Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Good morning everybody.
I always love it when I wake up with a horse training problem rattling through my head. I sometimes wish these problems would wake me up a little later, but I don't seem to have sorted out that particular little issue.
Many of you already know I have a tendency to take a single, clear, concise sentence or thought shared with me from a trainer I have ridden with, a book I have read, or a conversation with another horseaii and run a whole training approach off it.
I woke up today thinking about knots.
The Big K and I were sitting on our colts after a lesson, letting them stand with their butts to the wind. We had developed the habit of losing ourselves in conversation after we rode. Sometimes it would start in the middle of a lesson, once in a while we would get going in the tack room and end up sitting in front of the stove, lost in theory, question and answers and beer and never even mount up.
It probably has something to do with why K and his wife eventually asked me to move my barn in with them, we used the whole day when I came out for a lesson and I often ended up riding his colts anyway.
On this particular day we were talking about knots.
"When you start a colt, their mind is a blank slate," K said. "We teach them by creating a knot for them to untie and then giving them the room to sort it out."
He gave me a visual by bringing his inside rein up in the air to tip his colt's nose in and blocking the outside shoulder with the other rein. He didn't shift his weight, use his legs or cluck encouragement. He sat quiet and calm and waited.
The colt swung his hind end around, confused and a little irritated about being pulled out of his conversation with Loki, my sweet filly.
The colt became slightly anxious, then I could almost see the possible answers to his problem clicking through his brain. He rocked back, stepped around with his front legs to the inside and K immediately released him. The colt relaxed, shifted back over to Loki and began contemplatively chewing on his bit.
K shrugged and looked at me with his even, blue-eyed gaze. He waited for me to untie my own knot.
"I'm thinking the key here is to make sure each knot is easy enough for the colt to untie so he would have success," I said.
"There you go, protecting the baby again," he smiled at me to let me know he wasn't getting after me.
"If the knot is too easy then you are going to take away the challenge. Don't be afraid to push, just make sure there is a way for your colt to get to the answer."
'What if he can't find it?"
"Do you give up just because you don't find the right answer the first time? Or do you try again and again until you understand it?"
"So I need to create the desire to figure out a solution."
"There you go."
I've used this short conversation as the base of every horse I've started, be it a colt or a problem horse, or just one I'm riding, ever since.
A combination of success and frustration, with each step applying to the one before has helped me create horses that are curious and interested in their work. It has helped me as a rider and trainer, because I've had to develop patience, strategy and a true understanding of what I'm asking for and why before I ever present it to my horse.
Knowing where the feet are, all six of them BTW, how they function as far as movement goes, how to time a release, when to help, when to wait, all of these aspects of riding have come in to play based on tying knots.
I've made plenty of mistakes while I've sorted this out, but because I don't hurry my solutions and horses are such a forgiving lot, I've been able to muddle my way ahead.
This morning I woke thinking about my own knots, the ones I make for myself and the ones presented by the world.
We create the knots, good and bad, for our horses, but we don't have that kind of control with our own. So many of the blocks in front of us when it comes to horsemanship, are created by outside forces.
Recognizing how those knots create the person we are is the key. How that in turn effects how we relate to our horse could be the key to better training.
If I have a big tangled mess in my head and my instinct is to shy away from it, I can bet you the bank it will show up in my training. I'll find myself ducking a problem I really need to handle.
My sticky shoulder-rib issue is a good example. Do I want to give my horse the knot of completing a maneuver in spite of my own crookedness? Maybe. It will only work if I admit that I'm crooked and understand why. Then I can help my horses work out the steps they need to compensate for my problem.
It's much easier to avoid the whole issue and simply demand my horse do as I say, or abandon the problem and say,"We're not good that way."
Thing is, I won't solve my problem. Not only that, I'll create more. I'll teach my horses to rush, to resist, to ignore, or worse, to panic or fight.
Then I'll have very neatly put myself into the position of disciplining, whispering, or trying to understand the emotional trauma my horses went through in their past lives and no longer have to confront my own weakness as their rider.
If I acknowledge my problem, then find a way to let the horse compensate for it we'll both be ahead.
In my immediate tangle, I'm experimenting with large, clear cues with my legs. An open leg forces me to get back and out of the way. It's not pretty, but it is a clear invitation for my horses to untie the knot I've presented. How to cleanly finish a turn through my crookedness.
Have I solved it? Not entirely, but by untying my own knots I'm finding I can keep it honest with my horses.
Hey! Anybody interested in a book club?
I'll reccomend some, you guys certainly can by emailing me at email@example.com We'll decide on which one to read, maybe one a month or so and then discuss it here on the blog, or over at Equine Mind Meld (which I'm loving BTW, you guys are very smart).
I'm thinking they don't have to be strictly about horses. The books could be about understanding human nature, writing technique, anything that leads us back to horses, horseaii and stories.
I have two books I'm interested in right now, "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout and Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop by Jeff Anderson.
What do you think?