Friday, January 20, 2012

On Mind-reading and Horses and All of Us Talking About Horses!

I recently read something very interesting over on The Mugwump Chronicles.  Janet has been thinking about the responsiveness, the lightness, that we ideally want our horses to have - almost to the point that we think it and the horse does it. She wrote about the discovery that her horses always stood still for her to mount up, because she expected them to.  If any of you horse people out there haven't read this yet, go read it now.  Just go read it.  Even if you aren't a horse person read it anyways.  I'll wait. 

Okay.  I hope you read all the comments too because it really is an interesting discussion!

This is the comment I made:

People meet my horses and always compliment me on how nice and quiet and well behaved they are. And I thank them for the compliment but the whole time I'm thinking, "yeah...because they should be able to be like that and I expect them to." 

And now I'm thinking, duh. What am I expecting during a ride? Confession: they're not all well trained. (one is but she thinks she wants to forget). Don't get me wrong- they're broke. Adequately. They are just right for brand new riders: quiet and polite and agreeable. But I'm still working on lateral movement and lope departures. Collection and lightness. Stuff they should know. 

But I Don't entirely trust my training abilities. 

So. Hmmm. Maybe I don't truly believe it when I think I want them to do something. 

Because last week the one who pretends she forgot all that fancy stuff did a perfect 180 haunch turn. After months of one step at a time. Did she finally figure out what I'm asking or remember it, or did I at last make it clear, or did I expect her to get it right? All of the above?

I've been running this through my brain for a few days now.

I think about it when I open the barn doors and let the horses out for the day.  I don't lead them out one at a time.  I open the door, then let them out of their stalls, and one after the other they neatly walk down the aisle and outside.  In the evening we do the same: I open the door and holler at them, they come in like good little students and head into their own stalls where they wait for me to shut the stall gates.  The only times I halter them to lead them in and out is for practice, or if they know I'm putting them in their stalls to deworm them and they don't wanna.  (And yes, somehow they know.  They just do.)

Now let me tell you about The Loping Problem.  

For years, my half-Arab gelding and I struggled with a nice lope departure.  I'd ask, and he'd slam us into a bone jarring fast trot instead.  He did this to me a few times at shows, which was comical, as he could trot faster than most of those nice little Quarter Horses were loping. I worked on it, mostly out in the pasture field, because in the corral he seemed to run out of room.  It didn't make sense.  He was 14.3h of short bones and muscle.  He could take off from a standstill out in the field on his own.  What was going on?  I tried sidepassing him into it, trotting him in a tight circle in the direction of the lead I wanted, and I tried kicking him senseless.  

I concluded that it was me.  My friend DW had him doing dressage moves, for crying out loud.  The horse was not the problem.  Okay, he was typically stubborn but that wasn't it.  It was me.  I wasn't firm enough, I was a kinda wimpy, and for sure I had this crooked spine problem that I already felt was a problem.  My posture was pathetic and I had great difficulty staying in position without slumping forward.  

Eventually we got it together but it was always a weakness.  Out in the field or on the road, we could lope.  In the corral, we struggled.

Now, big sweet Phoenix who is a darling gentleman on the ground, is totally pluggy under saddle and we're getting some downright ugly lope departures going on.

So we have two situations here.

-they walk single file into the barn and into their stalls because I insist on it.  I had to correct them a few times but now they do it right.  I expect them to do this right.

-I had problems with lope departures with the horse I had for 17 years... and I'm having problems with the gelding I have now... and I'm realizing that I expect to have those difficulties.

(I've eliminated physical problems.  I've got a good fitting saddle and a bit he deals with better than mere toleration.  I lunge him before a ride.)

When I put a student on his back, he plods along like an old pro. He is rock solid and doesn't spook. He goes where his rider puts him.  When I lead him he walks beside me on a nice slack lead rope, he stands tied like a good boy, and lowers his head every time I say "down."

When I ride him, he's lazy and sullen and feels heavy in my hands.

So... I'm going to let him get away with that?  I'm going to let these guys train me into letting them be sluggish and reluctant?

It's so brutally simple, and geez, even slap-your-forehead obvious!  

But I get all hung up on mistakes I made in the past, and pressuring myself to be all perfeshnul, that I forget to...

 just ride and expect my broke horses to just do what I ask them to do!!!

(Isn't it great that we have this place to share our horse philosophies?)


mugwump said...

The freaking amazing part of all of this is how it translates over into everything we do.

The simpler we become in our work with horses, the cleaner and clearer our thoughts, all of a sudden life takes on a whole new glow.

I can't keep it going in "real life" but the harder I work on my horses, the more these moments seep into the rest of my life. In spite of myself.

Sparkling said...

I have been riding for about 3 years and it's amazing to hear someone who clearly has more experience than me complain about the same kind of thing. I do believe it's all about expecting them and then believing that we CAN expect them to do what we want, it's just so hard to really convince them, when we are slightly unconvinced ourselves! I always blame myself, assuming I must be asking wrong, but today was a perfect example that it's not all just me. TUcker was being really naughty to the right, especially at the canter. My instructor got on him and he buck and KICKED THE WALL which is so unlike him and she had to do some things to get him to cooperate. Sometimes it's such a test of wills!!

Heidi the Hick said...

