Training the Ranch Horse with Curt Pate
Story by Marilyn Short
Photo Copyright Robbin Cresswell Photographyt\

Anyone can become a better horse person. That’s right, anyone whether it be instructors that have been in the horse business for years or newcomers just getting into the horse business. As long as they keep an open mind, and are dedicated and committed to continue to improve their horsemanship skills, they can become a better horse person, and Curt Pate has been busy improving his own horsemanship skills since his last visit to the Texas Equestrian Expo in 2002.

Pate will be a feature presenter again this year at the 2003 Texas Equestrian Expo. What he’ll be covering at this year’s Expo will be geared toward the ranch horse, but will also covered starting a colt in his three or four sessions. “It doesn’t matter if you’re training a horse for ranch work, Western Pleasure, Endurance, or Dressage,” said Pate, “so much of training any horse is universal.  I have probably studied more classical dressage principles in the last 5 years than anything, and I’m now tying that together with the cowboy background, and it has really made a difference in my horsemanship.”

“There are really just three things people have to do to be successful with horses,” Pate said. “First, you have to have a very strong work ethic, because you have to work hard at it. It doesn’t always come easy. Second, you have to have a good time while you’re doing it. You can’t be so stiff and serious that you and your horse aren’t having some fun.” The third key is to have a plan. “You have to figure out ahead of time what you want to do, what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to do that,” he said. “Otherwise, You’re not going to make any progress.”

Curt Pate believes those three areas are all intertwined to the development of a great horse and good horse person. There are so many things and opinions to consider, along with different styles and disciplines to explore, but if you keep those three thoughts in mind you’re on the right track to becoming a good horse person.

“I read a book that said our purpose in life is to be happy,” said Pate. “That really made a lot of sense to me with respect to the horse. I see a lot of people that don’t seem to be happy with their horse. Maybe the horse is not performing properly, they are feeling unsafe, or they just don’t have any purpose in what they are doing.”
Good horsemanship is critical to success in any horse-related sport. Many so-called horse problems are actually horsemanship problems. Many problems that develop with your horse can be traced to your horsemanship skills, and the way to solve them is focusing on your horsemanship skills.

Pate gives a few examples to assist the horse owner in improving their skills.

Be Flexible – when working with a horse, try not to get a set pattern. That’s the hardest thing to avoid, especially when you train a lot of horses. Don’t think that if it worked yesterday you’ll just keep doing what you did the day before, and the day before that. If you do that, pretty soon, all your horses have to fit you rather than you fit the horses. A good horse person has to change to fit the horse more than the horse should have to change to fit you.

Focus on the Future - with round pen work, or arena work, try to think of what you can do, right now, at this moment, that will not only help this horse now, but also in the future. Every decision you make, everything you do with your horse should help the horse in the future.

Pay Attention to Details - most folks want to get on their horses and ride, especially at performance events. The rider is thinking about their roping, barrel racing, or jumping. Always watch for little changes in your horse. All horses pick up little habits and problems and the problem usually starts with the rider. The riders are too busy competing to see the little hints that their horses are showing them. They may miss that their horse is getting a little bothered with something until the horse finally does something to make them take notice such as set back, rear up, bolt or any number of things. It is very important to become a better horseman and be aware of the little changes in your horse’s behavior and attitude.
If you don’t pay attention, your horse gets a little worse each day, not better. Pate’s goal is that his horse gets a little better every day, and by the end of the year then he’ll have a great horse.

Remember to Relax – with our fast-paced lives, people don’t sit on the porch anymore and analyze things, like our ancestors did. We don’t take time to sit and relax, or relax our horse and think about our horsemanship. To keep our horses good mentally, we need them to relax. Drop those reins, let them let the air out, and just plain relax. When you pick up the reins, the horse needs to think, “Okay, what do we need to do?”

Have you ever wondered why your horse is relaxed at home and works well, but then you go to a show or event and the horse behaves differently? Things are different at a show or event – you’re excited, and there’s a lot going on and your horse feels that. If you can teach them to relax when you drop the reins, they learn that no matter what or when, they can relax and settle.

“I think in our world today we’re way too fast,” said Pate. “We have too short a time to ride and when we’re finished we bale off our horse and head for our next task.”

Pate suggests after taking your horse on a ride, take the time to think about things while sitting on your horse. Just sit on your horse so he gets in the habit of sitting and waiting and he doesn’t start anticipating getting turned loose. Take the time to consider what you’ve done for the day — how it was good or bad. He believes we need to do that with our horses and in all the things we do in life. The only way to really learn how to ride a horse is to ride more than one hour at a time.  

“You’ve got to get out of a flat arena, get on a trail, and get up, down, sideways, slow, fast, for five to seven hours…just like working on a ranch,” Pate said. “If you ride long enough your subconscious takes over and you become one with your horse.”

Pate has always been into training ranch horses, but he’s now focusing on the importance of ranch work it to make good horseman and good horses. “The great thing about training the working ranch horse,” said Pate, “is that there is very little training done.  The work actually does the training.  The horse figures out how to get the job done the most effective way, if the cowboy will stay out of the way and just offer guidance.”

Since his last year Pate and his wife Tammy, have been real busy getting their South Dakota ranch ready and just moved in last month.  Once they sell their Montana horse property, they’d eventually like to have a winter ranch in Texas. “We would like to have a northern ranch in the summer for a grazing operation,” said Pate.  “In the winter we want to be in a place where people say “Y’all” and drink sweet tea, and Texas would be a great place to do just that.”
Pate has also been real busy with Purina Mills doing demonstrations and he is taking some of their research farm colts and will be starting them and trying to maybe do some good things with them after they have done their jobs with Purina. He’s also been working with “Western Horseman” on a new book, “”Ranch Horsemanship for the Everyday Rider” that should be released this coming fall.

Don’t miss Curt at the Texas Equestrian Expo at the Bell County Expo Center just outside of Belton, Texas on June 20-22, 2003. You can visit Curt’s website at: You can also see Curt in the next “In A Whisper” which will be filmed Sunday evening, June 22 in Austin, Texas.

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