Thursday, June 21, 2007

Going With the Horse...

WOW, have I been remiss in my blogging! So many thoughts I should have written about here over the last several months. Guess it's time to play a little catch-up.

Of all the things we can do to get more in tune with our horses, and get our horses more in tune with us, probably the most beneficial thing -- the thing that will make your horse SO much more secure and reliable -- is also the hardest thing to do at first. Because your natural instinct is to instantly CLUTCH UP when things get a little quicker than you would like. Maybe it's just fear...maybe it's the desire for control...darn it, I said WALK, not trot...maybe it's a little of both. But it's a sure way to build resistance into your horse.

Riding colts will teach you this faster than anything. You put a leg over a colt on his second or third ride, and he wants to move out...what do you think is gonna happen if you just pick up your reins and haul back on his mouth? More than likely, that colt will get pretty worried...maybe even irritated. On the other hand, if you go with him...just direct him and ride at whatever speed he wants to go...you'll keep him light, keep him relaxed, keep him breathing, and KEEP CONTROL OF HIS FEET. Even if they are moving faster than you might have wanted. Find a purpose and a place to go with the life he has to offer. He'll learn that it's OK to move his feet...that you are a balanced passenger up there, and not going to mess up his balance...he'll learn what it feels like to carry you at different gaits, which will teach him to respond to your seat...and he'll learn that you always have a plan (you do always have a plan, don't you? *sigh*...sounds like another blog topic!), and that he can follow your direction at any speed. Funny thing is, the more you aim to make HIS idea YOUR idea on the start, the faster he will want to make YOUR idea HIS down the line. Go with the horse, so that he might see fit to go with you.

The same idea applies to any situation where the horse wants to GO...go with him. Just get into the habit of always having a plan...and go with him.

Got a spooky horse? How are you riding him?? Are you preparing for him to leap out from under you by tightening up your reins and muscling him over with your leg to keep him from going? Seems like those spooks are getting bigger and more frequent, doesn't it? Of course they are...because instead of giving the horse confidence when he's unsure, you're escalating the situation...turning it into a battle just makes it WAAAAY scarier for the horse.

I highly recommend spending lots of time watching horses at liberty, in a large pasture. There is so much to be learned by doing this -- just watching how light they are as they move, how agile, how supple, is a huge education on what we should be striving for -- but for this conversation, what we're really interested in is what happens when they spook without our interference. A friend of mine recently compared it to how zebra react to lions on the veldt...they don't gallop panic stricken for miles and miles until they plunge off of a cliff...they just put a couple of lengths between themselves and the lions. Then they go back to grazing. Once you acknowledge that you'll probably be in for a little gallop, but it's not likely to take you to the neighboring state, it's a little easier.

So how do you get over that need to over-control? Beyond the obvious (or it SHOULD be obvious) need to learn to ride FAST and be comfortable, how do you program your body to blend in with a horse that's about to do 0 - 40 MPH in four strides to someplace you weren't planning to go??? Be creative. If the horse is a youngster, you probably ought to conquer this fear on another horse first, just to save Junior the trouble. So take a horse that you know isn't "bombproof", and set up a spooky situation in a large enough area that the horse can get up some speed (ooooo, scary!) but relatively safe, with decent footing and no major obstacles. Put a nightlatch on your saddle if you don't already have one, and take a hold of it with one hand. Now ride out on a loose rein...and head for Spookville. DON'T muscle the horse towards the scary thing...let him drift if he wants to...and be ready to get with him if he decides he needs to get the heck outta there. First thing you might find is that just by riding on a loose rein -- not over-riding and trying to control every inch of your horse -- that spook might not even happen. Second thing you might find is that if he DOES spook, and even bolt, he doesn't go nearly as far as you thought he might, and when he's done, he turns himself around so he can get a good look at what scared him in the first place. And guess what? He's still feeling of you...he's still listening. Sure felt better than muscling him past it, didn't it???

A favorite quote I once heard in reference to this subject:

"What are you worried about??? There's an ocean on either side!!!"