Saturday, August 17, 2019

Lilly and the Saddle

She got in from Texas early Thursday. Lilly is a two year old Colonial Spanish horses with a lot of Choctaw and Grand Canyon lineage. All ready I can see that she has the mind that I like more and more in horses as I get older and busier.

She had been at the horse lot for a bit over 24 hours when I began my first training session with her. I don't know if she ever had a saddle on her before, but I know that she has now.

Calm and confident--the result of great genetics but also the result of not having negative  experiences with people. Too many people do not understand the impact of negative experiences with people early on in a horses development. Even worse, too many people do not understand what experiences are negative.

One of the most dangerous early experiences that horses can have with people is for people to allow colts to push them around and ignore human direction and leadership. I find it much harder to rehabilitate such a colt than to restore confidence in one who has been beaten or otherwise mistreated.

One of the reasons that we repeat certain phrases so often in our clinics and in our routine horse training sessions is that certain phrases contain principles as important as libraries full of training books.

Two of these are perhaps the most important: "Train with 51% control and 49% affection". Both are vital to the horses happiness.  Unlike people, dogs, and other large mammalian  predators, horses do not seek autonomy. Their  primary goal is security. Being subject to direction and control is a prerequisite to feeling secure. Those who seek silly, romanticized relationships based on trite phrases like "equal partnership", "letting the horse make the decisions"... etc are merely projecting their pain over their own failed human relationships onto the horse.

However, the entire phrase must be applied. Horses need and deserve affection. The horse who is trained only with control and no affection does not feel secure. The horse trained only with affection and no control is every bit as insecure.  In both cases the result is a horse that is unhappy, unpredictable and dangerous

The other phrase that we hammer is that every interaction with the horse must be done with body language and communication techniques that tell the horse three things:

"I am not afraid of you."
"I am not going to hurt you."
"I will stay here for as long as it takes for you to learn this next step."

It is also important to remember the two things that are most likely to cause injury to horse and trainer--a watch and a calendar. I am often asked how long it takes to finish training a horse. I have no idea. I have never finished training a horse.

Every time I ride I learn something. Every time I ride I teach something. The process never ends.

Knowing every training technique without understanding the basic concepts behind those techniques will never allow one to be an effective trainer. On the other hand, understanding the concepts will allow one to innovate and adapt the techniques to fit a given horse and a given problem.

In order to learn those techniques one must first begin with two points that the majority of horse owners never fully learn:

1. Your horse is not a dog.
2. Your horse is not a person.

So why did Lilly stand so wonderfully to take a saddle and learn everything that I sought to teach her in little more than an hour?  Not because of any cookbook of of training recipes, but because of the concepts set out above.

...not a dog...not a person.

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