A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color: Tales of Training through Communication and Trust

A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color: Tales of Training through Communication and Trust

by Mark Rashid


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In A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color, Mark Rashid continues to share his talent for training horses through communication rather than force. Rashid uses humorous, feel-good stories to relate his techniques of teaching horses by examining their view of the world. These stories deal with many aspects of buying, owning, and training horses with a special focus on those that are troubled and hard-to-train. The arrested development of horses like these, Rashid shows, is often a result of their trainers’ own lack of understanding of their unique psychologies.
With stories that stress the importance of patience and understanding, this book is a must-have for compassionate horse trainers and owners. Tales of Arabs, appaloosas, and paints—mistrusted and mistreated because of their breed—will give readers a new perspective on these breeds and others. Sometimes, it’s the attitude that needs to be fixed rather than the horse. Rashid’s accounts of horses bound for slaughter because they were considered impossible to train will inspire you to give your own problem horse a second look. This new edition features added introductory notes for each chapter that contribute to a better understanding of Rashid’s philosophy and methods.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510741799
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 351,230
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mark Rashid is an author and horse trainer. His books, such as Considering the Horse and Whole Heart, Whole Horse, follow his training philosophy, which is to find training solutions by considering the horse's point of view. The author of several books, Rashid was featured on the PBS Nature series.

Read an Excerpt


The Horseman from Wyoming

It was only 10:30 in the morning, but it felt like I'd already put in a full day. It had all started about two hours earlier as I rode my bike up the gravel road to the little horse ranch where I worked. I may have only been twelve years old at the time but as I neared the ranch gate, I could see right off that I was in trouble.

I'd been the last one through the gate the night before, and while I was sure I had closed it, I knew as I approached that I hadn't latched it. I was sure of this because the eighteen horses that were normally in the front pasture of the ranch were no longer there. Instead, they were strung out for about a mile and a half along the ditch at the side of the road, happily munching the lush green grass that grew there.

Parked in front of the wide-open gate was my boss's 1949 Ford pickup truck. And there, sitting on the passenger-side running board, was my boss, Walter Pruit. A filterless Camel cigarette hung precariously from his lips, and he was just finishing it as I approached.

I skidded my bike to a stop near the back of the old, beat-up pickup, terrified of what the old man might do or say to me because of my unforgivable mistake. At the very least, I figured my days of working for him were over. My biggest concern, however, was not so much that he was going to fire me (after all, I wasn't getting paid anyway), but how he was going to do it. Would he just flat out fire me and send me packing, or would I be chastised and flogged first?

From his seat on the running board, the old man slowly glanced up at me, took the last drag from his cigarette, and dropped it on the ground. He mashed the smoldering butt with the toe of his boot. It was quite obvious, by the number of already mashed cigarette butts at his feet, that he had been sitting there for quite a while. After stomping out the cigarette, he slowly rose to his feet and faced me, shaking his head. He took one step toward me, then reached inside the box of the pickup.

Here it comes, I thought to myself. He's probably got a baseball bat in there that he'll whack me in the head with. Proper punishment for such a heinous crime, I guessed.

I prepared for the worst as he pulled his hand out of the pickup box. Much to my surprise, all he had was a halter and lead rope that he brought over and handed to me. He went back to the pickup and pulled out a pile of seventeen more, which he brought over and dropped at my feet. Then, without saying a word, he walked over and climbed into the cab of the pickup. He sat for a few seconds while he lit up another cigarette before trying to start the old truck.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the old Ford finally wheezed and coughed to life. He began to ease the truck down the quarter-mile long driveway that led to the barn, the truck sounding all the way like a cross between a steam-powered thrashing machine and a bulldozer with a bad muffler.

He had no sooner pulled away than a light rain began to fall. Not wanting to spend all day in the rain catching horses, I quickly leaned my bicycle up against the fence and got down to the business at hand. Luckily, the horse nearest to me was an old gelding named Mac who had little or no ambition to do anything but stand still and eat. As a result, he allowed me to walk right up and catch him. I slid the halter on and began to walk him back to the gate, followed closely by Mac's best buddy, another old gelding named Blaze.

Just like that I had two horses caught and returned to the pasture.

Great, I thought. This is going to be easy. Only sixteen more to go. The horses, however, had other ideas. As I began to make my way toward the next horse, a young mare named Lucky, she suddenly raised her head, snorted, and ran across the road into a large hay field. One by one each of the other horses followed until all sixteen were running back and forth, kicking and playing, tails and heads high, through the field.

For the next hour, as the rain fell harder, I followed the herd while they ran first one way, then the other. Luckily, the field was fenced on three sides so at least they were in somewhat of an enclosure and were content to stay there. Otherwise, I'd probably still be trying to catch them. I had to admit, as I sloshed through puddles in the freshly cut hayfield, that I wished I had a bucket full of grain to assist me. Surely, they'd all come to the sound of grain shaking in a bucket. Unfortunately, that was simply not an option. The old man wouldn't allow any of his horses to be coerced into being caught with such a cheap and unimaginative trick.

