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June 15, 2012: Horse Training, 101

I think that anyone who trains a horse should at some point articulate their theory of horse training to the nearest available person. If they must, even grab a bystander and say “this is why I do what I do.” If they do this, they might discover that they need to rethink their stance. Or, they might discover that their stance makes sense.

I said before I began writing this dispatch that my stance is that the human training the horse should attempt to see the given situation from the horses’ perspective. Then I realized that I would have to amend this because horses, like people, sometimes don’t want to act in

Raudi with body wrap crossing tarp

their own self-interest. For example, Raudi, if I let her, would eat green grass until she burst. I can’t allow for this, which is why I hustle her through the tall stuff.

So, amended – the human training the horse should chunk things down and thus make the given task easier to grasp. I got to thinking about this yesterday afternoon. Mariann and Marj came over, Marj with her horse Delilah We decided that Mariann would ride Raudi and Marj would ride her own horse. And I decided that I’d walk alongside horses and riders. Our afternoon began with me looking at the big picture, and then breaking it into smaller pieces.

Delilah was unfocused, so I decided that we’d first need to do some preliminary work with her before setting out. The first order of business was getting her to give her feet for cleaning. Marj then demonstrated – she was right – Delilah remained with all fours rooted to the ground, and a rather smug expression on her face.

I considered the end goal, which is having Delilah give her feet willingly – and how we might get there without anyone getting hurt. I told Marj that D’s problem might be balance-related. So I did things in sequence. I first put a body wrap on her, then stroked her legs with a wand, then did python lifts, and then using thumb and forefinger, squeezed her tendon. I clicked my clicker when D shifted her weight, and I had Marj give her a treat. I then clicked when she lifted her foot, further explaining to Marj that if she gave the treat when the foot was down, D would think she was to be rewarded for this reason. I next had D walk over poles, so that she might get a better sense of where her legs are when she’s moving.

Delilah behaved well for me. And after, she was less fractious for Marj. We next tacked and saddled up Raudi. She stood still, the way Tinni does, when Mariann got on her. Off we then went, around the loop. Delilah threw her weight around when being walked, but behaved after Marj decided to instead ride rather than walk.

My focus was mainly on Mariann and Raudi. I was concerned because Mariann has a bad knee, and it would have been curtains if she came off. I needn’t have worried. Mariann has a good seat and Raudi is now a reliable riding horse. Raudi, though, is still Raudi. At one point Mariann’s attention was diverted to her cell phone. Raudi then decided to amble over and help herself to some roadside greens.

After we got home, Marj and I went for a trail ride on our horses. It had to have been a wonderful sight – two chestnut mares with flaxen manes moving nicely down the road, simultaneously switching the bugs away with their long tails.

I try as best I can, when working with horses, to see the given situations from the horses’ point of view. Quite often now, I ask myself, am I asking the horse to do something it can do? And is the environment that we’re working in conducive to this?

I may have mentioned this to Marj. Things were going on at lightning speed, so I don’t know what she internalized. What I do know is that I’m feeling more confident about my training abilities. This is because my horses are doing so well.

At this point in time, I have four Number One riding horses and one up-and- coming Number One riding horse. For instance, here’s a recap of today’s events. Tinni is temporarily with Emily, and so she gets to be his student. This morning I took Signy out and worked some on her stuck chi problem. I think that I might finally have solved the problem. I put a body wrap on her, and bounced the wand on her rump until she moved on. When she moved on, I clicked and gave her a treat. She got it. I feel very secure when I ride her; the best word to describe her is solid. As always, Hrimmi followed, stopping now and then to graze.

This evening Pete and I went for a ride up to the bench. (He rode his pal Siggi.) It had rained and the ATVs had been out, so it was a bit slippery going up. Both horses rose to the occasion, digging in, and when necessary, picking their way around the bogs. When Siggi was uncertain, Raudi stepped forward and lead the way. Both also did really well going downhill –there is not, as there has been in the past, issues with them doing what we call run outs.

I have to reiterate what I have repeatedly said in dispatches – I am so incredibly lucky – I have five wonderful horses who are all good teachers.

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