Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Keeping it Simple

All training, cues and communication with your horse are based on the concept of pressure and release. Whether it is something as simple as walking a circle or as complicated as sliding stops and lead changes, the philosophy is the same. A horse’s natural instinct is to resist or to push back into pressure. The first time you halter a horse, they pull against the halter. The first time you put a finger to their side to ask them to move over, they will push back into your finger. Our job as our horse’s educator is to teach them that the proper response to pressure is to give to it, and move away from it. You teach a horse to yield because you apply pressure, and escalate the pressure until they move away and then you release. The horse learns to look for the release of pressure as relief. This will be the foundation for all future training. Once they understand moving away from pressure, they will be able to grasp yielding to multiple cues (pressure) at once. At its most complex concept, this results in creating a box that consists of your hands, legs and your seat. This is the box that your horse will learn to stay within: behind and between your hands, between your legs and ahead of your seat.

I know that to a lot of you this seems like a very basic concept. You’ve heard it before. What I have found is that most people forget about this when they move into more complex training. Once there is the task of completing a maneuver such as a spin, or a lead change, people think that the cues must be complex. I am a huge advocate of simplicity in training and in understanding. I have seen time and time again these weird affectations of body position once someone is “maneuvering.” People begin to do things that are completely inconsistent with what they have taught their horse up to this point. They end up going through the motions of what they think they should be doing to initiate the maneuver and lose track of the impact they are having on the horse. Even the most seemingly complex motion is simple in theory. This is where I encourage you to see each maneuver through the eyes of your horse.

A perfect example of this is the turn around. A spin is as simple and steering a horse’s shoulders around its hind end. If your horse is steering properly, it will turn around to the best of its athletic ability. As the horse learns to step around to each time you steer, you begin releasing the pressure and they hunt that turn around and the release of pressure they get when they cross over. People make it so complicated. Push the horse’s hip in, side pass, move one leg forward and one leg back. The most common example of this is someone is “opening the door” with their inside leg. In theory, I understand this idea, but in the application what happens is that people rock back onto their outside hip and kick their inside leg up and in front of the horse’s shoulder. This should be stopping the motion of the horse’s shoulder that direction. For me, if I move my foot forward to my horse’s shoulder, I would be asking it to move its shoulders the opposite direction, away from the pressure, or presence, of my foot. So two things are happening to the door-opening-spinner. At first, they are blocking their horse from turning that direction. Secondly, because a horse learns so quickly, the horse will begin to turn that direction despite the presence of the rider’s foot. This is deadening and diminishing the pressure/release understanding in your horse. You have started to blur the lines, and it will begin to leak into your entire training program.

I know that I preach this regularly to my clients, EVERYTHING IN HORSE TRAINING IS INTERCONNECTED. From the moment you walk into your horse’s pen to catch him, until the moment you turn him back out, you are training or un-training your horse. You must have a holistic approach to your horsemanship and training. Horses do not reason and they do not connect the dots. They are animals that react, and we are able to condition their reactions to a consistent stimulus. This is what horse training is all about. What you do loping circles affects your stops. How you approach turn arounds affects your cow work. It is crucial that you solidly grasp that your cues must be concise, decisive and most of all consistent. A cue must mean the same thing to your horse, without fail. Remember that your cues must always be based firmly on the simple concept of pressure and release.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Willfully Guided: Training through the eyes of your horse.

I have put a lot of thought into the direction that I want this program to go. Willfully Guided is the philosophy of horse/human relationship that I have developed over years of training horses and people. At its core, Willfully Guided is learning to see the world through the eyes of your horse, and utilize that knowledge in a structured and well thought out training regimen. Whether training a performance horse, or simply improving your abilities and relationship with your horse, it all starts with a solid philosophy and the understanding of some absolute truths about horses and the horse/human relationship. With this solid foundation, you are creating a mission statement of sorts. If you have a grasp of the "Why" of what you are doing, you are much more capable of having the desired result and obtaining forward motion in your training. In each moment you spend with your horse, every motion relates back to this belief system. Every drill and technique is designed with these truths in mind. This is true for all levels and disciplines of horsemanship. I believe in the ability of an individual to train their own horse, but with this comes great responsibility. It is not a venture for just anyone, and certainly not for the close minded or weak hearted. If you desire to be the horseman or woman you have always wanted to be, I invite you to come along for the ride with me. Together we can move towards the goal of having a happy, healthy, reliable, well trained horse that is on a path to reaching his full potential. I welcome your comments, questions, stories and experiences.