(my crazy gray)
I've been thinking a lot lately about getting into a horse's mind. There are a lot of people who just take the air out of a horse to get them calm and really just work them until they damn near fall over dead. They are so out of breath, they can't even learn. And guess what, the more you do that, the better shape they get in. Then it takes longer and longer to get the task accomplished.
It takes a very intelligent person to train a horse to think their way through problems, instead of just reacting, jacked up on adrenaline.
I am working for a man who is the best horseman I have ever been around. I ride his horses and they are collected, willing, smooth, calm, athletic, and responsive. Riding a horse like that reminds you why you love horses so much. Every day when I condition his cutters, I think to myself, "I want to make a horse that feels this good and is this confident." I'm sure if I stick around him long enough, I will be able to.
I am going to get a little technical here, so bear with me. I've just had so many AHA! moments these last two weeks that I can hardly keep them contained. I am writing them partially to share with my fellow horsemen, and partially so I will remember them myself. :)
The first thing I noticed about his horses was that they all bury their asses when they stop. So I ask him how he does that. He just nonchalantly replies, Oh all of my horses do that. Okay... are their drills, or exercises??? He says no. They just crave stopping. I'm slowly trying to figure this out and I've observed a few things about getting these killer stops. 1... Every time I stop, I back the horse up. Whoa doesn't mean stop. It means stop and back up. The more fluid of a motion from stop to reverse, the better. 2... When training, I'm only supposed to say Whoa as a reward. So if the horse takes the wrong lead and I stop them to reset and try again, I don't say Whoa. I just bring them to a stop with my reins and seat and try again. His horses love to stop because they when they hear Whoa, they know that after they stop and back up, they are going to get a rest and a rub. On a 30 day colt, you clear your throat and they drag their tail and may throw you over the front if you weren't expecting it. 3... Accelerate into your stops. You must be building speed to have an awesome stop. The horse cannot anticipate that he will be stopping soon for it to be smooth and powerful. 4.... He had to chew me out for using my reins when I stopped his horses. He said throw the reins down on their neck, sit down, and say whoa. When a horse stops well, you can't be floating their teeth. They stop because they want to, not because they have to. Horses want the reward of rest. That is their favorite reward! Stopping is mental. This is what I mean about getting into a horse's mind.
Okay lesson number 2. Shouldering in on circles. This is something a lot of horses do. It feels amazing when you jump on something that doesn't have this habit. You feel like you can sit perfectly in the middle of the saddle and the horses motion isn't throwing you to the outside. So I'm loping this big beast of a horse around (1/4 draft, 1/4 arab, 1/2 quarter horse....why??? and who does this???) I should be nice, he is actually a doll and I love riding him. He is shouldering in on the corners of our figure 8 track and I ask the boss what I should do to remedy it. He says, well what did you do? I said every time I felt him start to lean in I would pick up my inside rein and drive him out with my inside leg (which I thought was a step up from dragging him to the middle of the track with my outside rein) Then he says, well everytime you pick him up he is just going to fall back in again. Let's make staying straight and correct his idea. Everytime you feel him shoulder in, pick up your outside rein and tip his nose to the outside, then drive with your outside leg and reverse arc him at the lope around your circles. This is HARD work for a horse. In fact it is so difficult for them that it is often hard to keep them loping. He said do this for a while then just release and lope around again. By making shouldering in a very difficult job, the horse will choose on their own to stay straight and balanced. I think this is genius. This also builds up their muscles so they will have the strength to stand their shoulder up. Hmmmm.... I never could have thought of this myself.
JUST GIVE YOUR HORSE DRUGS!!!
Every day, I pull my mare out and ride her and my boss helps me train her. This mare is fast. I have no doubt that when I get her foundation super solid, she will be a smoking barrel horse. But because of her hot blooded RUN mentality, training is difficult. She lives to be in adrenaline mode. So he says he will help me with her. The day before I was loping around on her and she just kept getting more and more amped. She was trying to run away and just couldn't do anything slow and relaxed. I didn't know what I should do, so I kinda had the okay you want to run, lets run idea. I ran her around and around and around until she was so tired that she finally slowed her pace down. WRONG mentality. This is trying to get them winded so they'll listen. It's not getting in their head. Now I know better. So the next day he takes her into the roundpen and does some groundwork. He goes to send her and she wants to run and just bolts. He picks her up in the face to stop her, then drives her again. At first I was really confused as to what he was doing because to me it looked like Go, then Stop, then Go, then Stop and I was like wow, she is confused. Then I realized he was just trying to get her to yield in a C shape toward him and do it with cadence, slowly. Every time he would ask her to move away she would want to bolt, so he would shut her down then ask again. He kept doing this and changing direction and raising his energy and repeating, really getting her to move her shoulder out of the way and yield to him with cadence. At the beginning of the session, her head was high and she was pumped and after a few minutes of him doing this her head was low and she was yielding perfectly shaped at the walk. He stopped and said she is done for the day. I said wow she sure looks relaxed and he said that he had given her drugs. Really? I replied. I thought he had aced her (I am blonde). He said he gave her endorphins and now she was thinking. Interesting....
The next day he rode her out on the figure 8 track. Every time I wanted to just move her out at a nice quiet trot, she would break into a lope. I had tried doing one rein stop after one rein stop and it just wasn't helping. So he went out there and pitched her the reins, asked for a trot and she took off. He sat her down into the ground, backed her up a few steps, then repeated the process by pitching the reins and asking. After about four times, she started thinking. She started to slow down her trot and not take off. The next day I got on her and it was like I had a finished western pleasure horse by the way she was trotting around. Her head was low (which means she was on her DRUGS) and she just trotted around slowly on a loose rein. I was blown away and I yelled at him, What did you do to my horse?????
Well there is so much on my mind with this horse training stuff, but I had better stop! I'm so happy to be passionate about what I'm doing. I chose horsemanship as my career path because I'm so eager to learn everything I can about being a horseman. There is so much to know, and if you ever get bored, you can just change your discipline and your back to ground zero again!
Happy training and getting into your horse's head:)