"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC Copyright 2017. Articles and/or photographs posted on this site may NOT be reproduced or copied without written permission.


Training with Reality…

Too many times I’ve encountered horses that have been forced through the “school of hard knocks” training theories- whatever situations they had “survived” equaled to the description of being an “experienced” horse. I’m always surprised how often I see advertisements for horses for sale with “a ton of experience” but who need a “confident” rider. To me this blatantly translates into the horse has been manhandled through scenarios, survived them, but because he is so concerned about what might be presented next he carries a lot of worry, concern and stress with him making him a “hot” or “sensitive” horse. So he needs a “strong enough” rider to push him through the next experience…

The idea for this blog came to me the other day as I was working with a three year old mare I’m starting. Those of us in the northwest have been experiencing quite the rainy season with the last two weeks almost nonstop rain, wind, hail and snow up in the mountains. Not exactly ideal conditions neither for starting a youngster, nor for me who prefers my winters spent in the desert warmth. But without other options one must continue.

Part of the less glamorous side to my lifestyle is the maintenance- the mowing, the pasture clean up of dead limbs, the dragging pastures, the fixing fences, clearing trails in the woods, etc. Usually there’s one big clean up in the spring when I return after a long winter, but this year with all of the blustery weather it seems to have become part of my daily routine…

Many times owners are shocked at the changes in demeanor, personality, confidence, etc. in their horse after a few weeks spent with me. Part of the change they are seeing comes from my prioritizing to spend quality time with the horse and to solely focus on creating a “warm and fuzzy” experience every time I work with them. The other part is that I always try to mesh “reality” with my horse training.

It does not matter to me what long term discipline or direction the horse may be destined for. For me, I want all horses that I work with to have a solid foundation. I always say I want my jumping horses to be able to chase a cow, and my cow horse to be able to pop over a fallen log on the trail. Basically the underlying theory of all that I attempt to do with horses is to create a mental availability to “try” no matter what scenario I may present for the horse. If the horse can mentally address what is being presented, eventually physically they will comply with what is being asked of him, without the stress, trauma and drama that is more typical when someone just tries to manhandle a horse through a situation.

So back to the young mare, bad weather and using reality to build quality experiences for her. I want to make clear that I’m not suggesting that everyone runs out and does some of the things I’ll mention below, but this more to expand your thinking for when you work with your horse. I also want to mention that there were many pieces of the “puzzle” I had to present to the horse before I did any of the following with her in order to create clear communication with both physical and spatial pressure, respect of personal space, and being able to direct her thought to something specific. Without that clear communication established, the rest of what I may want to present to her would be done with a “hopeful” feeling, rather than a “helping her” mentality.

With all of the windstorms I seem to have a continuous flow of dead limbs falling off of trees in the pasture. After proper preparation of desensitizing the horse to pressure, ropes around her body and legs, etc. I then used her to drag out the fallen limbs to wherever I needed them. Rock clean up time out of the arenas is another great “learning” experience for a young horse, them having to follow you around as you’re “focused” on finding the rocks, plus throwing them to the edges of the fencing, the horse can learn to wait, and get used to the sudden movement of the rock without all of your energy being directed towards the horse. If I have to run down to the far end of the property to fix fence I’ll pony her or just have her follow me and “hang out” while I fix fence. When she’s “just standing there” she’s not allow to eat, focus on the other horses, etc. it’s rather a great place for her to learn how to stand quietly, patiently and wait for me. As I’m moving hoses to different waterers, I use the hose dragging on the ground around her feet as another scenario to desensitize her. As I fix the hay tarps she gets to focus on the noise and movement of the tarp flapping, crinkling, etc. As I ride through my woods on a more experienced horse to cut small overgrown branches on my trails (done from horse back- no I don’t suggest this to just anyone) I pony the young horse so she gets used to noise above her head, the movement of the falling branches, and can pick up on the calm the horse I’m riding is showing about the situation. At the same time I usually have two dogs or more with me to help her with sudden movement from them “popping out” of the woods and running in front, behind, or next to her feet.

One of the hardest parts in working with a horse is staying creative enough to keep each session interesting. Depending on your facilities you may have to spend some time creating obstacles or ways of presenting scenarios with variation. Too many times the horse and handler can fall easily into the routine or “patternized” behavior. This creates the false illusion that the horse is doing “well”- until a new scenario or one that is altered from what the horse is used to has been presented. Then the “real” feelings of what the horse has been carrying around come to the surface. A lot of people and horses become really comfortable with what they know and do not like change. The problem is the day you don’t have an option and must present a change from the “norm” you’ve then opened a whole new can of worms with your horse and its usually not the time for a “training” session.

If instead you can prepare both you and your horse to view any situation as one to expand their experience, exposure and confidence you’ll be building a solid, trusting partnership for the long term. With this mentality you many not seem to “accomplish” as much as “fast” as someone else, but don’t worry about keeping up with what other horse people are doing. Go with your instinct and do what is best for you and your horse. Both of you will be happier in the long run.

Have fun,
Sam

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Sam
www.learnhorses.com