Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trust

by Laura Crum

Not too long ago I read some interesting blog posts about “trust” on (and linked to) Kate’s blog “A Year With Horses” (listed on the sidebar), and this has prompted me to do some thinking about what I believe on this subject and why I believe it. I really enjoy these complex subjects Kate brings up and her thoughtful way of discussing them. And I don’t entirely disagree with the idea that if one puts out trust in a horse the horse may return that trust. I’ve had that experience. I liked the posts I read and thought there was some real truth there. However, I do think the discussion has tended to focus on the favorable possibilities, and not the negative outcomes that are also possible. And once you’ve had a serious injury (or worse) you may wish you had thought about the downside. So, I’d like to bring this up today.

As I wrote in my post titled “Reprimands”, I feel that staying clearly in charge is our best place when it comes to staying safe while working with horses. This has to remain true both while we are on the ground and while we are on the horse. This is accomplished in many ways, but the bottom line is there must be a good working partnership between horse and human, where the horse accepts that the human is in charge and obeys him/her. Ideally the horse is “willingly compliant” and throws in—but, in any case, the horse must not feel free to disobey the human. Horses that feel free to disobey and not respect their human endanger both themselves and the handler/rider. It is not a workable situation in the long run, even with a pasture pet. The day will come (and I’ve seen this) when that pasture pet runs over the person feeding, or strikes at them during an attempt at worming, or kicks them when they aren’t paying attention. Sometimes with dire results. And all these behaviors arise out of a lack of respect on the part of the horse for the human.

Before I discuss my thoughts regarding “trust”, I want to say that I come from the position of forty years of owning, riding and training horses. I no longer break and train young horses, but I have started over fifty colts in my life and ridden and trained at least fifty more green broke horses (riding for other trainers, for myself, and for friends). During these many years I saw many wrecks, and many people injured; I knew a few who were killed. I saw many horses badly injured, such that they were never sound again. Over time I refined my ideas about training and working with horses—by paying attention to the horses. I never bought into any one trainer/clinician’s theory, though I learned from many. In the end the thing that means the most to me is to be able to work with and ride horses in a way that keeps me and the horse safe. I have a pretty good track record here (knocking on wood). I’ve never been seriously injured, never even broken a bone. For the last three years I’ve gone on well over three hundred trail rides (solo, with my young son, in a group), and met various unexpected obstacles (as you inevitably do on the trails). And no one, horse or human, was hurt. No one came off. No one was ever even scared. Every single ride was “successful,” though naturally some had more interesting moments, so to speak, than others. These are the results I aim for, and my methods and thinking are geared to that end.

I find that many people today are interested in various methods of horse training espoused by various trainers/clinicians that basically deny the premise that the handler/rider needs to stay in charge. What most folks are forgetting is that the guys who are teaching this stuff are (mostly) pretty damn experienced horsemen. When a much less experienced horseman tries these methods, the result is frequently a horse that feels free to try to dominate the handler/rider. For those of you who have the expertise to apply these methods in a way that produces horses that are reliably “willingly compliant”, that’s great. But I have very often seen people who use this sort of thinking end up basically afraid to ride their horse (for good reason), unable to load their horse (except when the horse happens to “want” to load), and in general being directed by the horse’s wishes instead of vice versa. And the horse itself was a pushy, mouthy, disrespectful pain in the butt. And that is not a basis for a safe, effective working partnership.

The best way to forge this working partnership is to have the skills to understand what a horse is communicating. This takes a long time to learn, and if you are uncertain, you may want to work with an experienced horseman on “reading” your horse. If you are to be in charge you need to know when a horse is testing, when he is disrespectful of you, when he is afraid, when something is physically bothering him, when he is lazy, when he is ignoring you (which is disrespectful), when he is too scared to listen, when he is angry and “on the fight” and rebelling against you…etc. As well, you need to read the signs that tell you when the horse is accepting, when he is submitting, when he understands and throws in, when he is content, when he is curious and interested, when he wants something in particular, when he is relieved, when he is intensely focused on something other than you, when he is playful and enjoying himself, when he is working hard to do as you ask, when he is growing bored and resentful…etc. All these things are telegraphed loud and clear by a horse, once you get to know that individual. Some horses are harder to “read” than others. I can be unclear what a horse is saying when it is a horse I don’t know. I am almost never confused about what my own horses are saying, and any other horse that I do know well. I sometimes don’t know “why” they are saying it, but I can read what they are expressing. The foundation of all I do is based on understanding what a horse is communicating.

You also have to learn how to communicate back. Different horses require different methods. A tough minded, cold blooded horse requires vastly different reprimands from a sensitive, reactive horse. Essentially, you need to guide a horse in a way that works for that horse. It is absolutely futile to generalize about what “horses” need in the way of training and cues, and what sort of relationship is possible. Horses are as different from each other as people are different from one another. You are not going to be able to have the same sort of relationship with a man who is physically abusive as you might have with a gentle sensitive soul. You can treat them both equally well—it doesn’t matter. They are who they are and all the wishing in the world won’t change that, nor patience and kindness either (sometimes). This is something we need to accept about both people and animals.

The next thing I want to address is the notion that you can forget all of a horse’s past behavior like it was so much unwanted “baggage” and just “ride the horse you have today”. Sounds lovely, of course, and there is (obviously) some truth to it. We can cause a horse to behave badly, merely by expecting bad behavior. Quite right. It is always good to begin in a confident, relaxed frame of mind. However, it is also true that many horses, like people, have habits that they will not lose easily, and it is best to be aware of this and not live in dreamland while you are working with them. Again, this is the equivalent of the woman with the abusive husband saying that she should not assume he will hit her again—that she just needs to trust that he isn’t the person he was yesterday. This does not usually work out, as I think we all know. I am not saying horses are abusive. I am saying that a horse who has dumped you purposely and repeatedly, or consistently misbehaved in some way, is very likely to try that stunt again.

There are some extreme examples of this sort of thing that I have witnessed, and I want to give one here. A woman I knew very slightly raised horses and had a stallion that appeared to me (and many others) to be dangerously rank. He seemed to be getting worse as he got older—to all around him but his owner. This woman handled her stallion herself and would not hear the many well meant warnings directed her way. She said the horse loved her, that she trusted him, that he was her ‘heart horse” and that his obviously disrespectful behavior meant nothing—just a charade. That horse killed her. I mean that literally. He picked her up and broke her neck. She died.

