography.  It starts with research, then a rough draft of a manuscript.  To make it means gathering over a 1000 readers for this blog and publishing the book.  

Whenever I think about what I want to accomplish, a hunger rises and nags me.  It’s old and obnoxious.  I want this project to get done.  When I feel like this, one of Lanny’s stories haunts me.  

He had practiced and worked for years in order to win the Oakdale roping in 1987.  When he finally won it, he thought he would be happy.  He thought his drive would be quenched and his hunger satisfed.  Instead, when he got home and the adrenaline of the event ran dry, he lay in his bed and felt sick to his stomach.  The purpose of his life had been stripped and now what was he supposed to do with his time.

Lanny is telling the truth when he says there is no such thing as excuses if I want to make it.  Excuses are like pissing in the dry desert wind.  I am just gonna get all wet.

But when I make it and the book is published, if my experience with success will be anything like Lanny’s, there will be nothing but this same desert of emptiness to negotiate–the same desert I am in right now.

It begs the question:  Is all this striving and trying worth it?  After all, once I reach the goal, get paid and the glow of prestige fades, then what?  More of the same?  So why continue?  Why keep trying?

A vision of Lanny pops into my mind:  He is in his barn with a loop dangling from his right hand the coils in his left.  He has a faraway look in his eyes, but he is staring at the horns of a roping dummy a few feet away from him.  Energy gathers in his muscles, he takes a deep breath and the loop slices through the air with each rotation.  He delivers it.  It catches the right horn, swings under the left and I can hear the sound of a snap and the friction of rope sliding through the hondo as he pulls it taut.  A smile brightens his face.  

“When you rope,” he says, “you have to learn to stay in the moment.”  In other words, be focused.  Don’t think about anything else, concentrate.  “There is no better feeling in the world than staying in the moment.”

“What you’re good at,” I say, “isn’t just how to rope.  What you are good at is getting in the moment.  That’s what makes the difference between a good roper and an exceptional roper.”

“That’s exactly right,” he says.

In the end, the state-of-mind, which helps us reach our goals and be great at whatever it is we do, is the same state-of-mind which helps us be content.  We must learn to concentrate and enjoy what the moment has to offer.  

Suddenly the desert, which is dominating my imagination, comes alive.  I can see the contorted cacti; the roadrunners and the lizards scurrying across the sand.  Then I think about how beautiful the landscape is after a wet thunderstorm.  Flowers peek through the sand.  Cacti bloom in bright reds and yellows.  Joshua Trees display a bouquet of white.

Lanny West is right once again.  There is no better feeling in the world than staying the moment.  The reason I keep writing is because it just feels good.

Photo by ChuckthePhotographer

Cast Your Vote
May 26, 2009, 5:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , has been up and running since October.  You have had the chance to get to know me.  Now, I want a chance to get to know you. Cast your vote. Let me know which topics you like.  I will use the information to bring you stories you want to read.

Winning and Loosing


photo by kretyen

photo by kretyen

It was Mother’s day and the Mother Lode Round-up in Sonora, California was halfway finished.  At 8:30am the bleachers were empty except for Lanny West and his entourage.  Friends occupied a bench that extended to his left and right.  He held his one-year-old grandson in his lap and his wife watched the other two grandchildren play on the grass that bordered the arena.  A corgi lounged at her feet, panting. 

We were there to watch his daughter, Tammy West White, and her husband, Ryan, compete as team ropers in the slack, an event for participants who were not randomly selected to be in the public rodeo show, but who were competitors anyway. 

“This is the first time Tammy has roped in four years,” Lanny said to me.  Just then a steer broke loose from the chute in the arena and two horses and their riders chased after it.  The header delivered his loop and missed.  The scoreboard read NT, no time.

While the next team backed into the boxes I continued the discussion. “How come?” I said. 

Lanny adjusted his grandson on his lap.  “First she had Trey, then she got pregnant again and then it was one thing after another.” 

I understood the one-thing-after-another phenomenon.  I had two children of my own.  Having kids slows a woman down for a few years.  “What got her back into it?” I said.

“Ryan asked her if she was ready to rope again now that the kids were older.  She’s a good partner,” said Lanny.  

There was another pause in the conversation as the second steer charged out.  This time the header managed to catch the horns, but the heeler missed.  NT flashed on the scoreboard. 

While Tammy and Ryan backed their horses into the boxes, I said,  “Why is everybody missing the steers?” 

“There are good ropers here, but the steers are running hard,” Lanny said.

The gate of the chute clanked opened and another steer charged.  Tammy swung the lariat over her head and caught the horns.  Ryan delivered his rope, the steer stepped into the loop and Ryan dallied. They were in the lead for the time being.

This would have been the moment most fathers would have bragged about how much money and how many saddles his daughter had won through the years.  This would have been the moment when most fathers would have mentioned how his daughter was the first girl to win several prestigious ropings, but not Lanny. 

Instead he said, “I’ve seen her miss a steer for $45,000 and afterwards you would have never known it.  She’s amazing.”   

As he watched his daughter walk her horse out of the arena, Lanny’s face radiated in pride.  He admired her for her ability to remain even-tempered regardless of what might happen in the competition.  All that stuff, the winning and the loosing . . . well . . . it just came and went.  Tammy would remain who she was, Lanny’s little girl, Ryan’s wife, and the mother of two little boys and that’s that.

Photo by kretyen

May 12, 2009, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,


Ron Butler of Butlers Saddle Shop

“We’re gonna get you a bit, today,” Lanny West said when I stepped onto his porch.  An old saddle sat at his feet, the stirrups splayed on either side.  “I can’t sell it to you and I can’t give it to you, but you can use it for as long as you like.”

He pointed to an insignia stamped into the leather just below the saddle horn.  “What does that say?”

“Garcia.  Salinas, California,” I said.

“They didn’t make many of these.  People consider this to be a collector’s item.  Just needs a cinch and a few straps, that’s all.”

I didn’t know what to say.  The entire scene felt surreal.  It seemed that if I breathed wrong, the saddle would disappear, Lanny would evaporate, and the horse–the one grazing the pasture adjacent to the porch–wasn’t really mine, but the neighbor’s.

I checked myself, reviewing everything that had happened up until the moment I stood looking down at that saddle.  I needed to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.  My parents paid a buck for the horse and then gave it to me.  Lanny corrected Gambler’s bad habits for very little money and now there was this saddle sitting there at my feet.  Nobody gets into horses for this cheap.  And if they did, they wouldn’t have a trainer like Lanny or a horse as gentle as Gambler with a saddle thrown in.  Nevertheless, this was reality and I was living it.

“You might have to spend $200 for a bit,” Lanny said apologetically.

I shook my head in disbelief.  “It’s not a big deal,” I said.

We got into his truck and drove to Hurst Ranch in Jamestown, California.  A shack stood perpendicular to the main building with a sign over the door that read, Butler’s Saddle Shop.  Inside it smelled like brand new leather.  Harnesses, bits, ropes and spurs hung on the walls.  A workbench was covered with pieces of unblemished cowhide.

I wanted to take advantage of my good fortune and learn everything I could, but my ignorance blindsided me.  I gave up and relaxed.  I leaned against a table and watched Lanny spend my money.  It would be impossible for me to leave that shop as clueless as I was when I walked in even if I felt overwhelmed.  All I had to do was watch and listen.  

Ron Butler stood over a saddletree sewing leather onto the horn.  All around him workbenches were covered in tools and scraps. 

Lanny introduced himself.  They seemed pleased to shake hands.  “I’ve been in here a lot, but I’ve never actually met you,” Lanny said.  Later he told me they had mutual friends and had heard about each other. 

Lanny studied the bits on the wall.  He picked out a shank bit with silver etching on the sides.  “That’s a pretty one.”  He turned it over in his hand and fingered the joints.  Lanny asked questions and Ron answered.  Before long they were reminiscing about the days when they liked riding colts no matter how sensitive they might have been.  

Then the conversation drifted to the color of horses and Lanny talked about how he didn’t know the proper names because he was raised by an old horse trader.  He never got a formal equine education, but he described himself as street smart–learning his lessons from the horses themselves.  

Ron said, “I had an old friend who called me from the hospital and asked me what the prettiest color on a horse was.  I told him I didn’t know.  He said, ‘Gentle, you sun-of-a-gun.’”

The two men chuckled deep in their throats.  It wasn’t a jolly laugh, but a knowing laugh rooted deep in a lifetime of hard-knocked experience. 

Lanny pointed at the joint of the bit and said, “That might pinch.”  He hung it back on its hook and picked out a plain iron bit.  Satisfied, he perused the harnesses and reins. 

I took the opportunity to ask a few quesitons about the saddle Ron had been sewing when we first entered the shop.  The saddle tree was formed from douglas fir lumber that had been aged for 5 or 6 years.  The tree-makers covered it with rawhide and now it sat on a stand for Ron to attach the leather.  He said he would add extra padding here or there depending on a customer’s preference.    

I ran my finger over the stitching on top of the saddle horn.  The cowhide was only halfway sewn on and a long thread of rawhide dangled to the side.  As soon as Lanny and I left, Ron would finish sewing the leather to the horn by hand. 

Lanny placed a pile of tack next to one of those big calculators with a roll of printing tape and a credit card reader–the most advance technology in the shop.  A way of life was slipping away with this generation of men.  Once again I felt as if I were in a dream standing in the company of  the kind of people who had inspired Western literature. 

My ignorance was enormous, but my resolve deepened to write Lanny’s story and to get it right.  I owed it to him in gratitude for his tremendous kindness and also to the next generation of horses and their owners.  I want to peel away the glamour Hollywood has attributed to these folks, and re-create them as who they really are–hard working and pragmatic people with deep equestrian insights and well-lived lives.

After we left Ron’s place, Lanny and I stopped by a drive-thru coffee shop and ordered two iced chai teas.  I chuckled and said, “I don’t know how I am going to write you up.  You don’t live up to the image of a cowboy.” 

Could I capture this character who straddles a place in time between the real life horsemen, cowmen and ranchers of the pass–legends in modern day minds–and the eccentricities of the present?  While I sipped my tea through a straw, I decided not to think about it too much.  I’ll just enjoy my horse, the saddle and Lanny’s company, and do my best to record his legacy and the way-of-life he represents.

Sorry Gambler
May 5, 2009, 7:06 pm
Filed under: Roping | Tags: , , ,


“You’re gonna rope off your horse today, “ Lanny West told me over lunch at a Mexican restaurant.

“I’m sorry what did you just say?”  I was incredulous.  I’ve been on the ground roping the horns of a dummy for months, practicing less than I liked, but practicing none-the-less.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Yep.  You aren’t ready, yet, but it will get you excited.”

He had no idea.  I couldn’t chew my tostada fast enough.  I was having a hard time focusing on what he was telling me while we ate.  Something about how he had a hard time teaching new people how to ride because it irritated the horse.  He liked horses to be relaxed around him.

