Tuesday, September 27, 2016

mini manifesto

I've been thinking about what "horsemanship" means to me lately. What ever my horse, and whatever I'm doing, I want my horse to move in a healthy manner, to be handy, and to like his life. You can work on some very seemingly simple things, and if you are very good at them, you might turn that into piaffe, or into a fine bridle horse, you can take it to jumping, or showing, or hunting or trail riding or working in harness. But horsemanship is horsemanship, and the basics are the basics. You can do a lot worse than be really really good at the walk.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The gift of many

I was riding a horse today who pretty well demands you get your position right before he will canter right.  Well, left, but correctly.

And I was thinking about Buck talking about how horses fill in for us.  I think it is Buck, might be Ray, or Tom even in that mystical tome of his.  But horses fill in for us all the time, and most people never even realize it, the horse is going, ok, yeah, fine, that isn't really helping me do that but I get that is what you want and fine, I'll do it.  We don't quite have our bodies balanced but the horse stays straight anyway.  All sorts of things.

And this is one of the gifts of getting to ride a lot of different horses:  Each horse will have something that they won't fill in so much on.  And you have to get that right or they won't get it.  And that helps you get that right.  With every horse.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

less sooner

A whole lot of people not that into horsemanship but into horses don't understand that feeding them, leading them in and out of the fields, that's where horsemanship lies.  Or doesn't.  Riding, that's a thing, sure.  A really really big thing.  But if you are riding a horse you can't actually lead, well, you are riding some pretty big holes.

If you can't lead a horse through grass and not have that horse dive to pick grass, your timing is bad.  If the horse makes it to grass, he has his reward, and you are likely pulling, jerking, yelling, hitting --or saying, well, ok, have a bite or two, that's fine.

That's what "do less sooner" means.  You have to be paying enough attention to know that horse is about to go for grass before much, if anything, visible happens.  Then your response can be a very very very light "pay attention" change.

If the horse pulls before you even know it is happening, you are going to have a pulling horse, and never ever ever lightness.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

the drift

I got to work with someone else's horse the other night at group ride.  Doing ground work, her owner was trying to get Mia to do a figure 8 around cones, which is great at equalizing drive and draw, yielding shoulders, teaching the human to be still, all sorts of things.  Mia was being a bit explosive.  And in that explosive she would not necessarily hesitate to run over her person.

Her person had put a shorter rope on her, partly because she was unused to handling the longer rope.  but when she asked me if I wanted to work with her, I immediately, intuitively, got the longer rope.  This horse was going to need that drift.

Thinking more about it since it has happened, I realize Mia was only doing what she thought she needed to do to stay alive.  She's afraid.  But she isn't stuck.  When her person says, "BUT I SAID GET OVER THERE!", well, Mia is like, "Fine then," and goes WAY over there.  Or, afraid of the drive, she knows to drive her human and often times that gets the human to quit driving her.

As Carol always says, the answer is to slow down.

And also, not to worry about the specifics.  It doesn't matter if you miss that cone.  Did you drive and draw?  Were you calm and not afraid?  Responsive and respectful?  Confident?

Anyway, in the end, she could do the figure 8 for me, walking calmly.  But it took . . . time.  It took, softness.  It took staying at ask, not tell, until her brain could unfreeze and figure it out.  It took breathing and being pleased.

And it took that long rope, and that open hand, and when she was frightened and needing to explode to be allowed the room to get away and to be laughed at and told, no hon, you are fine, I'm not trying to kill you, I like you.  Draw back in.  Get told all that again.  Be sent again, calmly.  Until she believed being sent didn't mean she needed to make it all the way to the moon.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

the wait ing

You'd think it was so simple that it wouldn't even be a thing.  Plus I think maybe I've written about it before, particularly about the subtlety of working with the board horse just going in and out of the fields, especially at the gate or at the stall, waiting for them to put their halters on.  Or maybe I just thought about it, I don't know.

I do know I wrote about this tho -- how humans want to be effective, and if you start at effective, you never ever ever achieve light (and in fact, you lose effective but let's not go there).

So I've bridled horses all my life and I'm not bad at it:  I don't bang teeth or get much resistance.  But except for the draft horses who have pretty much already been trained to open their mouths for the bit (and I don't really know how this was/is done), I've pretty much always stuck a finger in the side of their mouth and guided the bit in.

And then from watching or listening to something, I have no idea what actually, I started waiting.  Buck has some really good explanations on how to bridle and I basically start like that, but when that bit is held flat in my fingers, I just stop there and don't put my thumb in their mouth.  I likely touch their lips with the bit.  And lo and behold, much to my great surprise, with no sugar cube and  no molasses on the bit, they open their mouths and take the bit in.