The point of this story is not that your horse who is acting disrespectfully (in my opinion) will kill you—though she might. The point is that this trust concept can be taken to ridiculously blind and dangerous levels. Trust should ALWAYS be based on a realistic ability to read the horse. If the horse is communicating that he/she does not respect you and feels free to behave in dangerous ways in your company, the next step is NOT to extend more trust. The next step is to let that horse know that behavior is unacceptable…period. Every horse is different, so I will not generalize on what can be done to correct a given horse. If you are not horseman enough to remain in charge of a particular horse, you should probably not be riding/handling that horse. And there are horses that are dangerous for even a very competent horseman to deal with.

(I would like to add in here that, of course, no one is ever really “in charge.” The best horses can do unpredictable and violent things on rare occasions, and hey, guess what, the asteroid could hit the planet while you are out riding. You’re not gonna be in charge then. And certainly, when I was breaking and training young horses, I was not always completely “in charge” at any given moment. That’s pretty much impossible. But I had the skills to deal with this and guide the horse toward a working partnership with me as the leader. By “in charge”, for the purposes of this post, I mean that your horse accepts your leadership and respects your direction. I think it unwise for a person to handle/ride a horse that feels free to disobey said rider/handler, unless that rider/handler has the skills to train the horse not to do that.)

And again, just thinking/believing/hoping that a horse who is habitually spooky or cinchy can be “different” today—that the past is not a predictor of the future—can be dangerously na├»ve. We can say that about people, too, but I’m afraid that, though it can be true that people change, it is more often true that they behave in the ways they’re familiar with. This is true of horses, too.

Let me give some examples. My horse, Gunner, who I loved dearly, was a huge spook. He never dumped me—mostly because I was always prepared for him to spook. Gunner always meant well; he was a sensitive, reactive horse with a very sudden startle response that was easily triggered (this is also what made him an effective cutting horse). Gunner did not run away or get out of control; he made one big jump and that was it. My uncle, an experienced horseman, wanted to rope on Gunner. I said sure. I warned him that Gunner was a huge spook, and he pooh poohed this. My uncle, the tough rodeo cowboy, was not worried by my spooky but gentle gelding. Well. Uncle Todd roped on Gunner and Gunner spooked and Uncle Todd, not prepared, came off. Next practice, same thing. Next practice, again. And Uncle Todd got up off the ground and swore he’d never ride Gunner again. Me? I roped on that horse for years and never came off of him. Why? Because I was always ready for him to spook…and ready to grab the saddle horn. I did not “extend my trust” or assume Gunner wouldn’t dump me. I assumed he’d do what he usually did…and we got along fine.

Every horse is different. Its really important to understand the message that your horse is sending you and respond appropriately. A horse can be afraid to get in the trailer. And a horse can refuse to get in the trailer, not because he’s afraid but because he doesn’t want to. He’s been hauled before and hauling just means going somewhere to work. He doesn’t feel like working today. He doesn’t choose to get in that trailer. This happened to me with a strong minded gelding named Lester. I was alone. I knew what was in Lester’s mind. I whaled on him with the end of the leadrope a bit and he gave it up and stepped into the trailer. Then he put his head under my arm. “Sorry, you win, boss.” Lester never resisted being loaded again. I hate to think how that smart little guy would have behaved in the future if I had not understood that he needed to be reprimanded that day.

Many horses will stop on an uphill climb and “ask” to take a breather. I always understand this request. I don’t always honor it. Here’s why. My Sunny horse is a basically lazy critter who will ask for a breather before he is even close to being out of breath (on a given day, in a certain mood). If I always allow the horse to stop when he chooses I would shortly have a horse who stops ten times in fifty feet. The next thing that happens is the horse resists going on when you ask him to. This horse has now decided he’s in charge and he’d rather not climb this hill. If you do not respond to this balking behavior with a very firm reprimand, you will find yourself going back towards the barn against your will. And once that happens, your horse and you have a dangerous problem.

On the other hand, I always understand what my horse is asking, and if I feel his request is legitimate (he is huffing and getting out of breath) I let him stand and take a breather. I absolutely never push my horses past what is good for them. But anyone who supposes that a horse only asks for a “breather” when he is truly tired has not ridden very many horses. It is important to remain in charge and be able to say, “no, we’re not stopping here,” and have your direction honored if you wish to have a good working partnership.

How about spooking? In my experience, spooking is usually a genuine startle response and should mostly be handled by the rider sitting loose, not pulling on the reins or gripping with the legs. Basically the rider responds by “ignoring” the spook, remaining calm and confident and relaxed, allowing the horse to take a good look and realize its not a big deal, and then asking the horse to go on. If the horse attempts to run off after he spooks, he should be stopped, if possible (duh). (Usually one rein is best for this.) If he won’t stop he is either panicked or disrespectful of your leadership, and you really need to be horseman enough to know the difference if you want to ride such a horse. I do not think it wise for anyone but a deeply experienced rider to ride a horse that has the potential to bolt blindly out of panic. Habitual bolters are almost impossible to cure—many of them learned this behavior because they did not respect their rider. The in between is a horse like Sunny, who will (rarely) spook and offer a “mini-bolt” –a second jump away from the “scary” object. This is testing behavior. Sunny is mildly startled (if that) and is using the spook as a way of seeing if I’m still in charge up there. I ignore any one jump spook (a startle) and carry on; the spook with a second jump gets a reprimand (in this horse’s case). Why? Because I am reading the testing for dominance in the second jump. Sunny is not truly afraid. How do I know I’m right? After the reprimand (a sharp one rein pop), he marches right by the supposedly scary object. You can read his body language perfectly. Relaxed, confident, accepting. OK, boss, you win.

And as for bolting, it is not always a fear response. When I was training a young horse named Danny and had reached the stage where Danny was actually having to do some work, this very intelligent horse tried several evasions. He bucked—didn’t get me off—and then, when I once again kicked this fairly lazy colt up to the lope, he took off, running as hard as he could. I read the testing in his “bolt” and, since I was in a big well fenced arena, I made him run—and run and run. I made him run until he begged to quit. That horse never tried to bolt again. Would this work on all bolters? No. A horse who is bolting in panic—or is not quite there mentally, or is a habitual bolter—is liable to run through a fence with you. Danny was bolting in a trial way, his mind was calm, and he wasn’t sure if he could dominate the situation with this behavior. I showed him he could not. End of problem. Danny was testing me and I read him accurately and was able to respond appropriately. I did not extend my trust and try to believe that Danny meant well and wouldn’t hurt me, nor did I fall for the idea that the poor little guy was scared. I reprimanded Danny in an effective way for this bad behavior (by running him until he was sick of running) and taught him not to do this in the future.

