Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I Wanted to Share

I'm wondering if I posted on my Eureka! moment too soon.

My thoughts had nothing to do with my one-on-one relationship with my horses, it had more to do with how I ride and the most effective way to get a horse moving out in a responsive, quick and calm manner.

This new thought process is giving me a very interesting approach to getting what I want and at the same time, cleaning up my communication so my horse can work through the training process without a lot of muddled cues messing things up.

My first post on this thought process was to state my previous predator/prey approach, which works for me, and explain a change of thought which should help me succeed with my horse, while riding him.

I didn't want to get caught up in yet another NH discussion, I think I've covered my thoughts on that one ad nauseum.

My thoughts, right now, are about improving my forward motion while riding, clearing up my cues with legs and spur, and eventually, taking me to correct and stress free collection. I'm hoping to gain a quicker, cleaner response with less work, for both me and my horse.

Littleblackmule understood me completely. Thank goodness, I was beginning to think I was speaking Klingon.

Hang on to your horse, tie it down, stop it moving, and you're acting like a predator and the horse will treat you like one.
Push it forward, allow it to move, and you are a trainer.. or another horse."

When I ride a horse, broke or not, I want to start directing his movement the way another horse would, at least as close as I can come.

Why? Because I think my colt will then go into a calmer, quieter place and be able to follow my direction without argument or fear.

In the previous post, my sample photos of horses being driven by another horse told me a lot. 
I'm going to call the driver, the horse creating movement, horse A.
The horse being driven is horse B.

I'm going to try to avoid the worlds dominate, alpha, lead or belle mare so we can stay on track.
What I really want is to ride my horse effectively, as a human.

That being said, here's what I'm playing with. I got the chance to study herd behavior extensively at my last job before retirement. I had a clear view of  our 40 acre broodmare pasture from the barn and the arena. 

Several years ago I read Monty Roberts - The Man Who Listens to Horses. Now don't get excited, I know all about his personal failings. What I took from his book was the idea of closely observing herd behavior and applying that behavior to training.  Since reading the book I have watched horses interactions between themselves for years with as much an eye to how it can help me train as how beautiful they are to watch..

When horse A wants horse B to move away from him she will apply pressure by lashing out and biting or kicking.She will be pretty random with the bite or kick because A simply wants B out of her space.

B will move, fast, bug-eyed and without specific direction, because the only desire is to get  away from A. He calms down and begins plotting on how to get A's feed the second she takes the pressure off and quits coming after him. B doesn't seem to be afraid or hold a grudge, as a matter of fact, he tends to hang around hoping A might decide he can move in closer.

A is good with that because she just wants to eat/sleep/drink without being bugged by B. 

I'm not interested in this dynamic at the moment, because I need to safely ride B, not eat lunch with him.

When A decides B needs to understand he can never try to eat her food, she will drive B away in a specific direction after she gets him moving away, like out of the herd, or the top of the manure pile.

Horse A sends Horse B in a chosen direction first by applying pressure with lunging, biting or striking. Once B is on the move, A then begins to control direction, sometimes for quite a distance, keeping her forward motion by biting B's hip or back of the rib cage. She will control the direction by biting  B in the ribs and flanks, or by biting/leaning/kicking his shoulder/neck. 

Horse A works one side at a time. She doesn't worry about how fast B is going. If an old, fat mare is chasing a lively 2-year-old, she will make the colt repeatedly change direction in order to slow him down, rather than try to win a race.

The only time you will see A create real terror in B is if she traps him in a corner, turns, and proceeds to kick the crap out of him. This scenario is where horses can get hurt -- forward motion has stopped. B might even turn against A and start fighting back, since flight is no longer an option.

Horse A is directing Horse B's movement by controlling his feet. If she wants more speed she will close in on  B's hindquarters and push or bite. If she wants less speed she will fade off, giving B more room, and he will slow.

If Horse A wants to change Horse B's direction, she applies pressure on the off side and he moves away.
This pressure can come from a bite, kick, strike or simply crowding into B's space.

This is where I want to point out that steady pressure will cause a horse to push back. Intermittent pressure will cause a horse to move away from the pressure. 

