It is amazing to me just how much you can learn in a matter of a short hour or two. I have had a lot of “schooling” and class room instruction on many different subjects, but rarely have I felt that my brain was full and I needed to digest, process and sort through it. So, here is some of what is in my head from this day one. Bare with me, It may not make sense.
Leading a horse from pasture:
Anytime you want to do something with a horse, it makes sense that you have to go and get them. From what I understand this can be a good experience or a bad one – for the horse and/or the rider. I desire the pleasant experience. I have recently heard some stories of people sneaking up on their horse in hopes of trying to catch it or trying to trick it into thinking they are not going to be “caught”. This is not enjoyable for the horse. There is no use in sneaking up to your horse, tricking your horse or “catching” your horse. It seems logical to go get your horse with them being on the same page you are. I’m not the predator and they should know that. I don’t think any relationship goes well that is based on sneaking or tricking, it sets everything up wrong from the second it happens and it will not end well. Honesty is the best policy… Hey I am coming to you for a reason and I am the good guy. This is also where it is key to have an understanding of:
How to approach a horse:
If the horse knows you, that is great but I learned that it is still a good idea to make your intentions known – like I said, no surprises. If you are carrying a lead-rope it is ok to let them see it and smell it if need be, or even rub it on them a few times so they are comfortable with it and know what is going on. If you are going to brush them (which most horses enjoy) why not let them see it and smell it as well. Also, it is never a bad idea to love on them and talk to them no matter what you are doing. If you approach the horse and they decide they want to walk away, stick with them until they stop. Be persistent so they know that there is no sense in trying to get away. After all, you are the good guy – and the boss.
If the horse does not know you, it is different. Never assume it is ok to just walk straight up to a horse with no refrain. I briefly mentioned the “approach and retreat” method in an earlier post but I am still trying to understand this one. If you are approaching a horse and they see you then put their back down, they are not interested. If when you see this, you back off – retreat, they may become intrigued, and will wonder why you turned away. If you repeat this, being the curious creatures that they are, they should be approachable or even approach you. Like I said, I may not understand this one.
Being the boss:
So, you have put a lead rope onto the horse (which is a whole separate lesson) and now it is up to you to be the boss. A boss has to be established and it will be the horse or the handler and very commonly it seems to be the horse (more on this down further in groundwork). This means that you are the boss over even the brood mare of the horses – number 1. It is imperative that the handler is the boss. I have been around many dogs so I can relate this concept to them. Often you see dog owners out “walking their dog”, or you hear “I’m going to take my dog for a walk”… but it is funny when instead you see a dog pulling their human down the street and veering all over the park, smelling other dogs, yanking on the leash etc. Who is walking who again? The dog is definitely taking them for a walk. Seeing a dog that heels is rare these days. So this is important to establish. I am not clear on how to explain this fully yet – or exactly how you become the boss, but not letting them get away with things – having them do what you ask and when you ask etc.
I knew absolutely nothing about ground work a week ago. I am not sure I would have even guessed what it was correctly. Today, I got a taste of it. So, after approaching the horse, getting it in from pasture and leading them where you want comes ground work, oh but don’t forget about being the boss, otherwise it will be hard to get them where you want them. I see that ground work is important maybe even before each ride, for sure not just once. It is a lot of hard work. I thought that people went and got the horse, saddled them up, got on and held on for dear life and if they were lucky the horse would go the right way or somehow understand the mixed signals of random kicks, bumps, pulls, etc. With ground work you can teach the horse everything they need to know for when you are in the saddle for starters. If it can’t be worked out from the ground, getting in the saddle will not fix it. This is much more exciting to me, plus you get to know the horse and you work on communication etc.
My experience with it all:
Wow. I am calling today horsemanship day 1 – I would say 101 or level 1 – something, but this stage may take some time and I don’t want to look too slow, but want to make sure I get it. Otherwise I may not ever graduate from 101. Today was interesting and really enjoyable. It was full of learning, confusion, and revelation. I have to admit it is a crazy feeling having a 1,200 pound animal in your bubble.
I will hopefully touch on each category while sharing my personal experience from today. I was working with Tres, or rather she was working with me. She taught me, I did no teaching. She knows ground work, but before I get into that I’ll start at the beginning. We went out to get the horses, approached them – but they know the drill and are happy to abblige. Gin helped me get Tres on a lead rope and I waited as she got Crow, her stallion. I was doing ok leading Tres in from the pasture, but there is a huge bog in the middle of the pasture, which we kind of went right through. Since Tres is number 1 among the horses, they were all following her, but a little too close. She got a little irritated with them and took a few steps back and all the shifting of legs ended up covering me in mud. Not so bad I guess, but she know where we were going, so she walked me out of the pasture. I learned that I could have prevented that by possibly taking he a different way or just being aware of this.
So, now we are out of the pasture and time to begin ground work. This was a time for me to learn how to communicate with her to get the desired result. I learned that it is never the horses fault if they did something incorrectly; it is my fault because I was not clear. She will do something either way, but it is a matter of what I communicate to her. If I ask nothing she may just decide to start eating grass or take a few steps away. If I ask her to back up but my body language is suggesting otherwise, she will get confused. We were not so great together at first but it got better. I learned that I needed to be clearer with what I was asking and be consistent with movement. She is so forgiving and patient with me. By the way she is a very neat horse.
Some of the techniques I got introduced to and for sure need to practice are leading her, stopping her, backing her up, getting her front end to turn, her back end to turn and lead her a certain direction without moving my feet – oh and lateral flexion. All of these can be done on the ground with a lead rope so when you are in the saddle, the basics are already learned.
As I mentioned Tres already knew all of this, but it was difficult for me to communicate with her to produce the result. Part of the problem may have been that my brain was so stimulated with thinking of how to do things or how to make her understand, that her brain was out to dry. It will be better when I have learned more and we can work in a smoother manner. But the biggest thing is being more firm with my directions and movements. Like if I am walking with her behind me and want her to stop, I need to stop in a firm and clear way, not just slow down. All of my body has to represent a stop, not just my feet.
If I was being unclear and did not get the result, I would start over or try something else instead of being persistent in telling her what I wanted. If I would stop to think, or let her out of it we seemed to lose focus and she would focus on something besides me – like the pretty green grass. If she wanted to do something like eat grass, at first it was easy to think, ok – you weigh 1,200 pounds you can do that if you want. Oh, and you don’t want to do this anymore? Alright and sorry for asking. I can’t ask her what she wants to do because that is not how it works (if you want to be the boss) If she does not do it, I have to be persistent until there is some result. For example, if I want her to back up, I will ask her (no contact) and if she does not I will ask again (maybe a little pressure on the lead rope),and if nothing still I will up the pressure until she does what I am asking. Also (this is key) he most important piece of this is to release all pressure the instant there is movement in the right direction. Like if she takes a step backwards, I release pressure.
Interestingly, once she is stimulated and we are on the same page, and we understand each other she is not intersted in the grass and is enjoying herself. You can see it in her body language when we’ve got it.
There is much more I could type, but I am already a few days behind on when this took place (really June 6) because I was organizing thoughts. So some of my goals for the next session are being more intentional and direct and stimulating her brain more to keep focus. Also, we decided, no more eating grass during work time. Towards the end of the session today we found that things went better if I kept a shorter rope on her – not more pressure, just less slack – that way if she put her head down to eat is was her own fault.
I may be very confusing, I tend to ramble, but It is part of my working it out in my head.
I am excited for horsemanship day 2!