Now I want to get down to something that I have seen with folks who did not either “read” a horse correctly, or believed some sort of fairy tale about what the horse was really about. Like the woman with the rank stallion (who is with us no longer) I have frequently seen well intentioned people interacting with horses in a way that was obviously going to end in a wreck (in my eyes). Most of the time these folks were ignoring the basic rule of staying in charge. They were “playing” with the horse in an attempt to imitate the Clinton Anderson video on the sidebar, or standing in a vulnerable position without paying proper attention to what the horse was communicating, or riding a horse that was ignoring their direction. A lot of times they were taught by some horse guru or other to do these things. And the results were often disasterous. For both the people and the horse.

There is a certain trainer around here who makes a practice of putting inexperienced students up on not-yet-broke horses for their first ride and turning the several colts and riders loose in the arena together—the colts wearing only halters. “Trust your horse,” he says to the frightened riders on the equally frightened colts . Do you know how many people and horses have been hurt this way? And how unpleasant every horse I ever knew that came from him turned out? I don’t want to belabor this point—we’ll just say that many people and horses got hurt and most colts sent to him turned out resentful and pushy. The man himself made a practice of jumping on unbroken colts in the parking lot as the owner dropped them off—again wearing only the halter. Very flashy and impressive when it worked. And then he got dumped and badly hurt. I don’t believe he pulls that stunt any more. And it was all about “extending your trust”. God knows how many people have been injured who were taught by this man (and others like him) to place themselves in inappropriately vulnerable positions when dealing with horses and then “trust the horse”. I don’t think that’s admirable. I think its stupid. And not good for people or horses.

I guess you can see that this phrase, “trusting the horse,” has a lot of connotations for me, and they are not all positive. I have seen this concept used in the worst possible way, doing great harm. I also think it has the potential to do much good. I have myself extended trust to sensitive, willing, reactive horses and seen them blossom into reliable riding horses. I have extended trust to tough minded, solid old horses and had them guide me. Like many things I have written about, it is another gray area. I believe that like most things in life, the best path here is the middle road.

The bottom line is that the most important thing is that neither you or your horse get hurt. Extending trust to your horse is not worth a year in which you can’t ride and can only hobble about painfully. Its not worth it to your horse if he gets hurt and can only hobble. Better to forgo whatever emotional benefit you might derive from “trusting” a horse who is sending you signals he plans on bolting, bucking or otherwise unloading you, and instead try to be aware and keep both of you in one piece. And how do you do this? By staying firmly in charge, and if you can’t stay in charge, not handling/riding that horse until you get some effective help. And if you are in that select camp of very experienced riders (or riders who are young and brave enough not to mind risking life and limb) and feel it is worth it to you to work with very green horses or horses with difficult behavioral problems, more power and good luck to you. I was once in that camp but am no longer. I totally admire those who are willing and able to do this work effectively.

So my message for today is that I believe that extending trust can reap great benefits if the individual (horse or human) is sending you the signal that he/she is ready to be trustworthy. If the message is clearly not that, remain on your guard for the sort of behavior the horse is warning you he may pull. It ain’t worth it folks. Be careful about extending trust to those who are clearly saying they aren’t trustworthy.

And, to close on a positive note, extending trust when a horse is indicating he will come through for you is a way to move forward in your relationship with that horse. You just have to be able to read the horse.

(Please feel free to give your own take on this subject in the comments. I always enjoy hearing other views, even if they don’t agree with mine. That’s what makes it interesting.)

46 comments:

Mikey said...

I have one of those blind buckers. Sent to 2 trainers, both agreed something isn't right with this horse. I personally think she's mentally impaired. I will keep her, since I don't want to see her hurt herself or someone else who doesn't know what she's capable of doing.
As for dangerous stallions, I once thought I'd keep Monte as a stud (cause I'm an idiot) until I went to pet a neighbor's gelding. Monte pawed me to the ground. If I hadn't seen it coming out of the corner of my eye, he might have struck me in the head (he got my shoulder good). I called the vet that day, he was gelded 2 days later and we've had a wonderful relationship ever since :)
I'm forever horrified by people who can't see what's going to happen. Blinded by love I guess. Horses can do anything at any time, and one who blatantly disrespects humans is a time bomb waiting to happen.
I recall meeting a 2 yr old backyard stud who would chase his owner's 8 yr old son around the pen, ears pinned. They thought it was cute. I thought it was only a matter of time before it wasn't cute, it was a hospital bill or funeral costs.

Laura Crum said...

Mikey--Yes--this is exactly what I mean. Trust can be a good thing--and it can be a very dangerous thing when its extended in ignorance. That last example of the backyard stud and the kid--I'll bet dollars to donuts they said, "Oh, he wouldn't hurt him--he's only playing." And I agree with you. Only a matter of time before the hospital or a funeral.

wilsonc said...

Good post Laura. I especially like the message your sending about reading the horse. Even a horse we've been around for years can one day do something that ends up in injury to you or themselves. I read my horse every single time I am with him, and I read him the entire time I am with him. I do trust him, but I never forget that he and I are two different species and we don't process even the most mundane things the same way. I am constantly amazed by the number of people I meet who are oblivious or just don't want to believe that when some person or some animal tells you who they are whether by word or actions, you should believe them.

Laura Crum said...

wilsonc--I entirely agree with your comment. I especially like your point that even with a reliable horse it still pays to "read" them the entire time you interact with them. I do the same thing. And my biggest mistake lately was not "believing" the words/actions of someone (human) I thought was my friend when she was clearly showing she wasn't trustworthy. I continued to extend trust, and guess what? I got hurt. Emotionally in this case. But in the case of a horse, the damage is often physical as well as emotional.

Funder said...

Great post!

I knew the lady with the dangerous rank stud who truly believed that he was her heart horse, he loved her, and he'd never hurt anyone. I refused to go closer than 10' to that horse after he kicked me and my Perch, out of the blue, on a trail ride. That poor stud is destined for a bullet in the head - either he'll kill his owners and be put down, or they'll die and he'll move down the road and be put down. Such a shame. (I guess. I do not have much love in my heart for Chip.)

I think the other important thing to do in a spook is keep breathing. If I sit loose and let Dixie spook, then let out a huge sigh while she's staring at the monster, she relaxes a lot faster than if I hold my breath or breathe shallowly.

mommyrides said...

Wonderful post Laura and a very important reminder to me as I am currently working out trust/respect issues with one of my geldings. As much as I love his personality and his smooth as butter gaits, if we can't get it worked out then he will have to go to someone who can. And it will break my heart but at least my head and body will remain intact.

What are your thoughts with regards to "group think/herd impact" on a trustworthy horse? I have seen beautifully behaved horses, mine included, exhibit totally abnormal behaviors (for them anyway) when involved in a large group trail ride.

Someone said to me once that the only thing you can expect from a horse is the unexpected, which parallels nicely wilsonc's comment on always taking the time to be aware of your horse.

Kate said...

