Riding With The Greats: Joe Wolter
- August 26, 2016
- Savanna Simmons
Whenever I saddle up, I ride with some of the greats. I was blessed as a teenager and young adult to ride with some spectacular horsemen including Ray Hunt, Jack Brainard, Joe Wolter, Bryan Neubert, and more. I have gleaned a portfolio of particular styles or set of exercises from each that I flip back to whenever I ride and need the help.
I have ridden with Joe Wolter an almost embarrassing amount of times, I believe four, and we have hosted him at our arena as well. Joe is always the horseman who rides with such life yet at the same time, the horse under him looks completely effortless. I have learned to connect with horses by what Joe has taught.
The biggest lesson that I took away from him was when asking something of my horse, to do so with as little effort and signal as possible, then build more when necessary. Then return back to the place of soft feel and minimal effort. This builds the sensitivity within my horse and he begins to feel for me when I use the smallest of signals.
When my horse’s shoulders were pushing out as I rode the other day, instead of constantly using an outside leg to hold him up, I dropped all of my signals except for my body positioning and asked my horse to walk a circle. So with no rein or leg contact, I positioned my head and shoulders to look into the middle of the circle. My horse lazily did somewhat of a circle that looked more like a chicken egg, and I accepted that to begin with, but when he would ignore my cues and completely leave the circle, I would pick up on my reins, not in a jerk, but with some contact, and pulled him back to the middle, and added my legs bumping him to bring up the life and let my horse find the circle.
When he would return to the track I had set in my mind, I would again fairly-abruptly drop my reins and remove leg contact, but maintain my body looking in. Every time my horse would leave the 15 foot circle, I would take a second or two to return him with life, then remove the cues immediately. By removing the cues this way, it becomes immediately apparent to your horse that being on your circle line or wherever feels so much better than leaving. It isn’t a punishment, but rather a great discomfort.
He eventually found the circle, wanted to stay on it, and actually hunted the middle. It became easier to stay there than to leave. This turns into a really great and effortless spin as well.
The difference in using methods like this when riding versus always guiding your horse along is that he becomes independent from you, while still remaining tuned in to your goals. Some horses completely fall apart if someone doesn’t have constant contact with their horses mouth, or their shoulders or ribs drift all over the place if the rider removes leg contact. My hope when I ride is for my horse to maintain a nice frame without me having to hold him in it. By giving him freedom to try on his own, correcting him when he hasn’t quite found what I’m after, but not punishing him in the process, he begins to look to me for guidance while still having confidence in himself, creating fluidity and ease between us.
Riding in this manner sets a really great foundation for working cows in any format: cutting, working cow horse, or roping. Many times, it is advantageous for the rider to allow the horse to work a cow since that’s why we choose cow-bred horses, right? However, when that horse falls out of frame now and then, the rider can easily and effortlessly correct the horse and then return to minimal cues once again.
About Savanna Simmons
I'm Savanna Simmons and I live north of Lusk, Wyoming, on the Four Three Ranch with my husband Boe and our sons, Brindle and Roan. I grew up evolving my horsemanship with clinicians like Ray Hunt, Joe Wolter, and Jack Brainard, but not within a...