By Maddy Butcher
Martin Black is funny, wise, and doesn’t have much truck with folks uninterested in doing right by the horse. With both horses and riders, he's patient but doesn't pamper. Martin's demeanor towards two- and four-legged alike is 'soft as possible, firm as necessary.'
“People say to me: ‘my horse can’t canter!’ Well, take off the bridle and slap him on the butt. I guarantee you that horse can canter.”
Translation: Get off his face.
“Nothing’s wrong with making mistakes, as long as you’re not making the same mistakes over and over.”
Translation: Learn from them.
And for goodness sake, don’t make the mistake of thinking it's your horse who's screwing up. It’s all you, baby.
The ranch versatility clinic, led by Martin and his wife, Jennifer, and attended by 16 participants, was exhausting. Not so much by the physical requirement of riding eight hours a day, but by the desire and need to absorb as much of their lectures and demonstrations as mentally possible.
If learning horsemanship were possible intravenously, I’d be asking for a transfusion. Of course, it’s not and so I was left to my own devices: watching, doing, and trying desperately to absorb the quality horsemanship and ranch work I witnessed over four days.
I must admit, sometimes I felt like a kindergartener in a grad class.
At least working cattle was pretty foreign territory for ALL of us. We learned about their balance point and flight point. Cows, like horses, work on pressure and one can take it off and put it on as one learns to cut, track, turn, and sort. It is often soft and quiet work.
When we learned about cutting a single cow from a herd, Martin stressed the importance of what I'd call the "anti-sort." The anti-sort is the process of moving all the cows but the one you want. It's a way of getting that cow without, as Martin said, "pointing your finger at him and saying ' I Want You.'"
A lot of ranch versatility is soft and quiet work with plenty of room for the horse to do the right thing in an uncrazy manner.
It’s up to us, the riders, to get out of this way and let him do it!