There's a lot of really good stuff in this post. I do think some horses have serious, sometimes unsolvable, mental problems that can be very dangerous to a rider/handler and sometimes the horse itself - we had one of those a while back and finally had to have her euthanized - she was completely unpredictable and her eyes would glaze over and she would go beserk and attack any person in the vicinity - and it wasn't just intimidation - she intended to do serious damage.

I also think learning to "read" the horse is one of the most important horsemanship skills - it takes time, a lot of time, to develop, although I do believe some people more naturally develop it than others, and conversely there are even some "experienced" horsemen and women who don't have it.

And I think it's important to "lead your horse's thought" - to get ahead of things and provide the horse with leadership and direction - that's what the horse needs us to do.

I would quibble about "duller" horses needing "more" - I think in most cases it's learned behavior and even dull, heavy horses can learn to be willingly compliant - I don't think of that as an inherent characteristic that some horses have and others lack but rather something that can be developed in almost all horses.

(more in next comment - this is getting long)

Kate said...

(continued) And I think trust between horse and rider has to be mutual and has to be developed over time - blind trust, as you point out is dangerous.

Now I'm going to veer into dangerous territory - I think a lot of women riders are either too trusting or too fearful - getting that appropriate mix of confidence/awareness is hard I think for a lot of women. I'm not a big fan of "kissy-kissy" horse babying - I expect my horses to be working horses although I do like interacting with them and enjoying their personalities. But I don't treat them like big dogs or dress-up dolls. And then there are the women riders who are controlled by fear - no horse is going to be confident in a rider who is fearful. And sometimes you have to fake it. But then some fears are reasonable too - it's a matter of degree, experience and training.

One of the reasons I like Mark Rashid is that he doesn't train your horse for you - you do the riding - in all the clinics I've been to I've never seen him get on a participant's horse. I hate clinicians/trainers who train the horse but not the rider - what use is that when you go home? But then I also think that Mark's approach is hard for beginners and even intermediate riders - he doesn't have a "program" or system for you to follow and I struggled with that in the early years I rode and audited with him. I also believe that learning from a variety of horsemen and horsewomen is a good idea - there are a lot of good people out there (and also lots of bad ones).

As you point out when discussing bolting, some horses develop behaviors that they will try repeatedly - but I don't blame the horse here, I blame the rider - the horse's is doing exactly what it's been "trained" to do and I don't see much point in labeling the horse with names like "bad" or "disobedient" or "disrespectful"- I think an adversary relationship with the horse can produce a horse that is compliant but I'm not interested in that sort of relationship with my horse - when the chips are down a horse that is motivated by fear or force isn't going to come through for you.

I also don't believe that the horse must always comply - if I ask a horse to do something that's physically not possible (pain/injury), that the horse isn't mentally equipped to do yet, or that's dangerous or stupid where the horse and I are likely to get injured, I expect my horse to say no - that's what a good partner should do. This has nothing to do with "letting the horse get away with" things. I've seen horses badly injured/messed up mentally by being forced to do something they knew they couldn't do.

Trust is complex, and it has to go both ways, and as you point out inexperienced people can get in a world of trouble by trusting inappropriately - and don't get me started on people who keep stallions and untrained horses with behavior problems who do nothing about it. That said a lot of people get in over their heads and don't know what to do.

I could go on and on and on . . . and have! Thanks for a thoughtful post.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--That is a great point. I have never conciously done the sigh thing--I might do it unconciously--but I can see that it would work. My normal reaction is to laugh or say playfully, "Its just a deer," or the like of that, which is somewhat the same principle. Stay relaxed and convey its not scary.

mommyrides--I don't like large group trail rides. Partly because there always seems to be at least one horse or rider who is badly behaved (or inconsiderate). And this jeopardizes others. I limit my group trail rides to four or five folks at most that I know are reliable riding companions. I do agree that good, solid horses can get unreasonably "up" in a group. However my horses are very relaxed going out with the small "groups" I often ride with.

Kate--I'm very interested to hear your take. I don't think dull horses always need "more", but a certain sort of horse--my Sunny, our pony Toby--takes a much firmer reprimand than a sensitive horse. Sunny would literally not notice the sharp word that works as a reprimand on my horse Plumber.

Laura Crum said...

I agree with most all of what you say, Kate. I think where I differ is that I do think there is a place for firmly telling a horse that he HAS to do something whether he wants to right now or not. And that this sort of "forcing" must happen from time to time in the training process or the horse is never truly broke. He'll only obey till the going gets to be too much work. Then he'll just say no. So this is sort of the flip side of what you said about a horse motivated by fear or force won't come through.

I do agree that the horseman who asks for what a horse can't/is not ready to do is going to get either refusal or some kind of wreck, and refusal is better. But this again comes down to what I said in the post. The main thing is to read the horse correctly. If you are reading the horse correctly, no matter what method you use, you won't often overmatch him. Unless, of course, you are pushing him to win some competition--OK, don't get me started on that.

Funder said...

Laura, I talk to her too, but an audible sigh works the best when she's extra-startled.

I finally got her spooking and moving forward, so I'm pretty happy with her behavior. She used to spook and spin, then we got down to spook and freeze, and now if we're moving forward with a lot of impulsion, she'll leap sideways, target her ears on the scary thing, and keep moving. It took a lot of forcing in the early days, but she doesn't feel reluctant now. She spooks honestly then moves forward honestly and loosely. I don't think I can ever train her out of spooking; it's just her basic personality. And I think if I'd coddled her, I'd still be coddling her.

I've learned so much from her. :)

Laura Crum said...

Funder--My boy Gunner was a HUGE spook, as I said in the post. In the end he would jump sideways, give it one good look and go on. That's the best I ever managed with this very "looky" horse. At the time I thought it was just fine, though I would not want such a spooky horse now. I do not believe anyone could have trained the spook out of Gunner. As you say, its just who he was/is (at thirty-one and a pasture pet, he can still be completely goofy when a great blue heron lands in his field). I think you've done an amazing job if your mare keeps moving forward and doesn't jump sideways.

HorseOfCourse said...

A very good post, Laura.

I like to see it like a frame work; within the borders I like my horse to think for herself and to express her feelings, speak to me.
But the borders are there to fence out unacceptable behavior.

I want my horse to do what I ask her, but on the other hand I have a responsibility not to ask more of her than she is capable of. Which I believe builds trust over time.

When it comes to reading horses, or skills in riding, I envy those of you that are (or has been) working professionally with horses.
After being around horses for some 40+ years, I still see that with a non-horsey job you just don't get enough time.

So I just try and do the best I can. And hope my horse forgives my mistakes.

Laura Crum said...

