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 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?


DarcC said...

I would love a horsaii themed book club! Count me in.

Slippin said...

Well, you just opened a can of worms for me on knots. I am full of knots and have ALWAYS had trouble slowing down in a lesson, or figuring out why I keep doing a quick jerk on the reins, rather than slowing down and picking up the reins. My hand reacts before my brain says slow down. I have never taken the time to sit down and figure out now I need to find a way to untie my knot in my brain. Maybe by the time I get another horse that I can cut on, I will have it sorted out....
I would be interested in a book long as it is horsaii related..LOL Not much of a reader on other things..LOL

Kate said...

Very good post. I envy you your confidence and competence - I'm a long way from being able to present knots to my horses in an effective way or to disentagle my own, although I expect I'll just keep on trying - it's fortunate that most horses are forgiving of mistakes.

mugwump said...

Kate - just start ith little competence is coming slowly and with great agony...

gtyyup said...

Good post...the analogy is perfect/easy to I'll see if my brain can kick in!

RHF said...

Book club! Book club! Sounds like tons of fun!

I like the knot analogy... My biggest struggle in my training is so stick with one knot and now throw a whole tangled rat's nest at my horse. Simplify!

deedee said...

Book club yes - any topic from Mugs.

Knots! Ha. I keep makingthem up and forget to wait for me and him to get it.

Jessica said...

book club!!! i'm thrilled... LOVE to read. Hope it actually happens!

Breathe said...

This sounds similar to something I learned in a clinic. I'm most comfortable with ground work, so I could "see" the knot. The trainer wanted the horse to walk to the right. Horse was not getting it. At. All. The old me would have stopped and tried something else in an attempt to end on a good note.

But she kept after him. She explained it like this. She was not giving him something impossible to do, just something he hadn't thought of. He needed to get out of his rut and start thinking. It took a long time, but when he got it you could see his attitude change. From then on he didn't just redo the same thing over and over. He started to think.

I try to do the same thing now. I'm consistent but watchful for the slightest try. I only do this with things I do know well, so I don't accidentally tie a double knot. :)

Wendy said...

A book club would be neat :) I am a long time reader who never comments:) By the way for all of the book inclined, there is a website I dearly love called the woman who runs it (also does free books for kindle on facebook) lists books that amazon has for free (some are limited in number and/or time limited by amazon). I have downloaded OVER 2,400 books so far. Yes grabbing ALL of the freebies is a bad habit of mine, but I download everything possible so I can loan things to my friends :)

MichelleL said...

Been meaning to read TSND, give me a good excuse to go get it.

Chauncey said...

I think I love you! I just recently found your blog - followed you over from Fugly. Don't be afraid - I am not one of the rabid rabble. I have now found a home here. I have gone back and read all of the Mort and Tally stories and working my way through the others.

You are an amazingly gifted writer who is also apparently an amazingly gifted trainer. Oh how I wish my girls could come learn to ride from you! My biggest frustration is finding a trainer I trust for them to learn from.

I love this knot analogy. I am a special education teacher - and I loved this analogy in working with my students, too! Gives me lots to think about today!


Lori said...

Knots? Love the concept. I have always viewed it as asking questions the horse has to answer but I like your analogy better.
Books! I have a good one I just finished reading... or 2 or 3. The $80 Champion was amazing..

Anna said...

The Sociopath Next Door is one I read twice, not too long ago. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Mrs. E said...

"I try to do the same thing now. I'm consistent but watchful for the slightest try. I only do this with things I do know well, so I don't accidentally tie a double knot."

Exactly! Double knots are not really fair. Letting a horse solve the problem takes patience but is so rewarding in the long run. You release on the try if if is the right step in untying the knot. Got to reward for the right thing.

I had the pleasure to ride with Buck Brannaman several years ago before the video made all these rabid fans, and this is one of the things he demonstrated by asking a horse to yield his hips. It was about getting to the feet.

Becky said...

