Posts Tagged With: horse training

Lines of Communication

Riding and teaching lessons yesterday and turning horses out today, I have been thinking about how we communicate our desires and directions to horses through the reins, lead, line, etc.

We must become light, consistent, clear and immediate with our language of the aids through these lines… we will really miss out, though, if we neglect to “hear the horses” through these same lines of communication. When I am leading a horse to the field, I don’t just pull him along like a red wagon, nor leave him floating in the breeze like a bobbing balloon at the end of a string. No. I keep a light feel of the lead rope and listen to every signal and pre-signal he communicates to me as we walk down the lane. This is why I prefer all cotton, long lead ropes with trigger snaps – they just feel right in my hands.

When riding, I stretch my outside rein, feeling what the horse is saying to me. I keep an elastic, massaging inside rein (barely perceptible, the nuance of a tiny vibration…), allowing the horse to ask me questions and tell me how he feels about his balance and his pace.

On the longe, I’m not sending the horse out on a circle like a model airplane to zoom about and possibly crash – I am “riding” with my body language and listening through that longe line to every signal conveyed by my equine partner.

It is more about a conversation than it is about a performance, and, if we think and act this way, our horses sigh a sigh of relief about finally being heard.

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A Win – Win Situation

A “Win – Win” situation… I hear that often. It is a truly profound statement when it is used. Most times our society is equating winning with being higher, better, stronger, smarter than others who must, therefor, lose.

And it is dramatic when a rider is told to “show him who’s boss”; “you must win the battle with your horse”; etc.

Battle? If a battle ensues within a relationship with a horse, the human is 99% of the time the instigator. A battle can demoralize one of the parties and it invariably ends up being the horse.

So, this “Win – Win” situation sounds like the best way to approach relationships and dialog with horses… heck, with all beings! I have personally found my way there through decades of experience and relationships with Appaloosas. Oh, I have owned and schooled Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Mules, Quarter Horses… you name it! But the time I have spent with Appaloosas has honed my skills as a proponent of “The Middle Way” and brought me to a place of thoughtful consideration of the other party in each relationship. Appaloosas have an acute sense of what is fair and the ability to know if you are honest and mean what you “say”. They will hold you to task. And I appreciate that.

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If we seek that “Middle Way” of partnership with our horses (and family and coworkers and neighbors, etc.), with respect for the other’s feelings – knowing that there are always reasons for how we all respond to life – we will All Be Winners. No One has to lose!

I once was told that my ideas were too “simplistic”; that the way I lived was “idealistic”. How COOL! I will gladly fly the SIMPLE flag and hold myself to the idealistic standards of compassion and trust. If we all just cave in to the idea that struggle, brutality and force are the normal aspects of life and relationships… well, what sort of life and relationships will we experience?

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Hitting Horses

Majic reached over and grabbed my thumb the other day just as a special-needs student was mounting from the platform. His big teeth could have bitten my thumb off, but only made two big blood blisters… only! If I were another horse, I would have bitten him back, kicked him, bopped him with my head. If I were his dam when he was a colt, I might have grabbed his neck and held him down to discipline him.

penny with tiny girl

As a lowly human (biting him back might have meant the loss of teeth), I punched him. Carefully. On the neck. My student saw it all. She was safely in the Aussie saddle (the only reason I went ahead and punched Majic – her safety was paramount) and in need of understanding why I would hit a horse.

This is often the case here where we teach and value compassion and communication. We do not “hit” horses. But we do discipline them. And I have to explain to students why I cannot have the herd pushing boundaries and causing harm to anyone. I also cannot have brutality expressed on any level here. That makes for a fine line indeed. Some of my students through the past few years have come from abusive situations themselves. I do not want them seeing aggression in any form just as I do not want aggression expressed toward any animal. Yet, a horse is a large and powerful animal. Boundaries must be taught and respected because horses do not know our “right from wrong” ideals. And those concepts can be quite different from barn to barn, teacher to teacher.

One constant for certain is that horses cannot be allowed to treat us as peers or underlings with the bite/push/kick responses they would use with other horses. “Playing” with some horses can encourage such responses and because of that, I don’t play with a horse as another equine would. It is not fair if I am going to then discipline him for trying to play with me.

Majic actually saw an opportunity to “nip” at me in a playful way and my thumb just happened to be by his mouth as I held his bridle. His intention was not to harm, it never is (those occasions are easy to discern with a horse!). But, if I do not tell him firmly in a manner clear to him and absolutely immediate – he will believe it is okay to nip at a person.

Timing is the key to discipline. It isn’t how severely we teach this lesson, it is when we apply the lesson that matters. A horse can only understand the consequences of the immediate action, so to bop Majic for biting my thumb 10 minutes (or even 30 seconds) after he did it will mean nothing to him. Sometimes, we have to “hit” a horse. It is a kindness to teach horses manners because the properly applied slap and verbal “no” or growl can prevent real abuse later by a person who gets really hurt by the ill mannered equine. We are using horse language in essence by bopping him “a good one” for dangerous behavior just as another horse would. Horses don’t put up with such nonsense from each other. If we do, it is like we are giving permission.

I never want to strike a horse. I hate doing it. But I love my horses enough to teach them boundaries for their sakes as well as ours. Properly done, it should only take once or twice to get the point across. And it is not about hurting them (when I punched Majic, it hurt my hand more than it hurt him) – it is about the impression it makes mentally that I do not allow this behavior.

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Win – Win

A “Win – Win” situation… I hear that often. It is a truly profound statement when it is used. Most times our society is equating winning with being higher, better, stronger, smarter than others who must, therefor, lose.

And it is dramatic when a rider is told to “show him who’s boss”; “you must win the battle with your horse”; etc.

Battle? If a battle ensues within a relationship with a horse, the human is 99% of the time the instigator. A battle can demoralize one of the parties and it invariably ends up being the horse.

Image

So, this “Win – Win” situation sounds like the best way to approach relationships and dialog with horses… heck, with all beings! I have personally found my way there through decades of experience and relationships with Appaloosas. Oh, I have owned and schooled Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Mules, Quarter Horses… you name it! But the time I have spent with Appaloosas has honed my skills as a proponent of “The Middle Way” and brought me to a place of thoughtful consideration of the other party in each relationship. Appaloosas have an acute sense of what is fair and the ability to know if you are honest and mean what you “say”. They will hold you to task. And I appreciate that.

If we seek that “Middle Way” of partnership with our horses (and family and coworkers and neighbors, etc.), with respect for the others’ feelings – knowing that there are always reasons for how we all respond to life – we will All Be Winners. No One has to lose!

I once was told that my ideas were too “simplistic”; that the way I lived was “idealistic”. How COOL! I will gladly fly the SIMPLE flag and hold myself to the idealistic standards of compassion and trust. If we all just cave in to the idea that struggle, brutality and force are the normal aspects of life and relationships… well, what sort of life and relationships will we experience?

Categories: Horse Training | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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