Horse of Course--I think that not asking too much of the horse (more than he is capable of) is HUGE. I could do a whole nother post on this subject. Many, many messed up horses (and bad wrecks) are the result of both ignorant and also very knowledgable horsemen pushing horses too hard. The ignorant could neither read the horse nor knew what the horse was able to do or not do, and the knowledgable wanted to win some event or otherwise prove something and pushed the horse too hard to this end. I try never to ask so much of my horses that they feel the need to protest (these days). Like you, I want both my horse and myself to enjoy our rides (I wasn't always like this--working "professionally" with horses frequently causes you to push hard to achieve goals with the horse that make enjoying the rides much less likely.) And I think all our horses must forgive our mistakes at times--I know my horses are very forgiving and I'm grateful for that.

I love reading about you and Fame--it sounds as though you have a great partnership.

kel said...

Great Post.
Everytime I hear a some one say that their horse trust and respect them and would never hurt them - I want to puke. I joke that Semper is my soul mate but I never lose sight of the fact that he is a horse.

A horse is a large animal that can run up to 35 miles an hour and turn on a dime. They have teeth and hard hooves and know how to use them. They have substantial bone and a ton of muscle. All of this with a walnut sized brain. They are flight animals. Their main goal in life is to eat, poop and bred.
To lose sight of that is just asking for trouble. I believe some of them can have mental issues. Just like some can have cancer or any other disease. But for the most part, they are what we train them to be. Good or bad.


They did a weekly Parelli clinic at the barn I used to board at. I am always open to new ideas and thoughts so I decided to give it a try. A friend that I boarded with decided that she would go to. We gave it our all and tried to participate as we were instructed. Semper is 16 hands and about 1200 lbs and as gentle and compliant as they come. But he isn't stupid even with that walnut sized brain. They had me bend over and "stroke" the lead rope to get him to walk towards me. All the while the istructor is talking about trusting your horse and respecting his feelings. I am about 10ft from him and he has one hind foot cocked, ears forward, totally relaxed, and is looking at me like I have lost my mind. The instructor says just keep stroking the lead rope and he will come to you when he is ready. A couple of minutes into this, I stand up and look at the instructor and say "if he doesn't get his ass over here pretty dam quick I am going to knock the shit out of him" at that point I look back at him and he is walking to me. The instructor gets all excited and says "see it worked". Horses read your body language and tone of voice just as much as we read them. Probably better. The same evening when we were done my friend (whose TB gelding is everything that you think of when you think of a 17 hand off the track thoroughbred)went to get on him bareback. She took him to the mounting block and climbed to the top step - he steps away. She gets down and moves the block, steps up and he moves away. She kicks his ass. She moved the mounting block and he stands still. She gets on and goes on her way. The instructor stops her and says that Simon wasn't ready for her to mount and she should have waited for him to prepare himself. Of course the big goober wasn't ready. If it were up to him, he wouldn't ever be ready. We decided that Parelli wasn't really for us.

I saw alot of fearful people working horses in that weekly clinic. They weren't training or improving the horse, they were there to make themselves feel successful. They didn't understand that letting the horse do exactly as he pleased when he pleased wasn't making the horse a trustworthy mount or respectful partner. And the whole time.. the instructor is babbling on about trusting and respecting the horses feelings.

I know I am going to get the some panties in a twist about calling out Parelli people. It is just my opinion - don't be haters.

Kate said...

Sometimes when I comment over here, I get discouraged - I feel like I must be speaking in a foreign language or something (not talking about you, Laura, I always feel that you give my thoughts a fair hearing and that there's a lot of common ground - perhaps we're sort of like the yin and yang that makes up the whole in terms of our perspectives. ) But: "Knock the shit out of him", "kick his ass" ?- well, of course the horse isn't going to have much interest in being cooperative - why should he if that's the sort of treatment he can expect for messing up or not learning quickly enough? That's how I used to ride, and it worked after a fashion (sometimes). I just don't find that a very useful or effective way to work with horses any more.

I don't know much about Parelli and have little interest in that or other "natural" horsemanship methods - too much show and flash and special gadgets - and there are a lot of bad clinicians out there who get people and their horses nowhere. But there are some good riders and trainers out there who got their start doing Parelli, just like there are riders who got their start using other methods, so I'm not going to dis them.

With very few exceptions, if a horse is treated with fairness and consistency, the horse will be more than happy to accept our leadership and direction and comply with what we ask - but we have to provide the leadership and consistent, clear direction. But if you think of your horse as an adversary, or something to dominate, that's the sort of relationship you're going to get and that's how you're going to see the world and your horses. Just my opinion.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I really do respect your thoughtful ideas. However, I have to say that I get kel's point exactly. As I said in my post, "Reprimands", my horse, Sunny, both wants and needs me to dominate him in just this way (once in awhile). Yes, its adversarial, and yes, its what this horse needs if you want to get along with him. Other horses don't need this so much. I think the terms she used may bother you, but I am quite sure that kel is a very competent, loving horse owner--her blog shows this. And her horse does A LOT for her. This is somewhat the difference between these firmer methods and the less firm, in my eyes. The horses simply will do more for you. I'm not sure, but i'd be willing to bet that the rancher/old man who trained Pie might have been of this school of thought. Obviously, I don't know.

Anyway, Kate, I have learned a lot from reading your thoughts on your blog and I don't mean to disparage them in any way. I really like your comments, the more so because we come from different perspectives in some ways. I can learn a lot from you. I also like a good discussion, and the point of this post was somewhat to bring up the downside of going overboard on this trusting your horse concept. And I think the downside can be pretty big, as I said in the post. Again, I think the main difference between us is that I do think a horse should be taught to comply when he doesn't want to. Otherwise I treat my horses a lot like you treat yours. And I deal with many of the same thoughts and questions.

kel--well, you and I think alike, I know, and come from the same school of horsemanship. I don't like Parelli either, but decided not to bash them by name in the post--it just, as you say, gets people upset. But I hear you. Letting a horse do as he pleases when he pleases does not make him a trustworthy partner. All the talk to the contrary.

Kate said...

Laura - any time I use pressure and release, the horse is complying because it wants release from the pressure, and sometimes that means the horse is doing something it might not otherwise choose to do. And if the horses asks if it has to do something, my answer is frequently yes but it rarely takes very much pressure to get the response I want, and this is because the horse believes that my requests are fair and that my leadership is something the horse needs and wants. I have absolutely no interest in having a horse that walks all over me or doesn't respond to my asks, but I don't think of my horse as an adversary and I don't have to to get the behaviors I want. I think I get more that way from the horse than if I treat him as an adversary.

But I certainly have no monopoly on the truth of these matters - every horse and every day are opportunities for me to learn more and the horses teach me more than any or trainer clinician every has.