Do the horse book club!!!!!!!!

I want to recommend Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen... but then again, I don't. I've never found a book that better explains that magical moment of oneness that happens every once in a long while (the opening chapter where she's riding Harry)... but I absolutely detest the main character. Whiny idiot.

Maybe I should recommend it so we can all get together and be catty and bash the main character together?

liberitarianqh said...

The problem with knots is that they can quickly put us into knots ourselves. When I can't resolve something with a horse, I continue to chew on the problem all day, in the shower, driving, lunchtime at work... How could I have explained that better? Softer? More clearly? Why is this a problem to begin with? Is it confusion? Anger? Pain? Disrespect? All of the above? I'm struggling through a serious problem with a horse and can't get it off my mind. Mugs, I'm the one who emailed you privately. This situation is really agonizing and I don't know where to turn. It is dire.

The Sociopath Next Door is a fantastic book and a must read.

redhorse said...

Yes, a horsaii book club would be great. I can vote for including "The Sociopath Next Door." A good book, but scary.

I like the knot discussion. I think, like Kate, I need some more work on this one. It usually takes me more than two tries for the horse to understand what I'm looking for. Or, I may not be persistent enough.

Even though it isn't riding weather here in Michigan right now, I've been having fun with my gelding in the corral while his mares are out in the pasture. He doesn't like it much, but as soon as he "gives" me what I'm asking for, he's done and he gets to go out and play. No ropes or sticks or Parelli stuff, sometimes it's just "stand still by the mounting block" or "follow me and quit watching the mares." It's funny how much quicker he's looking for the answer. I hope I can carry it over to riding in the spring.

1sthorse said...

Love the book club idea! I just finished reading The God of Horses by Aryn Kelly. A really intense book.

burdfour said...

I'm having a little trouble with the knot analogy. I think I have always pictured myself showing the horse what I wanted them to do, and having the horse follow my instructions.

However, I believe a may have presented a knot to my coming 3 filly. She is slowly started since August, first with a trainer who I trusted, and home with me since November. She is NOT forward. A western pleasure prospect, she finds "whoa" to be her favorite gait. But, she also resents having to be kicked on so much, so I have actually ramped up the level of my leg cues, let her grump about them, but get my leg off of her (slightly) the moment she responds with free forward movement. The knot was "I don't like that leg on me" the untieing was "Oh, when I move forward, the leg is gone." Is that right?

mommyrides said...

Ooooooooo!!! Love a book club!!!! Perfect!!! And we don't have to leave home in the snow and sleet to get together!!!! Even better!!! Well for those of us actually dealing with the nasty stuff.....


Redneck Geologist said...

I book club sounds great!

Peanut said...

What a great post with lots of food for thought. I have heard that I should try to 'create' thinking horses, set it up and wait, always give the horse a way "out" of a predicament - not that I'm very good at these things. I have plenty of my own mental knots - it's good to know that it's possible to sort them out. :)

My mare often feels like quicksilver to me, so it's easy to get 'behind' her both physically and mentally; I can't yet always feel where all her legs are (and especially not all 6??) Your post draws back the curtain a little more for me.

mugwump said...

Peant - four on the horse and two of your own!

Peanut said...

Ahh - I forgot about my legs - thank you!

scsarah said...

The worse knots I have are with me....which keep my up at nights thinking about them.

As for a book club, I love the idea. I will read almost anything. When I don't have a book in hand while eating breakfast I will read the cereal box!

I'll send you a list and you can post it if you want, Mugs. Winter is the BEST time for reading!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

So... maybe the process is the untying of the knot, which is likely more important than the untied knot - the end result?

Steering has been an ongoing issue for me. Often, instead of focusing on giving the aid more accurately, I would wig out about where I made a turn, or which cone I wanted to arrive at.

My trainer would constantly remind me that it does not matter where you are (geographically) in the arena...

My personal knots are usually related to hard headedness. ;)

Count me in for the book club :)

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