You are so correct about that!! I really do think my horses make me a better person!

I used to say that either training a horse prepares me to be a better mother or being a mother makes me a better trainer.

And you know, expecting the best, expecting good behaviour, works well with kids. It just does.

I don't even know if I could explain WHY it works. It just does.

Anyways it's a beautiful winter afternoon here in my neck of the woods, and I am going to expect a lovely ride on a horse, or two or three, bitless and bareback, me wearing my thermal overalls, even if it is just in the corral. Because 10 minutes on a horse is better than... Almost everything.

Heidi the Hick said...

Sparkling - don't feel bad, I don't remember my first ride, it was so long ago, and I still don't believe in myself as a rider!

Keep in mind, horses are kinda lazy and if they get the feeling we don't really mean it, they probably won't do it. I tell students that - ride like you mean it. So yeah, first we have to believe it, right!

Believing yourself is good. Not just with horses.

Heidi the Hick said...

Ok now I am really going to stop talking and get out the stepladder and get on a horse!!!!

Laura Crum said...

Heidi--I really enjoyed your post. In fact, you helped inspire me to do a post of my own on this subject--what a great topic(!) I have a couple of insights nobody has come up with yet--that I've seen--so will post them on Weds on Equestrian Ink. But...my trail horse goes exactly where I send him with my mind--almost every time--outside. I expect it and he does it. He is not well broke or light in any other sense. He is, in fact, clunky and sluggish in the arena. But he is completely in tune with me in every way as we go down the trail. I have a theory as to why this is and will keep refining it for the post. But in the short term, like you, I expect/need him to be in tune with me on the trail, where it counts (in my book), and I'm not expecting it (or even wanting it) in the arena. Its a really interesting phenomena. And I, too, have noticed that it works in other areas of life. For me, it amounts to going with my intuitive response, rather than trying to figure something out, or doing what seems logical.

Paul Tee said...

I'm not a horse person, though I would like to be, but there isn't enough time in a day to be everything. Still I know what you are talking about.

Adjunct to their professional lives, my parents ran a kennel for years, not for business reason, but to resurrect a breed that was nearly wiped out by a virus. These were big dogs, komondors (google them, look like rugs) about 100 lbs dry, 150 wet. They have long trailing cords, (dreadlocks) that tended to mat, and eyes totally covered. It was hard to tell which end was which until they started moving.

I was a grown man when I first met them, but let me tell you it was intimidating to have 20 of them mob you in the yard. It took some getting used to. But I did and soon came to the conclusion the only way to survive was to become the top dog. That meant expecting respect from them, obedience, and insisting on your rights.

Now horses have horse-sense, dogs can smell indecision, anxiety, fear so pretending wasn't any good. I had to convince them I was stronger, braver and had sharper teeth than any of them, just to get my way. But the first person I had to prove it to was myself. Then I had to live it. My graduation test was to stare down the top male when we had a bitch in heat coming to be serviced.

The point is, know what you need to know, then measure up to it, and insist on it.

I once wrote (yes, I'm a writer) a horse book (though I'm not a horse person), in which the horse people have made a pact with horses, that the rider was the head of the horse, then had to prove themselves trustworthy of that covenant. I had great fun writing that book.

The point is, if a child misbehaves, is it not the parent's fault? The same way with horses and dogs (but not cats) the source has to be you. But before all that you have to own it.

But then, I'm stating the obvious, am I not?

Heidi the Hick said...

Laura- i think it's great that you're thinking about writing on this topic too! I have to give Janet the credit though. She got my brain fired up.

Your boy Sunny has a lot in common with my boy. He's good at his job.

I'd like to show Phoenix some day, because he's a nice good looking horse and I think he could handle to atmosphere without blinking an eye. But I kind of don't care. I got him because he has the kind of temperament needed for beginning riders, that's what I expect of him, and that's the deal.

But I also expect the little monster to respect me and do what I ask!

Paul, exactly, the story you wrote - that the people lived in a culture where they were the "boss" over their horses, but have to prove themselves worthy- its a deal, like, I will demand this of you, but in return I'll treat you fairly and give you a good life.

And it's the same with dogs.

Not cats though. They are superior beings. They can't help it.

I also agree that this is not something you can fake.

But --- maybe if you clear your mind out and banish all the damn thInking, all that pesky brain chatter, thats when it get s clearer. That's when you can believe it.

Or, maybe by now I'm just babbling.

Anyways, I sat on all 3 horses yesterday, only for about ten minutes each but it was enough to remind me how much fun we have together and that I am looking forward to spring.

Laura Crum said...

Heidi--Put up my post on this topic today. And I gave you, Janet, and a couple other blogs that inspired me credit for the topic. I have to say it was kel's blog, "Horse Genes", where I first saw it mentioned. Its a great subject for discussion, and I have loved hearing everybody's ideas.

Jaime - Weanling and Yearling "trainer" said...

Holy crap we might be soul mates. I was reading your quoted comments and thinking, "that's me!!!" I think I am better than average talent-wise, but always wonder if I am doing it right, am I asking clear enough, are we faltering b/c I am not training correctly or some other identified problem? And I also get lots of compliments b/c my horses (and dogs!) act so nicely. They act broke b/c I expect them to be (and treat them like) they are broke. Thanks so much for sharing :)

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