Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to predator/prey.

I am an avid reader. I love horses. I will read about anything I can get my hands on about horses.I also have a tendency to give anything I read merit, as long as I agree with it. Which means I will give equal thought to a training tip I picked up in "The Black Stallion" as a philosophy I learned from John Lyons.

I make a general practice of trying out every new technique or concept I've recently learned on every horse I have in training. Of course I alter it to fit the level of each horse, but I will play with whatever my new theme is until I thoroughly understand it. Then I will either keep it or reject it, depending on how it works in my program.

I have read a lot. I've gotten tons of input from other trainers. I've done my share of clinics. Ergo my horses have put up with a lot. I guess my point is that when I start spouting my theories, you need to know they are backed up by education, serious thought, and trials on many horses.

Here's my reality. Say I was on a deserted island with my best friend Flicka. There was no food for either one of us. If Flicka died first I would eat her. If I died first Flicka would not eat me.
I am a predator. Flicka is prey.

I work with my horses based on that concept. When they first come in, I want them to understand that I could choose to eat them at any time. After they have been with me awhile I let them realize that I choose not to eat them at this time. For now. Then, once we have a clear understanding between us, and I know that they are aware of where I am at all times, and what boundaries they are not to cross, I let them know I never plan on eating them. Bear in mind, being horses, it muddles around in the back of their mind that I could change plans any time. That's fine with me.

I don't beat horses. I don't scare them. I don't lose my temper. I use my predator status to get what I want.

I have two eyes placed in the front of my head like a wolf. I can stare at them and create discomfort. I can raise my arms and make myself as big as a bear. I can create movement with these things alone. I can add a swinging rope, a cracking whip aimed at their shoulder or hip.

When I am riding on their backs, my cinches are pulled tight, and their bodies are collected between leg and bit. I know as well as they do that this is as close to the feeling of the wolf pack on their back and nose as they are ever going to get.

To reward them, I relax the rein and release my leg. Get off and loosen their cinch. Put them up. I position my body so my shoulder is parallel to theirs, and either look down or glance at them with the corner of one eye. I scratch their withers and the top of their butts.

I always give horses credit for their intelligence. I expect them to behave a certain way at all times, and I ask them to try a little harder almost every ride. They learn early that a good try earns them a break, and a great effort gets them the rest of the day off.

I might treat them like I might eat them, but they trust me. The horses I train almost always go home happy, confident and willing. Maybe because they know exactly what it would take for me to go there. Maybe it's because they know how much I like them. I think it's probably because they know I'm fair. They know I'm consistent. They know what to expect.


1 comment:

  1. hi there.

    i'm going through all your posts and making a list of personal training goals. a while back you asked if your readers would do this, and i'm taking the challenge.

    i would like to teach my horse patience and how to deal with separation. also better leading manners, and greater respect for my space. i have a spiral notebook to keep track of goals and progress.

    your comment about horses gradually learning you won't eat them reminded me of the movie princess bride, which i hope you've seen. the dread pirate roberts would say to westley every night, "sleep well westley, i'll most likely kill you in the morning." : )

    ~beth in germany


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