Friday, July 31, 2015
.....it is not moving at all.
Rushing a horse through training is dangerous. The two most dangerous training aids ever used by humans are a calendar and a watch.
But, acceptance of a lack of progress as a virtue to prove that one is not rushing things is a dangerous trap to fall into. It stymies both horse and trainer. A horse should be trained as slowly as necessary for the horse to learn and as fast as possible for that same horse to learn.
By that I mean that horses should be trained to master each step in the process before moving to the next step, but the moment they do master that step one should move on to the next one. The issue is not how long a step is taking. The issue is whether the step has been accomplished. When one skips a step because it is difficult, one is going too fast--regardless of how long it takes.
Years ago I spent months trying to get Ghost Dance to accept a saddle without first having her completely comfortable with all of the monsters. Some might say that I was doing good, was patient and was allowing her to learn at her own pace. That is not correct. I was failing her. She spent all of that time being stressed over my efforts to put a saddle on her. Had I spent a week working her with the monsters until she was completely relaxed she would have taken the saddle in a day. It might have been a bit of a stressful day for her, but it would not have been months spent with the stress of trying to avoid a saddle.
Teaching a horse to be comfortable with the exact same challenge week after week without moving on is not training. It is rut work.
Rut work is no more enjoyable for a horse than it is for a person.
I have often seen kids who are delighted with their horse's progress in the round pen and disappointed in their horse's inability to learn to lunge. So they quickly go back to round pen work--which the horse has mastered--because it gives the kid a sense of accomplishment by "succeeding" in the round pen instead of "failing" on the lunge line.
Clinicians can only make big money selling to those who continue to fail in their training. When they can convince an audience that that failure is evidence of their patience and moral superiority to those who get results from working a horse that audience is then prepared to buy their next video.
The picture above shows the exact opposite approach. Pam has worked slowly and patiently with this Corolla mare while at the same time moving on to the next step the moment the horse was ready. She has provided the horse with security by showing the horse that she is in control. She has built a relationship with the horse based on factors that matter to the horse-primarily the factor that the horse feels safe in her presence.
Understand the point here--had she not shown leadership to the horse she could not have progressed so quickly and more importantly she could not have produced a happy horse who is safe to be around.
Sometimes math matters and the math that matters to me in horse training is that a horse deserves to be trained with 51% control and 49% affection.
This mare is not a parked car. She is moving up and moving on.
One can grow from a natural horsemanship novice to one steeped with sufficient information to begin to put it into practice much faster when one has a good library to work from.
I am often asked which clinician's set of tapes I recommend--which clinician I "follow". The answer is that I do not recommend any set of tapes to be followed. The videos all too often are shaped with information designed to garner market appeal instead of information that puts the interest of the horse first.
A fortune can be made by making videos that tell people that they are doing wonderful things by refusing to control their horse and that their failure to provide the horse with leadership is virtuous. Even more money can be made by encouraging people to believe that their complete failure to provide the horse with direction is evidence that they are not "pushing" the horse and are letting him "learn at his own pace."
The specific techniques are not nearly as important as learning the concepts that underlie natural horsemanship. I recommend that anyone who wants to learn these concepts inhale the following books and writers:
1. "The Revolution in Natural Horsemanship" by Dr. Robert Miller--this is a great first book to read on the topic
2. "Soul of a Horse" by Joe Camp--ties horse behavior to the need to allow the horse to live naturally
3. Anything written by Buck Brannamen, or Mark Rashid
4. "Natural Horsemanship Through Feel" Dorrence--All of the answers are in this book and after working horses for ten or fifteen years you will know which questions those answers apply to--not the first book to read--you need solid background to understand Dorrance.
Of the most well known clinicians, I only suggest reading their very earliest works.
The key point is that the beginner should set aside everything that claims to tell him how and focus on works that seek to tell him why.
When one understands the horse, the techniques come naturally. When one does not understand the horse the techniques are worthless.
Shown above is Ta Sunka as an 18 month old colt and as a young adult in the river. He learned how to be a horse in a very short period of time. One can learn how to understand a horse in a very short period of time.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
I'd Swim the Seas To Ease Your Pain
In the great documentary "Buck" it is pointed out that those who are able to communicate best with horses are often "tortured souls." Many of the best trainers suffered horrific childhoods of abuse and incessant trauma. It is no mystery why this is true.
The body language of humans is that of the predator. That does not mean that humans move like blood thirsty beasts. It simply means that all predatory species use many of the same signals, even when not engaged in hunting. The body language of a high school cheer leader and a Jack Russel terrier is indistinguishable.
