Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Trying to keep it simple.

It is impossible to try to educate the mouth if the horse is not in balance.
Philippe Karl

I promise you I am only here through necessity. I don't mean here writing this blog, I mean here in my horsemanship. I am a happy hacker with not much ambition to be anything else. Having a happy horse has always been my goal. I have always strived to keep things easy, mainly because I am lazy and that combined with an instinctual feeling that 'complicated' is, if not wrong, at least unnecessary.

But things were happening with my horse that I needed to get sorted and this is the way I am doing it. To be specific I realised I needed two separate cues for turning, as on one side she couldn't make the bend, she just fell over sideways (not literally - instead of turning around the bend she fell around it like a board). Now I know this is a very common problem and I have heard many many ways of addressing it. My original plan was that as my horse improved and got more and more happy and clear about our work then surely this would sort itself out. But now I see that couldn't happen because I simply had never explained to her what exactly I wanted from her in the turn. It's not that things were that bad - anyone who knows my horse will tell you she is pretty nice to ride. She goes anywhere and isn't scared of much. I can take her out of the field after a month and go for a hack. She's a good horse.

But the realization that I needed a bit more than her just to be happy and relaxed has lead me to a whole new world. To get to what I want now it is not enough for me to have her just not leaning on the bit, and happy to go where I want. Now I need her mouth relaxed, and I need her balanced from front to back, and I need her specifically cued up for bend on both sides. Don't run away - for any of you who are like me and thinking, phew, this sounds heavy, stick with it. It's possible that more experieced riders will be reading this (actually they have probably already stopped reading it by now) and they will be thinking, 'about time too'.

So that's what I'm up to. It's quite precise stuff and I'm not finding it that easy, which goes against the grain a bit as I have always had this feeling that if it's not easy it's probably not right. I am sticking with it though, because it makes sense to me, and it is getting easier for us both as we go along. But Splodge is one of those horses that tries really hard to get things right, and when she gets confused she kind of seizes up, and then I start to feel I'm letting her down a bit, so I have to be pretty careful to try and keep things clear for her.

I am excited by my horsemanship right now. I have a clear picture of what I am doing, where I am going and how to get there. I'm enjoying it!


glenatron said...

Splodge is demanding finesse of you now? It's a dangerous spiral to find yourself in - before you know it your students will be too...

Susan said...

Tom not sure if you read me on that other place, but I put up thread horses are like onions..
I had discovered like you and your horse if I didnt get it dead right he got confused and that meant he shut down.
Good Old June saw why straight away.I broke the contract. I was not keeping to the deal and Flynn has taught me a lot. I thought we did keep it simple but in reality I was not being clear as I thought. June said I now have to be even more responsible for my actions. Tom this is your fault! we think simple is doing little or not putting in much. I think it actually means we have to put in a lot more! Sorry Tom the easy life is no more.

Kate said...

Oh God, I do agree with you about all of this Tom, but it is SO much harder than I thought it was. Riding that is.

I can't go back, but I think I have quite enjoyed the past few years of blissful ignorance-now I'm having to really think, which does not come easily to a simple girl like me.

June said...

Life was so much easier before I knew anything about feet, saddles, feed etc and if the horse bucked it was being naughty.

There's just so much more to think about and worry about these days!

ClaudiChameleon said...