"You shouldn't own horses," I had heard him say a hundred times, "if you can't catch 'em."

It took a while, but finally some of the more out-of-shape horses began to play out and allow me to approach and halter them. Fifteen minutes later, the rest of them also settled down and allowed themselves to be caught and returned to the pasture. Finally, after over an hour-and-a-half 's worth of catching horses, I was able to start my morning chores. My chores consisted mainly of feeding, watering, and cleaning up after the twenty or so horses that stayed in the corrals and paddocks up near the barn. I was also in charge of tending to horses that happened to be in any of the six box stalls inside the barn, all of which were empty at that time. This was great luck, seeing's how I was terribly late getting started in the first place. With everything I had to tend to outside, I probably wouldn't have gotten to anything inside for another hour.

Like a man possessed, I flew around the place feeding, watering, and cleaning, all the while getting drenched by what now seemed like nothing short of a monsoon. Because of my blistering pace, I was able to finish my chores in what felt like record time. After finishing up at the last corral, I burst into the tack room to announce to the old man that my chores were finally finished, only to find him not there.

The tack room was a sixteen-by-sixteen-foot room that had been added to the main barn, it seemed, as an afterthought. In it were several saddle stands with saddles and blankets, a small work bench, a potbellied wood stove, and the old man's favorite chair. Bridles, cinches, halters, and the like hung in various places on the wall and were in no particular order. The room had three doors — the one that I'd just come through, leading to the outside, one on the left, which led to the main barn, and one on the right, which opened into a large box stall the old man used as a foaling stall. The room had a very distinctive odor to it, an interesting mixture of leather, horse sweat, and cigarette smoke.

As I stood in the tack room door, I heard what sounded like running water — not running water from a spigot or water faucet, but from something much bigger, like a river or waterfall. This sound wouldn't have bothered me if I were in the woods or near a large body of running water. Unfortunately, I was near neither. In fact, the sound wasn't even coming from outside. It was coming from inside the main barn.

I walked over to the door and looked into the barn only to see the entire floor covered with about three inches of water. The only place that was relatively dry was a high spot in the middle of the barn where the old man was standing, hat tipped back, scratching his head.

He was staring up at a large hole in the roof where water from the storm outside was spilling through in truckloads. He stood there a few seconds longer, then turned and trudged through the water and past me into the tack room.

"I should'a had them boys fix that before they left," he said quietly.

The boys he was referring to were a couple of fellows in their late teens who had been working for him since before I'd started working at the place two years earlier. As near as I could tell, he even paid them. One's name was Mike, the other's name was Spitter.

Now, while I was fairly certain that "Spitter" was not the name his mother gave him when he was born, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why everybody called him that. I hadn't ever seen him spit, not any more than normal, that is, and he didn't drool or slobber much. I guess it was just one of those nicknames that someone had adorned him with at some point in time, and for some unfortunate reason, it stuck.

Spitter and Mike did all the really hard work on the place — all the work that the old man had trouble doing because he was too old and I had trouble doing because I was too young. They did most of the riding of the young colts, under the watchful eye of the old man. They also did all major fence work, kept the well working properly, did tack repair, ran the tractor and manure spreader, and did all the maintenance on the barn and other buildings on the place. This included repairing the barn roof when it sprung one of its periodic leaks, which were more common than not. In fact, they had just finished repairing one such leak when one of them stepped on another soft spot, causing the roof to give way and creating the hole through which Mother Nature was now filling the barn with barrel after barrel of water. Unfortunately, before they could get around to fixing the hole, Mike got drafted into the Army. Spitter, being his best friend and not wanting him to go into the Army alone, signed up and went with him. That had been almost two months earlier. We never did see either one of them again.

The old man walked over and sat down in his chair. As he began to pry one of his rubber boots (the kind with the buckles down the front) off his foot with the toe of the other, I meekly told him how sorry I was for forgetting to latch the gate.

"I'll tell you something," he said with a slight grin. "You're not the first person that ever left a gate open." The boot popped off his foot and landed on the floor in front of him. "And you sure won't be the last."

He sat back in his chair and looked straight at me. "The important thing is that we didn't lose any stock. What happened to you," he continued, as he leaned forward and began prying the other rubber boot off, "wasn't that big of a deal. Heck, I remember one time when I was your age, maybe a little younger, I forgot to latch the gate on a pen full of horses that my dad and his hired hand had just spent three days gathering." He shook his head as the other boot popped off. "I had horses scattered all over the damn prairie."

Then something very strange happened, something that had never happened before. The old man settled back in his chair. He got very quiet for a few seconds. Then out of the blue, he began talking about his past. He told me that he was born somewhere in Nebraska, in 1896 or '95, he wasn't sure, and that shortly afterwards his family moved west to Wyoming, where he lived until he was seventeen. He said that his dad originally tried to raise cattle after the move but found that the large cattle operations in the area had a monopoly on the business. For that reason, his dad switched over to horses. When he was five or six years old, an old Indian came looking for work and his dad hired him.

"We all called him Tom," the old man said, "but I don't guess that was his real name."