I nodded and chewed.  My smile was so wide, I felt as if I could smile beyond the borders of my cheeks.  I caught bits and pieces of the conversation, but my mind wondered trying to imagine what it would feel like to sit on my horse and rope.

Lunch ended and we drove to Lanny’s place.  When he got out of his truck, he said, “Go get your horse.”  Then he disappeared.

I got the halter and found Gambler waiting at the gate of his pasture.  I tried to hide my excitement.  I could feel it in my chest pushing up at the base of my throat and tingling its way down my arms and through my fingers in hyper-energy.  I breathed deeply to get a hold of myself.  The horse would sense my exhilaration, but I wanted Gambler to be calm for my sake and for Lanny’s.

I struggled to get Gambler to pay attention to me while I groomed him.  When I swung the saddle up, I failed to get the straps over Gambler’s back and the seat came down on a pile of stirrups, buckles and cinches.  I went to the other side and carefully dug them out trying not to vex him more than I already was. 

Despite my efforts, I jumbled the entire thing up and that poor horse was so irritated, I couldn’t believe it.  His head was high, his eyes were wide and his muscles were tense.  At least he wasn’t swishing his tail, but I think that had more to do with Gambler’s good nature than any gestures of kindness I attempted to extend.

Just then Lanny reappeared.  He gave the horse’s getup a once over, and I could only imagine what sloppiness his well educated eyes might have seen–the saddle pad might have been a touch crooked and maybe too far forward; the air pocket over the withers may have been too small; the mane might have been matted under the blanket.  Who knows what other atrocities I had committed, but all he said was that I had cinched the horse too tight. 

Sorry Gambler, I thought. 

“Go longe your horse,” Lanny said.  Once again he disappeared and I found myself in the round pen with Gambler’s lead rope in my hand.  He blinked a couple of times.  I pointed his nose to the left and gazed at his shoulder.  He took a couple of laborious steps.  I opened my arms and tried to feel energetic.  The horse huffed and ambled around the pen. 

Lanny passed by pushing a wheelbarrow.  “Get into the horse.  Forget about everything else.”

Okay, sure, I thought.  Forget about roping.  Focus on that shoulder.  Focus. Focus. Focus

I think Gambler tried to do what I asked, but I couldn’t be sure.  I’m not a horse whisperer.  But I spent some time moving him around in the pen.  Lanny would pass by unexpectedly and shout out advice.  “You’re getting more exercise than the horse,” or “Now see if you can get him to walk.”  And after a while he stopped, leaned against the fence of the round-pen and said, “Cinch up the saddle.  You’re gonna take a ride by yourself.”

“Really,” I said.  I couldn’t believe it.  Lanny never let me ride by myself before.  I thought it was going to take another three or four months of tagging along with him before he would even consider it.

I led Gambler to the start of the trail behind Lanny’s house and got on.  I rode under tree branches, between poison oak bushes, down steep hills, splashed across a stream and ambled through knee-tall grass.  The sky was endless and the temperature was just right for t-shirts and jeans.

When I got back, Lanny followed through on his promise.  He had two bales of hay piled, one on top of the other.   Stuck into one end was a mock steer head with horns attached.  He showed me how to hold the reins and coils of the rope in my left hand and the loop in my right.

Lanny stood next to Gambler and watched him.  “Now rope,” he said. 

The entire set up felt precarious and awkward.  But it didn’t matter to me.  I started to swing the lariat over my head and slapped my poor horse right in the face.  If he were human, he would have rolled his eyes.  Instead, just blinked a couple of times and looked the other way.  I could almost feel Lanny cringing inside because I was irritating the horse.

A few days later when I remembered how much I had enjoyed myself, I was struck by Lanny and Gambler’s incredible kindness.  The horse didn’t want to be there, but he didn’t budge once.  Lanny hated seeing Gambler irritated, but he encouraged my efforts anyway.  My eyes moistened from a wave of gratitude and I felt silly, overly sentimental and sappy.  I had a nice day at the expense of others.  It almost made me want to quit so I wouldn’t be a nuisance.  But I probably won’t.

Pretty Boy
April 28, 2009, 7:02 pm
Filed under: Doctoring, Horse Training | Tags: , , ,

img_14591“He’s a pretty boy,” Key said tying the one-year-old colt to the hitching post.  He was a bay with a mane as fuzzy as yarn and a coat so soft and silky, I could barely feel it when I slid my hand across his shoulder.  “His mother isn’t the only one who will love him,” Key said stroking his neck.  Her blue eyes twinkled with affection. 

I couldn’t argue with that.  In addition to good looks, he seemed to be a good kid chocked full of mischief.  And like most healthy youngsters, he had a skinned knee.  But, since he was a horse, the laceration was just above his right rear hoof, and Key needed to apply medicine.

Lanny West was under a gelding trimming the back hoof.  He stopped what he was doing and watched Key slide the back of her hand down the colt’s leg.  A tube of ointment dangled in her fingers.  When she got to the cut, she squeezed the medicine.  The colt lifted his hoof to avoid the sting.  Key tried again and the horse lifted the foot once more.  After a few more attempts, Lanny said.  “It’s turning into a game.  Let me teach you something.”  Lanny removed the gelding’s hoof from the shoeing stand and placed it on the ground.

He went over to the colt and picked up the right front leg, which was on the same side as the injured foot.  He bent it close to the colt’s body.  He wiggled it back and forth so the colt would be off balance and the little bay couldn’t lift his back hoof.  “Sometimes you have to get in and get out.”

While Lanny held the front leg, Key sat on her haunches and applied the ointment above the rear hoof.  When she was finished, Lanny told her to run her hand down the leg and around the cut so that the colt could learn she wasn’t going to doctor him every time.  Then he set the hoof down and asked Key to pet the leg and rub around the wound once more.  The colt didn’t move.  

Both Key and Lanny stood quietly next the horse for a few moments.  The bay relaxed, lowered his head and chewed his lips.  His tail dangled quietly and a breeze shifted the horsehairs.  Lanny went back to shoeing the gelding, and Key put the ointment away in her truck.

I felt as if I had just witnessed something incredible.  To a casual bystander, there would have been nothing more to see than two people doctoring a colt.  But what I saw and felt was an intricate dance between a large, athletic creature and a couple of small two-legged individuals. 

Lanny and Key used pragmatic solutions while communicating a sense of reassurance even though the medicine stung.  Accomplishing that required knowledge, razor-sharp timing and empathy–an art form that takes years of practice and dedication to develop. 

It’s About the Horse
April 21, 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: Horse Training, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

img_1477_2Key and I sat down on the blue overturned barrel, while Lanny West led a paint horse through the gate of the round-pen.  He eased into the saddle, tapped his legs against the ribs and asked the horse to draw his head inward so that his face was perpendicular to the ground.  Lanny walked the gelding around perimeter, stopped, backed, turned him around and trotted the other direction.  Then he cross-reined the paint by tilting his nose to the left and moving clockwise.   After that, he asked him to spin. 

Key swept her long blond hair behind her shoulder.  She placed her hands on her knees and leaned forward on locked arms.  Her blue eyes were large and round. The muscles in her arms and legs twitched concurrently with the paint’s movements.  She may have been sitting on the barrel next to me, but I knew she was in the pen with her horse.  She gasped.  “There,” she said. A few moments later she gasped again.  “There.”

I watched the horse make sudden 180-degree turns and I couldn’t figure out what she was seeing.  “What is he trying to get the horse to do?”

“He wants him to park his ass and swing his front-end around.  Watch,” she said.

Lanny trotted the horse for a couple of laps, and then he did the turning routine again.  This time, the horse spun until his hind legs stood still while he crossed his front feet around in a true pivot.  It all happened so fast, if I had blinked, I would have missed it.  “There did you see it?” Key said.

“Yeah,” I said sitting forward on the barrel, and I wanted to see it again.  A moment later, Lanny got the horse to turn around once more, this time with its butt tucked, its hind legs planted in the footing and his body swooped around in an arc.  Key and I gasped at the same time.  “There,” we said in unison.  A thrill crawled up my spine and I got caught up in the moment.

But the moment didn’t last long, because once the horse whirled around, Lanny stopped, dismounted and loosened the cinch.  I felt let down.  I had finally figured out what all the excitement was about and I wanted watch them do it again. 

“When the horse starts workin’ good,” said Lanny, “get your ass off of him.  Leave him alone.  That’s the best reward you can give ‘em.  They’ll work to find that spot the next time.”

I looked at Key.  She wasn’t saying anything.

I knew better than to protest.  My own horse stood behind me with his eyes half closed.  As soon as Lanny led the paint out of the round pen, I would lead my gelding in.  I knew Gambler would be more responsive to my queues because Lanny was training him. His methods worked.  As much as I wanted Lanny to make the paint do it again so I could enjoy a display of equine athleticism, I kept my mouth shut.  This was about the horse, not about me.

Introducing the Hidden Horseman
April 14, 2009, 8:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

img_1477When Lanny West was a toddler, he used to fall asleep on horseback.  Not wanting to disturb his son’s sleep, Noel West tied him to the saddle.  The Hidden Horseman is a book about a man who spent a lifetime with horses.  The son of a horse trainer, Lanny West was reared on the common sense of his father and the subtle wisdom of horses. 

As a boy, he trained colts, geldings, mares and stallions.  He taught ponies and horses to do tricks and tamed wild mustangs.  As a young man, he took care of cattle, shod horses and became a professional team roper.  Later, he put on schools to teach people how to rope.  He raised two children, one of whom became an incredible competitor and horsewoman.

Today, he is hidden away in the foothills of the Sierras enjoying the sunset years of his life, training horses, shoeing here and there and taking care of cattle.  He offers the lessons he has learned for free.

The Hidden Horseman will be written not only for horse lovers, but also for those who enjoy a good read about the Western United States.  Lanny’s life has been touched by survivors of the Depression, the revolution of the sixties, the rise of team roping associations and the contraction of ranch lands. 

The book is a work-in-progress.  Please watch for updates on the homepage.  The purpose of the website is to find readers who would enjoy The Hidden Horseman and to offer stories which will be helpful to horse owners. 

The goal is to earn a following of over 1000 readers.  The blog is free, but the information is priceless.  Tell your friends about it, leave a comment and feel free to give me your ideas.  

The Liar
April 7, 2009, 5:27 am
Filed under: Horse Training | Tags: , , ,

 “Go get your horse,” Lanny West said handing me a halter. When I took it, he disappeared into the tack room. I sauntered from the barn to Gambler’s pasture.

The gelding poked his nose through the metal tubing of the gate searching for a carrot. I knew Lanny wouldn’t approve but I didn’t do anything about it. I wasn’t quite sure what to do and it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Other horses bit, but Gambler never did. Besides, Lanny was in the tack room. He couldn’t see what was happening anyway.

