Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Magical or Foolish?

by Laura Crum

Warning: for those of you who enjoy my upbeat posts about what is good in my life with horses, this is not such a post. Every now and then I like to keep it real by calling it as I see it when it comes to some bit of what I consider to be dangerous silliness that is circulating around horse blog land. (Or that I see in real life, for that matter.) Sometimes this stuff is coming from what most people consider to be “reputable sources” and I notice that, for whatever reason (maybe folks are intimidated), nobody seems willing to speak up and say, hey, I don’t agree with this. So, I’m speaking up. Mostly because I do believe some things are truly dangerous and should be avoided by all but the most experienced horse people. The downside is too great. Those who disagree with me on this one, feel free to say so in the comments. I am always Ok with hearing a dissenting point of view. I like to raise “difficult” questions and issues because sometimes the discussion that comes out of this is very interesting and productive. For those who would rather not hear my fairly strong opinions on the subject of horse training methods, please click on the “x” now.

So here’s my rant:

Not too long ago I read a couple of blog posts written by two very different women who both call themselves horse trainers. There’s not too much these two have in common, other than that general classification. But yet they both wrote lyrical pieces about “playing” with a rearing horse at liberty. And I have to admit I winced.

Both of these pieces were well written; though they come from very different perspectives. One woman was advocating (and offering to teach) this sort of thing. The other was merely writing about something she’d done in the past. But both made the “game” sound downright magical. Had I not had as many years of experience with horses as either of these gals, I might have been tempted to try such a thing. And all I can say to that is, yikes(!)

Let me just put this simply. Playing games with a rearing horse at liberty is foolish and dangerous for most people. Maybe these two trainer gals have some extra special skills that protect them from harm. Or maybe they’ve just been lucky. But I am here to tell you that won’t necessarily happen for the rest of us, and the downside is huge.

Not long after I first began blogging, I read a post in which a woman who had been playing such liberty games with her horse was kicked hard in the chest and suffered a heart attack. I read that and my first thought was, “Ouch. This is just the kind of life threatening, completely unnecessary wreck we horse people DON’T need.” My second thought was, “Who teaches these people to do these silly things?” Having been raised by traditional horsemen, I would no more play “games” with a horse at liberty than I would lie down in front of one and try to get him to step over me (and yeah, they probably do that, too).

(I would like to add as an aside here that I’m sure that there are positive, relatively safe ways to work with horses at liberty, aside from round penning—I’m quite familiar with that-- and I’m equally sure that some of you can explain them to me. I do know that some training methods rely on these liberty games and some people think highly of them. I am not an admirer of such methods, but I totally respect everyone’s right to their own approach. If you’ve studied this stuff and you are an expert, more power to you. What I am trying to point out in this post is that there is a big, big possibility of getting hurt if you are not totally on top of your “game” in this area. This is not something to play around with because an online “trainer” that you admire has talked about it.)

At one point, in a discussion with one former horse trainer on a similar subject (interacting with horses at liberty while feeding), I said, “Well, that works until it doesn’t.” And boy did I catch hell for saying that. I had disagreed with the mighty trainer and put forth an opinion that assumed I might know as much as she did on this subject. And that didn’t fly at all. But folks, I am standing by what I said. These kinds of games work until they don’t. And when they don’t, the horse has just double barreled you in the chest.

How do I know this? Because I’ve spent plenty of time watching horses play with other horses in the pasture or paddock. And yes, they rear and play bite face and run about, having great fun. Until eventually a non-dominant horse thinks this might be his moment, or a dominant horse decides the other horse has stepped out of line. And whammo, here comes the double barreled kick. And its not playful. Its powerful.

Plenty of horses have been seriously injured this way. Plenty of horses have had to be put down due to a broken leg—some I have known. A few horses I knew of were kicked square in the head and died on the spot. Yes, it happens. And if you don’t think it can happen to you when you’re playing with a horse at liberty, interacting with him like you are another horse, then I think you’ve been drinking too much of the Kool Aid.

