Thursday, 2 April 2009

How we work.

We have been running clinics for a few years now and we are happy to work with most situations people ask about. I would like to explain a bit more about how we work. If you are booked into one of our clinics or would like to attend one, then it is best that you have some idea about our work.

Our most important aim when we work with horses is that they are relaxed. When a horse is relaxed he can learn, or at least he can learn stuff you want him to learn. When he isn’t relaxed there is a good chance he can learn a lot of stuff you’d rather he didn’t. A lot of us can get our horses relaxed when we are on the ground, but sometimes when we are riding they are anything but. It took me a while to work this problem out, but as with everything, once I realised it, I couldn’t believe I’d missed something so obvious.

I just kept thinking, how come they trust me when I’m on the ground, and how come nearly all driven horses, and nearly all working horses just get on with it, but a large number of leisure horses just can’t relax when they are being ridden? The answer is that horses just find it really difficult to deal with grey areas – they need to know and understand what is going on. If they don’t know or understand, they don’t feel safe, and that is when you get all the tricky stuff happening. It’s a fair enough deal, I’d say: the horse is entitled to feel safe, or worry – that’s what horses do.

So I set off on my search for grey areas when I ride my horse. It didn’t take me long to find some. Here’s a really basic one that I reckon a few of us have come across. When I asked my horse to turn right she went nicely around the curve but when I asked her to turn left she fell across the turn. Now, before you all go, ‘ah, now what you need to do is this, blah blah blah’, I want to explain what I thought my horse made of this. She thought that my cue for turn one way meant one thing, and my same cue on the other side to turn the other way meant another thing.

For a while I just assumed she was stiff or bent or something, but now I have worked it out. If I get her to completely release all her tension, and then I explain the two types of turn, and have them on different cues, then she is fine. When I got this organised I felt like she was saying to me, ‘Why didn’t you explain that to me properly before?’ Looking further into that situation I suddenly realised that there were a whole lot of movements there that my horse had options on, that I wasn’t in control of, she was. That, for her, was a huge grey area.

As it turns out, the two things we have found that make the difference with pretty much all horses are understanding the bit, and balance – front to back and straightness. Getting a nice relaxed mouth, and nice soft hands with no pull, and getting the horse balanced on all four feet, can make a huge difference. So that’s how we work. Everything must make sense to the horse. It’s just not fair if it doesn’t. And if it does, what do you get? You get a nice calm horse!