by Laura Crum
In the comments on my last post, Val mentioned that a friend had tried to “desensitize” a horse that was frightened of the farrier. And I replied that the word “desensitize” just made my hackles rise. I’ve never seen it used by anyone who was a competent horseman.
So I got to thinking about this and realized that it may, of course, be a completely unreasonable prejudice on my part. I don’t like the word, or what I’ve seen done in its name, but then again, I don’t really understand the concept. I only know what I’ve seen.
Today I am going to describe what I’ve actually seen done under the heading of desensitizing, which was mostly aimed at creating a horse that wasn’t so spooky out on the trail. In my view, it was a dismal failure. And then I am going to talk about something that will actually help a horse to be a solid horse outside (and in the ring, for that matter). After you read this, you can all tell me where I’m wrong about this desensitizing issue, if you want.
Maybe twenty years ago my friend and I had permission to access some trails behind a local training barn. We parked our rig in the barnyard and rode our young horses (three and four year old QH rope horses in training) out the back gate and through the hills. Our goal was to teach our young horses to be calm and reliable on the trail and to this end, well, we rode them on the trail…a lot.
On our way to the trails we passed the various rings and arenas where the trainer and her assistant worked with the horses they had in training. These people were, as it happens, NH type trainers. I always looked curiously at what they were doing, because it never looked anything like what I did when training a horse…or for that matter what any horseman/trainer that I knew did. One young woman was schooling a rather flighty looking bay mare with a big blue tarp one day. The mare was walked over the tarp and then she walked under it (they had one part of it draped over a pole to make a tunnel). The mare seemed fine with this.
I smiled at the young woman assistant trainer as we went by, and asked idly what she was doing. “Desensitizing,” she said rather brusquely, as if I should have known.
I shrugged, and we went off to ride several miles through the hills. Here we climbed and descended steep trail and met various obstacles. We were patient with our young horses, but persistent, as they learned to cope with what the wild woods had to show us.
One day, on the way home, we met the young woman assistant trainer on the same bay mare. She was less than a mile from the barn and her mare was pitching a fit over passing a small tarped stack of hay. The tarp was brown rather than blue, a cube shape, and flapped briskly in the breeze. The mare quite clearly was having no part of going by this odd obstacle, despite all the “desensitizing” with the big blue tarp in the ring.
Our two young horses cocked their ears at the tarped hay, but went on by, ignoring the nervous mare. They had, of course, been by this obstacle before, they were tired, and they knew we were on the way home. We stopped and offered to give the mare a lead past the tarp monster, if the gal wanted.
We got what I can only call a venomous look in reply and a curt “No need.”
Well. (In my view, she would have been wise to take the offered lead. Would have built her mare’s confidence with no conflict needed. But instead, she dismounted and began some sort of training from the ground…and quite truthfully I felt that dismounting was exactly the wrong thing to do. Merely reinforced the idea the haystack was a problem and taught the mare that pitching a fit causes rider to dismount.)
Since then I have seen (and heard) of many things like this. Rub the plastic bag all over the horse at home and its all good. Meet a different plastic bag blowing along the trail and the horse goes bat shit crazy.
My answer to this is simple. You don’t desensitize a horse to specific stuff (I don’t believe this works). You teach a horse to be confident out on the trail and able to handle the various unpredictable stuff that comes along without losing his mind. It’s two completely different approaches to the same problem.
Training a horse to be a calm, confident trail horse is in some ways simple. Uhmm, you put a lot of miles on the horse on the trail—preferably when he is a green horse in training. I realize this is oversimplified, but it is the root of the answer. The best way to do this is, at least initially, is following an older steady horse down the trail. If no such horse exists to help you, then a companion of any sort, including a calm confident human on foot (a husband who hikes, for instance) will work.
Second point, again obvious. If you want a calm, confident trail horse, choose a horse with a calm personality. A sensitive reactive spooky horse can be a good trail horse within his limits, but he’ll always spook. This can be OK, if you don’t mind the spook.
My horse Gunner was and is a hugely spooky, very sensitive, reactive horse. I got him broke to death—I rode him on hundreds of trail rides and gathers. He spooked on every single outing, at least once or twice, if not twenty or thirty times. And I mean really spooked—instant relocation twenty feet to the left. I was used to it; I rode with one hand on the horn; Gunner never dumped me. He also never bolted or became in any way out of control. He spooked, he jigged when scared, but he stayed in my hand and went where I told him. In my youth I found this to be fine. And this is the best you will get out of the truly sensitive, reactive horse. Trust me on this one.
