Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on installing a “forwards” button in a horse

So Joey and I had ourselves a little “Come to Jesus” moment on the lunge yesterday…

It all started with his right hand canter lead.  He can counter-canter an 18-15 meter circle, impressively enough, and will do so because get the right hand lead is apparently just too hard!  Lazy horse…

Anyway, after asking for the correct lead a few dozen times, tightening the circle, loosening it, etc, I decided that I’d had enough, so I flicked him lightly on the bum with the lunge whip.

Only I missed his butt and the whip cord wrapped around his tail then slipped off.  You’d have thought someone lit him on fire the way he jumped forwards!  And on the correct lead too….  Heh.  

It actually turned out quite well – not something I’d try to repeat anytime soon, but I got a ‘forward’ reaction and the correct lead I’d been looking for, so I was happy.

I was thinking about what happened afterwards, and the forward response I evoked, and how it’s all a matter of what works for the individual horse.  I don’t use a lunge whip when lunging Copper.  He just doesn’t need it.  And I would never flick him on the bum.  He would flip out. 

But Joey is a firm believer in “movement conservation”, and likes to potter when he can.  A sharp ‘Hup’ can sometimes help, but he is rather inclined for the slow, almost backwards type of movement, where he pauses between each step.  That doesn’t help if he spooks – his reaction is “slam on the brakes”, sometimes followed by “up” or “sideways”. 

None of these responses are what I’d like to see him do.  Therefore I am working on installing a “Forward” button for my backwards horse!  So far I have seen some good progress. 

He’s learning that I will stay out of his face, and I’ll let him work it out as long as his response is forward.  He can jog past a spooky spot if he likes, as long as he is traveling forward (not sideways!).  He can get cranky at an aid, (not that it’ll change my mind about giving it!!) as long as he’s moving forwards, and not threatening to stop and/or jack up. 

This may not sound like particularly good training, but at the moment I believe this is what he needs.  Like I said, he tends to get “stuck” up in front, and will threaten to go up if he doesn’t like a situation – be it a scary one, or a training one, any thing that makes him uncomfortable.   I dislike this tendency exceedingly.  I don’t do rearing horses.  At. All.  

So far, he’s never really made an effort to get off the ground, and I’m trying to make sure that never happens.  Allowing him to realize that he is free to move forwards when he is uncomfortable seems to be working really well for him.  He is a lot less tense when dealing with these uncomfortable situations, and I know that from there I can work on the ideal responses, which of course involve no spooks and no crankiness. 

Mapping out the needs of each individual horse is tricky, but I do think that the need to be able to move forwards freely when uncomfortable is a fundamental need for all horses.

Each horse will react differently when faced with the restriction of that freedom – some will react by going backwards or up, as Joey will, others will react by taking that freedom into their own hands (or hooves) and bolting.

I think that the expression of that freedom is dictated by the individuality of the horse.

For Copper, training him to think “forwards” in uncomfortable situations is superfluous.  He already thinks “forwards” is the answer to everything – even when the question requires “stop” or “sideways”.

However, in Joey’s case, “forward” is often the last answer at the end of a long list!  I am trying to move it into the number one slot, and so far it’s working.

So that’s a little of my thoughts on installing a forward button – any other tips and trick to share?  Please do!

See ya,


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