I think all of this is probably a matter of degree and the types of words people use. I'm sure kel is a fine horse owner - I don't know her and you do.

joycemocha said...

Agree with every word you wrote, Laura. My trainer's brother (a big name clinician in his own right) has commented privately that he has run into a lot of people bringing him horses for retraining who have gone through the programs of a couple of big-name NH trainers. Very much the same phenomena you discuss.

I get a lot of comments about how well-behaved Mocha is, especially when I'm working with her around the college classes. I'm always careful to emphasize that this is the result of nearly six years ownership, and five years of consistent handling before I bought her. Yes, she comes to the stall door when I open it. Yes, she follows me around the alley without me needing to hold the lead rope. Yes, she stands ground-tied. But she didn't magically get that way, G put the foundation on her and I tweaked the training she had and extended it to cover what I wanted her to do. She challenges me in very quiet, subtle ways and I don't dare ease up. Not because she's a mean horse but because she's a very strong-minded, dominant, alpha-type mare. She won't deliberately hurt me, but if I'm not firm about who's in charge, then she marches right in and takes charge. From what I've been told, that's a common characteristic of Doc O'Lena bred horses, and she's line-bred Doc O'Lena top and bottom.

She's pushy. But that's a good characteristic in a performance-bred horse.

In return, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how she learns, and what works for her as opposed to other horses. One of the best things that I ever did was ride for several years with this trainer before I bought Mocha. He tossed me up on rehabs and greenies as well as schoolies, and I learned a lot from doing that. Yeah, I paid for the privilege. I also learned one heck of a lot, which became useful when I bought Mocha.

In return for the work I've put into Mocha, I have a sensitive, responsive horse who likes to see me, who walks out of the stall with a good attitude (or who walks to the corral gate ready to go), and who gets impatient with me early on in our rides because she wants to work. Yesterday, I did a conditioning arena ride during a beginner lesson. Mocha was in full, raging heat, but in her, that's an invitation to aggressive, hard work (she's one mare you WANT to have in heat at a show because she goes harder and has that extra pizzazz when she's cycling). At one point I crossed my irons (riding English) and rode stirrupless, lots of canter, just thundering around the arena. The Girl loves to thunder around the arena, especially if a few rollbacks and rundowns get thrown in.

But what was sweetest of all was cantering her on the buckle, with just enough rein tension to keep her from getting a hoof over the reins, while she dang near dragged her nose on the ground. She was relaxed, balanced, and energetic.

You don't get there from being nicey-nice. You get there by creating boundaries and being firm.

I have seen some brain-fried horses go through the barn. Some weren't right in the head. Others, you could clearly identify what troubled them.

But even Mocha will spook, though her spook is more like Gunner's. She's knocked me down once, stupid mistake on my part. She'll startle and panic on occasion.

I have ridden a panic bolt, but I have my suspicions about the underlying causes (it was a lesson horse on a trail ride, and I suspect the person who told me the horse had a "Western stop" didn't have the faintest idea what a Western stop really was). While the first bolt was from panic, the horse then kept that little testing shy/spook to see if she could take off running again. The two feel totally different.

redhorse said...

This is just my observation, but some of the "natural" horsemanship students get so sold on one trainer that they almost worship him as a guru. They seem to be more concerned with the exercises and levels than getting the job done. Some of them are also so concerned about making everything positive, that I think they have blinders on when reading the horse.

I agree with you Laura, that there are some things that must be done my way. My gelding cannot turn his butt on me and kick, even when he was a foal. He also can't rear and paw the air when I have him on a lead line or lunge line. I will do what I have to do to stop it, and it won't be nearly as harsh as his mother, or the other mares he lives with.

Once we establish the ground rules, I work on being softer and lighter in my requests, and establishing the trust. The best trainers I've known, even those who use "natural" techniques will get pretty tough on a horse who is behaving dangerously. Sometimes we forget, they have to earn our trust, as well as us earning theirs.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I should rephrase what I said. The way I handle Sunny may appear adversarial at times but I do not consider myself his adversary. I am his boss. What is really happening is this. Sunny is testing to see if I am still worthy of being in charge. I am demonstrating that I am. Our relationship is that I take care of him, I listen to his wants and needs and I expect his respectful obedience. I do what it takes to enforce this. And we're both happy with each other.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--I really like your comment. My relationship with Sunny is much like yours with Mocha--except he's not the athlete Mocha is. I need to be firm and stay in charge or he'll take over. But its just this strong minded confidence in himself that makes him such a solid trail horse. So I appreciate this trait.

I have not been impressed with the horses I have seen that came out of a NH program. I actually arranged for a horse I helped train to go to a very good woman who is an NH student. She has maybe twenty horses and feels the horse we gave her is the best riding horse of the lot. I wonder why?

redhorse. Yes. I agree with everything you say. And I completely second the idea that our horses must earn our trust just as we earn theirs. I think we should all note how "firm" horses are with each other. This is the language they understand.

joycemocha said...

Laura--yes, Mocha does have a few similarities with Sunny! The difference is that she hides her pushiness under a veneer of pleasant compliance. In many ways, that makes her potentially more difficult than a more straightforward horse like Sunny. The less experienced only see her overall mellow good temperament and her social side, but they don't pick up on the athletic and pushy pieces.

Then again, I've known her from foalhood and I knew her dam, who was a very intense competitor (a former Bob Loomis reining horse). Her dam was much more like Sunny in temperament, and she didn't cut anyone any slack. Mocha is more forgiving than her mama Annie.

Kate said...

Laura - that description made more sense to me, although what you might do in such a case might differ from what I would do and we might think about it somewhat differently - it's hard to know in the abstract since as you point out every horse, and horse/rider combo, are different. There are certain horses who are very dominant (our Lily was one), and I expect certain stallions, where dominance issues/contests could arise, but with Lily it was really a ground manners thing not so much an under saddle thing although she was never an easy ride. I also agreed with what redhorse said.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--Its funny--I do consider Sunny forgiving. In many ways, he's a babysitter. He just requires this "prove your dominance" demonstration every once in awhile. Funny horse.

Kate--I always wonder how much is a difference in semantics. I'm apt to say I "walloped" a horse, and maybe you would say you "got his attention back on you", but both of us are somewhat doing the same thing and I know neither of us is hurting said horse. And Sunny has made me revisit this whole dominance issue. None of my other horses require the kind of reprimands that he does. It took me quite awhile to figure him out, and I'm still mildly surprised at the way his mind seems to work.

Linda said...