As for horses like my Sunny and my son’s Henry, who march intrepidly past just about everything, they first of all are very calm sensible horses by nature. Secondly they have been exposed to a lot—many miles outside, hauled everywhere…etc. And there is a third thing. The big secret—worth far more in my book than any amount of desensitizing. And it is this. These horses have been tied up for long periods. They’ve learned how to be calm and patient.
Tying does a lot of things for a horse. It is the single most under-rated training tool there is. Ranch horses are caught and saddled and tied—every working day. If they are young horses they may only be ridden for a short ride in the company of an older horse than can give them a lead, or not ridden at all, if the work of the day is too tough for their skills. They are watered at lunch time. They learn to be patient and calm through this tying—without any other “training.”
And now I am going to tell you something I just learned last week about tying. It really opened my eyes. I’m still sort of pondering it.
My Sunny horse came from Mexico. He is the single most calm, confident trail horse I’ve ever ridden. He goes just as well alone as he does in a group. He can be first or last or in the middle. He has no problem leaving the others. He is a calm, intelligent horse by nature, but even so, his complete lack of herdbound behavior and his self-confidence continue to amaze me. I’ve often wondered how he got this way. Well, now I think I know.
I’ve known maybe half a dozen of these horses that came from Mexico in my life—and they were all like this. Nothing bothered them. They all tie perfectly. My friend Mark has a little gray horse from this same place right now, and he is just as bombproof as Sunny. I asked Mark, “How do they get this way?”
He laughed. “They tie them up every night to trees—each horse where he can’t see another horse. That’s what I was told.”
I thought about this. My first impulse was to think—wow, that’s rough. I could never do that to a horse. But then I thought a little deeper.
I believe in the tying method as we used it on the ranches. But here was something more intense. The horse must cope with a lot of fear to begin with, certainly. I imagine the first few weeks are pretty rough. But then the horse learns that nothing bad happens. The humans come in the morning and bring him hay and take him to get a drink, so he is happy to see the humans. They saddle him and ride him and he gets plenty of exercise doing ranch work. In the end he accepts that there is nothing to do but wait patiently by his tree alone all night. Being alone will not hurt him, fretting will not help him. And thus is a horse like Sunny trained to be such a calm confident trail horse, with zero herdbound traits.
Those who will cry “How cruel!” need to take a moment and think. Yes, I think this training method would be hard for a horse, especially to begin with. I’m sure some horses are injured or colic due to stress. I’m not sure I could ever bring myself to do it, to be frank. But…
Half of the folks I know (both on the internet and in real life) who would protest such “cruelty” to a horse cannot climb on their horses and go for a trail ride. They are literally scared to do this with their horse. Their horse is too spooky and nervous, too herdbound to ride alone outside an arena. This is not a problem if it’s not a problem for the owner, of course.
But in many cases it IS a problem for the owner. The owner finds the horse frustrating, or the owner gets hurt on the horse and realizes the horse is truly dangerous. The owner WANTS to love the horse, but the owner also wants (very much) to enjoy riding in a relaxed way down the trail. And eventually the frustration and anxiety and sometimes true (and realistic) fear is just too much for the well-intentioned owner and the horse is sold. Very frequently such horses do not come to a good end—we all know this.
Contrast this to a horse such as Sunny, who is a real pleasure to ride down the trail. Anybody who can ride can ride a horse like Sunny on trail rides and enjoy him. I enjoy Sunny’s ability to go solo or in a group and his complete lack of herdbound behavior makes him a joy in so many ways. If Sunny did not have these traits I would not have bought him (I was looking for a solid trail horse) and/or not have kept him. These traits (acquired through the “cruel” method of tying) have earned Sunny a forever home. And to top it off, they have given him a calm, relaxed, non-fearful attitude towards anything life sends him. If Sunny (or any horse) had the sort of brain that allowed him to ponder and choose, don’t you think he would have chosen the stress of his initial “tying” in order to get the happy life that has resulted?
Contrast this to the nervous, unhappy horse whose owner dares not ride him down the trail. Consider the potential conflicts, the frustration on the part of both owner and horse, the likelihood of the horse being sold and ending up at the killers. Which life would you rather have if you were a horse?
Something to think about, for sure.
Interesting post. I have good examples of what you are talking about here in my little yard of Arabs. My 17 year old semi-retired Arabian mare is spooky and always will be. She has thousands of trail miles and a few hundred miles of endurance experience, and she does and I believe always will spook at rocks, stumps, trees, shadows, whatever she damn well pleases. She has more training, collects and moves off leg well, but really is incredibly happy going down the trail like a bat outta hell--and will always be a HAAT ride as her bloodline suggests. She snorts and blows at hoses every time even if bathed every day, so "desensitizing" doesn't really mean jack to her, in that way. Still she has a very set pattern of spooky behaviors and is otherwise a great riding horse, if you are prepared to deal with her quirks.
