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!


Kathy Baker said...

"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!"

Without a doubt I am convinced too. My horse's angst generally leaked out of his mouth. His mouth was always busy, tongue moving, teeth gnashing the bit. In my ignorant days I handled that with a flash noseband, eek.

Then I got a little older and a little wiser (ok a lot older!) I started paying more attention to what was taking place within the horse. The quiet mind lead to the quiet mouth. I started spending time with Mark Russell author of "Lessons In Lightness". He always looks for relaxation through the TMJ, 1 2 and 3 vertebrae. So I am a big advocate for spending time each and every time I get on a horse to ask him to relax through these joints. It is kinda like a check list. "How are you feeling today?" type thing. It is a starting off point. And clearly this has helped my sensitive T-bred. He is much more supple and relaxed and his mouth is WAY more quieter than ever before.

It will be interesting to see what your experiences lead to with Bullet. Thanks for sharing.


June said...

Our horses are working horses, know their jobs and just get on with them. They are all pretty chilled out and none of them could be described as soft when they came to us (some still can't!) so I guess there are other routes to Rome, but it certainly seems like a good starting point to me.

I've been working on softness with a few of them recently, more because I prefer that feeling than that the horses are having problems, and I'm amazed how quickly they get it. It does seem to create horses that are more available.

The one thing I'm finding I need to be careful with is dropping the horse onto the forehand though. The polo ponies need to work from the hind end and it is easy to concentrate too much on the front end and forget to ask for them to lighten at the front too. Using rein back and soft in rein back helps but so does thinking of less noise from the front feet. In Mary Wanless speak that would be "tea tray"!

tom909 said...

Kathy - Thank you for your input here. We are being quite specific here, in asking for the mouth to be relaxed and mobile. That is almost a priority.
As far as I can see that's the only difference between us and 'head twirling', as once we have the soft moth, we then ask for the relaxed TMJ combined with the mouth. What we found was that some horses give the neck but hold on to tension in the mouth. It's difficult, if not impossible, for the horse to relax in mouth and neck and still hang on to tension.
I hope to put up some photos and write a little report about Bullet shortly.

June - I often cite your polo ponies as horses that are pretty damn good at working even though they possibly got to that place in maybe a somewhat dubious way. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I rode one of them in the polo lesson.
So I'm guessing as they are beyond the 'argument phase in their behaviour, if you can add some softness in there, they will be very happy and grateful for that.
Re your comments about dropping them on the forehand, we are being quite fussy about not working our horses too low. We have taken our focus off the poll, which in the past has had the tendency to take the horse 'low'. It all ties in doesn't it - all that stuff about getting horses to canter and so on, and needing them to be up off the forehand.
We'll get there in the end!

June said...

All the people I know who train polo ponies have masses of confidence and intention. Not all of them are hard on the horses, although some are, but they are very workmanlike about it and mostly pretty calm about it. I think you can get a long way with confidence and intention if you start with a horse that hasn't any history. You get a horse with the right attitude right from the start as they feel the person is in control and so they don't need to look out for themselves.

We had an Argentine groom working for us for 3 summers and he loved the "difficult" horses. He got on one of the liveries that had taken to rearing and every time she reared he just put his hand on her neck and pushed it down. He was riding another one that bucked in canter every time he put his legs back - Lucy's Lacy. Most of us would have avoided putting our legs back, but he sat there in canter, moving his legs around, pretending to smoke and singing "I don't care" over and over. It took about 1/2 a circuit of the arena for the bucks to stop and then she gave a nice relaxed canter regardless of where his legs were.

He wasn't worried about confronting issues head on as he was confident he could deal with the reaction. He'd been a rodeo rider so I suppose falling off wasn't something that bothered him. I'd prefer to confront those types of issues from the ground.

There's a lot to be said for getting it right in the first place so you have fewer problems to fix later on!

Incidentally, the polo pony you rode came from New Zealand, so it's unlikely she got subjected to some of the more dubious Argentine practices, but you never know.

zIggI said...

I wasn't going to comment here (I don't feel qualified!) although I am very interested in the content Tom, I just noticed the WV was ORSES! How apt!

El from darkest Ireland. said...

I think one of the most aspects of horse training is don´t take the horse out of the horse.

Right stay with me, article follows:

Myth No.2 - You Can't Let the Horse Win - ross jacobs

Ever since I was a boy I have heard this. I still hear it these days, in fact I read it on a web site from a trainer who was responding to an e-mail question.

Winning or losing doesn't even enter a horse's mind. No horse is out to beat us or prove us wrong. Training is not meant to be an adversarial sport. It is not about having a winner and a loser. When interacting with a horse, the horse should always be a winner. Anytime you leave a horse feeling like he was the loser, you have taken something away from him. The only road that I know for getting a horse to want to go along with me is if by trial and error he has learned that I offer him a good deal. My job should be to do whatever I can to make it as easy as possible and with minimum trouble. So when he does give it a try it feels okay and he hasn't lost anything in the process.

That might all sound "airy-fairy" and some might be wondering how do you get a horse to do what you want if you don't show him that you are in charge?

Those that have hung around me will have heard me say many times "never ask a horse to do anything unless you get a change - if you don't get a change you should never have asked in the first place and you are teaching him to ignore you."