“Don’t let that horse nudge you like that.” His voice rang through he window of the barn.

Oops, I thought. I got caught.

I pushed Gambler’s nose in an attempt to make him be respectful. I felt for the latch, which secured the chain that was wrapped around the fence and gate. The horse responded by sniffing my hand. I shoved him away and continued to fumble trying to unclip the hook. In less than a second he spread snot across my forearm.

I glanced at the barn to see if Lanny was still there. I didn’t see him. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do what he had asked, I just didn’t know how to make the horse stop. My efforts were completely ineffective.

I managed to unhook and remove the chain, and it rattled it across the metal tubing. The horse stepped backward when I opened the gate. I closed it and passed the chain around the fence post and left in dangling on a crossbar. Gambler hovered over my shoulder the entire time. The gelding wasn’t showing me respect. I leaned my body into his chest to get him to back up. I glanced at the barn again. No Lanny. I was relieved.

I slung the rope over Gambler’s neck, slipped his head into the halter and tied it up. When I opened the gate, Gambler brushed his nose along my back.

I directed him through the opening, doing my best to do it just like Lanny had instructed. As I closed the gate, Gambler was inches away. “Back up,” I said shoving his chest. Gambler half-heartedly stepped away.

He hovered his nose over my right shoulder as we walked to the barn. I stopped, glared at him and said, “Hey.” He looked at me as if to say, “I’m not doing nothin’.” If he were human, he would have been shrugging.

I turned and continued walking. He managed to wait for an entire second before following, but within one or two strides, he was crowding me again. When I entered the barn, I could hear Lanny moving around in the tack room. He peaked his head through the door and said, “Go get that brush over there.” He pointed to a little shelf under the window.

Lanny didn’t talk about how Gambler had walked all over me. He just gave me instructions on how to groom. He didn’t say anything while he demonstrated how to get the horse to pay attention while I put on the saddle and bridle. He never said a word when we road through the public land, which bordered his property. I thought he had missed the entire incident, and I wasn’t going to say anything–partly because it hadn’t come up, partly because I was trying to learn the gazillion other things, and partly because I thought I could do a better job next time.

I was wrong. At the end of the day he sat on a bail of hay and said, “You can’t lie to a horse.”

I nodded. I had heard the phrase a hundred times, and I didn’t think I had lied to the Gambler.

“You know this morning when Gambler nudged you and you pushed back. And, when you led him to the barn, he walked all over you, and you just pushed back. You were lying to him.”

I snorted, amused. I should have known he had not missed a thing. I should have known that a man who trained horses his entire life would have a highly developed sense of awareness of every creature around him. It was what made him able to predict a horse’s behavior, sense a dangerous situation, and stay a step ahead. It was what made him able to act at just the right time in order to train and communicate to horses. I should have known he had been watching.

“You can’t pick at the horse. You ask and, if he doesn’t do it, you get after him. Otherwise you’re lyin’ to him.” He leaned forward, put an elbow on his knee and looked at me. “Never beat a horse, but you have to be as hard as necessary and as soft as you possibly can be.”

He wanted me to do what it took to get Gambler to believe I was in charge. For my horse, it meant getting energetic, loud and making him move around so he knew I expected him to do what I had asked. If I wanted him keep a respectable distance, he was going to do it–otherwise, my requests were lies.

Some horses are more sensitive than Gambler and require a lighter touch. Knowing how hard or how soft to be takes years of experience in interpreting horses’ behavior. Lanny’s experience spans a lifetime.  

What methods do you use to make sure your horse maintains a respectable distance? 

Photo Credit cjwoolridge

March 31, 2009, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Horse Training, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

502754487_70711dc9bd1Lanny West pointed to a little shelf under the window of the barn. “Go get that brush over there,” he said.

The horse shifted his weight on the concrete slab when I walked around him.

“Make sure you follow the direction of the hair,” he said.

I ran my hand along Gambler’s coat to feel how his fur swept back and down. Then I brushed. Gambler’s muscles twitched. Hair and dust billowed into the air at the end of each stroke.

“Don’t dig in the bristles,” Lanny said. “It irritates him.”

I lightened the pressure. I hoped that the less I bothered Gambler, the more Lanny would be willing to teach me that day. I became engrossed by every detail–the direction of the hairs, the way crusty fur smoothed after a few strokes, the way Gambler’s muscles held still when I didn’t press too hard.

Lanny’s voice interrupted my concentration. “Make sure he’s watching you. If you can’t see his eye, discipline him.”

I snorted. It was silly of me to become so focused on brushing the fur that I wasn’t aware of what the horse was doing. I shifted my attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I looked to see if I could find Gambler’s dark glassy lenses. The horse turned his head in the opposite direction.

“See right there,” Lanny said. “Discipline him.”

I took a step back and held the brush at my side. It was too late. Gambler would not have known what I was asking. “Hey” I said to get his attention. Gambler swung his head toward me. I went back to brushing. After a couple of strokes, he turned his head away. I gave him a resounding swat on his shoulder. “Good” Lanny said.

Maybe so, I thought. But I felt mean. I continued to brush. I could see Gambler’s eye, but his nose was slightly tilted in the opposite direction. I wasn’t quite sure if the behavior was acceptable.

Lanny seemed to read my mind. “As long as you can see the eye, he’s watching you,” he said.

I ran the brush down Gambler’s back. He glanced away. I swatted him with the palm of my hand. He swung his head around and looked directly at me with his right eye. He understood what I wanted from him. After a second or two, he pointed his head forward, but kept watching me.

When I resumed brushing he tilted his nose ever so slightly in the opposite direction, but I could still see his eye. He was testing me. I waited for the inevitable. When Gambler snuck a glance outside, I swatted him so hard, my palm stung. This time, I didn’t feel mean at all.

Gambler wasn’t a bit alarmed. He turned his head back just enough. “He’s messing with me,” I said.

“You gotta get after him. Move his butt around.” Confused I took my attention off the horse and gave Lanny a quizzical expression. Gambler turned his head away.

“Stand back,” Lanny said.

When I took a couple of steps away, Lanny’s voice suddenly filled the barn. “Now you listen to me,” he said to Gambler.

My shoulders jumped involuntarily. I slinked into the tack room safe from the startled horse and the authoritative energy coming from Lanny.

I peaked through the door just as Lanny tapped Gambler’s rump with the end of the rope. That horse moved his butt so fast it was as if he had just been shocked.

Then everything was quiet. The horse lowered his head. The muscles, which were quivering moments before, relaxed and he chewed his lips.

“See what just happened,” Lanny said pointing to Gambler’s mouth.

I nodded.

“He knows I’m boss. He doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.” In times past, Lanny had explained the importance of pecking order. When a horse knows his status in a herd, he can relax. Lanny clearly asserted himself as the leader, so Gambler didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

“You can’t pick at a horse. You’re just irritating him. You have to make sure he knows you’re boss.” In other words, my swats were not communicating to Gambler that I was the one in charge. “You’ve got to get a hold of the horse’s mind,” he said.

I thought Lanny just wanted me to learn how to groom a horse. I should have known better. He always emphasized the importance of keeping the horse’s attention no matter what I was doing. If I didn’t have a hold of the horse’s mind, I was unsafe.

photo credit:  David Blaine

Doctoring Steers
March 24, 2009, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Roping, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Lanny West slipped the bit into Gambler’s mouth and passed the leather strap over the Missouri Foxtrotter’s ears.  While Gambler chewed the bit, Lanny checked the saddlebag.  Six leather sleeves, three on each side, carried bottles of medicine, ointments and syringes.  A small pocket held gauze and Q-tips.  Everything looked fine.

Gambler lowered his head to graze.  Lanny reached over and yanked the reins.  The horse shot his head up. 

Lanny gathered the reins and a clump of mane in his left hand and placed the toe of his boot in the stirrup.  The horse stood still as he eased his body into the saddle. 

Lanny took a deep breath and the air chilled his lungs.  The leather of the reins felt cold and stiff between his fingers.  He reached in his pocket and got a pair of gloves.  The cotton stretched over his hands and a small hole appeared over the bottom knuckle of his thumb.img_1276_22

The sun beat down on his back, warming his jacket.  He pulled the brim of his hat down to shade his eyes.  He liked the feeling of clear cool mornings after a rainy day.  The air smelled of fresh grass.  The sky was bluer than usual. 

He surveyed the rolling green hills of the ranch.  Steers populated the knolls grazing over 900 acres.  His eyes passed over the fence line and he marveled at the crystalline colors refracting from droplets on the barbwire.  Diagonal rays of light made the dew on the grass twinkle. 

Lanny touched the horse’s ribs with his spurs.  He felt Gambler gather energy in his muscles before taking the first step, a feeling as familiar to him as coffee sliding down his throat.  The horse’s gate lulled him into a deep sense of contentment. 

He rode west down an easy grade.  A creek rushed in the bottom of the shallow valley.  Blades of grass bent beneath its flow.  Lanny loosened Gambler’s reins to let him drink.  The ole boy lowered his head, but instead of dipping his nose in the water, he reached for the grass on the edge of the creek.  Lanny yanked the reins.  Gambler threw his head up and pointed his ears forward.  Then he twisted the right ear back at Lanny.

Lanny directed his attention up a slope and tensed his legs.  Gambler must have sensed Lanny’s intentions because he splashed through the creek and up the hill on the other side. 

As he approached a small cluster of steers, he took note of the length and color of the grass to make sure the herd was getting proper nutrition and the range wasn’t being over-grazed.  He observed the bovines’ behavior.  One by one, each of them raised their heads and paused in the middle of chewing.  They glared at Lanny and Gambler.  Lanny just kept right on riding, daring them to a game of chicken.  The steers stood their ground for as long as they could until the pressure of Lanny’s approach became too uncomfortable.  Then they leapt out of the way as if something had bitten them on the rump.  They seemed healthy enough.

Lanny kept Gambler’s pace steady while they descended the hill.  He took special care to look for steers in the valleys.  Sick bovines usually drifted to lower ground close to water.  And that was exactly what Lanny found.  The eyes of this particular steer were cloudy and oozing. 

Lanny sat back in his saddle and the horse stopped.  He untied the leather strips that held his lariat.  He shifted the coils in his left hand.  With his right hand, he created a large circle.  He touched Gambler’s ribs with his spurs and swung the loop over his head causing a rhythmic rush of air across his cheek.

The steer took a couple of laborious steps up the knoll.  Gambler followed him for a few yards before Lanny delivered the loop catching the steer’s back hooves.  He dismounted, wrapped the rope around the steer and dallied around the saddle horn.   Gambler leaned into the pressure.    

Without letting go of Gambler’s long rein, Lanny removed his cotton gloves and stuffed them into his pocket.  He pulled a bottle of antibiotics from a sleeve in his saddlebag and drew 10cc’s into a syringe.  He inserted the needle into the steer’s hide and pushed the plunger.  He repeated the process three more times, giving the shot in four different spots.  He was happy with the way Gambler worked the bovine’s rope. 