Enter my new 8 year old Arabian gelding with a fraction of the miles, years, and experience. Firstly, yes he is a gelding, but secondly he is 100% a quiet, steady eddy, reasonable type by nature. I believe his youth growing up as a low man in a herd "on the range" taught him to be clever, a bit self sufficient in his attitude, and very surefooted. He is a very broke trail horse in that he goes at a great pace and takes care of you and him, but he isn't highly trained in any other manner, and that doesn't both me a bit. I've got years to fine tune him but I've got a naturally quiet, non spooky dude to begin with and that's something he was born with. He is the first horse I've ridden that truly doesn't mind when horses come and go or he has to leave or be left. He may call once or twice but he looks to me for comfort and It's a revelation!!
Bird--I agree. It has a lot to do with a horse's basic nature. Like your mare, my old gelding Gunner remains the most spooky, reactive horse in my small herd--despite the fact that he's 33, been hauled and ridden everywhere, and is really well broke. Its just his nature.
Laura, I completely agree with everything your wrote, and completely disagree. . . how is that possible???!!!!
Well it is all about circumstances. You know I do NH, and TH (that's traditional horsemanship) and CLRH (that's City Limits Ranch horsemanship.) I have ridden my horses on miles and hours of trails, and I have ALSO waved blue tarps and flags on poles around them in the arena and round pen.
They have been spooky, jiggy, anxious while tied, bats out of hell horses that turned into GREAT trail horses (my 29 yr old retired ArabX mare Gherkin, our retired rope horse (but not retired for us) 22 year old Uncle Lester) and they have been steady Eddy young sensible kind geldings (Pepper, Smoky), or naughty self willed might buck you off if in a bad mood Woodrow, Appaloosa gelding Buddy, pony mare Tatonka, flighty cutter mares Fritz and her daughter Triscuit.
So how did these horses all become GREAT reliable trail horses- put anyone on and go anywhere trail horses? it was a little bit of everything. Some NH, some TH and lots of CLRH. We pick the method that fits the situation, never refuse help from an experienced rider on a good horse, never say never and never say always. We do get off when we are scared (self preservation first and foremost) but we ALWAYS get back on and complete the ride. Those few horses that we found we couldn't get back on we gave away to someone who could.
Tied to trees overnight, that's called flooding. It is the opposite of desensitization. Expedient, effective, you might come back in the morning and find your horse dead or injured but it does get the job done. Could I do it to my own horse without monitoring every minute - no. Should 'they' do it to get the horse broke- possibly yes.
Desensitization does not mean blue tarp in the arena, it means approach and retreat in a judicious way while understanding behavior theory. Sorry to break it to you Laura :) but when you ride down the trail, encountering natural obstacles and getting your horse through or past them with a minimum of fuss, you are using desensitization. Desensitization means 'getting your horse to accept something that previously bothered your horse by a method of approach and retreat (could be skirting quietly past at a tolerable distance or following another horse through water for the first time), while not pushing the horse into full blown panic, nor practicing avoidance of the issue.' Don't that sound like what you do?
All good horsemen use all the principles of behavior theory. They just have different names for what they do. Those people that you observe using bad horsemanship or refusing your help rudely are just bad horsemen or rude people.
I'm not a fan of desensitizing for the reasons you say - horses don't generalize well and one tarp may look a lot different from the next one. The one exception I make is for things the horse will encounter frequently in pretty much the same configuration - saddle pads, saddles, cinches/girths, and I also like my horses to not freak out when there's a rope touching or around a leg. Other than that, I think it comes down to experience - miles and miles, the confidence of the rider and the natural temperament of the horse. Sensitive horses can do better on the trail if they're with a human who's built trust with them, sometime just by working through with them the very scary things that sometimes come up. Can't say much about tying, except that all my horses tie well - Red's not particularly relaxed about it but then he's not relaxed about much - it's just who he is.
Well put, Kerrin! I particularly like your description of "desensitization." Cause yes, riding my horse down the trail and getting through obstacles with a minimum of fuss, and using an older, broke horse to give a lead in new situations...why yes, that is what I do. What I thought "desensitization" meant was trying to get the horse used to specific things (plastic bags, tarps..etc) out of context (at home in the arena), in the hope that when the horse encountered these things in the outside world he would not mind them. I don't think that's very effective.
Also--I would get off if I was scared I was going to get hurt, also. Big fan of self preservation here.