I haven't read any of the comments yet, but want to write mine before it slips away--then I'll go back and read everyone elses. I've followed this discussion over from Kate's blog...again. I love this idea of trust, and I use that word a lot--but not anywhere close to the way the trainer in the story used it. When I say "trust" it's within the framework of training a horse step by step, understanding where the horse is at, and moving forward as it is safe for both horse and rider to do so. It's letting go of expectations (the horse of the past or wishful thinking about the horse you have) and dealing moment by moment with the horse who is actually there. I've had horses for about thirty years, raised and train a handful of colts and now a mustang, and have never been hurt or even bucked off, and my farrier loves to come and trim all seven of mine--but I still have a lot to learn. My two rules are safety first and do as little as you have to to get the maximum result. The more confident you become (as you pointed out about the "great" trainers) the less you will have to do....and, certainly, the less carrot sticks and such that you'll be buying. One last thought about how you took care of the bolter--I think movement with horses is almost always a good thing. A confident rider lets the horse move freely under him and uses aids to communicate. A nervous rider tenses up and tries to "control" the horse and usually makes it more nervous.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--I think your point about movement being a good thing is well taken. Trying to "control" too much is often a mistake. And staying in charge in a good way is often about having the confidence to let the horse move. Those are really good insights. My biggest learning lately is about my Sunny horse who really needs reprimands--so I'm writing a lot about that. But most of my past mounts did not need this, nor did I reprimand them much if at all, so people are probably getting a slightly skewed idea of my thinking. But I am dealing with what my current horse presents and needs and all the wishful thinking in the world won't make him different to how he is. Thanks for an insightful comment--I, too, think the subject is very worth discussing and hearing different points of view.

Kate said...

Linda - very much liked your comment here and over at my post - thanks for saying what you did so well.

kel said...

I thought about whether to respond back to this post or not. What to write? The internet is a wonderful thing and blogs let you make new friends and exchange ideas with people you would never get to meet in real life.
What I forget is that not everyone knows you - like really knows you and your mannerisms. I can be a potty mouth. There I said it. If I offended anyone, I apologize.
So when I say things like "kick his ass" what I really mean is that I am going to discipline him in an appropriate way. Maybe yeild his hind quarters around, make him move his feet, etc. I don't really kick his ass or beat him up or box with him. Horses understand certain commands or words but they really don't comprehend english in sentences. If I were to have stood up and said in a harsh tone - "come over here you big lover boy" he would have still moved to me. If I would have bent over and told him in a soft cooing voice that if he doesn't move his feet that I am going to kick his ass - he wouldn't have moved. He doesn't understand sentences. He is samrt but not that smart. :) As Laura said it is about being able to read the horse and the horse reading you.

Kate said...

kel - thanks for adding something - you're right, I don't know you and I shouldn't have assumed that when you used language like that it meant that you would do the sort of thing to the horse that the words suggested to me. Unfortunately, in the world I came from (I'm rarely around people like that any more), there were a number of people who would beat up horses, sometimes at the drop of a hat, either because the horse "deserved" it or because they were angry and that's what they did when they were angry. Pretty ugly stuff. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I think you have to have learned how to be truly tough with a horse to move accurately into that place between too harsh and too permissive. Somebody said that on your blog, too. And some of us, once we've learned that (this would be me) often talk tougher than we actually behave any more. Nonetheless, the sort who talk a lot about much the horse is their soulmate and such always raise my suspicions that they are not competent horsemen far more than the ones who say they're going to "wallop him". Just my prejudice. Again really believe that the right way to treat a horse is somewhere between too harsh and too permissive and finding that line can be hard, because it differs from horse to horse. To go back to the point of my post--you just have to be able to read the horse.

kel--I get your sense of humor. And again, I come from the same school of thought and would have been likely to say (and mean) the same things. But thanks for replying back to Kate who is a thoughtful and interesting writer about horse related subjects.

Laura Crum said...

Oh, and Kate--Maybe I should next do a post about how much damage can be done by forcing horses too harshly. I have certainly seen just as much evil done that way as by the too permissive folks. I guess I hit on the "overly trusting" negatives because so few people in "horse blog land" seem to be in the overly harsh camp. And I have read some things that struck me as being somewhat wishful thinking when it came to working with horses. Thus the post.

kel said...

Laura and Kate... I too have seen those crazy individuals that will be down right cruel to horses. It just boils my blood to see any creature treated in that manner. It gives me the same "heart hurt" as when I hear about abused children. Another good post would be about appropriate fixes. An example would be when the big dorky TB moved away from the block... Jen gave him two chances to get it right... then made him yield his hindquarters around both directions and made him move his feet with some energy. The message being if you want to move...then MOVE - but in a fashion that isn't exactly comfortable for him. She never physically touched him with anything.The whole thing took less than a minute or two. Sometimes the little things are way more meaningful than the big blow out fights. I am sure we all have little fixes and I would love to hear about them.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I ,too, love to hear about other folks "fixes". I have found that what works well on one horse doesn't always work on another, so its good to get new ideas. For the mounting thing, if I try to mount bareback by getting the horse next to something, be it fence or whatever, several of my horses will oh-so-casually step away as I get ready to get on. This would happen over and over again if I did not "reprimand" them. They aren't afraid, and they know exactly why I want them to stand there. They are (for lack of a better way to put it) testing. So I growl, and bump them with the leadrope, and if that doesn't do it I give them a little whack, and they sigh and stand still for me and I get on. Its all no big deal, either to me or to them. But I am at a loss to understand how this would not qualify as behavior that needs a mild reprimand. They know what I want. Anyways--just more of my thinking on this whole question.

I'll do a post about the overly harsh stuff, too. But it will have to address that the source of much (not all) of the cruel crap I have seen is the desire to win some competition or other.

joycemocha said...

Laura--I'd just say that with those old pro horses, they're expressing their opinion (being pushy). You're expressing your opinion right back (growl, perhaps a light whack). Horse complies with a deep sigh.

If you think of it in terms of herd interactions, what just happened was a fairly typical herd exchange. Horses are always going to check out where they are in a dominance structure, whether from fear that they're still getting support or whether it's being pushy to see if they can move up to the top.

It's all about the communication.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--I see it roughly the same. I am puzzled by statements like "if I just show the horse what I want in a way he understands, he'll do it." That's not been my experience overall. Most horses reach a point, or have a day, when they would rather not be ridden, or do the work you have in mind. You can show them what you want in a way they understand until the cows come home and they'll show that they don't choose to do it. They understood from the beginning what you wanted. Unless you tell them, "sorry, you have to," in a way they understand, which often looks like a reprimand, all they do is learn that if they resist they can dominate you and do what they choose. Back to my mounting bareback--unless I deliver the mild reprimand, these old pros of mine will quite calmly and gently prevent me from climbing on, chuckling inwardly the whole time.

Breathe said...

One of the frustrating limitations of blogging is that we can't really understand what someone means when they say they"disciplined their horse". When I rode in the clinic with Rashid, I said, as we were working on something, I was worried about being in my horse's mouth all the time.