And so there that is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


My grandfather taught me how to turn a horse out when I was three years old:  go through the gate, turn the horse to face the gate, take halter off.  There are at least two reasons:  it puts you between the horse and the gate, and it puts you in a less perilous position if the horse bolts and kicks (if the horse runs past you and kicks, your head is in some danger).

This morning I took a horse out and didn't do that.  I took those horses out, thinking of the cold and weather and how my family and farm will, well, weather it and we went through the gate, I took the first halter off, took the second halter off, and she turned around and walked right out that gate.

It was ok.  It almost always is.  But you shake your head at yourself.  And there is no sense in chasing a horse.  Try to keep them out of trouble and wait.  And bring halter and feed.

My grandfather also taught me, at three years old, that if you got bit, kicked, or stepped on, it is your own fault, not the horse's.  I learned much much later to not be angry, never at the horse but not even at myself.

Hey I didn't get kicked in the head.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

the Horseman and the Human

The horseman wants the horse to respond to the least communication (and is sensitive himself to the lightest communication from the horse).  Thus the horseman starts the communication with what Buck calls "the good deal", and what Parelli calls "phase one".  When he starts this, the horse has no clue.  None.  So he does the next thing until it is effective.  The horse may try one or two things before the right thing and the horseman does not get upset by this but appreciates the try.  The volume may remain the same but persistent, or the volume may go up albeit without rancor or upset, but the horseman hangs in there until effectiveness is achieved.  *And then releases.*  This means stop.  And then starts again, with the lightest touch.  And the horse learns.

The human starts with the lightest touch, the horse has no clue, and so does the next thing until it is effective.  All too often the human just keeps asking, even though the horse is doing it; this is nagging.  When the human does deign to stop and to start again, the human often starts with whatever was effective, not with the lightest touch.  The horse learns from this too.

This is what I was thinking about today.

And riding, I noticed how difficult it was to ask for a turn first with my legs and only reinforce it with my hands. 

There is nothing wrong with contact but when that is the only way the horse knows to turn left, well, there probably IS something wrong with that.  Or at least missing from that.  If I'm on the ground and the horse is running over me and I have to get big and do jumping jacks to keep from getting killed, there is definitely something wrong with that.

But that lightness?  There is something right about that.  That's something to chase.  And that is horsemanship.

Monday, February 1, 2016

random horse and non-horse thoughts

As I was leading horses in and out of the fields this morning and pondering a dream from last night, I was thinking about achieving partnership with horses.  It is one thing to get obedience.  At least theoretically you can get that with pressure and release as long as you are willing to get loud enough with the pressure and release relatively accurately.  But it is something else to get a horse who wants to do stuff.

Take, for example, Jin.  Jin Jin Jin.  The horse who never wanted to canter.  The horse who is sometimes so soft and willing and sometimes so not.  The horse who always gets beat up in the field.  The horse who comes to the fence nearly every day to see if I'm going to come and get her.

Oh, that last one, you'd think that was willing.  But evidently I'm good enough to get her out of the field, out of that danger, but not actually completely safe.   For awhile she would come as soon as I whistled but now, even in the dead of winter, she mostly doesn't, not until I'm closer, not since I worked with her with all the herd around.  And to slip into some anthropomorphism, she seems to like riding and otherwise being worked with well enough but also not well enough:  She likes it so long as she isn't asked too much.  She likes to get on the pedestal because she gets left alone on the pedestal.  Come to think of it, maybe that opposition isn't about "safe" because in a different environment she'll look to me and do for me, but in one she knows, she's sometimes of the opinion that she'd rather not.

And I frankly don't know what to do to further our partnership.  Of course, I've felt that way most of the time and yet we continue to progress.  She rocked the pony club trail class this year despite being the world's most unconfident horse!  But I still need to get her feet unstuck and I need to get her to want to do it.

I thought of my horse Lucky, the one I did the most stuff I wanted to do on -- went to shows, won shows, scored a 70 in dressage, ran cross country, jumped the moon.  He loved to jump and you could feel his excitement when he saw you setting the jumps up.  He liked it.

I've known horses who were exceedingly well trained, even obedient, but who hated what they did (or sometimes who they did it for).  I wonder sometimes what I missed knowing about Lucky in particular.  How I could have increased his joy.

But I was also thinking about pressure and release when it comes to humans, to me.  And the secret to seek out the releases.  I think maybe people aren't as smart as horses in seeking that release, that peace.  I remember phrasing it as, "pay attention to what makes your heart sing and do more of that."  You know, there are things that are hard and stressful that are just part of adulting.  And what you find particularly difficult, I may not, but there will be something that I think is hard that you do not too.  You just do those.  But for the longest time I think I thought there were things I was supposed to do, supposed to be.  Sometimes I still do.  That stuff can be awfully hard to see through but as long as you are examining the image instead of looking into the water below it, well, all you'll discern is the image and there will be no new vision.

Always open, always open.