Lester was one of the hardest horses we ever trained when it came to good trail horse behavior. He never liked to go out by himself...ever. I tried tying him and it just seemed to make him worse. He was one of the two horses I mention in the post that my friend (Wally) was riding. We did put LOTS of trail miles on him, but he never became as sensible and reliable as some of the others. When you got him he was a teenager and had been a kid's horse for some years, but I believe he was still a pain to take out by himself (based on what you told me). I'm glad to hear you improved him, and you are so right that they are all different. What works on one won't always work on another.
I don't think I could ever use "flooding" on a horse without monitoring the horse closely, as you say. I do see how well it worked on Sunny. He is a very calm, content horse, and you would seriously love riding him down the trail. He is just the best.
Thanks for a very insightful comment.
Kate--I agree that the bottom line with a sensitive horse is trust. I broke and trained Gunner and Plumber--both very sensitive, reactive horses--they both trusted me and would go where I told them, no matter what. They did spook, but they stayed in control. Neither one of them, however, was the calm confident trail horse that Sunny is, nor did they tie the way he does. (In actual fact both Gunner and Plumber became experts at untying themselves over time, and I had to find ways to tie them that did not involve knots--because they could both untie any knot.)
All rope horses are "desensitized" to ropes around their legs...its routine to keep flipping that rope under them until they get used to it. First when they are tied and then when you are on their back. So I guess we use "desensitization" after all. I knew someone would show me where I was wrong (!)
I approve of desensitization the way say the mounted police or army do it - essentially putting the horse in scary situations and letting them learn how to deal with it. I'm not so much a fan of the drip drip method of desensitizing as it tends to only apply to the specific stimulus - ok possibly if we're talking clippers but less so if we're talking tarps. The approach is less 'this thing is not scary' and more 'this is how we deal with scary things'.
The two can look similar from the outside and I think that people look at the trappings of the second and assume it's the former.
I don't think it's worth getting too hung up on the wording though because a throughly trained horse is a mix of both methods, you desensitize to begin, then start teaching them tools to deal with their emotions. It's getting the balance right though - I've seen horses desensitzed to the point that they're practically unrideable because they don't react to any stimulus short of physical pain. Too little desensitization creates a horse that only a professional can ride, because they are so reactive that an oversharp cue can provoke an explosive reaction. Nearly all horses need their natural level of response dulling a little.
I too think the tree tying thing is called flooding, it's akin to laying a horse down, and some of the most dangerous horses I have handled were produced by it.
Dramatic, but I stand by it. Done wrong, or to a horse with the wrong base personality, it produces a horse who essentially swallows his anger/fear and remains outwardly a compliant, docile animal. But inside, it is a ticking bomb and inevitably it will explode at some point. The other way it can go badly wrong is it produces an animal who is permanently 'soured'. They don't fight you, but you never get any generosity or willingness to go the extra mile from them, if you get the cue wrong they won't comply and if your stride is wrong they will stop, and if they can drop you, or step on you, they will. They are often mean with other horses too. It's like their faith in the world is gone.
It can work, as a last resort, but even setting the physical risk to the horse aside, it's not a technique I'd use if I had other options. It is quite time efficient though and I expect that's a consideration.
^ Looking up, blimey, I'm a bit wordy lately. Sorry about that.
FD--To tell you the truth, I would have said the same thing about the tree tying. But...here I have a horse who is calm, confident and generally a very contented animal, who meets me at the gate to be caught, who shows zero herdbound tendencies and walks out eagerly on the trail, unafraid. He has spooked many ten times in five years and literally hundreds of rides. He is a real pleasure to ride down the trail and to tie and take new places...etc. Sunny's faith in the world is NOT gone--he trusts me, and he is confident in himself. If that overnight tree tying method produced this horse (which I don't know for sure), it has its points.
On the other hand, maybe I have only seen horses--half a dozen in all, remember--that responded well to this method. Its possible that in poor, rural Mexico the horses who don't respond well (who knows how many) are shot and fed to the dogs. I am not actually kidding.
I have seen the tarping method used. I have seen it change a vicious ex-stud into a useful working horse. I have seen it ruin a sweet, spooky three-year-old. I have never used it myself. I have no interest in the sort of horse who would require such treatment to be useful--and for most horses both this and the laying down is just not needed and does far more harm than good.
Tying, in general, is useful for teaching patience to most horses. As for the overnight tying being harsh, those of us who horse pack and horse camp often tie our horses overnight (though this is usually within sight of their buddies). It is not a cruel thing to do and is very different from laying a horse down or tarping him. I'll stand by that. Having never tried the tying a horse alone all night method of training, I can't pronounce on it in any way, other than to say that its very similar to the tying all day approach that we used on the ranches, and this approach is effective and not unduly punishing to a horse. Much less punishing, in fact, than being endless dinked with by less than competent riders.
