frank sigala training yearling

A Different Approach

I have been training my own horses since I was 15 years old. Though it was not necessarily for cutting, it has given me a good understanding of how a horse’s mind works and how to get them to do what I ask them to do.

I have made plenty of mistakes and I will probably always make them. Along the way, I feel I have ruined some horses that could have been very good ones, and they ended up doing nothing. These experiences are exactly what makes me who I am today. Thanks to that, I have a “bigger toolbox,” as my old friend John Tolbert would say. He would tell you the more tools you put in that toolbox, the handier you get. You don’t use some of those tools very often, but there is no way of knowing which ones might be needed down the road, so you might as well put them all in. This is what I understand from my experience; when coupled with time and good selection, it can make you a wise horse trainer.

Frank Sigala putting headstall on filly
Photo Courtesy of SDP Buffalo Ranch

Everything I have learned comes from the people I have met in my life, starting with my father’s influence and all the crazy ideas he might have given me along the way. I say crazy because they are different, but the man proves to me time and time again that, in all actuality, he is not THAT out of his mind; he simply has a different approach to things.

I am also fortunate enough to know some of the best trainers in the horse industry who have shaped and taught me things. I have put all their lessons into my toolbox of skills. Ultimately, all of this information has to be processed and put to use in the proper manner in order to be effective.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, recently I bought a mare from SDP Buffalo Ranch. She is a yearling filly who I have just started to mess around with on some fundamental groundwork. (i.e., a saddle, rope and lots of jacket work) This is a concept I learned from Wayne Robinson at a clinic too long ago. He went about saying that if your horse was not able to tolerate a rope around him or picking up and dropping a jacket on a fence, then your horse was probably not ready to start working on other things. I am doing enough of that rope and jacket work that if I had to take this filly to a winter roping, we would have as good a chance as any to come out on top.

Frank Sigala using a rope to desensitize filly
Photo Courtesy of SDP Buffalo Ranch

I am taking the time to establish a trust relationship between her and I so when we go to schooling a cow, she won’t question why I am asking her to do things. There should be enough education that the message comes to her in such way that it is understood in a simple manner, and in a way that with repetition, it becomes natural.

This is a principle used for many things in life, but I see it quite often in martial arts. I am practicing the art of Brazilian jiujitsu; with repetition in what I learn and then practice, things become natural … almost second nature. If the message is simple enough in how it comes across, the receiving party will be able to pick up that information and apply it, and then by repeating it enough times, the concept becomes natural.

One key idea here is that for the message to be simple enough, not only does the messenger need to be clear with his language but, more importantly, they need to set the basics so the receiver can find it simple to do. If you do not strive to be a great teacher, you will never have good students.

What I am trying to say here is that if a sensei comes to a white belt with a concept he has never heard before, then the student will most likely find the concept too deep and will not be able to digest the information. They will surely want to give up. The sensei has to work with the student for a period of time, giving them some more basic concepts until the student is ready to learn deeper ones.

conformation shot of filly
Photo by Shella Langford

It is the same with horses. If we do not take the time to teach them the little things, how can we expect them to understand the deeper stuff and digest them enough so that they are not struggling in the long run. This way of training might seem to take a little longer at the beginning, but in fact, it takes less time in the long run.

By giving a horse gradual levels of learning from the solid foundation you’ve taught them through repetition, success will come much quicker. Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”? Well, this is the exact same concept.

As for my yearling filly and me, keep your eyes open. She is proving to me that she has all it takes to be exceptional; you’ll be seeing us! That is the goal!