The one woman who advocates these games goes on and on about how you can deepen your relationship with your horse by doing this sort of thing and brags on the magic that is possible. There are photos of her in EXACTLY the wrong position to be in with any loose horse. I’m reading away wondering what she puts in that Kool Aid to get folks to suspend their common sense, when I come upon the icing on the cake. This woman recommends that you play these games before you ride your horse. Every time. And if your horse doesn’t want to “engage”, then you shouldn’t ride the horse that day. I mean, seriously?

Now if this person wanted to reply to me, I’m guessing she would say that she stands in these oh-so-vulnerable positions with a loose horse because she has developed a relationship of trust with said horse. And that this is all part of the magic that is possible. And my reply to this would be just what I said before. It works until it doesn’t. And at the point where the horse decides he’s not in the mood for your game—well, you’re back to being double barreled in the chest. And yes, this happens to experienced horse people. And yes, they do get badly hurt. Again, the downside is too great.

OK. Here’s my thoughts on the magic that is possible with horses. And I absolutely have this magic with my horses all the time. If it weren’t so simple to achieve, maybe I could set up as a horse guru myself.

Magic is walking down to the corral and having your horse meet you at the gate and put his head in the halter. Magic is grooming and saddling with no issues and climbing aboard. You’ll notice I don’t mention round penning or lunging or any other “ground work” first. We just climb on and ride off—on two relaxed well-behaved horses. We walk until they’re warmed up and these horses carry us willingly and reliably wherever we want to go. Along the beach, through the woods, across the creek, up the steep, narrow path through the trees…you name it. Magic is feeling completely relaxed and comfortable as you ride along by the surf on your equally relaxed and comfortable horse. Magic is being free of anxiety, let alone not being scared or hurt. Magic is doing this over and over again, hundreds of times, with the same pleasant result. That’s the kind of magic I have with my horses.

My horses nicker when they see me, they meet me at the gate to be caught, as I said before. They do what we ask when we ride them. They are calm and reliable. I believe that we are all happy with each other. And this is the magic I have—and the magic I want. I cannot imagine a system that involves giving up a proposed ride simply because Fluffy doesn’t choose to engage in the liberty game today. In my eyes that’s not magic. That’s silly.

How do I achieve my brand of magic? Its simple, and I’ll give you the secret right now for free. I interact with my horses as a competent, kind, firm, consistent, traditional horseman. And I thoughtfully chose two solid, broke, experienced trail horses in the double digits for my son and myself to ride.

Its not tricky. I don’t play games with my horses. I do catch them at times to turn them loose to graze, I do make sure the rides are well within their capacity, I make sure they have plenty of space to move around 24/7 and I feed them carefully such that they are at the right weight. I feed three times a day. I don’t ride them if they are sore or off in any way. I care about them and retire them when their working days are done. My horses take reassurance from me and accept my leadership. They trust me. Just as I trust them. But I still treat them as a traditional horseman treats a horse.

What does this mean? It means I stay in charge. I remain the boss. A kind and thoughtful boss, but the boss at all times. I am a boss who is willing to listen to another opinion (cause yeah, I pay attention when my horses try to tell me something). And I don’t fool around playing games with loose horses. (Yes, I’ll go in the corral or pasture and rub on a horse or whatnot, but I remain carefully aware of staying in a safe position at all times and I keep a watchful eye on the horse’s body language.) I’ve seen too many wrecks in a lifetime spent with horses (fortunately very, very few of these wrecks involved me), to want to take an unnecessary chance of getting hurt. You horse gurus feel free to comment and tell me what I’m missing. I’m here to say what I’ve got. A solid track record for staying safe, having lots of fun on horseback (and not spending my time dinking around with my broke horse on the ground, which I don’t enjoy), and keeping both horses and people undamaged and happy. That’s poetry to me.

And playing games with a rearing horse at liberty? That’s foolish/dangerous in my book. Perhaps the gals who wrote those lyrical passages can manage to do it safely…most of the time. But they are doing no one any favors to describe such a thing in a way that encourages naïve young girls and equally naïve and not-so-agile middle aged women to see this as a fun/magical thing to do with a horse. Even with an experienced “trainer,” I’ll stick with what I said long ago. That sort of thing works until it doesn’t.