Finally, as I said in the post, a horse like Sunny will always find a home. A horse who is not a calm, confident ride will often end up in a bad place. I'm willing to look hard at any method that truly produces calm, confident riding horses.
I didn't intend to imply that Sunny is one of the soured or dangerous ones - I really hope it didn't come across that way. But I do think that your suggestion about what happens to the horses that break, physically and mentally under it, is a very likely scenario.
I do think there's a difference between the overnight tying that your packhorses undergo and the all day tying training approach, and with the tree tying method. In the first two, you teach the horse to give to pressure first, and you aren't tying them in a high stress environment, beyond the innate stress of not being able to do what they want.
With the tree tying, you are magnifying the stress of the experience exponentially, first by isolating the horse, and then by doing so at night. I do think it's likely that any horse which, (I'm trying to find non anthromorphising language here and struggling!) comes through training like that and doesn't break will be very strong minded and able to deal with their fear, it's just that the likelyhood of them coming through depends a lot upon their basic personality. Like people - some people trauma breaks, some it refines. You said it yourself above - 'and this is the best you will get out of a truly reactive, sensitive horse.' I don't think that method would create a Sunny out of a Gunner - I think you'd get a broken Gunner. But you can get a Sunny by standard training methods - it's just quicker in some ways to use the harsher method, providing you are willing to accept a higher level of 'failures'. And that's why I personally give it the side eye, because I think it's a nuclear option; once you embark on it there's no going back.
FD--I think I agree with you. I know I'm not game to try that overnight tree tying method. And no, it would not have made a Sunny out of Gunner--merely a broken Gunner, as you say. Since I have never even seen this all-night-solitary tree tying approach in my life, I guess I can't say much more about it than I already have. I do find Sunny to be uniquely free of any sort of herdbound behavior, as well as more confident than any horse I've ever had. Henry, for instance, is a calm sensible horse, much more athletic and better broke than Sunny. But Henry will "call" a bit, if tied by himself where he can't see other horses, and is slightly more likely than Sunny to find the unexpected weirdness out on the trail a bit alarming. I think Henry is what you get when you take a calm, sensible sort of horse and train him with plenty of tying, hauling, and exposure to different things, as well as competent, mostly kind owners. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Henry is probably the best horse I own in an overall, well-rounded sense.
I do have to say that the much more stubborn and highly intelligent Sunny might have been a right pain in the ass without some early training that was pretty uhmm, firm. Whether the firmness sprang from the unyielding all-night tree, or just being ridden by some tough hands, I do think it was needed. I love my little yellow mule, and I think he's great, but he is a tough-minded critter by nature. Its part of what makes him a good trail horse (and no doubt why he would survive that tree tying just fine), but he would not have been an easy project for a less than strong-minded rider.
Oh, and no, I didn't take your points wrong. I was just pointing out the thing that (as I said in the post) I have been pondering since I heard about the tree tying concept last week. Sunny is uniquely good at being calm and not herdbound. He is confident and friendly as well. Is this how he got that way? If so, what do I think about that? I know tying works well to train horses without overly stressing either horse or human. But as you say, the ways I did it were a LOT less intense than tying young horses overnight where they could see no other horse. So I'm just sort of trying to figure out how the whole thing fits together...and I very much appreciate your insights.
I grew up riding show horses, they were never tied, well, on cross ties but never unattended. Same with the racehorses at the track, only tied in the stall- if ever.
When I found a guy to break out pur babies for the track I really lucked out. I had recommendations from several people but was a bit hesitant as these guys were
"cowboys- ropers even!"
I went and watched them work the young horses and was really impressed. No force was necessary and the horses were all willing and calm. Despite my trepidations over the "tying" thing I decided to go for it.
OMG, I got the best trained horses I've ever had back. They were a dream to handle on the ground, tied, loaded, and would actually STAND in ONE PLACE!!
Ha ha, an old dog can learn new tricks:)
Now my boy Cartman ties to a hi-tie at endurance rides and is great. That tying thing teaches them so much patience.
I have to say I like your thinking behind this... and a lot of horses used to be kept in tie-stalls, not in big box stalls. If the horse is exercised enough then I have no issues with them being kept tied up for a while.
We did this with the lesson string at my college and the first thing I did when I got my first baby horse, after I taught him to let me touch him, and then to "give to pressure" was to tie him up and leave him - at first for only a moment or two, but eventually up to an hour as part of his training - I personally don't think at his age it is good for his joints to stand tied any longer. He is a supremely confident youngster and his first few rides were a total non-issue. But I also did absolutely anything I could possibly do with him within reason.
I can walk him past a rattling, snapping tarp attached to my goat pen and he may flick an ear at it, but that's it. He stands at the pasture gate begging to be worked with. He got used to my son screeching and hollering and riding through the barn on his loud, flashing push bike at an early age, now he chases the lawnmower hoping for a treat, stands confidently when a police car zooms past sirens blaring.