At first read that might sound similar to "you can't let a horse win." But it all depends on what you call a change. When you ask a horse to do something you need to get a change, but a change only has to be something different from what the horse was doing. A change does not have to be exactly what you wanted him to do. If it is, that is wonderful. But in reality a change is just something that's different. Getting a change means your horse is searching. He knows doing what he is doing is not working for him because you keep persisting with some pressure (using just enough pressure to motivate him to search), so he starts searching to find something that will get rid of the pressure. When he does, rejoice. If he is doing something even slightly in the direction of what you had in mind, release the pressure and rejoice some more. That's called a "try". If he tries something counter to what you had in mind, just persist with enough pressure to keep him searching and release when he stumbles on something better. Soon he will have discovered for himself what he should do to stop the idiot from annoying him.

This approach is not about making him do what we want or letting him get away with anything. That's human thinking - not horse. A horse just wants to find the safest and most comfortable option he thinks is available. So allow him to discover for himself what works and what doesn't by letting him be a winner every time he gets close to what we had in mind.

Often we make a bad situation worse because we refuse to let our horse win. Float loading is a good example. A situation that came up recently was in regard to loading a horse into a float. A lady was taking her horse to a show. The horse would go about half way in and stop. The lady got more insistent and then the horse would run backwards. The whole episode went on for about 2 hrs before she gave up in frustration. She rang me to ask for advice because she was very concerned that she had let the horse win and now she would never get her horse in a float. Long before the lady had given up things got worse. The horse got to the stage where she couldn't even get it within 10 metres of the float and he was rearing and striking. It would have been much wiser to have realized earlier that things were deteriorating to a bad situation and to have given up. There would have been no harm done. The problem of getting the horse in the float is very fixable. The horse had it's reasons for not going in the float. When she fixes the reasons the horse will load fine.

There is a theory among some people (even professional trainers) that if you let a horse win you have ruined it. Firstly, as I have said a horse doesn't have any concept of winning. But secondly, every situation is salvageable. If it wasn't then every mistake we make with our horses would be ruining them for life. A substantial proportion of our business is re-educating horses that people make mistake with. All a horse needs is to find a way to behave that feels better to them than the way they have been responding, then they will choose the better option every time for themselves. You will soon reverse the damage done by your mistakes.

So keep in mind that training is never an "us vs the horse" pastime. The object is to help the horse find a better way to respond and sometimes that might mean backing off rather than allowing the horse's feeling to become more troubled. You are always training for tomorrow and not everything has to be perfect today.

El from darkest Ireland. said...

CONTINUED: My thoughts on this issue.............

This rang a bell with me, alongside: "In working with horses I try to keep the horse inside the horse."

So you want the horse to be happy with the training not just push him through what you want to get done.

Right, a few weekends ago, I had Ozzie out cantering out in the big field. Usually when he´s ridden or lead through the gap to the field, myself or Dad is on foot beside him, so we just all walk on through, no issues.

Now this day after I cantered Oz about, Dad was on foot talking on the phone, and I walked Oz back towards the gap. As we approached the gap (it was muddy, usually closed by wire) Oz wasn´t too sure about going through it. So he stopped, head went up, got a little anxious about it.

So I spent a few minutes saying ´come on Oz, dont be silly its fine´and squeezing my legs to encourage him to walk forward through the gap. oz was having none of it. After a few minutes I was getting a bit fed up, and so was Oz. As I incresed the ´go forward´pressure´Oz started to increase the ´ím not going forward, im actually going to start going backwards´pressure. He stated to get MORE nervy and go backwards FASTER. (I was reading Ross Jacobs book and he had a similiar story)

Then (yes it took me a while to figure it out) I realised I wasnt making the situation better, I (ME!) was making it worse.

Even I reckon if Oz had given up his argument and gone through the gap, he wouldn´t have done it happily and wouldn't have thought much of me for pressurising him. In essense, I would have taken a little bit of the horse out of the horse. I would have egot through the gap but Oz wouldn´t have been happy about it.

Its weird though, if I´d been on the ground with Oz and he planted like this, I would have done something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Seriously. On the ground I actually think DIFFERENTLY!!! I dont think about ´making' Oz do anything, I would always first think of ´helping´him do something. IN teh saddle I think an automatic switch gets flicked with me and I can start to think not as well, more of the 'just do it' school which isnt whats works best when training a horse.

So in the saddle I needed to

1. help Oz get through the gap, not make him go through it
2. have Oz happy to go through the gap, and not be unhappy i'd used pressure to force him to do something he was uncomfortable about
3. after all this, i wanted him to think 'ooh elaine was quite useful there, i'm a bit embarassed to think i thought a little gap like that was scary'

So what did I do? Made walking through the gap easier.

Dad came off his phone call, so I asked him to walk in frton of Oz through the gap, and without a bother on Oz walked after Dad. There was no issue at all, like the gap wasn´t there. Followed Dad through the gap a few more times, then Dad waited in the field, Oz had now realised 'doh its only a silly gap, what was I worried about' and we walked in and out of it a good few times by ourselves. And at the end ozzie was

1. walking through the gap no bother (the goal was completed)
2. he was calm and relaxed and happy with doing it
3. he taught me ANOTHER thing - BOTH of you should win. Its NOT about the human getting their way over the horses perferred way.

So my points are:

1. do you react differently to the same situation depending on whether you are in or out of the saddle?

2. Does anyone else from time to time suffer like I do from the 'just do it ozzie please!' when riding (which I need to stop - or think twice in the saddle every time in these situations)

3. does training a horse so you don´t take the horse out of the horse mean anything to anyone else?