Tuesday, 14 July 2009

A little less worried arabian horse

We've just arrived back from doing a couple of clinics in Kent. I got to work with a little arabian gelding who was really struggling with his life. Well, let's be accurate here - struggling with some parts of his life, but mainly the riding part. I think some of the bit work he had learnt in his showing days had pretty much done his head in.

He was ridden a lot in a halter which worked fine on a good day, but when he wasn't feeling so good, or when too much was going on, the halter didn't really give his rider much opportunity to help him through. He would alternate between being massively spooky to being pretty shut down, with not much time in between. Basically not much fun!

In a previous clinic we had introduced him to the bit, but to be honest we hadn't really got him to understand it. I tried using long lines to help him see how it worked but I never really got it sorted. This time I had some new ideas. The first thing to do was show him that the bit wasn't there for him to lean on or to push on. I did this by taking the bit in my hands and just offering him softness when he relaxed. If he pushed or leaned I backed him off - not heavily, he is an arab and learnt pretty quickly. I then moved on to showing him how the steering worked. When he feels the cue on his mouth he needs to just turn his head that way. The cue is a very light feel with no backwards in it. It took him a while to relax with this. He was very worried about what the bit might do, and he came up with lots of different ideas about how to deal with it. Lots of pushing and neck twisting, and at times he would completely zone out because he just felt he couldn't cope.

It took me an hour to have him walking around, quiet, following the bit, and with a nice relaxed mouth. Then I got on him to see if it worked from on top, and it did. Over the next three days Sarah and his owner rode him around, just in a 'safe' (to him) part of the school, doing nice bends, halts, and also working in some neck reining to move his shoulders. He was a pretty happy and relaxed horse. This isn't a done job, but it's a start. It's nice to see a horse understand something that previously terrified him, and it's nice to see the rider have some way of helping him through those moments when he starts to lose his focus. I would say, as his confidence grows his world can get bigger.

More and more I'm convinced that the way to go with this horse training game is to find the first thing the horse isn't comfortable about, and get it sorted. And then the next one etc etc. The horse soon starts to behave like he's thinking, 'mmmm this guys quite handy to have around'.


Kate said...

Thanks, Tom, really excellent post - you've captured the whole idea of helping the horse be less worried with this example. I'm at a point where your thoughts are extremely useful to me.

glenatron said...

You seem to be using long lines a lot less now- I'd be interested to hear more about that, why you use them less now and under what circumstances you still would choose that option.

Tom said...

I hardly ever use long lines these days. I used to use them to teach the horse about the bit, but I think I prefer the way I do it now - sometimes on the lines if the horse really pulls, they can start to tuck under and get behind the bit - I'm really keen to set up a communication through the bit, not a horse that fears it. Also, the weight of the lines is more than I like to put on a horse's mouth.
I reckon I'd use them if I was working a horse that was a bit scary to get too close to.

elaine said...

aawww wish I was there :)