Ray Hunt said, "Control the feet, control the horse."
Tim Unzicker said (and probably will again), "Janet! Get off her face!"

Horse A controls the direction and speed of Horse B by controlling the feet. B's face doesn't even come into play.

This is where my thoughts started hopping. 

Please keep in mind, this is not changing my training method. It's clearing up for me why I do it, why it works and where I need to improve my approach.

Any restraint on my horse's head is going to stop or hinder my horse's forward motion. A bit, hackamore or halter anything that takes control of the head, is going to translate as a predatory action. I am going to make the most sense to my horse if I emulate one animal at a time. 

Eventually, after the forward motion and foot control is established, I can add my head control. The horse can absorb the change in my riding because he already understands I not only allow, but encourage forward motion. He can have his flight, I'm not going to force him to fight. I've set my precedent and if I do things right, he'll know he can trust me to stand by it. 

Why do I want this? Because a horse that is moving is thinking. A horse whose legs have been stopped has also had his brain stopped. He is going to become reactive and do what he thinks is needed to get moving again.

This is where I like to be riding in either a large round pen or a small arena. I can give my colt his head and control his direction by first diving him forward, then use my hands and legs to simulate the bite or push to get my turn.

I'm not brave enough to put myself in this situation without a rope halter and lead rope. If I blow it, and the colt starts to pitch, I don't care whether I'm predator or prey to the horse, I just want to haul his ass around and save my bacon. This hasn't happened often, and when it has, it almost always comes from human error. 

Anyway, I played with this concept over the holiday (Merry Christmas everybody!) and had some interesting results. I was riding Madonna in her hackamore, but I dropped my reins and tried to ride her as if I was a horse driving her. It was really interesting. I had plenty of forward, good turns to the left and at first, almost nothing to the right. After a few minutes I got the right back in play, but it was very clear I've been overusing my hand and not using my legs correctly on her right side.

If our weather breaks I'm going to try to film some and I'll show you what happened.
Madonna is broke, broke, broke. I know she will figure me out ASAP and comply, but it still seemed the clearer my thoughts were (I was very firmly horse A) the better she rode.

It will be interesting to see how Odin does.


  1. Huh, I really should experiment with that. I did do it without realizing it though. I hopped on one of my horses bareback and brideless out in the pasture. I guess I understand now why she wasn't happy about it and why she didn't go faster. I think I'll have to see if I can't get her to go faster.
    This has also given me an idea as to how I'll teach my four fillies how to move the first time I ride. This is gunna be fun!

  2. ----Tim Unzicker said (and probably will again), "Janet! Get off her face!"

    I am pretty sure that will be printed right beside "more leg" on my tombstone. I swear I hear those phrases in my sleep.

    I started playing around with riding bridless a couple years ago. I found that my horse (finished older horse) is much better bridless than he is when I get my hands in his way. He seems to enjoy the game in figuring out what I am asking. It is almost like he really tunes in to my legs and seat. Sometimes he gives me the impression that my hands just add "static". Does that make any sense at all?
    Your post clarifies and makes sense to me - explains why he becomes so tuned in.

  3. horsegenes - I think this is why I'm so excited. It was like what I've been trying for, just now came in crystal clear. I can't help but think if I can keep my mind in the right place and my hands out of the way I'll get so much more done.
    It should be a confidence builder for me and my horse too, as I become better at the process.

  4. I know exactly what you mean, and something else you didn't mention, but I've noticed, is how well giving them their head slows them down.

    You know how when a youngster first gets the hang of a pretty good canter, and he wants to go fast? And so many people try to control the speed here, when the horse barely has direction down, let alone speed.

    I have noticed if I let him have his head, even maybe encourage him to stretch his legs into a decent free running speed, it never takes more than 3 or 4 laps of our pen before they decide to slow down on their own. And maybe 2 or 3 of these good fast canters (in our sandy florida footing) convince them to slow down, and relax, on their own.
    If you get in their faces, it just confuses and frustrates them.
    And maybe it's due to this free running encouragement, but usually from the second or third ride, relaxing and saying whoa melts them into the ground.

