Renowned horse trainer Kerry Kuhn ended his second problem solving clinic at the 3i Show on Friday afternoon on horseback, riding a 9-year-old, never-ridden mare around the arena set upside the Western Bank Expo Center in Dodge City.
Kuhn started working with the mare during his first problem solving clinic on Thursday. He also showed off progress with a 3-year-old colt that had also never been ridden before the show.
"Things went faster with the colt because he has had less time to reinforce his wrong mental attitude," Kuhn explained to the audience. "This mare has had nine years of doing things her way."
Early in the second session, Kuhn loosely fashioned a lariat around the mare's flanks – something she had proven repeatedly that she absolutely hated. As he tightened the lariat and pushed her to trot in a circle while he held onto her halter, the mare jumped, reared and bucked.
"It's important when you are doing this to let the horse do whatever she wants to do to protest," he said. "I let her buck, kick and try to throw off the rope, all the while keeping in place."
Kuhn talked about, and demonstrated, how to safely handle an animal many times his size, as he worked with the mare.
"Don't let her push into you with her hind quarters," he said. "That sets you up to be kicked."
Instead, he said, you need to stay at the front of the animal and keep her face close, turning repeatedly to force her to keep her face close.
After a few minutes of enthusiastic kicking and bucking the mare settled down and began a steady circle of trotting, for which she was immediately rewarded with a rest break.
"One reason that I let the horse kick and buck at will is that kind of activity is hard work. Pretty soon, she starts to think about how hard she's working and it isn't accomplishing what she wants. The rope is still there. So maybe just accepting that is an easier way."
As the mare accepted the rope around her flanks, he added a loop that hit her in the back of her hind legs, again letting her vent her frustration until she accepted she couldn't get rid of it.
Once she was calmly trotting no matter what kind of activitiy he generated with the rope, Kuhn moved on to saddling the mare and working her through walk to trot to lope with the saddle in place,.
"I always say that if you wonder how a horse thinks, then put them on a halter rope and push them into a lope," he said, "As they gain speed, their mental attitude shows up. If they are going to buck you off, that's when they do it."
Kuhn'a untrained mare didn't care much for the saddle. In fact, she wanted it gone. But she protested less and less.
"It really helps getting her comfortable with the lariat first," Kuhn said. "Once she figures out that you are in charge of that and it doesn't hurt her, then you have started to build the trust that will ultimately enable you to sit in the saddle and ride her."
Kuhn gave her time to get used to the saddle before adding a bit – a move that the mare didn't care for. She continued an effort to spit out the offending metal for the remainder of the session. But the effort was limited to mouth movement. She did not throw her head or rear back.
Before attempting the ride, Kuhn mounted from each side, sat in the saddle and then dismounted. On the third mount, he remained in place, finally gently urging the mare to move forward at a walk, then a trot and finally a lope.
By the end of the session, ranchers in the audience were murmuring amazement at how quickly the session had gone from mare determined not to be ridden to horse showing calm, if not exactly enthusiastic, acceptance of a rider.
During the 3i Show, Kuhn presented three clinics daily, dealing with fundamentals of groundwork, fundamentals of riding, building control, problem solving, trail riding and refinement exercises.