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Several years ago I had a lady contact me that wished to hire me for the day to teach her twelve year old daughter how to do showmanship. We set a date and time and when they showed up that morning, they unloaded one of the prettiest quarter horse mares I had ever laid my eyes on. When they walked through the barn and passed by Smokin Jo’s stall he had his head hung out drooling and I let him know not to worry I would talk it up for him.

The daughter and I worked all that morning and at lunch time we decided to go to a local restaurant not far away. While we are eating I asked for some more information about the mare. I wanted to know how she was bred and what they did with her. I told the lady I thought she was absolutely gorgeous. She responded by saying, oh yeah she is that, we use her for barrel racing and she will do everything but STOP! I kind of smiled at her and said “all horses stop”. She replied with, not this mare. I said when we get back to the barn I would like to see what bit you are riding this mare in. When we made it back to the barn she pulled the bridle out of her trailer and presented me with this. I looked at her and shook my head. I said lady do you understand this is a “mule bit”.

She replied she did not know what kind of bit it was but it was what she had been told to use. I asked her how it was working for her and she replied “not any better than anything else”! I told her this mare is never going to stop for you because she is running through the pain.


I then asked her if she would like to see her mare stop. She said you bet so we took the mare around to the tack room and I put my saddle on her. I walked her out to the round pen and watched this mare move a little and then I reached up and grabbed my O-ring snaffle. As I went to slip the bridle on this mare the lady asked if I was going to ride her in that. When I replied, you bet, she just simply said, you are nuts. I said you are probably not the first person that has ever thought that but you just sit there and watch for a few minutes. Once I stepped up on this mare, the first thing I did was ask her to bend her neck back around to me. When she did, she rolled her eye back in her head and I did not see anything but the white of her eye. I released her head and stepped down off of her. I slipped the bridle off and reached over and got her halter and two lead ropes. I put those on her and as I was getting ready to step back up on her I heard the lady say, “you are certifiable and I’m not going to be responsible”. I told her I could live with that if she would wait and to see what happens for her mare.

In a matter of a few minutes I could sit down on the mare, holler whoa, and she would drop her hind end underneath her and hunt a hole in the ground. When I got done the woman looked at me and said this is crazy. Everybody else is telling me to get more bit and create more pain and you are telling me to create less. I told her, lady we create a lot more “horse fighters” in this world than we do “horsemen”. Everybody does what makes sense to them but what we needed here was something that made sense to the horse. I then looked at her and asked if she thought the mare understood it. I explained to her that with what she was doing the mare could not listen and could not think about anything but the pain she was creating for her. 

We talked a little more about the mare and the lady asked if I would take her in training. I told her I would but only under certain conditions. I explained to her that her daughter was already scared of this horse and that while retraining the horse would not be a problem, taking her daughter’s fear of this horse away was going to be the bigger issue. I said I’ll do it but I wanted her daughter to come work with me at least two times a week and three would be even better. She agreed and left the horse and during that month I saw them twice and one of those was the day they came to pick the mare up.

“While you may not be the best rider or the best horseman, if you invest in yourself, you can be the best in your horse’s life”!!

She had called the night before to set a time to come pick the mare up. When she got there I had the mare saddled to be able to demonstrate the horse to her and to at least get some more work in with the daughter. The first thing she said was, ‘I’ve seen you stop this mare at the trot and lope but I have not seen you stop her when she was running wide open.’ I took the mare down in the pasture, turned her around, dropped the reins down on her and let her go. Just before I got to this woman I set down and hollered whoa and this mare just set down and dug a hole. I had some barrels and poles set up so I could demonstrate this mare and how she worked. I showed her the mare would run the barrels and poles and then I showed her how you could shut this mare down anywhere and she would just stand there until you asked her to walk off or if you asked her to go again she would go right back to running. What I heard next, I could not hardly believe. She said,you have ruined my horse! I asked her to repeat what she had said and once again she said, you have ruined my horse--suppose she does that when my daughter is running barrels? I looked at her and shook my head and said, lady look on the ground. She replied, look on the ground for what?  I said, your daughter fell off back there somewhere--you know lady this is not a machine. Now people may want it to operate like a machine but this creature lives, breathes, thinks and feels!

I went on to tell this woman that I had made a deal with her to bring her daughter up at least twice a week to work with me and the horse. I told her I’ve got the horse right and I needed to teach her daughter and to deal with her fear but that did not happen. I suggested to her that she take the horse home and just let her daughter play around on the mare for six months until she develops a little confidence in the horse. She then told me they were going to go run barrels that night. I just shook my head and asked her if the good Lord gave her an over abundance of little girls that she could afford to waste one. They loaded the mare on the trailer and I walked away still shaking my head.

There are a couple of training points I would make here…One is that bits do not train horses, trainers and their owners, and anybody that climbs in the middle of a horse’s back is a trainer at least for the time you are up there or in the horse’s presence. I try to get people to invest in their self, their knowledge and their skill. Once you have that knowledge and that understanding of your horse and the equipment you use, it will be yours. “While you may not be the best rider or the best horseman, if you invest in yourself, you can be the best in your horse’s life”!! Something else that I always do is “OFFER” the horse a “FEEL” before I do anything else. Then I look for his acceptance of my offer. If he does not accept, I can always do more; but if I start off with more than was necessary, I might get a response from the horse I did not want!!!

Ronnie J. Ford was born and raised in Lakeland, Florida. He has worked with horses since he was a young boy. He is a strong believer in looking out for the horse. Training your horse with resistance free methods and then teaching ‘you’ the rider how to understand your horse. Our bodies tell horses what OUR ideas are and not what the horse’s idea is. Ronnie has many years of training horses of all breeds and of all disciplines. Contact Ronnie for training or clinics at

Courtesy of Ronnie Ford
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