Feel free to give your own take on this in the comments. I’m aware that some folks I respect are more partial to these liberty games than I am and I am happy to hear where I might have something to learn. I always like hearing others’ ideas.


Anonymous said...

I saw some of that stuff - playing with/around a rearing horse - and it gave me pause too, although I didn't speak up.

Being around a loose horse or horses is about the most vulnerable/dangerous position a person can be in. And I never want my horse to think of me as another horse, particularly if the gestures are dominant/aggressive - nipping, pawing/striking and most certainly rearing. Rearing can be a sign of high spirits, or it can be an aggressive/intimidating move, but in either event if you're close by and those front feet get too near . . . Or, as you point out, if a horse swings around while playing and double-barrels . . .

I do ground work to work through things - like developing a good go forward response in a young horse, or ground driving to expose a horse to new situations without being on board. But once things are worked through, I don't do ground work any more, except perhaps to check out where a horse is mentally if they've been out of work for a while. I don't play with my horses at liberty - I'm too slow and I don't see a need to do it. That said, there's one lady at our barn who does do liberty work with her horse - it's essentially free lungeing and the horse does it well without acting up - when the horse is feeling a mite frisky. I think of this sort of thing as an extension of round penning, and it does have its uses - but a far cry from what you're describing in your post - and the horse has to be taught to do it properly.

As you do, I try to listen to what my horses are telling me while always remaining their leader - I think you have to be a leader for your horse to trust you.

I'm always interested when you bring up these "controversial" subjects.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--Yes, I think the discussion that sometimes follows a "controversial" post can be very educational--for me, as well as others. Thanks for contributing your thoughts.

I agree that being around loose horses is the most dangerous position to be in with horses. I have heard someone say (can't remember where) that it is statistically more likely to be hurt by a horse while working with him on the ground (in any form) than while riding. I believe this to be true, especially if you are talking about a well broke horse--who is very unlikely to dump you. But even a broke horse is capable of kicking out at another horse across the fence while you are walking around behind him to catch him.

I did a fair amount of round pen work with young horses while I was training and it is definitely an important part of the training process--for me and for most people, I would think. Or at least ground work in some form. But for me this is not playing games. This is training the horse to have the skills he will need when I ride him--in a way that is easier for both him and me than if I just climbed aboard and tried to teach him these skills. Once the horse has these skills (is a broke horse) I don't feel the need to keep working with him in this way.

If a horse is kept in a stall or small pen and is feeling very fresh, then I can see lunging or round penning to get the edge off before you ride. Or if the horse is young, or you know that the horse bucks or any other good reason to wear him out a bit and get him listening to you before you get on. But again, in my mind this is a very different thing than playing games with a horse.

Funder said...

ARGH what?! Playing with a rearing horse at liberty? I have done plenty of dumb things but even I have never been that dumb. Like Kate said, I never want my horse to think I'm another horse. The kind of playful kick that would leave a hematoma on another horse could break my bones. I don't have the reflexes or the sheer bulk of another horse.

The only quasi-liberty game I play is if Dixie's feeling super frisky at feeding time - cantering up to the gate blowing and doing her Arab impersonation. I'll wave my arms and kiss - from the other side of the gate! - and watch in delight as she does a lap or two in the paddock. And even that serves a purpose - go run then and come back over here when you're willing to calm down, put your head in the halter, and follow me on a loose lead.

And yes, I work my horse when I feel like it. Not when she's in the mood. I try very hard to make the work such that she's willing, forward, and enjoying it - but we're gonna do something when I decide to. Be flexible, always end on a good note, etc., but I make a point of not changing my mind entirely about working with her.

Anonymous said...

I saw one of the blog posts you're talking about, and in her defense, it was something she did as a child and got in trouble for. She also said in the comments that if she caught her daughter doing it, her daughter would be in trouble.