But when a person lives in a state in which terror is the norm, he reverts to using the prey animal body language that was natural for him as a toddler. When he is a helpless child he actually is a prey animal. If he continues to be the subject of terror throughout his childhood he will continue to respond positively to prey animal body language and negatively to predator body language. (Ever met an abused child that enjoyed shaking hands? Of course not, and this is why.)
For such a person, a round pen is a place of peace, a refuge from a world that still constantly signals to his subconscious that it wants to do him harm. In the round pen he can find comfort by providing peace to a terrified colt. It may be the only place on earth where he finds such peace.
I did not suffer an abusive life, but my parents had over 100 foster children while I was at home. The vast majority of them had been abused and lived lives that were waking nightmares. I was always the oldest child. Often one or both of my parents worked night shifts. I had a much larger role in caring for the little ones than occurred in the average family. Without having any idea that it was happening,or even knowing what it was, I began to become fluent in prey animal body language.
For over a decade I have prosecuted all of the molestation cases and crimes against children and mentally retarded adults in the localities in which I have prosecuted. I have given formal training to other prosecutors on how to use correct body language to gain the trust and respect of a terrified child. (Yes, it is exactly what I use in the round pen with a terrified horse--advance and retreat, avoid eye contact, standing shoulder to shoulder, slow breathing, never walking in a straight line, etc)
I am constantly amazed that my riders are so often surprised by what their horses do. How could you not know that he was going to turn to the left and go around that tree? He had been telling you with his body that that was what he wanted to do for at least four steps and asking if it would be ok to do so for another two steps. Even very experienced riders seem to have deaf eyes. My eyes hear everything that the horse tells me.
It flows both ways. I have come to realize that I incorporate much of a horse's world view in my own. I get nervous and a bit edgy when the wind is blowing, even a fairly gentle breeze. I much prefer boredom to excitement. I even find myself chewing softly when I find the perfect word to put in a sentence. Few things make me mad as quickly as having people not get out of my way when I am walking into a crowd. The only thing worse for me than being alone is to be in a herd of strangers.
I have not sought to adopt these characteristics. I have simply recognized their existence. The ironic truth is that, although I am a prosecutor and try many cases every week, I actually spend more time each week communicating with horses than I do communicating with people.
Granted the equine communication is of a much simpler nature, e.g. "come here and stand by me" spoken with the eyes and a shoulder only. Ironically, "come here and stand by me" is one of the most rewarding and important things that one will see/hear in a lifetime, be it a tortured lifetime or not.
Saturday, July 4, 2015
If there is happiness in conforming to convention I certainly have never found it. Perhaps I just did not give mindless conformity enough time. I had given up on adhering to the rules and beliefs of others before I ever entered the first grade.
When I realized that every Christmas morning Santa Claus was tricking poor children into thinking they must have been bad or they would have received more Christmas gifts, I decided that he must really be one sorry S.O.B. I never did want to sit on his lap and invite him to pass judgement on my behavior.
I do not recall ever being interested in appearances, only reality. The reality is that natural horsemanship makes better horses and better people. The reality is that natural horse care makes horses healthier. The reality is that we have yet to come up with any structure more damaging to a horse's physical and emotional health than a stable. The reality is that horses are now kept so obese that founder has become the number two reason for adult horses to be put down.
The reality is that the established horse world is great at sucking cash from the pockets of horse owners and utterly fails in every other regard.
The freedom to act in accordance with your horse's best interest only begins when one realizes what a naked emperor the established horse world is.
Elise got on Scoundrel Days yesterday. As I understand his history, about six years ago he had a rider on him and was lead around a bit. Yesterday we took this beautiful stallion through an entire round pen circuit and despooked him with our regular monsters. Then he took a saddle fine and we despooked him while wearing a saddle.
Elise lunged him under saddle and we had him canter in the round pen wearing a saddle. He did not buck, nor did he resist being saddled.
We worked on mounting him step by step. He only gave into fear once.
Elise never did.
She got on him and I lead him around. He walked around with confidence. That confidence was a great gift that Elise gave him yesterday. It will make the rest of his training much easier.
And yes, she will ride him in the woods before the corn is picked.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
This summer I intend to direct the gentling and training of three of my stallions--Scoundrel Days, a Grand Canyon, Corn Stalk, a Corolla, and Stitch, a big Corolla.
So many myths abound concerning stallions. The reality is a horse is trained or it is not, regardless of its sex. One must be alert when riding a stallion with any mares that are in heat but otherwise, if trained properly and ridden by a confident rider, I have no problem riding my stallions with other horses.
This is one point where I absolutely agree with the established horse world. They say that they can not train a stallions so he can be safely controlled.
For the most part they are correct.
I don't think that most of them could train a stallion to be safely ridden with other horses.