When he was finished, he stood and looked over his shoulder at the horse.  The ole boy had his head down and was grazing.  Lanny yanked the reins and in a loud authoritative voice he said, “Hey.”  Gambler shot his head up and pointed his ears at Lanny. 

Lanny turned his back, shook his head and squelched the urge to chuckle.  The ole boy would do almost anything Lanny asked.  But by Jove, he was going to sneak a snack whenever the hell he could. 

Lanny removed the rope from the steer and stepped away.  The bovine tucked his legs under him and pushed first his rump, then his front end into a standing position and ran off.  Lanny coiled his rope, satisfied with his work.


No Need for Excuses

Lanny's Rope and Buckles

Part Four of the Art of Believing

I stood in my driveway with the loop of my lariat dangling from my hand.  I remembered what Lanny West had said about doubting (One of a Thousand) and what John had said about believing (Dung Beetles Reaching the Stars).  In times past, I would have respectfully disagreed with both of them.  I would have pointed out all the people I knew who had worked hard to succeed, but ended up ruined emotionally, relationally and financially. 

Some people do become movie stars, athletic wonders or billionaires.  But, statistically speaking, given any population, there were going to be a few people who would succeed.  Both the successful and the unsuccessful had worked hard.  It had more to do with luck or the whim of some Higher Power than hard work. 

While staring at the horns of the dummy and feeling the lumps of the rope between my thumb and index finger, I decided there was nothing to lose by changing my thinking.  Maybe I would never learn how to team rope, but at the very least, if I could quit doubting and getting frustrated with myself, I would have more fun.  I lifted my arm and swung another loop over my head.  I delivered and missed. 

My first reaction was to get mad and make up an excuse:  I was a busy, 34-year-old mother with two children under the age of five.  The explanation seemed reasonable.  I didn’t have time to practice because I put my family first.  In reality, I was being smug. 

Then I told myself to quit doubting, which didn’t help.  Telling myself to quit doubting proved that I doubted.  I had to try something else.  I attempted to reason myself into confidence.  I had thrown good loops in the past, which proved I was capable of roping.  I just needed to do it consistently. 

I coiled the lariat, built a loop and tried again.  I missed. 

Frustration rose inside me.  I took a deep breath and, in an effort to redirect my thinking, I repeated a simple phrase to myself–I can rope; I can rope; I can rope.  It became a mantra as I delivered the loop.   I caught the neck of the dummy. 

Better.  But I needed to add another element if I was going to keep my mind from making excuses and doubting.  Maybe I should try to focus on feeling the swing–something Lanny West had told me to do a thousand times. 

I dropped the lariat.  I circled my arm in space in an effort to mimic Lanny’s arm movement.  I did it several times to memorize the feeling. 

Then I picked up my rope, and while I swung it over my head, I focused on the feeling of the rotation.  I felt the tip of the loop as an extension of my arm.  I went for the delivery.  I caught both horns. 

Better.  But, the way in which the rope had swung under the left horn was sloppy. 

I decided to try one more thing.  In addition to the mantra and miming, I wanted to see what would happened if I visualized the entire process from the swing, to the delivery, to how the bottom of the loop hooked the right horn, then crossed the forehead, swung under the left horn and over the back of the neck.  My instincts suggested that imaging as much detail as possible was crucial.  In my mind’s eye, I not only saw myself catching the horns, but I felt the rotation of my arm and wrist, heard the swishing of the tip going through the air and the sound of the friction of the rope sliding through the hondo.  I picked up the lariat and tried again.  It was a solid catch. 

I became so engrossed in the process that I forgot to get frustrated, doubt myself or make excuses.  I was having a good time.  It was fun learning how to do something new, something challenging, something slightly daring.  I knew I would be able to team rope.  Serenity came over me and I enjoyed the sensations in my arm and body and the peace in my mind.   All the frustration and doubting quieted. 

For a brief moment in time, I experienced what Lanny West had been trying to tell me all along.  Instead of expending my energy in frustration, I channeled it into learning. Even though I was a busy, mother of two young children, I improved more in a single practice session then I had in several weeks.  There was no need for excuses.



About the Author
March 6, 2009, 11:54 am
Filed under: About the Author, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Deanna Burchette is a 30-something little girl who finally got her first horse.  She loves to write and to ride and she is learning how to team rope and train horses.

Deanna has published short stories and articles on topics which range from recreational activities for married couples to short stories for youth magazines.  She was a fiction editor for the Southern California Anthology and has a Masters of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.  Deanna’s current book project is a narrative non-fiction chronicling the life of Lanny West.


In addition to horses and writing, Deanna’s interests have drifted from cycling, rock climbing and Pilates to quilting and gardening.  She has a tendency to acquire an ever-increasing number of domestic pets and enjoys raising her two little girls. 

Her goal for is to share her equine experiences with those who might be interested and to find an audience for her book about Lanny West.

Dung Beetles Reaching the Stars

Part Three of The Art of Believing

Photo by g-hat

Photo by g-hat

While my four-year-old was living her dream and practicing ballet in the next room, I sat on a wooden bench in the lobby of the dance studio.  I was talking to the father of another ambitious dancer, when the conversation somehow drifted to Lanny West and how he thinks it is important for me to not get frustrated with myself and believe my body can learn to rope if I give it a chance. 

John leaned forward on the bench.  His eyes grew large and a smile spread across his face.  John, who didn’t look a day older than 35, but was really 43 years old, exuded energy.  He was a business owner, a husband and a father to two adorable little girls.  He had been a fireman, an insurance agent, and wore shorts in 30-degree temperatures. 

He shared his experiences about the importance of believing.  I listened because I knew he had bought two branches of a franchise in the current recession.  He told me about the vacation home he rented to tourist, which remained full because he believed it would remain full.  He told me about how he won a raffle for season passes to the local ski hill simply because he believed he would.

The examples seemed a little far-fetched to me, but he shared his experiences with such conviction that I couldn’t help but be intrigued.  “I’ve never had any thing like that happen to me,” I said.  “What makes it work?”

“You’ve got to believe,” he said.  “You can’t have a sponsoring thought.” 

“What do you mean by a sponsoring thought?”  I said.

He spread his fingers and hovered them over his forehead.  “You can’t think up here you believe, but –” he pointed to the back of his head “–in the back of your mind you wonder if it is really going to happen.  You have to believe.  It’s unwavering faith.”

I thought about all the times Lanny West had told me to believe I can rope even when I mess up.  “So how do you get rid of the sponsoring thought?”  I asked John.

“I tell my employees to just believe it.  Post notes all over the house.  Put your goals in front of you all the time.  Don’t have any doubt.” 


Later, as I mulled over the conversation, something didn’t feel right.  There had to be more to it than just believing.  The notion bordered on fairy-tale thinking:  If you wish on a star or if you wish hard enough, your dreams will come true.  It was too magical for me to feel comfortable.  On the other hand, he had told his stories with such self-assurance, there had to be some truth in what he was saying. 

Then, out of the blue, I thought about the tumblebug, and my mind sunk from the stars and landed in a pile of feces.  I’ve written about dung beetles before in The Tale of the Tumblebug.  During my research for the post, I came across a description in the Texas Bug Book by C. Malcolm Beck and John Howard Garret.   The article titled “A Dung Beetle Story” by Dr. Patricia Q. Richardson was especially interesting:

“As a child in South Texas, I loved the determination of tumblebugs . . . In Freer, Texas, . . . cows wondered freely through town.  I’d come across a fresh cow pie and watch the tumblebugs arrive.  Each would wrestle off a big blob of poop, busily sculpt a ball, and begin to push and roll it away to find a spot to bury it.  With curious glee, I would create obstacles in their path–a mud mountain over which they would laboriously trudge, a sand valley which they would have to scramble through.  Put a stick in the way that was absolutely too big for them to shove the ball over and they would turn and push the ball along the edge until the end where they would return again to their course. . . [T]hey always won, for the tenacity was of longer duration than my four-year-old’s attention span.”  [Page 49]

Believing in my dreams coupled with the tenacity of a tumblebug to roll a ball of poop around, over or through any obstacle had to be the secret to achieving my goals.   

Some day, I will reach the stars and rope off my horse, but I will smell like shit once I get there. 

Do you have an experiences you can share about how you believed in yourself and succeeded?  Is believing in yourself important?

Photo by g-hat

View quote here.

One of Thousands

Deanna the DoubterPart Two of The Art of Believing

Logs crackled in the wood-burning stove.  Lanny West sat across from me on a taupe love seat.  He was silhouetted against picture windows, which were displaying raining clouds.  He had been telling me stories about the thousands of people he had tried to teach to rope and how it was important to train the arm and the mind.

“How many people got really good?” I said.

“Fifty . . . maybe,” he said.

I was incredulous.  “That’s all?”


“Why didn’t they make it?” I said.  I wanted to be one of the fifty and not one of the thousands.  If I knew what went wrong, then I could be different and succeed.

“Because they do what you do,” he said.  “They doubt.”

I gulped.  That hurt.   I could have gotten mad, but I didn’t.  He was right. 

The Art of Believing: An Introduction and Quit on a Miss
February 17, 2009, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Horse Training, Roping, Thinking Constructively | Tags: , , ,

Lanny West

Lanny West

I am not exaggerating when I say Lanny West has ridden a horse nearly every day of his life.  His horsemanship skills are on par with men like Chris Cox, Buck Brannaman, Tom and Bill Dorance and Ray Hunt.  In times past, he used to put on roping schools and taught thousands of people from California to Canada how to rope, but now he prefers the quiet life–surrounding himself with quality individuals and handing out his advice and skills for next to nothing.  To those who listen, he tells his stories; to those who don’t listen, he shrugs and moves on. 

Lanny West’s techniques are fairly similar to other horse-training gurus, but he adds another element.  He believes in the importance of thinking right, of creating a healthy state-of-mind and a constructive attitude.  Confidence and respect are the comer-stones of everything from learning how to rope, ride and train horses to how to raise kids and have good marriages. 

For the past several months, he has been teaching me.  I’m having a blast, but this isn’t about roping.  It’s about learning how to train my mind to think constructively.  It’s about being at peace with myself.  It’s about gratitude and contentment.  Acquiring these attributes requires a certain discipline and roping provides that.  Horses create a scenario to practice new habits. 

Recently I hit a plateau in roping.  No matter how much I tried to catch the horns of the dummy, I persistently roped the neck.  I made little progress even though I practiced regularly.  I was getting frustrated.  But after a couple of serendipitous conversations and events, I finally had a breakthrough.  On one particular day, I learned several lessons and have been getting better by leaps and bounds ever since. 

I am starting a series titled The Art of Believing.  Through several posts, I will share my journey from frustration to breakthrough.  I hope you enjoy it.  I looked forward to reading your comments and getting new ideas.  