I prefer your kind of magic. When I do groundwork, I'm like Kate, I'm doing it to make sure Fluffy will be safe for me to get on, that he'll stand still at the mounting block, that he'll go forward when I ask, that he'll stop when I ask. It's not a game for me, and I'd like for him to get the message that it's easier to behave and let me ride than it is to misbehave and have to do more groundwork.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--Yep. Sunny and I have a similar "game". Most days at feeding time he comes to the gate, and I say something to him (anything) and he makes a few laps around the paddock, kicking up his heels and shaking his head, while I grin (from the other side of the fence). Then I feed.

I'll change my plans if for some reason (exceedingly unusual) the horses are feeling overly lively (maybe its windy), but if I think they need the discipline of work, I'll at least get them out, saddle them, and tie them up. This is an easy way to get a horse relaxed under saddle again (if he's used to this). Like you, my horses live in big corrals where they can run if they want to, so they are not balls of pent up energy.

Yes, the descriptions of playing games with a rearing horse at liberty made me say "ARGH" too.

TBDancer said...

I have the same philosophy you do regarding "games" with horses. The prominent NH guy and his wife have made a FORTUNE with the "games," and my thought is, horses are not dogs (with whom you CAN play games and roll around on the floor with them); and I see the man doing the games and KNOW that people in the audience are watching and thinking they jes' cain't WAIT to git home and try that there thang on ol' Diablo. We never hear about their injuries, but I'm sure there are many.

A book on herd behavior or the herd dynamic, observation of horses interacting with each other and with owners or trainers who have a GOOD relationship with them -- any of these can create the kind of magic that results in a tractable horse that enjoys riding out and about, doing the show thing, or whatever floats your boat, with very little money involved.

The nonsense is just that -- gimmicks to sell equipment, books, DVDs, clinics for BIG bucks. Some people may feel they need this sort of thing.

Personally, I'm with you.

Laura Crum said...

redhorse--I heard the disclaimers on that post, yes. But what stuck in my mind was how when I first read the post, the protagonist was portrayed as somehow understanding more about the horse than the "supervising adult", who, in the context of the post, was made to seem as if he/she simply did not "get" the magical game that the protagonist was playing with her horse. And my first thought was, "Gee, I hope nobody reads this, ignores or doesn't see the disclaimers in comments...etc, and thinks that this is just what sort of fun they'd like to have with their horse."

I'm with you on the point of groundwork. I think its to keep us safe when we ride. And, if working with a young horse, to help the horse learn more easily and effectively.

As for the gal who advocates the magic that is possible if we play these games with our horses--I'm just not sure what sort of magic makes it worthwhile to ride only when the horse decides that we should. Maybe somebody will tell me.

horsegenes said...

I went to Cavalia this year and was completely in awe of what the trainers there did with horses at liberty. It is the ultimate at liberty experience. With that said... those trainers spend all day every day with those horses. They don't train outside horses, they don't have any other job but to prepare for that performance. I think that wanna be trainers go to Cavalia or similar shows and get a hair brain idea that if they can do it so can anyone else. And you just can't. The normal - making a living trainer can't devote that much time to training a horse at liberty. It won't pay the bills.
There is a difference between the at liberty you see at Cavalia and just chasing a horse around to make it buck and play. So far what I have seen from most at liberty is just some dork chasing a horse around to make it look purdy.

I have a rule with my horses. When they are loose they can run and buck and play all they want. When I come in to the pasture, I am the one being cautious. I approach them with respect and a watchful eye. When they are in the stall, round pen, on a lunge line or haltered or saddled - they are to be respectful. No silly business. I am not a horse - although I did play one in grammer school... haha... bottom line - 1300 lbs vs 150 lbs is not good odds for me.

I put on a exhibition at a local fair for several years. I had different breeds and disciplines represented so people could come and see how diverse the horse world was. A local arabian breeder asked if she could do an "at liberty". I hadn't ever heard of "at Liberty". She said they do them at arab shows all the time. That was the only time in the 3 years that I did that exhibition that someone got hurt. She got kicked in the shoulder. She was damn lucky it wasn't her chest or head. No more at liberty for me. It is useless and dangerous.

C.E. Wolfe said...

