By Frank J. Buchman
“All horses are different and all people are different, so it’s essential to match the horse to the rider.”
Chris Cox, Mineral Wells, Texas, opened his third presentation at the recent EquiFest of Kansas with that straightforward observation.
In this program, “Regaining Your Confidence in the Saddle,” the clinician worked individually with three horses and their owners.
“Just because a horse works well for one rider, doesn’t mean it’s the one for you,” Cox insisted.
Too often a child or adult gets a horse that doesn’t fit them, thus becoming scared and sometimes even hurt. “They lose interest and don’t want to have anything to do with horses after that,” he said.
Not only does a horse have to be trained, but riders must know how to ride their horse. “Too often the horse gets the blame when it’s the rider who’s at fault,” Cox pointed out.
Caution must be taken not to miss any steps in developing riding skills. “Don’t get in a hurry. Working with horses is a continuing process. There’s always more to be learned,” he clarified.
Joyce Ellis, Russell; Brook Staten, Olsburg; and Jen Stalder, Manhattan, had their horses there to learn jointly from the clinician. A working round pen had been set up the middle of the arena.
Ellis raised the nine-year-old Arabian-Tennessee Walking Horse which she had trained by other horsemen. “I’ve worked with him and ridden some, but he’s always been a handful. I’ve never had much confidence,” she said.
It was a relief for the owner when Cox took the nervous seemingly high-strung horse and started working with it. “There is a definite difference in personalities here,” Cox insisted.
The clinician started backing the horse around and around the outside of the round pen. “He wants to go so we’ll just keep letting him back. That’s an issue with many horses. They have more energy than work to do, especially horses bred like this one,” Cox said.
After extended time, the Arabian-Walking Horse decided being so rambunctious wasn’t as much fun as he’d thought. “Now he’s paying attention to me,” Cox said as he mounted the horse.
Around and around the outside of the pen Cox rode the horse turning it into the fence both directions. “He’s softening up and respecting me more all of the time,” Cox complimented.
Quite hesitant, Ellis mounted her horse inside the pen and attempted to follow directions as given by the clinician.
“Loosen up. You are too stiff and your horse can feel it,” Cox informed. Eventually, Ellis became more relaxed in the saddle showing through her mount. “I never thought I’d be able to ride like this,” she admitted.
“You are just beginning. With a horse such as this, you have to keep working with him. You have to be in control and utilize his energy, or you’ll go backwards,” Cox evaluated.
Staten had worked with her four-year-old Mustang extensively including participation in several shows. “He’s still a handful and I’ve been cautious of him since he bucked me off last summer,” she admitted.
First off, Cox took the one-ear headstall bridle off Staten’s horse and put a rope halter with a long lead shank on him. “A horse can learn to shake off a bridle like yours. It’s better to have a bridle with a brow band and a throatlatch to prevent accidents,” the clinician said. “Starting off training with a halter allows the horse to give to minimal pressure.”
While waiting for his turn, the Mustang had bucked and kicked attracting attention from the crowd and of course Cox. “These horses bred in the wild are tough and must be worked with to use up their energy too,” he said.
“Now don’t let him push you around,” Cox demanded. “He must respect that you are in charge.”
Although she was hesitant, Staten was encouraged to go ahead and mount her project. “I’m sure you can get along with him,” Cox encouraged. “Now relax, try to pay attention to what I’m telling you.”
Like the previous rider, Staten became more confident with the clinician’s coaching. “Your horse can feel what you are feeling. You have to be relaxed, in charge and your mount will respect you,” Cox declared.
“You will be fine with this Mustang, but you have to continue to work with him. These horses can be very versatile horses if you keep them going,” Cox advised.
Stalder’s Thoroughbred showed his energy level too as Cox almost immediately asked the owner to mount outside the pen. “Now look where you’re going. Your horse goes where you are pointing him,” Cox said.
“You set very soft in the saddle. Good job,” the clinician complimented. Soon the rider was asked to trot and then lope the horse outside the round pen.
“Now keep him going, don’t let him break gaits. You are in charge,” Cox coached.
When the horse was loping calmly, Stalder’s smile revealed her pleasure. “Now turn him into the fence both ways. Most horses are left handed horses, but they must learn to turn both ways,” Cox advised.
When backing, Cox advised Stalder to softly pull one rein, release it and repeat the procedure with the other rein. “Always be as soft as you can,” he said.
All three riders were coached on proper dismounting. “Get your balance, position your foot in the left stirrup and step right off at your horse’s side,” Cox recommended.
In conclusion, the clinician said,” All of these horses and their owners can get along if they continue to work together. Don’t let fear get in your way. Always use your horse’s energy to your advantage.”
Sidebar: A native of the United States, Gene Cox, father of Chris Cox, was stationed at Fort Riley when serving in the Army. He competed in Kansas rodeos becoming friends with Council Grove cowboys Bud, Bob and Wayne Alexander, inductees into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame. Gene Cox is now a working cowboy in Australia.
Chris Cox, horse clinician from Mineral Wells, Texas, made five presentations to improve horsemanship skills during the recent EquiFest of Kansas.Brook Staten, Olsburg, was coached by Cox at as Jen Stalder, Manhattan, waited her turn outside the round pen.