Quit on a Miss:  Part One of The Art of Believing

The clouds hung low in the sky and dumped large drops of water.  It hammered on the tin roof.  It was too wet to ride, so instead of saddling the horses inside the barn, the dummy stood on the concrete slab.  Lanny West sat on an over-turned bucket next to the door of the tack room.  He was watching me rope.

I swung the lariat over my head.  The top of the loop faced the ground.  My eyes focused on the horns and I watched the tip swing just above them.  Perfect.  I went for the delivery.  The loop caught the right horn, swung under the nose and around the left horn.  I pulled the rope taut and squelched my frustration. 

Several voices from past conversations flashed through my mind.

A few weeks ago you would have been happy to rope the neck, my husband had said yesterday.

But I wasn’t going for the neck, I thought.

You’ll get it, my dad had told me repeatedly over the phone.

But I wasn’t getting it, I thought.

Lanny’s words from past conversations chimed-in, Quit fighting yourself.

I’m not, I thought with gritted teeth.

I took a deep breath and slowly if not calmly removed the rope.  I was trying to hide my emotions from the guy who sat on the bucket watching me.    

“For you,” Lanny said, “you need to quit on a miss.”

I wasn’t hiding anything.  “Ah-huh,” I said.  There was no use arguing the wisdom of ending on a good catch.  I have been around him long enough to know he had his reasons.  I waited for the explanation.  “You need to not worry about missing.”  Then he went on to tell me the technical reasons of why I wasn’t catching the horns.

 “Okay,” I said and dutifully created another loop.  I took a deep breath and focused my mind on feeling the texture of the rope in my fingers, feeling the tip swing over my head and listening to the swish as the lariat rotated in the air.  I stared at the horns. 

A cramp grew in my hand, a culmination of fatigue from all the practice I had done the previous weeks.  I tried for the delivery.  The loop hooked the right horn, crossed the forehead of the dummy and swung under the left horn.  I pulled the rope taut. 

The rain, which had been falling the entire time, suddenly filled my ears with the sound of its hammering.  The smell of the moist dirt infused my nostrils and I saw the branches of a large oak tree poke through the fog.  It was a good catch, which meant it was a bad time to quit. 

I shook out another loop and tried again.  I missed.  I did it again.  I caught the right horn and nose.  I tried again and looped the neck. 

“It’s a good time to quit,” Lanny said.

I resisted the urge to argue.  I unhooked the rope and coiled it.  I flung the hood of my jacket over my head.  Lanny and I tromped through the rain and I watched the toes of my cowboy boots moisten.  I glanced down the hill at Gambler with his dripping winter coat.  I wondered if I would ever learn to rope real live steers off my horse.


Weeks later, Lanny explained over the phone why it was particularly important for me to quit on a miss.  “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to sit and watch you rope in the cold,” he said.  “It was because I was training your mind.  I can’t teach you unless your attitude is right.  If you quit on a miss, you will learn to NOT get frustrated when you make a mistake.” 

“So, I have to get my mind right first?” I said.

“It’s like training a horse.  I can’t get a horse to load onto a trailer unless I have a hold of his mind.  If he’s agitated and frustrated, I’m not going to try to teach him to go into a trailer.  Same thing with you.  If you are agitated and frustrated, I can’t teach you how to rope.”

“Hum,” I said.  With Lanny, it was always about the mind. 


Gambler’s New Home
February 10, 2009, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

We found a home with a pasture for Gambler.  Since we have been moving,  I haven’t gotten much writing done.  But, I thought it would be fun to show you where my horse will be living just as soon as we fence the place and build a pole barn.  Next week, I will be back in business.  Thanks for reading and, as always, I look forward to your comments.  

Gambler's Pasture

Gambler's Pasture

Gambler: Fate’s Gift to Me
February 3, 2009, 7:40 pm
Filed under: Horse Training, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Image by Corey West

Image by Corey West

The first time I met Gambler, it was a dull day in Jamestown, California.  He stood under a forest of oak trees on damp earth with his head hanging over the fence.  I didn’t know the official name of his color.  He was just brown with a brown mane.  It seemed as if Fate had been in a hurry when she added the diamond between his eyes.  White paint dripped from the bottom point.

Gambler watched me get out of the car in Diana’s driveway.  He seemed friendly.  Although later, I would learn I was assigning human sensibilities to a horse.  Hindsight has wizened me.  What made him seem friendly was that he was calm.  He didn’t so much as flinch a muscle when we slammed the car doors.  He didn’t run from or follow us.  He just watched unalarmed.

Before going into Diana’s home, I paused and looked at him.  I liked him, though I’m not sure he felt the same about me.

It’s his tough luck, though, because a few years later, Fate threw him in my direction.  Diana’s daughter, who lived in Texas, had a baby.  She wanted to move closer to her brand-new grandchild, and she couldn’t take Gambler with her.  Diana adored the horse and couldn’t bear the thought of selling him; he was family.

My mother told me about Diana’s dilemma and I mentioned off-handedly that I wouldn’t mind owning Gambler.  I never thought I would actually get the ole boy.  After all, I had precious little equine experience.

It wasn’t until after I graduated from college did my parents get two Missouri Foxtrotters named Mister and Rosy.  I used to go on a rides with them once in a while or watch when the farrier came over to put on new shoes.  That’s how I met Lanny West.  He was their shoer.

One day, when I visited my parents, Gambler was munching down the grass on their five acres and working out the pecking order with Mister and Rosy.  Diana had given him to my parents for me.  He was mine.

Gambler was so large and round I couldn’t help but smile.  He was like a big happy Buddha.  He was what Lanny liked to call an easy-keeper.  He adored all things edible and had a tendency to mouth your shirt, arm or hand looking for apples or carrots, a bad habit.

When Lanny found out I was going to take on the ole boy, he offered to train him for me.  In reality, Lanny has been training me, not my horse.  The other day, I asked Lanny, “Does Gambler have any other bad habits besides the mouthing thing?”

“Nope,” he said.  “And he doesn’t do that anymore.”

It’s been a year since my husband and I started shopping for a house with a pasture for Gambler.  Two years ago if somebody had told me I would own a horse I would have laughed out loud.  That old lady Fate must have looked down on me and decided I needed a horse and . . .poof . . . there he was waiting for me on a silver platter.  I thank my lucky stars.

Have you ever had a lucky equine experience?  Tell me about it.

The Problem with Being Human
January 27, 2009, 7:43 pm
Filed under: Roping, Thinking Constructively | Tags: , , , ,

Kinked LariatOur horses picked their way between the sagebrush of the Red Hills, which were aptly named.  The horses left their hoof-prints in iron-based dirt.  The area was located off of highway 108 between Jamestown and Knight’s Ferry in California.  The scenery was quiet and the contrast between the blue skies and the rusty hills was stark.

Impatient to learn to ride and to rope I expressed my eagerness to Lanny West, thinking he might be impressed with my enthusiasm.  No such luck.  He said, “You’re just like everybody else.”

Well hell, I thought, I am human.  I didn’t say it out loud. 

“You want the whole picture all at once,” he said.  He was criticizing me for wanting to hurry up and rope a steer without first learning the basics. 

Lanny West was what I liked to call a wax on and wax off kind of guy, like that old man in the movie Karate Kid.  He liked to dish out his ideas and techniques in bits and pieces. He made me learn how to coil a lariat before he would teach me how to swing.  And when he taught me how to swing the rope, he didn’t let me sail the loop over my head until I could swing it like a pendulum. 

He wouldn’t let me bridle my horse until I learned to take off a bridle without banging the bit against the horse’s teeth. He wouldn’t let me saddle my horse until I learned the right order to buckle down the cinches and the breast collar. 

At first those little things seemed so elementary . . . until I started trying.  I’m likely to get the lariat kinked into a bunch of knots instead of a series of neat loops.  If I can’t coil correctly then I won’t be able to swing a nice open loop over my head; and, if I don’t have a good loop, I’m not going to be able to catch a steer. 

And if I can’t saddle my gelding correctly, there’s no way I’ll be able to stay on a manically galloping horse.

Through this experience, I have gained enormous respect for people who come through competition after competition without breaking a limb and are able to keep all 10 fingers.  And since Lanny has managed to keep all of his digits in good shape, I think I’ll listen to him.

So, when he tries to explain the nuances of energy, timing and pressure, I just say, “Yes sir” even though half the time I am not sure I can get the feel of what he is talking about.  If I did, I could describe it better.  I will keep trying and listening until one day the entire picture will come together. 

Describe an experience when you understood in your mind what you needed to do, but couldn’t do it.  


True Confidence. What is it?

Karen sat tall in her saddle on a dapple-gray horse.  She drew the right rein back.  The gelding opened his mouth, twitched his ears and allowed his nose to be pulled to the right.  He tugged on the bit, but he didn’t force his head forward.

Karen grinned at Lanny West who was leaning against the fence of the round pen.  She had been working on getting the horse to bend his neck for a long time.  At last he had finally done it and Lanny was there to see it.

Lanny wasn’t watching Karen; he was studying the horse’s face.  He said.  “He’s not giving to the bit.”

“What?” She swung her long brunette ponytail over her shoulder.  “He just gave.”

Lanny shook his head.  “If the horse’s mouth is open, he’s not giving.”

Karen let go of the rein.  The gelding swung his head back and forth.  His tail twitched. 

“The horse is not soft.”  Lanny said.  “Let me show you.”

Karen swung down incredulous at what Lanny was saying.  She had been riding horses for years.  She knew when a horse was giving and when a horse wasn’t.  That horse’s nose had nearly touched her stirrup.  That meant he was giving.

Lanny eased into the saddle.  He walked the gray along the perimeter of the round pen for a couple of laps and then stopped.  He pulled back on the left rein to put stress on the left side of the horse’s mouth. The gelding’s lips were closed and his tail hung at ease.  His entire body seemed supple and calm. Lanny released as soon as the gray gave the slightest indication he was giving into the pressure.

 Lanny repeated the process.  Each time the horse turned his nose a little further until he could get the gelding to touch the toe of his boot on both sides. 

Karen, after working so hard and being frustrated for so long, thought she had finally gotten somewhere.  Now she felt completely deflated.  “You just tore down my confidence.”

Lanny dismounted.  “Just get on and try,” he said. 

Karen took a deep breath to get a hold of her disappointment and the nervousness bubbling in her belly.  She gathered the reins and a few gray hairs of the horse’s mane.  She eased up and set herself down in the saddle.  She flicked the ponytail behind her shoulder.  With her left hand, she gently pulled on the rein. 

The horse turned his head slightly.  She immediately let go.  When she tried again, the gelding opened his mouth and thrust his nose forward making the leather drag through her fingers.  Her nervousness increased and her efforts became more futile.  Karen huffed in frustration. 

Lanny leaned against the fence watching her.  “You know,” he said.  “The thing you said is part of the problem.”