Throughout a lifetime around horses, there was only ONE horse that I ever "played" with at liberty. We had an exceptional bond and I trusted him completely. He never reared or kicked, and in fact we never came close to each other. It just started because he actually hated turn out (the stable didn't offer a lot of turnout time to begin with) and he would just stand at the gate waiting to come in. So I started shooing him away from the gate. As soon as I would stop shooing him, he would follow me wherever I went, and he thought this was the best game ever. So that just became part of his excercise/turnout... me "chasing" him and then him following me... but he was exceptionally respectful when at liberty and never came anywhere near me. Even though I trusted this PARTICULAR horse with my life, I STILL carried a whip just in CASE he became too comfortable and got too close to me. It was sort of like free lunging. But the stuff I've seen on youtube is CRAZY and I would never "play at liberty" with 99% of the horses I've handled. This was an exceptional case with an exceptional horse and even so, I still took precautions, and would not have continued if he had ever become overexcited, acted dominant, or reared/kicked while at liberty.

Laura Crum said...

TBdancer--The first paragraph of your comment cracked me up. That is exactly what I mean. And though I didn't mention the guy you're talking about in my post, I was sure thinking of him (and his spouse), too. Thank you for an excellently worded point.

kel--I heard amazing things about Cavalia and wish I had seen it. I've also read some neat stuff about how the TB was trained for War Horse. I am totally in awe of trainers who are expert at this sort of thing. But I am pretty damn certain this is not something for the rest of us to try at home.

My rule with my horses is much like yours. I keep a wary eye on them when they are loose in corral or pasture and make sure I'm not in the wrong place. Once they are caught, they are to keep that watchful eye on me, stay out of my space, and, as you say, "no silly business." It seems to work nicely for us.

Your last paragraph is just what I mean. It works until it doesn't--even with people who claim to know what they are doing. Thanks for a great example.

Laura Crum said...

C. E. Wolfe--That is a really good point. There are exceptions to every rule. What you did makes perfect sense to me. You were doing it for a reasonable purpose and you kept safety first in your mind. And you KNEW your horse. I have horses in my barn that would never kick me except by accident, one that might kick me if he panicked, and one that might kick me out of testing for dominance. I handle each of them based on what I know about them. Thanks for a good insight.

Mrs. Mom said...


Well said Laura!!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Mrs Mom. Glad to know you agree.

Nikker said...

Any time I see "playing" or "games" used in terms of horses, I really think B.S. first and danger second.
Another great post that makes one slow down and think about what kinds of things we as horse owners are bombarded with.

Laura Crum said...

Nikker--That's one of the things about the internet that's such a two-edged sword. Suddenly we hear all these new ideas we might never hear in "real life" and if we don't have a lot of experience of our own, its so easy to get sucked into somebody's else's thinking--especially somebody that sounds so knowledgable and is calling themselves an experienced horse trainer. And some of this stuff is (in my opinion) truly dangerous and foolish (thus the post). Thanks for your comment--I agree about both the BS and the danger.

joycemocha said...

Hey, I'm totally with you on this, Laura. While I'll do the occasional liberty work, doing "games" is not a priority.

I can speak personally to the dangers of screwing around like this. I used to play "wild horse" with my first Shetland as a kid, and got whacked in the nose with a foreleg. That, plus getting a horse later on who was prone to chase kids and was a striker, along with having a little Shetland stud who reared and struck...uh-uh. Not smart.

Some people, though...sigh.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Oh, and after reading Kate's post...

I do a little bit of ground work. Mocha sometimes gets used for ground work in college classes and I need to give her a quick refresher of the difference between me and them. Doesn't take long.

I'll also ground drive if she's moving out of sync and I don't want interference from rider/saddle/bit (I ground drive using a sidepull). Or if I want to work her but not ride, and do something besides lunging. It's also nice if you want to check on how your horse is moving laterally, or if there's a gait issue--that way you can see what's going on. If I were training, I'd use ground driving as a tool to help soften up a horse and use its topline, again, without interference from a rider.

But to do that, you've got to know what you are doing and have trained the horse, for best results. Not the same as playing around.

Alison said...

