Monday, January 16, 2012

Make or Break – Part 3: Horses Are Like Onions



After Part 1 and Part 2 discussing Sparrow’s behaviour I would like to break down my thoughts on what it all means to me and where we are at as a rider/horse team.

When thinking it over, the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is that my silly, idiotic, stubborn green youngster is simply trying to intimidate me, and frankly, that just won’t do.  I have had horses play that game with me before; let’s face it.  Horses are horses, and always will be.  They will go through every trick in the book and then some to get out of work, which is basically whatever you ask them to do.  However, I have come to realize that riding 8 year old or 12 year old green but tried, off the track TBs, Standies, ex-polo ponies, a 16 year old grumpy Appaloosa, etc – granted they all gave me experience riding green horses; but it’s just not the same as riding a green 4 and a half year old.

Basically, you can’t ride a green youngster until you’ve thrown your leg over and ridden a green youngster.  It’s completely different from riding an older green horse.

I am finding you have to be a bit more motherly with the babies.  Not a cooing, fussy type mother but an “Oh, come on, you’re a big boy now – that’s not scary!” type mother.  Pick ‘em up and send them on their way.
; P  

Too be sure, if you need to tell them what’s what, you can’t hesitate.  Just like a two year old always pushing the boundaries, so are your young horses.  They also learn VERY quickly what they can and cannot get away with!  But here I am going off on a bit of a tangent.  Almost everyone knows the famous Shrek quote “Ogres are like onions” and seriously, I think it’s an excellent description of the levels of a horse’s training and resistance. 

The two go hand in hand; the more training you do with any horse the more resistance you are going to come across. This resistance can be anything from kicking out, refusing to be caught, and in it’s more extreme forms bucking, rearing, and/or bolting.  At first it won’t be much, like the thin outer layer, and you’ll work through it, but once you are through it won’t take long until you hit another layer of resistance that is slightly thicker, and so on and so forth until you will reach the ‘core’ that I like to call the “breaking point”.   It’s the last resort for the horse, thus it’s serious and often more desperate then all the resistance before.  In my mind, this is the crucial turning point.  You have to come through this one on top – firmly in control as the alpha mare/stallion in your horse’s pecking order. 

No, this doesn’t mean you are to be violent or anything like that, but you are firm.  Your horse HAS to know that you are boss and what you say goes.  You will know when they have submitted, you will be able to feel the readiness beneath you, the softness of his back, mouth, neck, the openness of the horse’s mind as they listen for your next command. 

Remember that the reward for softness is always softness and release of the pressure on your part.  If you don't release, the horse will become sour and cranky and confused, because they won’t understand what you want.  Another way of putting it is that you have asked, they gave, but you didn’t tell them that was the right response by releasing the ask, so you are just asking, asking, asking and they are all “WHY?  I DID IT!!” 

For instance, in Part 2 I describe how felt Sparrow relax and soften, releasing his tension after a long hard work out, and I called it a day immediately.  I walked him to cool off and hopped off.  And you know what?  The next day I rode him he hardly fussed at all, and the day after that he was really, really good and didn’t resist me once.  Now that’s what I call an improvement from just two days ago! 

So moving on from here?  Well, we haven’t reached the core of resistance yet – I am still waiting to reach that ‘breaking point’, or if you like, the end of his list of tricks!  In my previous experience, it’s usually taken about a year to reach that point; however, Sparrow is entirely a different kettle of fish to any of my previous mounts.  He is far more intelligent than any of them, which means although it’s great that I’ll be able to teach him anything, it also means that he’ll pick it up super quickly and promptly spend the rest of his time figuring out how to get out of it…  : /    Horses…


That being said, that’s what I love about him.  I may have a lot to teach him, but I also have a TON of things to learn from him.  I need to be more sensitive to his ‘baby’ fears and less reactive, and he needs to learn to trust me.

He is by far the most challenging horse I have ever ridden, but if we can work through our issues successfully he will also be the most talented horse I have ridden.  And I am darn sure that I am not giving up on that kind of potential. 

Top Tip:  If your horse is fighting with you all the time, listen hard for the first moment of softness, and make sure you reward them for it by giving; a word of praise, a pat, a walk, or if they get it after ages of resistance, walk them for a cool down and turn them out.  If you do not give, the horse will keep on fighting you regardless of whether they are ready to obey. 

If your horse is not submitting at all, check your hands, seat and legs.  You may be clenching onto them, throwing them off balance by leaning forwards or backwards, and/or holding onto the their head.  It’s a process of give and take, and if you never give, soon your horse will have nothing to offer but resistance. 

Also, don’t forget to check the tack – a lot of problems under saddle are caused by pain/discomfort, so it’s well worth making sure those things are all ok. 

See ya!


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