Karen loosened the reins and just looked at him.  She didn’t understand what he meant.

“You thought you had confidence when you believed the horse was giving,” he said.  “But, you have to have confidence when you mess-up.”  Lanny shifted his weight from one foot to the other.  “All you’re doing right now is learning the feel and the timing of how to teach the horse to give to the bit.  Just keep believing that you can do it and keep trying.” 

Karen had had enough for one day.  She swung her leg over her saddle and got down.  “Thanks for your help,” she said.  “I’ll do my best.”

Karen led the gelding to the barn.  She removed the horse’s bridle. 

Lanny said, “Keep trying and listen to the horse.”  After waving goodbye, he got in his truck and drove away.  He left a cloud of dust behind him. 

She paused before taking off the horse’s saddle to watch the cloud settle.  She realized her confidence was dependant on her performance.  What Lanny was trying to say was that confidence should be dependant on believing in her ability to learn to do anything when she gave herself enough time and practice. 

Karen pulled off the saddle and led her horse to his corral.  Tomorrow she would tack up her horse and try again.  

How would you define self-confidence?

The story is fictitious, but it is based on a true scenario.


Old John Hollen’s Arena
January 13, 2009, 8:44 pm
Filed under: Horse Training, Roping | Tags: , , ,

When I was a kid meandering along a red-dirt road through the evergreens of the Sierra Foothills, I happened upon a spit hoof-print of a buck sunken in the dry mud.   My pulse palpitated.  In my imagination I filled the print with a hoof, then a leg, and then a buck with a six point rack leaping through the woods.  I wondered where he was going and why, and how he might have felt–questions which never found answers. 

Twenty years later sitting on the fence of John Hollen’s old arena, the place had the same effect on my mind as that old hoof-print.  In my imagination those old splintery bleachers were filled with spectators and their yappy dogs cheering on brothers, husbands and friends.  Once, those old round lights mounted on wooden telephone poles lit the dark sky into the wee hours of the morning so the team ropers could chase steers.  And the rickety old booth standing cock-eyed on stilts used to house the announcer who would read off the competitor’s times in monotone when it was too late for any sane person to be awake. 

I imagined the corrals and shoots packed with steers and riders warming up their horses around the outside of the fences.  Men wore cowboy hats, big shiny oval buckles, wrangler jeans, and dusty boots, and women wore jeans or short skirts.  I could almost smell the livestock–manure and sweaty horseflesh mingled with dust. 

That old fence I was sitting on with its long gray splinters used to create the perimeter of that old arena which Lanny West, in his roping days, competed in.

And the ancient adrenaline of the steers, the horses, the competitors, and the onlookers was almost tangible to me, and suddenly I felt a bit downcast in the way a person might feel when she realized she was too late for the party.

Lanny West, who was bent over shoeing John Hollen’s horse, didn’t have to try to imagine what it was once like, he remembered it.  Old John Hollen, the owner, a man who used to strut across his property hosting jack pots, now suffered from a faulty heart and his wife, a woman who–as Lanny recalled–used to be tough, rarely left her house anymore.

The excitement of the old days had run its course through the people and through the land.  What was left were the stories Lanny told and that old arena, a footprint of the past sunken deeply into the earth. 

Lanny placed the horse’s hoof on the ground and eased himself into a standing position.  His back wasn’t as elastic as I imagined it once was in his younger years.  Lanny didn’t seem to notice.  He just led Hollen’s horse to the corral.  Then he unloaded two geldings, Leroy and Gambler, from his horse trailer.  They were tacked up and ready to go. 

He sauntered over to the arena and opened the old sagging gate.  Once both horses were inside, he closed the gate and tied them up.  He ambled to where a donkey was corralled and herded him in.  The donkey headed for the two horses and stood next to them with one long ear facing Gambler and the other ear following Lanny’s movements as he untied Leroy. 

Lanny eased the bit into Leroy’s mouth, careful not to bang the metal against the horse’s teeth and then slipped the leather over the ears.  He tightened the cinch and swung himself into the saddle and settled down.

 Lanny asked the gelding to move forward.   And there, in that neglected footing darkened with a crusty surface, were fresh hoof-prints. 

After Leroy walked a few laps, Lanny asked him to trot in a circle in the middle of the arena and those fresh prints created soft tufts of dirt.  While Leroy trotted, the tracks piled upon themselves and the dust began to rise around the gelding’s ankles.  Lanny posted in the saddle and it seemed to me as if he lost at least 20 of his nearly 60 years.

He untied the lariat from the saddle and shook out a loop.  Leroy chased the donkey and Lanny swung the rope over his head.  I blinked and the next thing I saw was the donkey’s feet caught in a loop.   Leroy stopped and faced the donkey so Lanny could, if he had wanted to, dally.  He didn’t, though, and instead he let the donkey go.  Lanny coiled the rope to do it again. 

After chasing the donkey a couple times, Lanny walked the horse to the fence.  His smile was as wide as a man of 25 years.  “He didn’t do one thing wrong,” he said to me.  He dismounted and carefully removed the bridle.  He put on the halter and tied Leroy up. 

It was Gambler’s turn to practice.  While Lanny slipped on his bridle, he paused and looked at me.  “I’ve struggled with horses my entire life,” he said.  “And I still don’t know anything.”  He got on Gambler and rode around the arena. 

I chuckled at the irony.  I was sitting there on that fence watching him train my horse so I could learn from him and he didn’t know anything.  I guess I didn’t mind.  I liked listening to his stories and bullshit, and I appreciated being able to observe him enter the sunset years of his life and recall the trail he left behind.  He was an old footprint of his past.   And I enjoyed hearing where he had gone and why, and how he felt–questions which had answers.   

Names have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.  

If you are a reader who knows Lanny personally, what is your favorite story you can tell about him?


The Tale of the Tumblebug
January 6, 2009, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Thinking Constructively | Tags: , ,

Author’s note:  A tumblebug is also known as a dung beetle.

The water of the Oakdale Irrigation Ditch slid down the concrete canal past a large oak tree reaching tall under the burning sun.  Noel West stood in the tree’s shade.  The tails of his plaid, button-up shirt hung loosely around the waist of his over-sized Levis. Lanny West, a man of 10 years, held the lead of a gelding and glowered at his father.  Lanny knew what needed to be done to fix the horse’s problem, but his dad wasn’t listening. 

Noel hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans.  “Now boy.  Have you ever heard of those tumblebugs?” 

Lanny tightened his grip on the lead rope and huffed.  “No.”

“Back there in Oklahoma there are these tumblebugs.”  Noel kicked a rock with the toe of his brogan shoes.  “They roll manure into itty-bitty balls and put them in a hole to save them for the winter to eat on.” He looked at his son.  “Do you know what one tumblebug said to the other?”

“No.  What?”  Lanny said.

Noel pushed his old straw hat back with the tip of his finger.  “That one tumblebug said to the other, ‘you roll yours and I’ll roll mine.’”

Lanny looked down at the ground.  The rim of his cowboy hat hid the upturned corners of his mouth.  He chuckled to himself.  That would suite him just fine. 

To see the dung beetle in action check outThe Flight of the Dung Beetle.

What do you think about the tumblebugs?










Don’t Worry About It
December 30, 2008, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Roping, Thinking Constructively | Tags: , , ,


Learning how to rope

Learning how to rope

Lanny West set out the roping dummy, which vaguely resembled a steer.  The head was made from a log five-inches in diameter and12-inches long.  It attached at a 45-degree angle to a three-foot wooden cylinder, which formed the body.   The lumber was covered in carpet and real live steer horns were mounted on top of the head.  The two eyes, which were nothing more than a couple of washers screwed tight into the carpet, stared forward with a blank gaze.  The entire sha-bang stood on four rebar legs.  Lanny adjusted the dummy until he found solid footing for it and stepped away.  He sat down in the shade of his barn on a bale of hay.    

I shook out a loop and started swinging the lariat over my head.  For two months, I had been practicing.  Since I didn’t have a dummy at home, I practiced catching folding chairs, my four-year-old’s bicycle perched on training wheels and, occasionally, my husband.  Eighty percent of the time, I caught what I was aiming for.  But at that moment, I felt the bubbles beginning to sputter in my tummy and spread until there was weakness and quivering in my arm.  Needless to say, I missed the horns.  “I can catch everything else, but a dummy,” I said.

“You keep telling yourself this stuff,” he said which was his way of saying I missed because I didn’t think right.

“So what am I supposed to tell myself?” I said.

“Just rope the steer,” he said.  In other words, get the job done.  Don’t worry about it.

I took a deep breath and recalled previous speeches he had given me about the importance of thinking right.   What one feeds the mind was what came out of it.   In other words, if I repeated negative thoughts to myself–for instance, thinking I got nervous when somebody watched me–then that was exactly what was going to happen.  On the other hand, if I bolstered myself with positive thoughts–believing I could rope under any circumstance, for example–then I would be able to rope.

I coiled the rope and told myself he was right.  I was nervous because I believed people made me nervous.  Period.

I created another loop and swung it over my head.  I took a deep breath.  This time I was going to catch those horns.  I could feel it.  I let go of the rope.  It flew through the air and hooked one horn.  The rest of the noose drooped uselessly over the nose. 

“That was excellent,” Lanny said. 

“But I missed,” I said.

“Don’t think nothing of it,” he said.  “I don’t want you ever to beat yourself up for missing. ”

Resisting the temptation to berate myself, I bent down and unhooked the rope from the horn.  I put my back toward the dummy and slowly created a new loop.  Before I turned around I thought about the billions of times I’ve heard this positive self-talk crap from a trillion different sources.  It never quite worked for me before.  I didn’t know why I was listening to Lanny now. 

“You can’t learn unless you miss,” he said seeming to read my mind.  “I’ve missed thousands of more times than you have.”

Then it hit me.  Lanny’s ideas about being positive were different than others in one aspect:  he presented it as a process, something which needed to be practiced.  He never gave me the impression that as soon as a person had happy thoughts one second, he or she suddenly became a champion team roper and lived a life of perpetual positive-thinking bliss the next.  I had to train my arm, and I had to train my mind.  Then it would all come together in the future. 

I faced the dummy again.  I felt the nervousness rise in my body, but this time, I told myself not to worry about it.  One day, if I continued to tell myself I could rope, if I told myself I could feel confident no matter who was watching, the nervousness would loose its power over me.  With practice, I would learn to be at ease no matter what.

At least, that’s what Lanny said worked for him.    

What’s your experience with thinking positively?  Do you believe in it?  



Merry Christmas
December 22, 2008, 11:18 am
Filed under: Thinking Constructively, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

The tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung and the kids are excited.   Today, I will wrap the last present, buy the last ingredients for the Christmas feast and feed my daughters’ imaginations with stories of baby Jesus and of Santa getting stuck in the chimney.  (Daisy insisted we make Santa small cookies this year so he won’t get too fat.)