It's interesting how all the people commenting agree with Laura (including me.) I have spent 55 years with horses and never once have I not been respectful of their power and size. Perhaps that's why I've continued to do it into my 'elderly' years.

AareneX said...

Sounds like the BAD IDEA FAIRY is back at work again. Sheesh.

I have spent YEARS teaching and enforcing with my dragonmare that if she approaches me, it must be with her head turned aside. Anything else--eeek.

Yay for you, Laura!

Holly C. said...

I agree with C.E. Wolfe... I had an experience with a wonderful horse like that too. There were many times during the years that I owned him that he proved to me he either did not understand how to kick or just preferred not to. Even when he ended up cheek-to-cheek with another horse in the same stall (accidentally as they were being fed) he still didn't even raise his butt to kick, though the other horse kicked him. Another time I had him standing at the cross-ties, waiting to be groomed and a two year old child who was visiting the stables with her mother ran up and stood under my horse. He didn't move a muscle. He had horseflies all over his legs and he didn't so much as twitch his tail. The mother had no control of the child but I was more than pleased to see my horse had the sense not to move when there was a (person) in a dangerous position. After she dragged her child out from under my horse, we explained to her that there wasn't a single other horse in that stable that wouldn't have stomped all over her for doing that, much in the way they often stomped dogs.
This exceptional horse was an Egyptian Arabian and had been trained as a roping horse in his early years. He was 15 when I got him. The stable we had him at in the early years didn't have a pasture, so I would often take him to the arena and let him get the kinks out of his legs. Sometimes he just wanted to stand still or try to stick his head under the fence to get grass (it was a Georgian clay arena) so I would encourage him to run and kick up his heels. He was never within 10 feet of me when he did that, but even then he would crow-hop and not *actually* kick out with his hooves. Years later we were fortunate enough to have a barn at our house and he did become a big puppy. We played tag and I spent countless hours with him in the pasture, just sitting & talking with him or rubbing his belly and hugging him. I would never have encouraged him to rear and he didn't seem particularly interested in it anyway. He loved the quiet life of relaxing in the yard or pasture, walking around with my little kids and giving them nose-bumps on their diapers, and just in general being a member of the family. He was the sweetest horse and I was blessed to have known him. He's been gone for about four years now and I'll never forget the time I spent with him. I doubt I'll ever find a horse like him again.

Susan said...

I recently had a newly gelded horse rear with me on the end of the lead rope. It's the first time I ever had that happen and, even though he never got close enough to put me in danger, it scared me. Rearing horses are fun to watch, but let them do it on their own time.

Breanna said...

Ok now I will step in and defend the at-liberty work... ;)

I started doing a lot of work with my horse at liberty because he was having major issues and more traditional methods just weren't working. A former trainer lent me a book by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling and told me to try his "method", which includes "playing" at liberty. HOWEVER, he stresses first and foremost personal safety, and there are certain guidelines that must be followed, one being you do not allow the horse in your space. These "games" are played in a controlled area, with the human carrying a lunge whip and using it to keep distance between themselves and the horse. Rearing is NOT encouraged, as it is almost always a display of dominance from the horse, and the purpose of this is to establish YOUR dominance. It is not a testing of the horse's "mood" to decide if you should ride or not, but it can be used to remind the horse that you are the boss prior to getting on.

Like I mentioned, I tried this because nothing else was working very well with this horse, and what a difference it has made! He had major fear issues which are now at least controllable if not gone, and he now looks to the human for direction (mostly) if there is something he is unsure about. I'm sure the same things could have been accomplished in other ways, but for a long time I was too afraid to ride this horse (he bucked me off several times), so that really limited my options.

I do agree with you Laura that the first priority is safety, and I would not have done this if I hadn't had a mentor with MUCH more experience than me to help me stay safe.

Laura Crum said...

joyce--Yes, this is what I feel is the potential problem--people trying to play these games with horses when the people don't have the skills (this is most of us), and the horse is not a saint (this is most of them)--bad things can result, just as you point out with your ponies.

Alison--Yes. That's exactly the point. My methods (and yours) may not make us horse gurus, or highly thought of online trainers, but they've kept us safe and enjoying our horses into our more advanced years. To me, that's the most important thing.