I could go on and on about him as I adore him and he is entirely the most level-headed youngster I've personally ever met, however I think the entire point of it is that he trusts me. I've never asked him to do something impossible so he doesn't assume that whatever I ask him to do is impossible.
CG--That is EXACTLY what I mean and was trying to express in the post.
Stephanie--Yes, I was going to mention just what you said--for very many years most working horses were routinely tied every night in tie stalls. And I agree that a horse having trust in his rider/handler is very important.
Laura, I understand your aversion to the term "desensitized". I am very skeptical about NH techniques also. I've seen people using NH with varying degrees of success. The one thing I have seen that really worries me is that the horses don't learn no means no. To them no means maybe or lets make some more circles and talk about it again. Then in a bad situation the horse comes undone and loses it. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a NH horse run someone over when they were scared. An interesting side note, most Therapeutic Riding Centers will not take donated horses that have a "Parelli" background because of their poor ground manners. The last thing you want in a therapy horse is one that will run people over when the shit hits the fan. Trust me, I know.
Now to the point of your post, I think it does a world of good for horses to stand tied for a length of time. I don't think I would go as far as the "Mexican" method but I'm sure hardheaded horses like Sunny profit from it. There probably a fair share of train wreck horses too, who don't survive it. But a morning or afternoon tied to the rail or the trailer teaches them lots of patience and an ok whatever attitude. I agree with others that say taking young horses along for the exposure is a great training tool. Calm and cool horses get calmer and cooler, and reactive horses get stupid and then better. Maybe not calm and cool but definitely better. All things in moderation, including tying. In my world a horse that doesn't tie would be a huge pain in the ass, but I guess some people live with it.
I think the patience post is the single most important training tool in a rider's arsenal.
The lady I bought Estes from also turns her horses out by themselves for months at a time. Not the whole herd, but a single horse out on the pasture by itself. It builds confidence, which, as you pointed out, helps keep them calm on the trail.
I like these tie poles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DQJkWK89TI
I wish I had a truly safe place to leave my horse tied unattended but I don't. I'm thinking of starting to tie to trees when I go out on the trails.
It seems that risen hackles are good fodder for a post and discussion. I guess that is what blogging is all about!
I wonder if Sunny would have turned out just as lovely without the overnight tying AND I worry about how many horses do not survive. What if that method is more of a weeding out process than a tried and true training strategy?
Someone taught Harley to tie well. He is gloriously patient in the cross-ties and he is the inquisitive, social type (not the type to just stand there and nap). I appreciate this quality in him especially when other horses I know have learned to break the ties and now cannot be trusted in them.
Ironically, the horse that I referred to when I mentioned desensitization was not trained by a NH trainer. The trainer did have success and was able to trim the horse's feet, but whenever a farrier showed up the horse would become very fearful and dance around making him near impossible to trim without sedation, which the owners did not want to do routinely. I know of four farriers and barefoot trimmers who rejected the horse after several failed attempts. The horse would tolerate his owner and a girl whom he adored to trim him, but neither had the experience or means to trim him routinely. I actually took pity on him one time and trimmed his front feet. He was surprisingly cooperative, but trimming my own horse is quite enough work for me and knowing how he could get, I did not venture to trim his hinds.
Great post, Laura!
Jan--I agree with what you said there. Reactive horses do usually get better with tying. Not calm and cool, as you say, but better.
Gun Diva--Good point. In my experience a horse who can learn to be by himself, without other horses around, and be relaxed (however you get it done) is a much more calm, confident riding horse under all circumstances.
lytha--I've been following your posts about Mara. I think tying her would help her, but she is obviously a very hot, reactive horse, so I would be careful, and monitor her closely if I tied her. Tying to the trunk of a tree can backfire--I knew a horse who got killed that way--pulling back and then bouncing forward--got his head stuck in the fork of the tree and broke his neck. Pawing at the base of a tree can also harm the tree. If you can find a tree with a solid, overhanging branch and fix a tie rope with a clip on the branch so that the clip hangs down at the right height to tie to and is positioned such that the horse can't interact with the trunk of the tree, this works really well. This is what I have in my barnyard--but it can be hard to find the right tree/branch setup.
Val--Yep! I've found that raised hackles (mildly raised, anyway) do make for good discussions--and much interesting information is exchanged. I have really enjoyed the comments on this post--and I learned a lot.
I don't know why Parelli has such a reputation for bad ground manners in horses. Parelli IS good ground manners.
No, I do know.