He said that he and Tom became very close and that it was Tom, not his father, who had taught him much of what he knew about horses. One of the very first things Tom had shown him was how a horse can use the length of his body to warm himself. He explained that right when the sun comes up, after a cool night, you will see horses standing with their entire sides toward the sun. By doing that, they can warm as much of their body as possible all at once. However, on hot days, horses usually stand with their backsides toward the sun, exposing the least amount of their body's surface to the sun and limiting the amount of heat their bodies take in.

He said that Tom showed him many of the little things about horses that no one else seemed to know. Tom even showed him how horses communicate with one another and how important it is for us to understand those things.

"Once you understand how a horse communicates," the old man said, as he lit another cigarette, "you can understand how he thinks. Once you understand how he thinks, you can understand what's important to him. And that's the key." He nodded slowly while shaking the lit match until it was extinguished. The look on my face must have told him that his last statement went right over my head, so he went on to explain.

"Anybody can force a horse to do what they want," he continued. "But if you force him to do it, it won't be important to him to do it right. He'll do it almost right some of the time. He'll do just enough to get by. But if you show him what you want and then reward him when he does it just right, it will become important to him to do the thing right every time." He paused. "Understand?"

"I think so," I replied, after running the statement through my mind a few times.

He continued to talk for the better part of an hour, explaining how horses treat each other with respect and dignity that we, as humans, often don't even show to one another. The example he used was that most fights between horses stop before they start. Squealing and body language are usually enough of a deterrent that an argument never even comes to blows. In most cases, the less dominant horse will show respect by getting away from the more dominant one. The dominant horse leaves the other horse his dignity by allowing him to move away without further attack.

He then talked of the ways Tom showed him how to get more from a horse by using less.

"Why do people use spurs?" he asked abruptly.

"Um," I started, "to get their horses to go faster?"

"That's right," he said. "Let me ask you this. Did the Indians use spurs on their horses?"

I had to stop and think for a minute. I remembered looking at photographs and paintings of warriors on horseback and in none of the pictures did I recall any of them wearing spurs.

"No, they didn't."

"That's right," he said, shaking his head. "Some of the finest war horses in the world were ridden by the Plains Indians. They could run faster, turn quicker, stop shorter, and outdistance the U.S. Cavalry on just about any given day. The Cavalry boys had saddles, blankets, bridles with bits, and spurs on their boots. The Indians usually went bareback with nothing to stop and turn their horses with but a leather rope around the horse's neck or around his bottom jaw. They got more with less." He paused for a second, noticing that it had just stopped raining.

"You can't force a horse to be that way," he continued, rising from his chair and walking to the door. " They have to want to be that way. It had to be important for them to want to do those things, and the Indians knew how to do that."

He stuck his hand out the door, palm up, to double check whether raindrops were still falling. "While they were getting more with less," he said, bringing his arm back in and looking at the palm of his hand, "we were getting less with more and thought we were something special because of it." He turned and looked me straight in the eye.

"Horses are good animals. They deserve better."

He turned and walked out the door with me hot on his heels.

He made his way to the large sliding door in front of the barn and pushed it open.

The barn and the other buildings on the place were over sixty years old and were all relatively sound structurally except, of course, for the barn roof. At one time, the barn itself even had a hardwood floor. However, it had long since been removed, which left the dirt floor recessed by about four inches. That's why the floor flooded the way it did.

I went to the tool shed and brought back a couple of shovels. Then, while the old man and I began to dig some shallow trenches in order to drain the barn, he started once again to reminisce about his past.

He told me that he was riding horses almost before he could walk, as did most kids of that time who lived on ranches. He also told me that by the time he was seven or eight years old, he was expected to be a top hand around the place.

"It was a matter of economics," he said, leaning on the handle of the shovel. "If I could do the work of a full-grown man, Dad didn't have to hire another one."

He also talked of how he would sit on the fence and watch Tom train horses for hours on end, much to the dismay of his father who thought he should be doing his chores.

"He was amazing to watch," the old man commented. "He could take the wildest, bronkiest son-of-a-gun on the place and have him following him around like a puppy dog in just a few minutes. In a couple of hours, he'd be up on him bareback, ridin' him around with only a rope around the horse's neck to control him. The horse'd never buck or nothin'," he paused, shaking his head. "He was really somethin'."

It was strange hearing the old man talk that way about Tom because I'd seen him do the very same things with horses. I personally felt the same way — that the things he was doing were truly amazing. It never dawned on me that he may have actually learned them from someone and that he felt the same way about that person as I did about him. It was very strange.


Excerpted from "A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Mark Rashid.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface xiii

Part 1 The Idea

1 The Horseman from Wyoming 3

2 What Makes 'em That Way 28

3 A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color 47

Part 2 The Business End

4 Horse Breakers, Trainers, and Teachers 71

5 Buying a Good One 91

Part 3 Making a Good One

6 Babies 115

7 A Good Start 138

8 The Lesson 159

9 Tricks of the Trade 173

Part 4 The Gift

10 The Gift 193

Index 205

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