Ask Our Expert - Don Murphy
This Month's Expert
Don Murphy has trained and shown reining and cow horses since the early 1960s. A few of his winning mounts include Sparking Train, RS Lily Starlight and Bald N Shiney. He lives in Marietta, Oklahoma, and continues to train and travel the country sharing his knowledge with young trainers at clinics and shows. Murphy is one of four experts lending their experience in the "Gear Guidelines" series in the Hands-On Horseman section. For more information on Don Murphy, see page 44 of the September issue, where Murphy explains the Vaquero-style tradition of the two-rein.
Q: I have a question about the type of bit I use on my horse. He is a 27-year-old Quarter/Morgan. He was a trail horse at a dude ranch his whole life. When I first got him, I was inexperienced and I went to a Western tack store and asked the guy what bit I should purchase. I told him that Duke, my horse, was stubborn and hard to control from all the different inexperienced riders he carried his whole life. The guy gave me a Tom Thumb bit. From what I have heard online, I know that it is supposedly "harsh" and only very experienced professionals should use it. Over the past few years, I have become more experienced and I have "trained" him to be responsive, but I haven't used any other bit but the Tom Thumb bit. I just want to make sure that I am using the correct bit for him.
Jenna, Carmel, New York
A: First of all, I want to clarify: There are no severe bits, only severe hands. Any bit can be severe if in the wrong hands. A Tom Thumb is not a "harsh" bit. If your horse is responsive and guides well in this bit, I would not change. If you are happy with him in this bit and he is happy in it, then do not change what isn't broke.
Q: I've read about different techniques and been to several clinics on collection, but I still have difficulty achieving it with my horse. I can get my horse, Rustler, to collect at the trot and slow lope, but when we are going faster I have problems. I think it starts with not getting him to keep his head flexed. What can I do to keep him collected when we are going after a cow or when I am galloping on the trail?
Deena, Salinas, California
A: As a horse moves out faster, he will raise his head and neck up to keep his balance point. You will not see a horse stay as collected when working a cow down the fence. For one, for a horse to run, it has to reach and stretch out. You can work at collecting it for a few strides, then releasing for a few, and then gathering it back together. A horse will learn to balance itself and run, but it will not stay as collected as it does going the slower paces. Also, for a horse to stay "hooked" to a cow, you want it to not be as collected so it can stay on that cow. Remember, each horse is built different and will be comfortable being collected at different degrees.
Q: I trail ride a lot and usually bring a halter to tie my horse to a tree when we stop. I want to start using hobbles and have read about the different kinds, but not anything on how to start using them on my horse without him freaking out. How do I teach him to stand in hobbles safely? I don't have an arena or round pen to work with at my house.
Ken, Lamar, Colorado
A: Since you do not have an arena or round pen to start your horse in, I would suggest taking your horse in his stall. I would use a soft cotton rope and start by putting it around one foot and getting your horse comfortable to having it pulled on and lifted. After you do this to each foot, put the rope around one front foot, then make a figure eight around the other front foot while you hold onto the rope. Get your horse comfortable with having the rope around his legs. Once you get the horse used to this, you can go ahead and put a set of hobbles on your horse. I suggest using soft hobbles, that aren't harsh on the legs. They are soft yet strong and will not be as harsh on the legs as some tougher hobbles. I would turn your horse loose in the stall with the hobbles on. This is a small area and he will learn how to stand with them on. Just remember to take your time in this process. It may take a few days to get the horse adjusted to having a rope around his legs. Make sure you have it comfortable with the cotton rope before moving onto the actual hobbles.
Oklahoma cow-horse trainer Don Murphy contributes to Gear Guidelines for Western Horseman. For more information on Murphy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month's ASK OUR EXPERT features Kansas horseman Kerry Kuhn. (Learn more about Kerry here.)