Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Working with horse trainers

Inspired by a post on my favourite friendly proboard ( ) about the implications of working with several different trainers, that got me thinking about getting to the point where you feel confident enough to work in your own right.

When I first watched Mark work I knew pretty much instantly that he had something I needed to learn. That was how I wanted to work with my horses. I watched him for a few years (and hopefully will continue to do so) and slowly slowly I began to get the hang of it, to the point where I'm pretty happy with most of what I do around the horses now.

From there I found I had the confidence to begin to work things out in my own right. I began to get an understanding of how I think a horse should perform in a way that he is both physically and mentally comfortable with. As it turns out, not surprisingly really I guess, I found this is also the way that is most comfortable for me too.

At that point I realised that I had in my mind a kind of overview of how to be with my horse and how to train him to be how I wanted him to be. Of course it is not a finished product, and it is unlikely to be one for me either. I know I am never going to be an incredible horse person, but I do think I can be a pretty reasonable one.

There is another question that ties in to this subject and actually really interests me too - what level can we really expect to get to with our horsemanship? Are some of us doomed to forever not really know how to do this? I don't believe that for a minute. I do believe that it is in quite a lot of peoples interest to make us believe that though, because that keeps them in work. I was listening to a trainer having a casual conversation the other day and in all seriousness, he said, 'I'm not showing them how I do this, it cost me a lot of money to learn that'.

I thought at the time, 'well, good luck to you mate, you haven't understood the way this game works. Horsemanship is not some list of facts you learn and then buy and sell for money - it's a lifelong apprenticeship that is way beyond that'. Needless to say I didn't have the bottle to say it out loud, so I just sneaked away and wrote it on my blog.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Nurturing the natural try

'We shall take care never to vex the horse, or cause it to abandon its affable gracefulness in disgust. For this is like the fragrance of blossoms, which never returns once it has vanished'.
Antoine de Pluvinel 1685

As I go on learning more and more about horses I keep spotting more and more stuff. Improving my horsemanship is in fact an endless quest.

Anyway, I don't know if I have ever mentioned Hugo before, but he is interesting, mainly for one thing - he is totally lazy and only half there. Now, years ago I would probably have been fine with that - a nice slow horse that even my granny could have sat on, but now I am looking at him and thinking, 'how the hell did he get in to that state?'.

He's lost his 'try'. So here is what I think. The try is there in the horse, he wants to find a peaceful place, and through selection man has bred it into them maybe even more. Horses are born with try - loads of it. A bit like working dogs, they want to get it right. Our job is not to kill that try, but to actually nurture it. There is nothing so much fun as sitting on a horse that tries - it is a powerful and inspiring experience. There is nothing so dispiriting as sitting on a horse that has lost its try - feeling the pain of its history, and then feeling the pain of trying to rebuild that try - I think it is one of the hardest jobs and I'm not sure it's even possible. I'm not sure they can ever be the same again.

So here is my plan. Any horse I am working on, I want to preserve and nurture the try. I don't want to be the one that is responsible for taking that out of the horse. So how can I do that? Well the really obvious things to avoid are quite simple. Get your releases right. Don't just go in all guns blazing - ask small and release on the first signs of a try. Once you've asked don't just release without getting a response. Don't keep asking when the horse is already doing what you asked for. Don't confuse the horse by asking too much too soon, or by asking in inconsistent unclear ways. And here is the big one that I'm still thinking about, but I am pretty sure is true. Keep the horse happy working for a good release. In other words, don't go upping the reward, because then the horse won't be so keen to work for less.

There is nothing so good as a horse that is naturally happy to work.