Take a nice person who knows nothing about horses. Give them a dream of having their own horse and riding away into the sunset. Make then WAIT to have access to that dream until the person is in their thirties, established in their career and family and can finally afford a horse.
Sell the person a horse. A beautiful horse with no health problems (vet checked to the max), not a sometimes a little lame retired rope horse or a slightly swaybacked 20 year old ex endurance ridden 10,000 miles so far Arab.
Send the person to a local barn with a hunter/jumper trainer or any one of the many 'think they know horses and trying to make a living at it twenty somethings' that learned their horsemanship at Pony Club or the local riding school.
Let the person 'train' their horse to walk all over them, mug for treats, move while mounting, jig home on a tight rein etc. Give them some really bad advice along the way. Get them desperate for help while they ruin their potentially nice horse with their misunderstanding.
THEN sell them on Parelli. Let them see people doing AMAZING things with horses. Tell them they can do it too, but don't really convince them that they need the dedication of a professional athlete. Let them try that for a few weeks, months or even years. Have them not understand it very well but become a disciple. Make sure they become frustrated or fearful of their horse, abandon their dream and offer the horse as a donation/tax deduction to a Therapeutic program.
The GOOD Parelli/NH horses don't get given. They stay with their owners for life, just like your horses, Laura. If their owner can't keep the horse there is a waiting list of friends and barn mates drooling for that horse.
Are there any badly trained horses out there that are not NH horses??? How many good NH horses end up at the auctions?
I'll defend Parelli and NH - it has saved my passion for horsemanship, at least one of my horse's lives and possibly my life. I won't defend bad horsemen who call themselves NH or Parelli.
I'd love you dedicated lifelong horsemen (I'm including both genders in the term) to realize how little opportunity most people have to realize any part of their horsemanship dream, how bad the average advice is, how exploitative the average barn, trainer and horse dealer and how very very lucky you are in your horses and your mentors.
Here's another perspective on tying...Amish style. I live in the middle of the biggest Amish community in MO and believe me I see it all. They tie their horses everywhere and to everything. They stand at the hitch rail harnessed and hitched for hours, at home, in town, at friends and relatives, everywhere we would park our car, they park their horse. I've seen them tied to barbwire fences, light poles, stop signs, mailboxes, and the wheels of other buggies or wagons. It's also not unusual to see a team hooked to a plow, baler, whatever, standing in the field with no one around, essentially self tied, or ground tied. They are all used hard and when they get the opportunity to stand still, they take it. There are all types from dead quiet stock types, pony/horse crosses, draft and draft crosses, to hot just off the track standardbreds and even hotter, high stepping Dutch Harness horses. But they all stand tied and chill. What I hate about it is sometimes they will stand tied for hours after working without even a drink. But they pretty much think of their horses as we do our trucks or tractors, just there to be used.
So if you want to teach a problem horse to tie, get them good and tired first and then tie them up. And I mean really tired, Amish tired, not lope a few circles in the round pen tired. Chances are they will be happy to stand still and rest.
Another interesting thing the Amish do concerns breaking the draft horses to work in the field. They line drive them a time or two then hitch them up on the outside of the team. Then they tie them to the horse next to them and go to work. They have a fit, try to pull back, run off, you name it, but they are tied to a bigger, stronger horse that just drags them along. The whole hitch is just doing their job and the young horse learns to go along and get over it. Seldom do they have one that doesn't give up and go to work. They throw some wing ding fits at the beginning, but soon give it up.
So the Amish ways are very similar to the "Mexican" way. A lot of the things they do with their horses are borderline cruel, and definitely not safe, but that is how their father did it, and their grandfather did it, and their great-grandfather before them. When I have questioned them about some of their methods their attitude is horses are tough, they can take it,and they don't need pampering.
Different cultures, different countries, and even different disciplines have unique takes on something as simple as tying a horse. Makes for a very diverse horse world, doesn't it?
Kerrin--I'll second your last sentence for sure. There are just as many "bad" traditional horsemen as there are "bad" NH horsemen, as far as I can tell. Very many people without a lifelong experience of horses have their dreams crushed by bad trainers/barns/horsemen/dealers of all sorts. Of course, a person can look at me and say I was lucky, but the truth is that I endured much abusive behavior from the many traditional horsemen I learned from, I saw much abuse towards horses, and I spent many long hours riding a wide variety of horses and had my share of wrecks. It took me many years to refine my experiences into a fairly clear understanding of horses. I was not so much lucky as passionate, determined and willing to work hard. It is rather naive for a person ignorant of horses to think they can just buy a horse at say 40 and things will magically fall into place. You have to do the work (I know you know).
