I have the pleasure of knowing one of the most gifted horsewomen. Tikvah Strain has modeled her training after some of the greatest horsemen: Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, Chris Bohenek and others, who have worked at discovering a way of training horses that represents the horse’s natural way of communication. The Vaquero / Californio style has a special significance as it was the beginning of the working cowboy that we know today. A cowboy working cattle needs to be one with his horse, using mostly legs to communicate cues so that his hands are free to work. It is a way of working with horses that creates “oneness” between the horse and rider, making a soft and willing horse that works with and not against you. Training them to learn from the release, not pressure, takes feel, timing, and consistency.
Tikvah working Snowfire on the cow
One thing particularly different with the Vaquero style is the tack. The Vaquero style has you move through first the halter, then the hackamore stages, into the two rein and finally to straight up in the bridle. The hackamore reins are made of horse hair which is soft and easy to work with. The bosal is rawhide with rawhide cord. Mecarte Reins are used with a slobber strap – the weight and feel of this allows communication with the horse with just the slightest movement from the rider. The traditional Vaquero tack includes the Vaquero style saddle, spade bit, spoon spade, the half breed, regular spade, and more. Tikvah didn’t start out with this style though. Her father and elder brothers and sisters taught her how to ride, and by the time she was seven years old she could ride by herself. The style she learned from her family was pretty much sack it out, kick it to go and pull it to stop, and didn’t really learn how to develop a relationship with the horse. When she was thirteen she started her first colt under saddle. About a year later, she began working at Chris Bohenek’s training facility. She started noticing how Chris worked with his horses, how they had a relationship with him, and were soft and compliant. She started taking lessons from him and going to clinics, watching videos and reading books on this method.
Tikvah and Denny working on stopping with feel
There is a big difference between the Vaquero style and the usual rough cowboy rodeo style. The Vaquero prefers the silver spade bit with the silver Conchos on the bridle and the braided romal reins. The old cowboy style is more apt to use the grazer bit, tom thumb, or maybe the curve bit with the simpler leather split reins. The Vaquero style has never been about just getting the job done; doing it with style has always been the way. They take pride in being able to work the cattle and horses with great skill. I asked Tikvah if there was a way to tell if a horse was about to buck or act up and she answered, “Before a horse bucks, that horse has been going to do it for a long time. There's been a lot of things leading up to right before the horse bucks, for example: being bracie, taking over, taking control, and all of that starts out from not being prepped good, and correct. If that horse was prepped totally correct, then you probably wouldn't have to worry about it ever bucking. Because whatever you asked that horse it would be trusting what you were asking it wouldn't get it into trouble.” She also talked about working with problem horses that others may have started and not done the foundation properly. She described using the energy, getting them moving forward while trying to establish this relationship she strives for. She works at training horses 5 days a week. She can start colts, give older horses a tune up, and can also help problem horses. When she has finished training a horse for someone she will go over with the owner how she has been riding and handling the horse, and will work with people if they are wanting to learn more about how to get the horse working better on groundwork or riding.
We are planning to host a horsemanship demonstration with Tikvah in the spring or summer – check back for dates, or feel free to email us if you want to be put on the list.