Saturday, 20 December 2008

'Keeping the horse in the horse'

OK, inspired by El's question, and it's something I have been thinking about for some time, here are some thoughts on this subject.
Firstly, what does it mean? I'm genuinely not sure. I read the extract from Ross's book and he is obviously a good horseman - I've heard Harry talking about him and I know he rates him. But there is something I want to say - I have been holding back from saying it because in a way, it's quite arrogant. I expect to be severely mauled in cyberspace if this ever gets out there beyond the safety of this little blog, so it's truly for your eyes only. So here it is - I reckon that once you get to a the point of being a good horseperson, and I include everyone who contributes to this blog, and many many more, in that group, then taking the horse out of the horse isn't really on the agenda.
Up to that point you are serving your apprenticeship - you don't quite know how to be with the horses - you don't quite understand what they want from you - you are maybe a bit caught up in what you'd like them to be, rather than what they are, and so and so on. Taking the horse out of the horse is just a slogan really - I think it works better if you say 'don't go putting things into the horse from your own mind that simply just isn't the horse. But once you have served your apprenticeship, at least if it's the same one I served, then you know the deal, and you can start some serious work.
And that's where the fun begins. That's what I think anyway. But you can't, and this sounds terribly arrogant again, with horses I just don't think you can run before you can walk. You have to approach the horse and your work with utter honesty and sincerity, and with the pure motive of 'learning'. And I don't think you can be taught this stuff - you have to discover it within yourself - jeez, that sounds like a load of old Totnes shite I know, but it's only when I realise something about horsemanship, that now I realise, wow, I read that years ago, or I was told that years ago, but I had no idea what it meant.
Two days ago I was watching Damson being ridden in the school, and seeing her trying to get her mind around what I would call 'front to back balance'. As I watched I realised I had seen this before (at Harry's) and now, finally, I could see it in the horse - it was a nice moment for me. There is something really rewarding about learning horsemanship - it's humbling!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

It's a bit basic - I know!

So what got me started down this latest road? The thing is that the kind of work I have been doing for years has been helping people with unmanageable horses - I haven't really been too into the riding stuff. And then, when I started to get into the riding stuff I was mainly focussing on things like confidence and relaxation - things that help the horse feel good because the rider does, and so on. I steadfastly hung on to my belief that if you get your relationship right with your horse most else would come right with it. But then I started to come up against some more specific stuff - that's what got me thinking I had to be a bit more clear for my horse.

At so many clinics there would be horses that could turn one way on a circle but when they were asked to turn the other way, they couldn't do it - they just stepped across and fell sideways. I have watched and listened to people explaining several different ways of how to sort this out and I wasn't happy with any of them. So many different tricks, and none of them that really work, and anyway, why do you need a trick - that can't be right.

I continued to think about this problem for a while, and tried to find a simple solution, but when I realised I was riding one of my horses and she was doing it too, that's when I really had to move my act on. It took me a while to get to this point in my mind - you have to realise I am a 'get on my horse and go for a ride' guy - I don't like all this fancy stuff - I have always thought people were making problems where there shouldn't be any. But then I started to think, 'hey, I'm up here saying I am a horse trainer, I need to get this sorted'.

So I started to look at things more closely and I realised that going one way, my cue for a turn on a circle meant one thing but going the other it meant something else. I was in effect using the same cue on both sides but it meant different things to the horse. Why and how did this happen? Well, horses are bent one way, it doesn't really matter why, but they are. They find it easier to do things one way than the other. And because of this it is very easy to unknowingly teach them different responses on either side. Once I worked that out I was away. So all I had to do was sort that out and off we go. But of course, if your horse has been responding to you in a certain way for say, fifteen years, and suddenly you want to change that, it might not be so easy.

So that is why I set about re-educating my horse about the bit. And what I found there was a big surprise - it was all pretty chaotic. Tie this in with the experience we were having with Bullet and it really made me think - might there be some connection between a confused mouth and a difficult horse, or to look at that statement in a more positive way, might there be a way to a peaceful horse through a peaceful mouth. I'm becoming convinced!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The story so far

'The big discovery one makes when one starts studying and applying [these] techniques is that once light in hand, that is, relaxed and mobile in his lower jaw, a horse becomes disciplined'.
Jean Claude Raciner

Working as a horse trainer and running clinics for the last few years has been a lot of fun. I work in partnership with my wife Sarah. Have you heard the expression, 'rust never sleeps' - well that's the same as Sarah's desire to master the art of horsemanship (it never sleeps), she just keeps learning more and more stuff, and what is my role in this? Well, I keep fighting against it, and desperately try to make sure that we really need to do this stuff.

It's not easy, or at least I don't find it easy. You'd think that you could sit on your horse and go where you want to go, and that would be it. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way. A horse comes along and in some way tells us we have to learn more. That is what has happened to us this year. We had a few questions about various things we were encountering in our horsemanship, but the real tipping point for us was when Bullet came to stay. She was a horse who pretty much lived everywhere except in her own body. Our job was to see if we could get some kind of order in her life, and boy, she has taken us right to the edge. Several times we have sat at the table and discussed whether we should tell Jane, her owner, that we have tried all we know and we can't do this job.

But then, we started down another path - to be fair it's a path Sarah has been wandering down for some months - and when we made a start down it with Bullet, lo and behold, we began to see a small light at the end of the tunnel. Even then I fought against what I was seeing, and I still do a bit. I have always, always strived to keep things simple, I have always shied away from systems and methods, but Bullet has demanded we go places I would never normally choose to go, because by going there we have helped her relax. She can now stand still. She can now walk slowly. She can now walk back to the field without racing and twitching like somone was going to kill her. At last, her mind is in her body, not up the field or down the barn. She is behaving like a normal horse - not all the time, but most of the time - and when she gets in trouble we have something that helps her. It feels good!

Of course, I know it may be other things that have helped Bullet. It may be the seasons, or it may be that we have worked for a certain time with her, or it may be we have unknowingly found a combination of things that make her feel ok. So with all this in mind, this winter we are working with eight of our horses to see how they respond to the same work that we are doing with Bullet. Perhaps foolishly, I plan to document our work with these horses over the next few months.

Over the next few days I hope to give details and post photos of the eight horses. They are quite different in their characters, and one or two of them have quite long term 'issues'. I will also try and explain some of the other reasons that have lead us to this point. I am fascinated to see how things work out over the next few months.

It is my hope that you find this of interest, and maybe of some use. Thank you.

Eight Horses - One Winter

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