Thursday, February 02, 2012


I've gotten farther along in my Real Riding book and I can't recommend it enough. I just finished Part 3: Mindwork. It's really important stuff. At the end of the section he talks about the state of true being with horses: "Have you ever had those moments with a horse when time seems to stand still? You feel totally uplifted by the experience. It is as though you are floating on air. You feel completely connected with the horse and your surroundings and totally at peace inside yourself. Everything you try to do with the horse happens easily and simply, as though the horse were part of your inner self, reading your mind and carrying out your wishes even before you have asked."

A little excerpt from the same page: "Imagine you're a horse... You form deep bonds; you love your friends and family." Yes, this may sound obvious, but did you ever just sit there and think about how deeply they bond? How much they love one another? I'm sure we've all experienced the magnetism of the herd, often in a very frustrating situation. Wouldn't it be nice if they were herdbound to us?

The next section is Partnership Work and I think it's going to be pretty amazing too.

On another note, there is a video I'd like to share with you. It's titled Horse Training with the Initiator Signal - Asking your horse's permission. I totally love it. Mostly I love it because this is something that just naturally came to into being in my training with Bella, but they've made it much more more clear and consistent than I did. I don't give treats and I don't have a consistent signal, but I do ask her to acknowledge me before I move on to something I know might stress her into mentally retreating. I think I ought to make my method clear like theirs, now that I know it is a method. :)

I'm having a horsemanship crisis of faith. I want to find a system that I think is fair, but that is also clear and easily understood, and I can't find it. Perhaps that's partially because so much of horsemanship is based on experience and feel, not words and techniques. You can't always look at a 2D image and get a feel for the horse and handler's state of mind, or how exactly the horse is bent, or what their breathing sounds like...

I don't like the idea of chasing horses in circles when they're freaked out. I don't believe that's natural horsemanship. I don't believe that a horse who cares about another horse is going to chase them around when they're scared. Sure, they do that as a dominance game, but it's not a friendly game if one horse is seriously scared. Friendly chasing happens in comfortable times, in safety among friends. Aggressive chasing is not among friends. Even if the chaser is in a calm state of mind, if the chasee is not, it's not friendly (in my opinion).

(Feel free to correct me if you disagree with the following.) A loving leader among the horses will still reprimand at times, and will still claim the better food, the better place to stand, etc. But when their buddies are scared they might reassure with a touch of the nose on the shoulder or neck. Or sometimes just ignore the goofy spooky horse. Perhaps they spook and run with them, and then show their unconcern or even advance on the scary object, which helps the scared horse realize there's nothing to worry about. They say, "I see what you're worried about, but it's okay." Maybe they don't really care how the other horse feels and they just experience and feel their own feelings, but they don't exacerbate the problem their buddy is having unless they also are afraid. Aha! Maybe we chase horses because we also are afraid? That sure doesn't put us in the fearless leader position, does it?

All that said, I do understand that often a horse needs to move its feet to "get the crazies out." And I'm not against doing what it takes, for as long as it takes, to keep a horse from jumping into my space. I know that sometimes horse training does not look pretty. And I'm not claiming to be an expert on horse training. I don't really know what I am saying. But I do know that I like my relationship with my horses, and I don't like to chase them around (unless they're being naughty on purpose, which the boys have been known to do, but even then circles are not always the answer). And I know I'm in a serious seeking phase right now. So, any suggestions? Books? Videos? Articles? Websites?

Blah. I keep going back and re-reading what I've written and it doesn't seem quite right. Don't think I'm not happy and thankful for the many wonderful teachers we meet along our horsemanship paths. There are so many gems and jewels to gather from them. And I'm not claiming everyone else is wrong and I'm right. I'm just uncomfortable in my own self about some methods. They obviously work for a lot of people. Maybe I've misunderstood, or read the horses wrong. I don't think I have, but I don't claim to be infallible. :)

Anywho... Enough second guessing my writing - I'm going to sign off now!

8 comments:

Margaret said...

My trainer refers to it as " helping them move" not chase them. As soon as the horse acknowledges him, he releases the pressure and turns from them. I have seen him do this over and again, and every horse but one (and that is touched in the brain...truly loco) end up calming down and seeing him as a leader. The crazy circle stuff really doesn't last that long. But I do gerund work every day, and I do have times I have to make my horses move their feet...but you said you didn't have a problem with that. I do know, horses never worry about hurting feelings and don't hold grudges either. Does this stem from your feeling guilty at having to be tough with the horses? Do you imagine they will think "she doesn't love me" or "She isn't my friend"

You are experienced, so I'm sure that isn't it. I just feel your view of the "circle thing" is harsh and doesn't really see it for what it is. I wonder, who have you watched do this? Perhaps they were mean NH trainers. I only speak from my limited circle of experience. Which is James Cooler. And I have never seen better horsesmthan his. They are happy and well adjusted.

I am really eager to follow your quest here to find the right training approach for you and your horses.

Kate said...

I think the problem with round penning - as with so many so-called "natural" methods, is that it's so easy to do it wrong. It can be done right, but it takes real feel and attention and softness, and frankly, most people (including most "trainers") just don't have that. The result is running horses into submission - of course the horse "joins up" - it just wants to stop running. When starting a young horse, properly done round penning, without excess pressure, can be used effectively to teach attention and response to basic cues, but I think very little of it translates to under saddle work and I think round penning is way over used. I also think, once a horse is under saddle and progressing, groundwork is mostly for the person's reassurance and has little benefit for the horse.