  5. Oh this makes me want to go pull the blanket off my pony and do some riding in the round pen. Only if there wasn't three inches of ice in there right now.

  6. Re: that comment about stopping your horse equates to predator behaviour and moving him is more like what another horse would - it brings to mind a lecture I had on the nervous system once.
    Once the flight response is initiated, certain chemicals etc. are released (I believe it was the response of the sympathetic nervous system?) which are used up the body during movement. If the horse is unable to move, all those chemicals are still on 'stress mode', even once the initial incident has passed.
    Maybe this could be a physiological explanation for the stop/go predator/heard member theory?

  7. So I wasn't at all sure what I thought about the previous post. Couldn't really make head nor tail of it. (Don't take it personally, I am notoriously bad at the more metaphysical side of life, horses no exception!)

    But. Reading this one I slowly went, "Oh. Is this the same concept as 'not closing the door' that I was taught as a teenager and have assiduously tried to practice (because it works) yet have never really understood?"

    Lightbulb moment.

    horsegenes - I'm pretty sure I will have "DO LESS!" on my tombstone.

  8. Ooh Carrot Top..I like that line of thinking. I'm going to do a little research on that one.

  9. Okay - this makes sense to my pea brain. I've always felt the need to hold on to my horse even when I want her to move out. I look forward to more on this and a making conscience effort on my part.

  10. Carrot top... I don't know If you are right or not but it makes perfect sense to me. I have a young horse that I have been riding. He is a super sensitive type of horse. When he gets "all balled up" (my term for when they don't understand what you are asking or they get scared or whatever??) - if I allow him to go into a movement that he knows and is confident doing he comes right back down to sane working behavior. If I push the issue or try to control it, it gets progressively worse. Not to say that sometimes you don't have to go there, but I find myself getting lots more done if I work with his "feelings" than against them. I kind of equate it to writing on a chalk board. If you make a mistake and they don't understand or start into flight mode - wipe it clean and then start again. Letting him move in a way that he can be successful is like wiping the chalk board clean. Or in your scenrio it is allowing his body to use up those chemicals and opens his mind up again.

  11. This maybe should be in the mind meld but...

    So you have let your horse have all the forward he/she can possibly want, but how do you control forward "in the right general direction please" absent a ring?
    Because I ride on the road mostly, with a lot of barb wire fences off it, just letting him go, with "straight line" still not there is very scary. He is young...

  12. This maybe should be in the mind meld but...

    So you have let your horse have all the forward he/she can possibly want, but how do you control forward "in the right general direction please" absent a ring?
    Because I ride on the road mostly, with a lot of barb wire fences off it, just letting him go, with "straight line" still not there is very scary. He is young...

  13. Princess are in a tough spot. I use an arena or a large round pen.
    You can work on cuing with your body before your hands, but you have to be safe, you'll need to have the ability to stop him.

  14. Sounds like a lot of work, but from reading through your past blogs I know you'll make it through.


  15. Took me years to learn to let go of a horses face. It has been such a breakthrough.

    Trying to work through an idea here. I did track work at a racecourse before I knew how to let a horse go - If you hung on their heads they would just go faster (so they didnt let me work them, just warm them up because they went too fast) .

    I drove a racing trotter in a sleigh on a road. I nearly had a wreck because hanging on meant the horse went faster and letting go was supposed to be slow down time.

    So when racing hanging on can be part of getting speed, driven or ridden???

    Has to do with stress/flight hormones???

  16. Wow. This post made so much sense.
    Even to me, the city kid. What a picture!

  17. Ozhorse - That's a good point, and I'm not sure of the answer. I'm going to think on that one for a bit.

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  19. This is a good explanation for why my mare likes steady contact with the bit, I think. It's not slowing her down, and it's not a distraction to her from what my legs and seat are "pushing" her to do. She's also way more forward because she isn't worrying about what's going to happen to her face. One thing: how does this apply to a lazy horse?

  20. Well I've dug out my lecture notes and put some more information on stress and the nervous system in a post: .
    Mugwump, I would love to hear what your research comes up with!

  21. carrot Top - thanks! this is fascinating stuff.