Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fancy's First Ride
The above photo is of a lovely fox trotter mare I have in for schooling named
" Nothing Fancy", her owner is Andrea Kahn of Jefferson WI.
This is Fancy's first time carrying a rider and I thought I would take a little opportunity to share some of my experiences in working with young horses over most of my life time now and maybe there could be something here that may help someone else doing the same work.
Fancy is actually an easy horse in the sense she has truly a good start in life with Andrea acquiring her as a yearling and doing the right things in bring her up as young horse getting her prepared to have a good start and the most possible success when her under saddle work was to begin.
She taught her to be a good citizen from the start in that she does respect space limits, in which they need being such a large animal, not by nature an aggressive one. Andrea did not get greedy in working things over and over until as some horses just get numb,reactive, resentful and/or that zoned out way about them. Fancy is happy, very engaged in her mind and open to everything I present because trust was in place. She has been taught that she is safe living in a human made world and I hope she never gets out of Andrea's possession to find out just how bad it can be with the wrong kind of people.
In my work with her, a big base of ground work was completed, slowly and only in the amount of pressure in which she was comfortable once settling in here which did not take much. Everything done in her ground work is done with the thought that it relates to what she would need to know once I was mounted.
I teach horses never to pull on a lead and everything in communication with halters, leads or long lines it done just as I would with a rein in opening and closing my fingers to create a signal , never pulling and pushing them around. The same applies when I make body contact in ground work, I always do a push release with my hands or body not a steady push. No twirling and jerking on ropes in huge ways are in my program, I don't want them to fear them or be reactive of them but be accepting. All blanket work, rope work ,saddling and everything I do with a horse is about showing them theses objects, let them smell them , touch them and in touching their entire bodies with them in a kind way, learning the feel and movement of them will not hurt them and ever be directed at them in an aggressive way.
I don't want a horse desensitized, but rather acclimated.
I don't want horses to fear me or people. I'm not into that feed the human need of conquering horses, they are not alligators but I see them treated as such all the time. That's a human problem, not a horse problem, but the horses do have to live among people with those philosophies and can say they in my opinion are missing out on how truly the best a horse can be. I only get big when I have to and only as much as I need to, never more and know how to move right on after that, as nothing happened. I'm not one that does the "lets jerk them around in the head to set the ground rules" on top of doing such a thing can do a lot of damage to the neck of a horse next setting them up for failure due to pain issues.
Things are done with consistency here, rules are not changed on a horse because of a human whim or need. Everything is thought out in what the horse needs to be the safest mount possible for them and for people.
There is a world of difference between production training and training to be a safe solid mount with no holes, while still being engaged in the mind and learning to like their job not accept it as "just their fate".
I don't find the philosophies of putting the buck in to take it out, as making a safe mount, this does not always work and have had to re-hab many horses through the years trained with that thought process. Those that don't make it in those programs are just considered throw aways and the horse being at fault or not up to standards, not that the trainer was the failing factor in that horses fate.
Even doing the right things in this manner cant always help when things just sometimes go wrong and the reality of teaching horses this happens. I can bring to mind 2 situations with horses that things went south although both of these horses did not come in with a solid base as Fancy did and had issues before ground work even took place. The first a horse I had going well under saddle and just as very big leggy young gaited horse can do, got his feet tangled up in the arena when I was on and down we went together with me trapped with one leg under him until he got up, after that he was terrified of me getting back on and had to start all over at square one with the mounting process.
The other horse far enough along in that we were out in the back woods riding and a neighbor started brush hogging which was not a problem until he hit a tree stump with it. The huge boom and racket it caused spooked this horse so bad he bolted, tripped and over his head I went, experiencing dirt in every orifice that was not covered by clothing. Again he was terrified of me getting back on and had to start again. Things like this happen and why or how an individual horse will associate any of theses experiences with a human up top and coming off as a bad thing to let one back on , only they can answer. Of coarse the owners were not understanding at all as "we're the trainers" and things like this in their minds are not supposed to happen, well they do and that's the reality of working with a living creature not a machine, but a living being ruled by nerves, muscles and emotions that can have fears.
You ride enough horses and even aged ones with years of riding and training, things happen, it's just the way it is, but we do try to minimize this from happening by getting the basics in place and making them as solid as one can.
Many stories for that book were working on these days.
One, of the biggest things I can convey in the first ride is, be soft, relaxed, but conscious, be reassuring to the horse, remind them your up there with a word here and there. They are just figuring out how to carry your weight, as you can see in the photo above Fancy is taking it all in her legs right now not using her back or upper body to pick me up and carry me. I don't want to push her and make her tighten in her body the wrong way to carry me but learn too with more rides. If we force it by putting stiffness in the body early and teach them how to tighten in the wrong way and use the wrong muscles than we already started in going backwards in finding a collected walk in the beginning and keeping that element of looseness we will need later in the flat walk, running walk or fox trot on what ever breed of gaited horses your working with. On a trotting horse you'll end up with a hollow backed trot and not a collected trot. Why go back and fix that later when you don't have to, just keep everything soft and relaxed, don't get in a hurry, take the time it takes. Shaping the body can come later, just let them learn to carry you, find their balance, realize the communication with rein aids is the same as it meant in the ground work, longeing and line driving. Don't put pressure in those stirrups as the stirrup leathers go around the saddle tree bars and when pressure is applied in the stirrups your putting pressure on the back making it even harder to learn to pick their backs up with you on.
Believe me they can feel every tension and fear you bring up with you in that saddle. Get a hold of your own emotions if fear is present and not transfer this to the horse.
I think it important to mention also if you are not teaching your own horse it is reality to know if your own skills are not in place just because their teacher can ride them does not mean they will be the same for you. You have to make that possible in your self doing your own work to be a good rider and teacher to a horse. You just don't pick up your horse and ride off into the sun set being the star among your friends or fellow riders or in your own mind. It takes years and years to bring a horse to it best possible performance's what ever it's job is to be. It will be dependant on you for sometime to continue to teach them, make that teaching all the good stuff, not the bad.
Also ,do you have the right horse for you, like the old saying "just because you bought a Quarter horse does not mean it will be good at running barrels". Know what your horse is or is not, not what you want it to be as a performer or then it will never measure up and you set it up to fail, while blaming it and everyone that has a hand in it's teaching or advising you.
It's always hard sending the horses in for schooling home, people do dumb and selfish thing all the time to their horses, for Fancy at least this will not be the case, Andrea has years on her own being an experienced horse woman in the show ring and out side and knows what it is to run many sides of equine business's. I can send her home and feel good and breath with ease as her horses well being is first.
People like her keep me going knowing Fancy will have the best working life possible.