Larry Hedrick believes horses respond better to a relaxed training regiment
Larry Hedrick has broken countless horses, and ridden a few saddle broncs and bulls in his time, but he doesn’t consider himself a cowboy.
“I’d rather be a horse person,” Larry said. “To me, that’s knowing your horse and being soft with your horse, and having your horse want to work for you.”
Larry grew up around horses. Because Larry was the smallest in his family, he was often the first person to ride the horses his late father, Walter Hedrick, brought home.
“I started breaking horses when I was about 12, 13 years old; I love it,” he said. “I get a sense of accomplishment by taking a horse that doesn’t know anything and seeing what you can turn him into. It’s an adrenaline rush when you get on a horse the first few times when you’re breaking him; you really don’t know what they are going to do. It’s like getting in your car and you don’t know if the steering is going to work or if the accelerator is going to stick wide open with no breaks. You might think you’ve done your homework, but you never know. It’s the challenge of it.”
Larry had plans to start his own reigning horse breeding and training program, building his own training facility, but those plans were sidelined when more and more people asked him to work with their horses.
“I ended up riding everyone else’s horses, never on my own,” Larry said with a laugh.
A rider’s body language, touch and movements are the keys to training a horse and being a good horseman, according to Larry, and he’s developed a few of his own training techniques over the years.
“(Clinicians) would always say you have to keep a horse’s feet moving, and people want to squeeze them with their legs and kick them to go. I thought it didn’t make sense because any horse can spook with you, and that’s what gets people hurt. If a horse spooks, the first thing you’re going to do is clamp down with your legs. If a horse spooks with me, I’m going to clamp down on my legs to hold on and he’s going to think, ‘Let’s go.’ When I train a horse, when I squeeze my legs, he’s going to drop his head and relax, that way if one spooks with me, I can clamp down with my legs and I’m sending him a message, without even thinking about it, to be cool and relax. If I can keep a horse’s head level or below with his withers, he’s going to be more relaxed. The people I’ve taught, that just gives them a little more confidence because they feel like they have control of their horse.”
Horses respond to positive reinforcement, even if it’s short a break.
“Less is more,” Larry said. “A horse’s greatest reward is rest; a horse is lazy. When I get a horse doing what it’s supposed to do, I go clear to the other side of the round pen for a while. It might just be five minutes, but they respond well to that. It’s giving them a reward and taking all of the pressure away from them. They respond to the release of pressure, they don’t learn from putting pressure on them. You have to back off and take it easy with them. If I get a horse out and he does well, I might be done with him in 10 minutes; I don’t have anything says I have to work him for an hour, two hours.
“We will play harder than we will work, so I try to make a horse think he’s playing, instead of working. If you make it fun for them and not work their butt off every time, they are going to stay a lot better horse.”
A simple touch can also bring positive results from a horse.
“One of my pet peeves is seeing people smack a horse’s neck,” Larry said. “If I’m that horse, I’m wondering why he’s hitting me. If you do something good, would you rather someone come up and hit you on the neck or come up and massage your neck? Do something for them that makes them feel good.”
Larry has worked with horses whose owners claim are “problem” horses. The problems, he said, are typically a lack of understanding between the rider and the horse.
“I’ve had people bring me their horses and say they have a problem,” he said. “I tell them they need to come for a month and then bring their horse the last week, then they say it’s the horse. They will come back in a couple of weeks and ask if (their horse) did this or that. They don’t give me the problems that they give the owners. Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence, but horses will try you and you have to address that. It’s always a challenge. A lot of people think they can ride and don’t want to take ‘lessons.’ They want to jerk around on the horse like you see in an old western; they don’t know how to be soft on a horse.”
After 50 years in the saddle, Larry admits he’s always looking for new ways to train horses.
“If you stop learning or wanting to learn, you are going to be as good as you will ever be,” he said. “I might see something new and it might work for me, or it might not. I always tell my customers that I may tell them something today, but then the next day tell them something different. It doesn’t mean what we’re doing is wrong, I just learned something better so we’re going to try something better. There’s no one person out there who knows it all.”
Breaking horses might be an adrenaline rush for Larry, but he has gotten a great deal of satisfaction in helping others get along better with their horses and become better riders.
“I worked with 4-H kids for quite a while,” he recalled. “If I can keep them from getting hurt on a horse when they’re little, they can enjoy them for the rest of their lives. I like working with kids to try and keep them safe, and giving them the confidence to be a good rider.”
At 70 years old, Larry admits he’s slowed down a little, but he’s not giving up his horses.
“Horses have been good to me. At one point at the company I was with, I was the only one in management who wasn’t on high blood pressure medicine. I’d tell them, ‘You guys need to get you a horse and when you go home at night, mess with your horse; it’s just a stress release.’ I’ve had very good health and I attribute that to horses. When you go out there, especially when you’re first breaking one, you forget about everything else; you’d better concentrate on your horse. To me, it’s the best stress relief there is. You don’t make that much money with horses, so you have to enjoy it and take pleasure from it. I never really want to give up horses, I just can’t see me doing that. There is just too much pleasure in that. I love getting on a horse that I’ve trained and seeing what all he can do and that he wants to perform the best he can for you.”