Gambler has grown a fine winter coat I am sure.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle, I haven’t had a chance to take the two-hour drive to Lanny’s house to visit my horse.  The pressures of the holidays have, I’m ashamed to admit, caused me to miss the finer things of life–the smell of horse manure, the horsehairs clinging to my clothing and the delight in my children’s eyes when they get excited over the festivities. 

In the midst of the holiday worries, one of Lanny’s sayings keep running through my mind like Jingle Bells, “Have faith that everything will work out like it’s supposed to.”

Will that present I ordered two weeks ago arrive in time for Christmas?

“Have faith that everything will work out like it’s supposed to,” says Lanny’s disembodied voice.

Will my husband get Christmas Eve off?

“Have faith that everything will work out like it’s supposed to.”

What if we don’t have a white Christmas?  My daughters will be so disappointed.

“Have faith that everything will work out like it’s supposed to.”

The funny thing is my husband may not get Christmas Eve off; I may never get that present in time; and, it probably won’t snow on Christmas day.  But after hearing Lanny’s disembodied voice echo for the 622nd time this season, I am more peaceful and it is easier to be happy.  That’s what Christmas is really about–peace on earth and good cheer.    

On the other hand, if I’m going to be really honest, as much as I like Jingle Bells, I am tired of it and my goal is to quit humming before the end of January.  And hopefully, I will learn to live in a state of stress-free faith without Lanny’s disembodied voice reminding me repeatedly. 




Feeling the Energy
December 16, 2008, 8:07 am
Filed under: Horse Training | Tags: , ,

The Sierra Foothills arrayed in its blue, green and brown shades surrounded Lanny West’s neighborhood.  He stood in the middle of his round pen and pointed at Gambler’s muzzle.  “This little itty-bitty mouth isn’t gonna steer the whole horse,” he said.

Gambler chewed his tongue a couple of times.  I was trying to get my butt balanced comfortably on the fence.  “So how do you turn a horse,” I said. 

“You gotta steer his feet,” he said.

Made sense to me.  I could walk straight with my head turned sideways.  I figured a horse could do the same.  “So how do I steer the feet?” I said.

“You tilt the nose in the direction you want to go and drive the feet.”

I leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees.  “How do you drive the feet?”

“Ya get your ass out of the saddle and raise your energy.” 

I chewed my bottom lip and shook my head.  “How do you raise your energy?”

“Hell if I know,” he said.  “You just gotta feel it.”

Honestly, I would have been half a hair width away in thinking the guy was off his rocker if I hadn’t watched him train horses.  I’ve seen him drive colts from a walk to a gallop without swinging a rope.  I’ve seen him move a gelding who was invading his personal space with nothing more than a sideways glance.  If he wasn’t off his rocker than what was he doing?  Raising his energy, he would call it. 

He motioned with his fingers for me to jump down from the fence.  The sand scraped the soles of my cowboy boots.  I approached Gambler.  “Drive him at the shoulder,” Lanny said.

Having no idea what I was supposed to do, I took the lead rope from him and glared at the horse’s shoulder.  The ole boy glanced at me and sighed.  I swung my rope.  He started lumbering forward.  “Drive him,” Lanny said loudly.  I felt his energy and I cowered from it.

“Drive him,” he said louder.

I tensed my muscles.  I visualized lightening shooting from my body and striking Gambler’s shoulder.  My efforts seemed corny and contrite, but I was grasping at straws.  Finally, I resorted to swinging my rope some more.  Gambler picked up his pace. 

“You have to keep your energy up to control his speed.”

I filled my chest with air and tried to appear big.  Gambler slowed.  He turned to face me. 

“That’s enough for today,” Lanny said. 

I led Gambler to his pasture no wiser than when I first set foot in the pen.  Lanny knew something I didn’t and I wanted to learn what he knew.  If I could develop even a fraction of what I like to call his energy skills, I would be safer and get along better with my horse. 

Leaving Gambler to chomp down his dinner, Lanny drove me to my parent’s house in his pick-up.  When we arrived, my mother, Cheryl, came running to the truck.  Her brow was knitted and she was waving her entire arm intent on not letting Lanny leave until she had spoken to him. 

As soon as his window was half way down she said, “Something is wrong with Rosy.”

Lanny got out and followed Cheryl to the mare’s stall.  She stood on three legs.  Cheryl led the sorrel back a forth a couple of times so Lanny could watch the horse walk.  Then he asked me to longe the mare.

I stood in the middle of the stall holding the lead rope and attempted to raise my energy.  The mare practically leapt into a gallop.  Alarmed, I relaxed in order to lower my energy.  I didn’t want Rosy to hurt her ankle.   

“Okay, that’s enough,” Lanny said and took the rope from me.  He told Cheryl to keep Rosy quiet for a few days and watch her. 

I was shocked at the difference between Gambler and Rosy.  Longing Gambler felt as if I were lifting a heavy box.  Longing Rosy was like lifting a feather.  She was more sensitive.  This was the first clue to controlling my energy. 

A couple of days later I was going through my morning rituals–taking my vitamins, applying lotion to my rough skin, ECT–with Sage riding my hip.  The one-year-old’s wide eyes followed everything I did.  She peered into my mouth while I brushed my teeth to watch the bubbles rise on my gums.  I rinsed the toothbrush, slurped some water from the facet, swished a couple of times and spit. 

I picked up my comb and suddenly her weight shifted.  I knew she wanted the spare comb I kept in the drawer.  I gave it to her.  We each brushed our hair and giggled. 

Then, she leaned back and stared at the floor.  I followed the direction of her eyes.  She wanted the pink binky which was lying on the carpet.  I picked it up and stuck it in her mouth. 

I continued untangling my hair, but before I could finish, I felt her steering me out of the bathroom.  We went through the bedroom, into the living and to the kitchen.  She wanted something to drink.  I filled a sippy-cup with water and she snatched it from my hand as soon as the lid was tightened.  “You’re riding me like I horse,” I said to her. 

Then it struck me.  Sage used her body language and her energy to show me what she wanted.  She wasn’t talking to me, but she was clearly communicating with me.  Perhaps I could do the same with Gambler. 

A couple of weeks later, I was riding Gambler.  I wanted Gambler to quit following Lanny’s horse and pick a different path.  I tapped Gambler’s ribs with my heels and rolled my butt forward in the saddle.  I held my reins in front of the saddle horn and drove him forward with my energy.  Amazingly, he did exactly what I intended him to do. 

Hum, I thought to myself.  I didn’t know what I just did, but Gambler was doing what I asked.  I like to think I felt the energy briefly.  

Is what Bill Dorrance describes as a feel the same thing as Lanny West’s energy skills?  What do you think?  Do you have any experience with controlling your energy?  Could you describe it?  

Commenting Glitches
December 11, 2008, 8:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve been informed that some people have had trouble with making a comment. I think I’ve fixed the glitch.

Please be aware that when you make a comment an email is sent to me. I have to manually post each comment. I check and post comments most evenings so your remarks may not show up until the next day. Sorry for the glitch.

Thanks for your patience. I’m new to blogging and am still on a learning curve. My goal is to create a website which provides good reading and lively discussions.

I look forward to reading what you have to say!

Thinking Like a Winner
December 9, 2008, 10:01 am
Filed under: Thinking Constructively | Tags: , , ,

Tammy West-White is Lanny’s daughter.  She grew up hearing Lanny’s insights on how to think constructively and how to train a horse.  She has won numerous saddles and buckles through the years in team roping and in barrel racing.  She is living proof that Lanny’s ideas work well.  

Tammy West-White was unconscious of how her reins felt in her hands, how her butt sat in the saddle and how her body balanced on the wave of the horse’s energy. 

What she was aware of, what she felt was Zo-Zo’s inhaling and exhaling, the steps landing in the red footing of the arena, the thud of each hoof-beat.  She felt the tension in each muscle, the number of strides the bay took around the barrels, and the tilt of his body. 

She noticed the sureness in his feet.  She detected an inkling of a desire awakening in the horse to run fast and to enjoy his adrenaline.

Tammy held Zo-Zo back.  He was only five years old.  One day she’ll build speed into him, but not yet.  Now was not the time; his mind and body were too immature to take that kind of pressure.

They crossed the infrared finish line.  Tammy sat back in her saddle.  Zo-Zo tucked his legs under him and slid to a stop.  Tammy walked her horse through the gate patting him on the neck.  Her smile was wide.

“That’s 17.867 seconds,” the announcer said.  “That’s 1-7-8-6-7.”

Tammy’s smile didn’t waver.  It wasn’t a 16 second run, but she wasn’t asking for a 16 second run.  The horse’s stride had been smooth.  He hadn’t stalled when he circled the barrels, and he felt soft and supple. 

Zo-Zo wasn’t going to be a winner.  He was a winner.  And there wasn’t “nobody” who could tell Tammy different.

Please feel free to comment.  The purpose of the stories are to generate a discussion.  What does it mean to you to think like a winner?    

My Mind is on the Horse
December 2, 2008, 10:01 am
Filed under: Horse Training, Thinking Constructively | Tags: , , ,

The facility was nice.  Brown barns were painted with white trim.  Pansies-filled flowerbeds bordered the base of the buildings.  To the east, of the barn an arena covered with deep footing carved its expanse into the side of a mountain.  The entire place overlooked a lake.  Oak trees and evergreens surrounded the establishment. 

Inside the barn, horses resided in rubber-matted paddocks without so much as an ounce of shit anywhere.  Employees tossed flecks of hay into galvanized mangers that hung on the walls.  Next to the eastern entrance, a stall was decked out with plumbing and hoses.  The rubber mat was moist.  Suds popped and sunk into the drain in the middle of the paddock. 

Nicky, the stable manager, led a white Arabian outside to the cement parking lot. Lanny sat on the tailgate of his white Ford sipping water from a bottle.  Rex, Lanny’s apprentice, stood cockeyed with one hand holding a shoeing box and the other hand scratching his nose with the back of a finger. 

Nicky squared up the gelding between two white lines.  A golf cart sped by.  The Arabian spooked raising his head, perking his ears forward, and widening his eyes and nostrils.  “Whoa,” Nicky said putting downward pressure on his nose with the lead rope.  The horse lowered his head, but his eyes remained large and his tail twitched.  I snuck behind to truck to safety.

Rex took a deep breath, relaxed his shoulders and approached the horse.  He ran his hand from the withers down the right leg pass the knee until he could pull on the ankle.  The gelding resisted.  Rex held the pressure until the horse shifted his weight to three legs and lifted the hoof.  He placed the foot on a hoof stand, selected a rasp from the slated shoeing box and began filing the ends of the nails that stuck out the sides of the hoof wall.

A lady with gray hair cemented into place with copious amounts of hairspray led her warm-blood by a halter.  Her face was creased; her hips swayed back and forth with each step.  She carried a riding whip.  Her gelding sported a set of snow-white leggings. 