He told me "are you in his mouth or is he in your hands?". That statement made realize that I needed to rearrange the line of firmness in my mind.

Parelli has been badly applied IMHO. The tenets aren't that different from Rashid, just more buried in simplistic teachings that lose subtlety. Ironically most of the useful things I've learned lately is subtle

Quite a journey.

Laura Crum said...

Breathe--The reason I don't like Parelli is largely because most all of the horses that I have seen that come from Parelli oriented training are poorly behaved. By poorly behaved I mean that they don't obey the rider/handler's directions and feel free to try to dominate the situation. They seem resentful and pushy to me and many of them did not have any of the basic skills needed to be an acceptable riding horse and the people were quite literally unwilling to ride them--the whole time giving excuses for this state of affairs.

Parelli and his wife teach some very odd things. I did "know" Pat Parelli slightly many years ago before he became so famous--he demonstrated his mule doing reining patterns bridless at the Snaffle Bit Futurity, and he obviously had some skill. It appears to me that being a celebrity has gone to his head--as so often happens. Just my opinion.

Kate said...

Laura - I'd like to follow up on your comment (I think it was on my blog) that it's easier to find a position in the middle - where you provide your horse with adequate leadership but aren't overly harsh - if you've migrated from the harsher (but not abusive) end of things - planet Z in my terms. I think there's a lot of truth to that, and this would partly explain why the people who've only lived on planet X sometimes get into trouble by too much "making nice" and failing to step up and provide strong leadership and direction. A lot of fear/failure to progress on the Planet X front comes from this - people are too tentative, too careful in a way. And some Planet X folks get in very serious (even dangerous) trouble due to this, as you pointed out in your original post.

That would be an interesting post if you could do it.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--What do you think about a joint post? We could do it at the same time--and both reflect on this subject. I think it was someone else who said it on your blog (maybe Linda), but I immediately got the point. If you don't know how to MAKE a horse behave through strong methods its very hard to be accurate in your assessment of where you're at. I, too have moved very far from harsh methods--but its partly because I understand them--I'm not just afraid of them and "making nice" with my horses. I think its a great idea for a post--but I would need a little time to compose an effective piece. Do you have a thinking as to schedule? Do you want to send me your email? Mine is laurae@cruzio.com

Shanster said...

I really liked this post Laura! So MUCH info and so well thought out.

My mare and I have a good relationship. I trust her as much as I could trust a horse...tho' I know not to trust her completely and blindly because she is still a horse and while we communicate well, we are still different species. grin.

I sort of think "soul mate" is an odd choice of words to describe a relationship with any animal really. Tho, it's meaning can be different for different people!

And absolutely - Sera went thru a phase where she tested and I had to set acceptable boundaries. We have a good working relationship and I try to keep all things honest with her. I think she does the same.

Rosso on the other hand? No, I do not trust him. Yes, I have extended more trust to him and we are working together but as a girlfriend of mine put it, "it's like he was a bad boyfriend and has to earn your trust again"

I'm not sure he'll completely mellow out to be a horse like Sera. Jury is out on that one. I also think our personalities don't exactly work...think he needs a more aggressive/fearless rider who find his antics amusing or fun.

I'm pretty sure he's going to want to test me again at some point and I'm hoping to have learned enough to put those boundaries into practice and to be rider enough to enforce it adequately.

I would not have taken him or Sera on without the help of my very competent trainer. I have heard both her and another trainer tell me, 'you can't treat the horse like a criminal unless he acts like a criminal' and my take on that was that it is about extending the trust olive branch... while still being ready to respond IF something should come up. It's a fine line for sure. Defensive riding vs. offensive riding I suppose.

I really appreciated your insight and thoughts and thoroughness... excellent and a post worth reading again. Thanks!

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--I know you are working on the trust thing with Rosso, and I, for one, think you are doing it exactly right. I totally agree about not treating a horse like a criminal if he's not acting like one. If you read your horse and he's saying that he's doing his best to get along with you, then yeah, its time to extend some trust. If he's saying he wants to test you a little than its time to be watchful and ready to set firm limits.

Glad you're back--hope you had a good trip!

Funder said...

re: criminals - Shanster, the phrase I picked up from dog training is "let the dog make the mistake." Works for horses, too - you have to trust them just until they make the mistake and don't correct them before. I try really hard to always trust that Dixie will do the right thing, but be ready to jump in and correct her if she does the wrong thing. Keeps me from preemptively fussing and fidgeting.

It's still hard to always be on guard against a certain behavior. Wears you out waiting for that mistake, doesn't it? :-/

Laura Crum said...

Funder--That is so true. And the part about it wearing you out to remain on guard is one thing I really struggle with. I think part of the reason I've had so few wrecks is because I am careful and vigilant--always alert for a problem. But it isn't relaxing. This is why I love Henry and Sunny so much. I can relax my vigilance and trust that they will behave--they are very proven, steady trail horses. Its such a pleasure to be able to relax (within reasonable limits--I don't close my eyes) and enjoy the ride.

Shanster said...

Exactly - it's why I'll take Sera out on a trail or to shows or clinics and I don't worry so much..I have FUN.

It's why I'm staying at the indoor under my trainer's watchful eye while I ride Rosso til I'm more confident I could handle something he throws my way.

And the issues we've had are minor - not to me because it affects me directly - but to a trainer? Minor. He's never really freaked out under saddle or bucked hard, or reared or bolted - nothing nasty.

Took him to a cowboy trainer guy who rode him up, down, all around and I watched a lot to see what he'd do if pushed in a situation he was nervous in. Cowboy dude told me he'd be fine and he didn't do anything out of the ordinary or dangerous when taken out of his element - I mean this guy rode him along 2 lane highways that are pretty busy, took him to the mountains, rode him thru big streams etc.

I wanted to know if Rosso would get dangerous if pushed and the trainer knew that is why Rosso was there. He pushed him.

Rosso is one of those higher strung horses and I've never had one of those... it's nerve wracking to me - not sure I'd do that personality type again as a riding horse. Not that I want "dead" but I think I like a little more confident beastie. grin.

Hoping I can get to a good place of trust with him and know what to expect and how to deal with it.

It's like Horse of Course says... I haven't had the opportunity to ride many horses. It limits the experiences and knowledge a bit in my opinion.

I've had a horse 1 at a time...so this is a pretty new sort of horse to me and I'm figuring things out. I'm committed to seeing things through and most importantly learn.

Figure it'll make me a better person... positive affirmation anyone? heh heh

Kerrin Koetsier said...

Nice thought provoking post, Laura! Thanks for writing it!

Kerrin Koetsier
Parelli Central