I haven't been around NH horses that had the manners and the ability to perform at a high level that our more traditionally trained horses have. That doesn't mean they don't exist. It just means I haven't seen them. I know you enjoy Smoky and Lester, that you got from us, and they are both products of the kind of training I believe in (though certainly Lester has or had his quirks--I later learned that his mother was pretty psychotic--or so the breeder said). In the long run, I can't say why NH horses have such a poor reputation among non-NH practitioners--I just don't know. It is certainly a common perception. But you are quite right to say that there are very many horribly ill-broke traditionally trained horses that end up at the sale.
What I honestly think is that there are good horsemen of every sort, discipline and method, and poor horseman of every sort, discipline and method. I don't care for some of the guru-esque aspects of NH, but then I don't care for the guru-esque aspect of the average reined cowhorse trainer either. I parted company with that sort of thing many years ago. However, not before I learned enough from various trainers to work with horses on my own.
And just for the record, I think you guys are fine horsemen and take wonderful care of your horses, while providing a huge service to those who want to learn about horses through your very supportive and knowledgable mentoring. So yours is one NH program I admire.
Jan--Interesting. And yes, I think the Mexican culture that produced Sunny and the Amish culture probably have a lot in common when it comes to horses. I used to think it would be sweet to live in a culture or time that used horses instead of machines for transportation, but then I realized that it would be just as you say. many horses treated cruelly--because they WERE just transportation to the owner. And I would just hate that.
A key element of tying, as far as I'm concerned is that the horse is untied and led to water as appropriate. This will be a lot more often on a hot day than a cool day, so you can't generalize about a schedule. It would very much bother me to see the Amish horses standing all day without water. I visited an Amish village once and even in that one visit, I sensed that there was not much affection towards the horses (as I had always imagined). They were just a version of cars and tractors. Made me sad.
I still have a tie hanging from a branch of the big walnut tree out back. It was Baasha's and he very, very much preferred to be tied to an overhead branch (where he could pivot) as opposed to the trunk, which he once somehow slipped out of his halter from (I had him tied too high up).
Of course Baasha was great about being tied to a trailer overnight, not so great when he was alone at that trailer, but he never pulled back. I mean, after he "grew up and got over that."
I don't dare use that same walnut tree branch with Mara. I remember in one ride camp a lady tied her Arab mare to an overhead branch on a fir tree and in the middle of the night she broke the branch and ran off onto the highway with the branch in tow.
Since there's no way for me to really know how strong an overhead branch is, I'm hesitant to try that with Mara.
Every chance I get I take her over to Herr S's place and tie her to the big hitching rail and leave her a while. She gave up fighting it when nothing broke. The ladies laughed when I asked if it was strong, "Your little horse? She won't be able to break that!"
Me and my hot, reactive chestnut mare. I never planned on this and I suspect she may have been drugged when I met her. However it's possible that they just did very little with her, and living here is the hardest thing she's ever done.
Thank God for the donkey. A peacefuller creature I've never met.
Lytha--Can you test your overhead branch somehow? Hang on the rope and bounce up and down. It is, of course, possible for a horse to break a branch that is not strong enough, but horses don't usually get much leverage pulling against something above their heads. If it would work for Mara, it would be a good tool in your training program.
The fact that Mara gave up fighting the hitching rail when nothing broke means she is smart and not the sort of hot, kooky horse that won't really benefit from tying. If so, tying could help her a LOT. To learn patience and calm, even when things aren't going her way, and to see that fighting is futile. Anyway, if I could find a safe place to do it, that is what I would try. To be effective, tying must be done for long periods. On the ranches, we would catch all horses in the morning, saddle and tie them, water them at noon, and turn them back loose in the corrals in the evenings when we fed. Sometimes the young horses got rode, sometimes not. But they all became very calm and patient and when they did graduate to using horses, this was part of who they were.
Hang in there, Lytha. I think you are doing a great job with a not easy horse. I truly believe that all the hours and persistence you are giving to working with her will pay off.
I think a lot of the reason many of us see NH horses without manners or boundaries is that a lot of ladies - and it's always ladies - who do Parelli or NH are into being "nice" to the horse - their impulses are good since they don't want to treat their horses badly or cruelly - they may have seen this from others - but the result is that they go too far the other way and don't set appropriate boundaries. Setting boundaries and giving the horse the security of those boundaries is an important building block for building a confident horse - without that you have a nervous, worried horse who is looking for someone - anyone - to tell them what to do - and if no one else will do it they're stuck having to do it themselves - Red was very much like this when I got them.
I'm sure there are excellent Parelli and NH trained horses around - it's just that there are so many bad ones.
Kate--I do believe you have hit the nail on the head. Whether NH or not (and its often NH) horses trained by people (usually women) who can't see past needing to be "nice" to the horse, are almost always a problem.
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