The Arabian’s muscles tensed, his ears shifted forward and he leaned against Rex.  “Hey,” he shouted.  The gelding’s eye darted downward; the right ear turned back.  He settled his weight onto three legs.  Rex lifted the hoof off the stand and gently set in down on the cement.  He slid the rasp into a slot of the shoeing box and stood.  He arched his back to stretch, turned around, picked up the hoof and tucked it between his thighs.  He got a pair of pliers and, starting from the heel and working his way to the toe, he pried the shoe from the hoof. 

Lanny watched from the tailgate.  He took another sip from his water bottle, but he kept his eyes on Rex and the gelding.

I was watching the lady drive her gelding with her riding whip.  The gelding trotted along the western fence line. 

Lanny glanced in the direction of my gaze.  He pushed his hat back and wiped his forehead with a sleeve.  “This place is about the people,” he said, “not the horse.”

Rex freed the shoe from the hoof and placed it on the cement.

Lanny eased himself off the tailgate and the truck’s springs released.  A breeze blew off the lake up the hill and shifted the Arabian’s mane.  The horse tensed, splayed his legs and widened his eyes.  “Whoa,” he said placing one hand on the withers.  An ear turned toward Lanny and then the gelding relaxed. 

“The breeze feels good,” Lanny said.  He turned his face toward the wind.  He bent over, picked up the hoof and pulled a small knife out of a pocket on his chinks.  He began scraping away the sluff that was about to wear away.  “What do you think of this place?” Lanny said. 

“I don’t know,” I said.  “It’s a nice facility, but the horses don’t have a place to wonder around and breath fresh air.”

Lanny slid the knife back into its pocket and selected the clippers from the shoeing box.  He began snipping the extra nail off the outer wall.  “That’s exactly right.  It’s about the people not the horse.

The lady turned her horse around and trotted him toward us completing a single lap.  She attached the lead rope to the halter.  The leggings were still white.  She led the horse to the gate and dragged the chain across the metal bar.

The Arabian leaned against Lanny.  “Quit,” he said.  The horse’s attention remained on the lady.  Lanny barked louder.  “Hey, you listen to me.”  The gelding shifted an eye backward and took the pressure off Lanny.

The lady led her horse in front of the Arabian.  Nicky looked up and nodded. 

The Arabian tried to free his foot.  Lanny elbowed the horse.  “Quit,” he shouted.  The horse relaxed.

Lanny set the hoof down and went to the back of the truck where horseshoes hung on a rack.  He fingered them looking for the correct size.  “What was that lady trying to do?” I said to Lanny.

“Exercise it,” he said.

“What?”  That horse had worked about as hard as I would have walking between the TV and the refrigerator.  “That’s it?”

“Yep.  And when she sits down for lunch and eats that extra sandwich, she’s gonna brag about how hard she worked.”

I snorted.

“Poor horse,” Lanny said shaking his head. 

He selected a horseshoe, picked up his hammer with a large head and began shaping the shoe on the anvil.  CLANG.  CLANG.  CLANG.  Lanny stopped to examine it.  CLANG.  CLANG. CLANG.  He checked his handiwork again.  Satisfied, he put the hammer down and sauntered back to the horse.  He picked up the hoof, measured the shoe and set it down.  He returned to the anvil.  CLANG. CLANG. CLANG. Another inspection.  He set the hammer down and went back to the horse.  Seeing that the shoe fit right, he picked up a nail and slid a small hammer from a slot in the shoeing box and started attaching the horseshoe.  The taptaptaptap was quiet compared to the previous racket.

When he finished, he set the foot down and stood quietly with his head bent toward the horse.  “I’m petting him,” he said.

“What?”  He wasn’t touching him.

“Horses don’t like to be stroked all the time,” he said.

“How do you know that?”  I said.

 “My mind’s on the horse.  He told me,” he said.

Lanny went back to the tailgate and sat down.  The truck sunk.

Rex picked up the shoeing box and hoof stand, and set it next to the horse’s hind leg.  He bent down to pick up the hoof. 

The lady emerged from the barn again.  The warm-blood was decked out with dressage tack–polished postage-stamp saddle, shiny leather reins and a starch-white saddle pad that matched the leggings.  Nicky nodded politely at the lady. 

The Arabian acted up again.  Lanny jumped down from the tailgate and stood next to Nicky.  “Watch the horse’s mind,” he said.  He took the lead rope from her to show her what he meant.

He observed the gelding’s expressions–an aggregate of ears, eyes, nostrils, head and body language.  Lanny relaxed. His shoulders slumped.  He hooked his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans.  The rope dangled from the loose fingers of his right hand. 

A golf cart sped past.  The horse perked up. Lanny pulled on the halter drawing the gelding’s attention back.  The Arabian’s head lowered.    

It was a phenomenon I sensed more than saw.  Lanny switched from watching to communicating.  The horse seemed to know Lanny was giving him respect, and Lanny seemed to be insisting that the horse trust him.

Rex tucked a hoof between his knees without any trouble.

“You gotta keep a hold of the horse’s mind,” he said and returned the rope to Nicky. 

Rex began pulling the shoe off.  I saw the lady ride her horse around the outside of the arena toward us.  The leggings were still white.  She stopped her horse to talk to Nicky.  “Well my work is done.  I road up the hill and everybody said he looked good in his new reins.”

The Arabian tensed, his eye sockets grew wide, his tail switched.  He forced his hoof down with the shoe half off.  Lanny took the rope from Nicky.

“Don’t you think they look good?” the lady said.

Nicky grunted politely, but she was watching the Arabian.

Lanny grabbed the metal clip that was attached to the halter and yanked on it.  He was demanding that the gelding’s mind be with him.  “Hey, you listen to me,” he said.  He tapped the horse’s shoulders with the end of the lead rope.

With a gaping mouth, the lady inhaled suddenly.  

As soon as the horse’s attention shifted back to Lanny, he relaxed to take the pressure off.  They stood quietly.  Lanny handed the rope to Nicky and sauntered back to the truck.  Rex picked up the foot to finish pulling the shoe.    

“Well, I guess I’ll put him away,” the lady said to Nicky.  She rode her horse into the barn.  

I felt a bit annoyed at her because she had missed it.  She had missed how the horse relaxed after Lanny had gotten the horse’s attention.  She had been too offended to be able to see the gelding’s response.


Lanny drove the truck down the road with the windows down.  I sat in the middle.  Rex sat on the passenger’s side.  The wind cooled my hot skin. “Were you getting irritated at that lady?”  I said to Lanny. 

“No,” he said.


“Let me ask you something,” he said.  “Would it have helped the horse if I got mad?”

I thought for a moment.  If Lanny had gotten angry, it would have disturbed the horse making the situation more dangerous.

“No,” I said.

“That lady didn’t know any better.  She was ignorant.  My mind’s on the horse, not the people.”


Get a Hold of the Horse’s Mind
November 25, 2008, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Horse Training

Lanny and I walked our horses down the red dirt road.  Brown grass stretched into the distance on all sides.  To the left it ascended a slope and carpeted the spaces between scrub oaks.  The landscape bordered the base of Table Mountain, an ancient lava flow that rose perpendicularly several hundred feet.  To the right, the hill descended toward the glassy expanse of New Melonies Reservoir. Beyond the lake, mountains covered with evergreens and then with snow rolled on and on in the distance. White buffs of clouds wondered the empty sky.

I zipped up my Gortex jacket and tightened the Velcro cuffs around my wrists.  I took a deep breath, enjoyed the gentle rock of Gambler’s stride and the muffled rhythm of hooves on dirt.

Lanny yakked about one thing or another, bullshit I usually found interesting, and so I paid attention.  Gambler fell behind the other horse.  Lanny interrupted his paragraph and pointed at the ground to his right.  “Get your horse up here,” he said.  “You gotta ride next to me.”

I sat up in the saddle and attempted to do this thing Lanny called “raising my energy,” and I failed miserably.  I tensed my muscles; Gambler didn’t respond.  I tried to feel excited, nothing.  I wondered if I should get angry, but I really wasn’t and I didn’t think loosing my temper would have helped anyway.

“Make him mind,” Lanny said.  I cringed, but I have been around the guy long enough to understand his logic.  The tap I would give him wouldn’t hurt.  It would get his attention.  If Gambler were in a herd of horses, they would have kicked him harder than anything I could muster up.  So I disciplined the ole boy with the end of my reins.  Gambler picked up his pace and rode next to Lanny’s horse.

Lanny asked me something.  As I shifted my attention from Gambler to answering the question, he started falling behind again.  I paused in the middle of my sentences trying to “raise my energy” to urge the ole boy forward.  He continued to slow down.  I tapped him.  He quickened his pace.  I wished I could do the energy thing.

When we came to a gate, I sat back in my saddle.  Gambler stopped immediately, and I felt a small triumph.  For once he did something the first time I asked. Never mind that was what he had wanted to do for the last mile.

A white piece of plywood leaned against the gate.  Lanny’s horse spooked. He turned suddenly and would have stampeded if Lanny hadn’t circled him in time.

Gambler glanced at the sign, lowered his head and let his eyelids droop at half-mast.  He pointed his left ear toward the poor equine.  I felt as if Gambler were saying to the gelding, “It ain’t gonna hurt you.”

The other horse wasn’t listening.  He held his head high with his eyes wide and he pranced back and forth with his tail twitching.  “You see this?”  Lanny said to me.

I nodded.  “Ah-huh.”

“Now some people will tell you to let your horse go up and sniff the thing.”  Lanny reined the gelding back and forth, circled and paced again in a different sequence each time.  “I don’t believe in that,” he said.

I pulled back on Gambler’s reins and wiggled my butt in the saddle to try to get out of Lanny’s way.  Gambler sighed impatiently and stayed put.  I shook my head.  Lanny didn’t ask me to move, so I decided to hold tight.

The gelding’s eyes glared; his ears twitched back and forth between Lanny and the sign.  “I want to get a hold of the horse’s mind,” Lanny said.  After a couple of more laps the horse’s head started to come down.  His muscles began to relax. “Do you understand?”

I paused and then it dawned on me.  “Your point is that it is better to teach a horse to pay attention to you because you never know what you may encounter.”

“That’s exactly right,” Lanny said.

In other words, if Lanny had let the horse sniff the sign to figure out it was safe, but than something happened suddenly—-the wind blew the thing over, for example—-the horse would have spooked again. On the other hand, if the gelding knew he should trust his rider when he got scared, then the rider could guide the equine through the dangerous situation without the horse bucking or stampeding.

There was one thing I knew for sure:  I didn’t have Gambler’s mind.  I felt safe because he was a solid self-assured gelding, but–in reality–I wasn’t.  He wasn’t paying attention to me.  Somehow, I needed to teach the ole boy that when I was on his back he should to do as I asked.



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