I've struggled with the same things you do. It seems that, on the one hand, there's riding "systems", which follow a one-size fits all approach to horses, and which can be easy to follow, but lead to a mechanical approach that I feel doesn't take into account the individual horse and can lead to some serious problems. A lot of the tradional training methods - make the horse do it - as well as many NH methods - particularly those with big marketing shows on TV or in person - are like that and fall short.

I think it takes a quiet, careful approach, one horse at a time, to do it right. I look to the masters such as Hunt and Dorrance, and I've found Mark Rashid to be of the same school. As you point out though, without their sense of feel and timing, it's hard to duplicate what they do, even though it's actually pretty simple. All we can do is keep trying and doing the best we can, getting assistance when we need it to work on our own feel and timing. I'm actually taking two of my horses to one of Mark's few approved trainers/instructors - I think he has only 6 worldwide - and she's going to be working with my horses and me on improving what we're doing.

The good news is our horses don't expect us to be perfect . . .

Margaret said...

Like Kate said, timing IS everything as the goal is NOT to have the horse run around in circles. Both my horses would never do that now as they want to give me their attention and "play". I do cordially disagree with Kate's " but I think very little of it translates to under saddle work and I think round penning is way over used". Now, round penning may be overused, and the only time I've used it is to start some basic Freedom work... which we both loved... he responded quite well to my body language. I plan on video taping it this spring.

The benefit to the horse, as far as my experience is HUGE. They learn the pressure points and see me as a boss on the ground first. I have a very docile QH, but he is also very confident. I am always surprised when he gets "squirrely" on the ground and am always happy we struggle there first (I warm up no more than 10 minutes before each ride.

I KNOW everyone finds there approach, I just hate when I see NH spoken of so poorly when I know my trainer is amazing, confident but gentle, and kind. He is always talking about gentle pressure and the importance of the immediate "release" of that pressure. Timing is everything. It has taken me (and I still am) learning. I can't imagine learning this without a trainer coaching me with weekly lessons.

As Kate said, every horse personality is different, but I differ in that I think NH done properly IS for all horses and horse owners as it is equine communication.

I don't meant to make this so long, nor do I want to come across as preachy or argumentative. I greatly respect all the blogs I read and learn from each of you. Just sharing my views. Also much of "NH" isn't so new, and I hate that it has this title, as the quality varies from trainer to trainer... as in all types of approaches to training horses.

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

I'm not putting down natural horsemanship in any way. And I'm not saying work in the round pen isn't useful (to a point, and mostly in the beginning). I just don't think the way to help a truly afraid horse is to run it in circles until it's too tired to jump around, but still not settled in its mind. I don't think it's natural, therefore it can't be natural horsemanship. So in essence I agree with you both.

I'm not sure that I agree that ground work isn't beneficial. My horses get more reassurance from me when I'm on the ground, not so much when I'm in the saddle, so sometimes going for a walk before riding can calm their nerves, and asking for precise maneuvers on specific footfalls can be very beneficial for mind and body. Playing with things like rattly hoola hoops, spray bottles, tarps, and flags, is something I would never initiate from the saddle.

On another note, I am beginning to wonder if mustangs really are different from other horses, and maybe that's why the more aggressive training techniques don't look right to me. A lot of mustangs don't respond well to round pen work. They don't bond with the human, even if they do what you want them to do, and some just never stop running. To me the process has to be closer, with a more "this is what you need to do in order to stop and be quiet with me" approach, rather than a "you have to run until you pretend you like me" approach. Which sometimes means being less strict and allowing repeated mistakes (with softer consequences) until they find the right answer. But I think if you let them find the right answer rather than making them find the right answer, it just works better.

And I keep thinking I'm over-thinking this, and when I'm quiet and in the moment with the horse, rather than blathering on in words, I know the right answer, and that's when it matters. But being clear and concise in language can lead to a better understanding, so I'm exploring that a bit. :)

Kate said...

I think NH as a term really doesn't mean a whole lot. You have to look at each individual trainer/method and evaluate its pros and cons for you and your horse. There are terrible trainers who call themselves NH, and good ones. I agree with Margaret that round penning can be useful if done properly - the problem is that most people don't know how to do it properly (I'd put myself in that group), and done improperly it can really cause damage to the horse's confidence - sure, they may submit but there's no real connection with the inside of the horse. But if it works for you, and you're able to do it effectively, then that's well and good.

Linda said...

I think when you said, letting them move, that is the key to what some of the great horsemen and women do. Let them move is a lot different than making them move. When the horse decides to move away...they just push them off like it was their idea rather than trying to trap or harness them--that's letting them move with the illusion of making them, I guess. I do believe controlled movement is the key to everything with horses. I think that's the way a confident novice is sometimes more successful with horses than a timid expert. Buck B. said that in the movie--in a different way. I'm like you, I read a lot of different things and haven't found the solve-all. I really need more confidence with the young ones. The knowledge is there, but I need someone I trust to hold my hand and be there to help me out. I wish we lived closer because I'd be hitting you up for help, if we did.

Keechy said...

The closest I have come to someone who seems to get what it is about for me is Mark Rashid. Added to clicker training and TTouch. :)

And in the end I think nothing really beats getting out there and spending as much time in and out of the saddle with them as you can. Like we did as kids. When we had our best relationships with our horses for that very reason!

hkfarms said...

I agree. I remember doing things with horses as a kid I have more trouble doing now. I have started clicker training and the horses seem to really enjoy it. I do also since I don't feel like I'm saying "don't do that" but instead "yes, that's what I want" which keeps me in a better state of mind.