Tom & Sarah...You might find the techniques used in the training & handling of the world famous Lipizzaner very useful & inspiring. I learned these same things growing up with horses in W. Virginia, & "studying" with an old "Gypsy" horseman & various Native Americans. Here's a few tips, about things you mention in your blogs: Begin handling your baby horses as soon as they're born. Watch 'horse language':or how they communicate with each other, to learn how to sooth & "soften" yourself & your approach to the horses. Hug them, rub against them, sniff noses with them, & PLAY with them, especially the young ones. They love to play tag. But if youre an amateur at this, wear a helmet just in case. Frisky, happy horses often like to kick up their heels, literally. Dont let their experience of you be just riding them. Walk & run & play with them. Hang out in the field with them. Lie down on the ground with them. (Children especially love to this, as we did when I was young & as my children did.) Give them lots of little treats, like little bits of apple & carrot (never sugar) but dont let them get used to expecting it from you. Dont give them treats in any kind of routine way & dont do so every day. This insures that the treats will remain treats. The more you just hang out, sing, laugh, tell stories, talk to, walk, run, play, dance with your horses, the more they will find a way to communicate back to you so you have a two way thing going on. This opens up a whole new world for you & them. It takes that egoistic anthro-centric dominion out of your relationship so you really SHARE your experiences. Dont freak out the first time your horse "telepathically" (or empathically) communicates with you. No one who has experienced this has a word for it or can really explain it, but youll know when it happens if youre open & working toward it. By all means, learn to ride BAREBACK. I cant emphasize this enough. If you do nothing else to learn to communicate with your horse & learn how to ride well & communicate with ANY horse, do this. RIDE BAREBACK AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE NO MATTER WHAT YOURE DOING. I'm always appalled by so much saddle between a person & their horse. You need to learn to feel the horse's muscles move, his skin flinch, his temperatures change, his nerves flicker. Sure. If youre going on a hundred mile endurance ride youll want a nice comfy saddle with places to tie things. Thats fine, for you. But still, there are saddles that maintain your close contact with the horse so you "don't lose touch". And Ive actually ridden miles & miles (25-35-50....) with just a sheepskin between me & my horses back, to pad a sharp back bone & high withers...or with nothing at all between me & the horse (but my britches), if the horse has a nice well padded back. This also teaches you balance & ease that you can get NO OTHER WAY. Remember that horses ears are very sensitive & they like it when you keep your voice soft around them. But they also love it when you sing, & they don't care if youre not Pavarotti. (In fact, they would no doubt wince & shy at his booming voice.) It's good to use their names often when you sing to them. Like those old cowboy songs: "Good old Paint, youre a good horse you. What would I ever do without a horse like you, my good old Paint so strong & true"......
All animals like the sound of humans singing & somehow the RHYMING is important to them, as is the natural humming sound when we sing. Though making sense isnt. you could sing gibberish, as long as it rhymes & uses the horses name a lot. I guarantee that if you start singing softly to them when you go out to feed & be with them, youll have them coming to you every time you go out there, no matter how far away they are. Though it doesn't hurt to teach them to come to a good strong whistle, too. Ive lived out West for the past 40 years & often my horses were miles away when I wanted them. Teaching them to come to my whistle was very important. (I always say TEACHING. NOT training.) I learned to ride the horses that no one else would ride when I was very young because I learned how to communicate with them. Horses that everyone was scared to death of, I had no problems with. And some of the worst of those became my very best friends. Oh yeah. I also strongly advise you to first learn good basic dressage yourself, then teach all your horses. This is part of that famous Spanish Riding Academy method, where the Lipizzaners prance & dance & do their aerial stunts. If youve never seen the Royal Lipizzaner stallions show, by all means go see them. But by now every rodeo champ in the States knows to teach their horses good sound dressage techniques. It solves those problems of turning like a board that you mentioned. You just cant beat them for yourself & your horse. And anyone who really knos horses will tell yu that it is always easy to tell the difference when you see someone riding whether they & their horse are dressage trained or not. We've come a long way from those bad old days of cowboys breaking horses. Now both the cowboys & the horses going through their paces could compete with any thoroughbred in a dressage class. In fact, cowboys now often use thoroughbreds, for their speed, stamina, flexibility, & their amazing heart, soul, & intelligence...even if they are a bit more demanding for their riders. Because top cowboys, both those actually working on ranches still & those in rodeos, know have earned that learning good skills & good communication with your horse can mean the difference between winning & losing, & sometimes even life & death. (I could tell you some harrowing stories about getting stuck in snow storms in the high mountains of the West when the only thing that saved was the training both my horse & I had.) Yes, this will require that you get up off your fat arse & exert yourself a bit but it will bring so many amazing rewards that youll soon find you look forward to those hours you spend with your horses more than anything in your whole life. Its even better than sex, I promise you. though learning to ride horses this way will also improve your sex life so much you wont believe you & your honey missed out on so much before. Good horsemen/horsewomen are the sexiest people on earth & the bet among us are also the most fantastic lovers. Yeah, that, too, comes from experience. But it also make sense, which youll understand when you start your dressage/communication training. You become more sensitive, more tuned in to yourself & your partner, more supple & strong, with more energy, stamina, & control. There's good reason why the horse has always been associated with sensuality. When you really to ride & communicate well with horses, you'll understand. Those ancient creatures that were half horse/half human i the old myths were also known as the most virile & erotic creatures in the pantheons from which they came. Now doesn't this make learning to ride & commuicate well your horses worth the effort, if nothing else does?
bonjiourno, caballero....
Claudi C.

Tom said...

Glenatron - you are so right. but I'm enjoying it (most of the time).

Susan - Yep, you can't get the genie back in the bottle. But when it all comes right it's the best feeling! But I do remember back to riding my horse across the moor and not knowing much at all, and I was loving it, so in some ways you do have to wonder!

Kate - Yep, but it's so worth it. To get that bit of communication going between you and the horse feels sooooo good. And there ain't no turning back.

June - Ditto above.

Claudi - Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog.
You sound like you have a lot of fun with your horses. I don't actually agree with much you say, but I can see, with your vast experience, that you are in a very different situation to most leisure horse owners here in the UK.
In my work I have found that many people dream of your ideals but get into all sorts of problems as a result of not being experienced enough to live them. I have found that simple horsemanship with clear boundaries and a clear simple relationship between horse and human works very well for most people (and horses).
But anyway - thanks for sharing your ideas - I found your comment very interesting.