Aarene--Sounds like Fiddle was once quite a challenge (!) And I LOVE the Bad Idea Fairy--as long as its always clear that she IS the Bad Idea Fairy. When bad ideas are presented as fun/magical by respected people, well, that I don't like so much. Some of us can figure out that these lyrical pieces are not for imitation by the rank and file (this would be you and me), but there are many young or less experienced people who simply won't understand this, and may get hurt trying to imitate a trainer they admire.

Holly C--Your horse sounds like a true saint and you were blessed to have him. I feel the same way about my son's horse, Henry. He would, I'm sure, be equally careful not to step on a toddler, and has already proven his tolerance with certain dogs. But the truth is I actively do my best (and I'm sure you did to), not to put Henry's patience to the test. I am vigilant about keeping little children out of his pen (and all the other corrals), and I do my best with the dogs. The truth is that even a saint can make a mistake (not out of meanness, just bad luck), and if the results are harmful to some other poor creature, that mistake is going to be very costly. Thus my thinking is not to interact with loose horses in "play", nor to sit under them, however kind they may be. I have chased horses in turnout (when I worked for training barns) to get them to move and exercise, so I know what you mean about that. I also know how much trust can be put in a truly gentle horse. I don't want to take anything away from what a lovely horse you had--just want to be sure that people realize that most horses simply are not that saintly, and that the downside of a mistake can be huge.

Susan-A friend of mine had her arm broken when a reasonably gentle horse who was feeling good reared on the lead rope and struck her arm (completely by accident).

Laura Crum said...

Breanna--Well, I was hoping somebody would step in and explain this stuff in a way that makes sense. Thank you! What you said there does make sense to me, and though I have no personal experience with it, if I had a horse that I felt "stuck" with, as you describe, I would certainly be open to a new method that seemed safe. I very much appreciate your statement that "rearing is NOT encouraged as it is almost always an expression of dominance, and the purpose of this is to establish YOUR dominance." That resonates for me. So were you able to turn this horse around and make him a reliable riding horse using these methods? If so, that is very impressive.

Gayle Carline said...

I was going to leave a big long comment about my experience "playing" with my horse. Then I just decided to write it all up on my own blog.

Thanks for the interesting topic!

Laura Crum said...

Gayle-I read your post and I thought it was great. I highly recommend that everybody go read Gayle's post. Its very instructive. Thank you, Gayle--for helping me prove my point.

Leslie said...

My thoughts often go to-where has the common sense gone? Never ceases to amaze me how people, who don't really know horses, perceive them, often like big puppies.

Like you Laura,I also believe,these trainers, or whatever they claim to be, teaching this stuff on youtube, are doing a disservice to young and impressionable older first time horse owners, who believe having horses is a magical experience. Reality check! It's alot of work and the magic comes in the those very things Laura mentioned.

When I was teaching kids about horses I ALWAYS showed them the realities of horses from injuries to people and horses to grooming and the environment horses live in. Most of the time, the girls had an impression that owning a horse was, in a word magical. I had mothers thank me for the reality I brought to the lessons.

"How do I achieve my brand of magic? Its simple, and I’ll give you the secret right now for free. I interact with my horses as a competent, kind, firm, consistent, traditional horseman." Exactly right Laura!

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Leslie. That word "magical", always worries me. People who use it seem to think there is some elusive mystical connection we can have with our horses beyond the bond I described in my post. Often the means they want to use to achieve this "bond" strike me as dangerous and foolish--as you say, lacking in common sense. But, of course, they would simply say I didn't understand the "magic" that is possible.

Michele said...

Thank You, Laura. I have never played with my horses, and don't ever intend to. I, too, winced when I read the post and thought, "Hmmm. Yeah. No. Not for me."

Laura Crum said...

Yep, Michele. You and I are on the same page.

Jami Davenport said...

Wow, I can't even imagine. My mare is 17-1 and huge. I don't even like to get in the pasture with her when she's in her "playing" mood. We've been snowed in big time around here. A couple days ago, I turned Gailey loose in the pasture after being cooped up for a few days. The dogs and I stood safely on the other side of the fence and watched while she ran and bucked and reared, doing laps around the pasture. No way, would I want to encourage that behavior when I'm handling her.

