I feel horsemanship is a key factor in becoming an accomplished roper. It is the better horsemen who are able to get the most out of their horses and make the most consistent runs, time after time. Overall horsemanship, in my opinion, is a good understanding of the different parts of horsemanship.
– Maintaining your horse's physical health and being able to recognize problems quickly.
– Balancing your horses diet.
– Using the correct equipment on him and making sure it fits him right.
– Making sure he is shod correctly.
– Ensuring good communication with your horse – making sure you speak the same "language" and are able to read each other's cues.
– Educating yourself on every aspect of your horse and your performance as a horseman.
I believe the key to making sure every spoke in this wheel is performing optimally is to find a specialist in each field. I have always believed this but it became more clear to me just recently on the golf course.
I'm not a golfer by any means, in fact, I've probably only been about seven times in my life. However, since I had a little time I decided to take a golf lesson. My instructor was good; she really broke the game down and analyzed every aspect of it. I hadn't golfed in two years and after 18 holes I had shot a 79. I couldn't believe it. She followed our lesson by saying, "It is important to get more help, but be sure you go to someone who is a qualified professional." She clarified this statement by saying instructors were rated on experience and competition and they needed to be PGA certified.
I thought this was really interesting and related it, of course, to team roping. There are guys all over the country putting on clinics that aren't PRCA ropers, they don't rope for a living and really aren't qualified at all to be a team roping instructor versus someone who has been roping competitively in the PRCA for 20 years and putting on clinics.
This brings me back to the "wheel" I talked about earlier. When you approach someone for ANY kind of help or advice, make sure you are getting the right help from someone who is qualified. Not just someone who has had some experience in the field, but a specialist. For example, having a good vet is of the utmost importance to any horse owner, particularly performance horse owners. If your team roping horse turns up lame one morning you could probably take him down to the local vet and he would give you a generic explanation as to the cause and tell you to turn him out for a few months and he'll "get over it." However, if you took that same horse to a specialist, he could determine where the pain was coming from as well as the cause and the best treatment, which would probably include the use of a specific exercise and diet program and possibly some pain-reducing drugs.
Van Snow is one of the most well-received vets in Southern California. He really opened my eyes to the veterinary side of roping and how importance maintenance is. Almost all horses that are ridden on a regular basis have some kind of problem in their joints, muscles, etc. They need to be taken care of and the best way to do this is to seek the advice of a specialist in the field of your horses' particular problem.
One area of a horse's physical health that many people over look is in his mouth. Irritability, weight loss, and head tossing are just a few of the problems that can be remedied by an equine dentist. The really good ones can tell what your horse's patterns and habits are just by looking in his mouth. Such specialist can also help you choose the correct bit for your horse, one that will put the right amount of pressure in the right places in your horse's mouth.
Your horse will perform so much better for you if he feels good and that healthy feeling can be achieved through proper diet. Consult an equine dietician and find out the best diet for your horse's schedule and training program.
Equipment is a big area that many people don't pay attention to. Some people buy really expensive equipment and think it has to be good just because it cost a lot. Other people buy cheap pads or don't use boots on their horse to save a few bucks. Saddles are a HUGE area where riders can miscue their horses. Talk to a saddle maker about trees, stirrup length, etc. to ensure the best fit for both you and your horse. Have someone (again, a professional) help you analyze your horse's movements and tendencies to determine the best gear for him.
Foot care is an especially important part of your horses' well being. Don't just get a horseshoer, get a certified farrier that knows the sport of team roping. Make sure he has been specially trained in corrective shoeing, will study your horse's movements and shoe him accordingly. Good farriers can help ensure the soundness of your horse and some lameness problems can even be corrected with some shoeing adjustments.
Do you and your horse communicate well? If you don't have a lot of experience with horses, I would highly recommend taking him to a trainer specialized in the performance field you desire. However, equally important, you must also go to that same trainer and learn how to ride your horse. The trainer has finely tuned him to accept certain cues and you, as his rider, need to know how to execute those cues at the appropriate time to ensure maximum performance from both of you.
Educate yourself about horses. Read books on them, attend seminars and clinics. Listen to what reiners, barrel racers and other horseman have to say about horses. Learn their instincts, patterns, habits. The more you know about your horse, the better he will be able to perform for you.
How important are all of these things? Well – how important is your horse in roping? Common sense will tell you a lot, but I just can't stress enough the importance of finding specialists for every spoke in the wheel of horsemanship. So many horse owners could prolong the competitive life of their horse through the proper care of every aspect of him.
Check Allen's website at allensarena.com.