On a related note, Cavalia is in town. I've seen them before, and they are incredible, but it's one of those "don't try this at home" types of things. I can imagine how many "horse trainers" will watch Cavalia's performance and try to replicate it. Everything the Cavalia trainers do is very controlled. I am certain they spend a very long time building up respect and discipline from those horses before they ever attempt the more
sensational "tricks" that they do.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I had a pair of geldings who loved to play rearing games together in the field. They were just playing too, not fighting for hierarchy. I drove them as a pair and they worked delightfully together. When standing one would lean over and rest his chin on the other's neck. It was magical to watch their games, however I kept out of their way - they would just forget that a person was nearby. A horse can get carried away, just as a person can.

Laura Crum said...

Jami--I would really love to see Cavalia. I've heard so much about it.

White Horse Pilgrim--I do agree. For many years I turned my horses out in the winter in a 60 acre pasture, and I really enjoyed watching them play. It WAS magical, in the best sense of the word. And I, also, kept out of their way. Also, in the cases I have known when one horse seriously damaged another, it was mostly by accident--getting carried away in play as you say. Sometimes it was a dominance gesture, but a horse does not (usually--I have known apparent exceptions) mean to damage another horse. However, it does happen. And we humans are so much easier to damage (!)

Val said...

This is a really interesting post and conversation. Thanks for getting it started!

First, I do not like anything in training that implies mysticism or magic. I also get pretty annoyed when I hear favorable things about animal communicators. No offense to anyone who likes that sort of thing. I just do not and I find it kind of insulting. I can communicate with my horse and read his expression based on our time together which has included mutual respect and leadership tipped towards me.

That being said, I do "play" with my horse on occasion, but not in the way you describe. I do not ask my horse to rear or buck on command. Our liberty "play" includes him backing, walking, trotting, cantering and halting when I ask, and changing direction. I use a small rectangular ring, because my horse tends to rush and lose concentration in a round pen (bad past experiences, maybe). I carry a whip, but I also use my posture and feet to convey to him what I want. If I want him to trot, I jog in place or slowly forward. If I want him to walk, I walk. I have also found that I can encourage my horse to shift his balance back in trot or canter by demonstrating with my own posture and taking steps in a slower, more deliberate rhythm. I do not consider these things magic, in fact they are pretty traditional, just requested in a nontraditional way.

It is worth mentioning that I did not start training my horse this way. I taught him these things on the longe line first and then translated them to work sans longe line. Interestingly, sometimes he offers more noticeable changes in his balance when the line is absent. My horse is also nearly 14 and I have had him for 5 years. Our training relationship and partnership were well established before I ever thought to "play" with him. I use the word "play", because it is fun, but I consider most types of horse training fun especially with a willing horse. Safety and caution are always in the front of my mind.

Laura Crum said...

Very interesting stuff, Val. I have never done this, but I absolutely realize that there are many good ways to train horses, and if what you do is working for you, and you and your horse stay safe and happy, more power to you. Certainly many, many people like/use the lunge line as a training tool, and what you do sounds like a natural extension of this. Thanks for an interesting comment. I enjoy these discussions, too, and always learn a lot.

dunslidin said...

I do have to share this, only because it tickled me so much about my horse. A local trainer had brought a newly bought horse to a fun show to see how it would handle the pressure before she had the youth they had bought the horse for ride it. We were hanging out waiting for our halter class and the gelding got scared and reared up(all 16' 2"). My gelding nickered softly at him and when he landed stretched his neck out and nickered again in this soothing tone. The rearing gelding reached his neck out to him and started licking his lips. This trainer laughed and said that the new guy seems to have a little battered housewife traits but this trainer is so gentle and the horse will be so happy where he is now. She was impressed that my gelding was wanting to sooth him and tell him it was o.k. What can I say, he is such a special guy.

Laura Crum said...

dunslidin--Your horse sounds like a real gem. What a sweet story.