Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How we Learn

At 10, I wanted to gallop up and down the runway at the little airport in Forked River, NJ. That sweet chestnut pony, Misty was somewhat willing to comply and I had a ball! I rode bareback and with a halter. That is not to say I was sensitive to her feelings, it was all about go!

Ages 11-14, I rode weekends and summers at Frontier Day Camp. I worked all week for the $5 it cost to go riding weekends. I thought nothing of crashing through brush and being run into trees. My favorite horse, Daisy was a mare who was missing her foal and was crazy to get back to the barn. I was lucky in that I wasn't the girl who fell from her, got dragged and later died. I thought she had spunk!

At 15, I was sent off to a convent boarding school and rode some equally spiritless horses at a barn. Awful year!

At 16, I rode horses bought at auction by two old cowboys, father and son (both of them younger than I am now).  Those cowboys didn't ride as they were too busted up. You'd think I'd reconigze the obvious! They saddled up 6 or 8 horses a day for me to try out. I don't think they hand picked them for disposition, and if I asked, 'has he ever been ridden?' They would respond, 'well, we don't really know.' Probably they had, as now they were standing with a saddle on without too much hassel.  Those rides were interesting and I was lucky.

At 18, I began riding an off the track trotting horse, a big Standerbred, who was rescued by a kind and thoughtful man, who spent years gaining that ruined horse's trust. I began to be more gentle, very, very soft with this elegant horse, Squire. We rode the trails and backroads together in Hopewell Township, sometimes we galloped at night on the rolling grass lawns at ETS. I began to think more about how the horse felt.

During the school year, at College in Virginia, I exercised a barn full of horses. The part I loved best was going out in the field, climbing on the lead mare and galloping down to the barn with the herd all around me. Every afternoon I rode 3 or 4 horses, the grooms brushing them and handing them to me ready to go. Hard to develop much relationship that way, but I had my favorites including the "proud cut' Morgan, who's spirit was still so intact.

Then back in Princeton,  there was the Polish Calvery Officer who taught me dicipline. I was made to ride without reins, posting without stirrups, having instructions shot at me like a machine gun. I did things that I would never have dreamed of doing on my own. It was exciting, but there was not much connection to the horse. Who was that horse I was riding?

Learning about horses came so slowly. Horsemanship is primarily an oral tradition. I had no one to really teach me about the horse, what does he think, what does he feel, what makes him feel safe, how to create a bond, how to relate without riding, how to teach without hurting. There must be more than getting on and just going!

This has been my journey this past 15 years... gentle, slow, natural, creating connection and developing relationships with my horses. Always ending on a good note, with the horse happy, relaxed and more confident.  There was lots of learning, plenty of mistakes, good days and bad.. but now, there are mostly good days.. where the horse and I are both happy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hanging out with the Boys

After spending the morning studying Chinese Medicine and doing Jin Shin with my friend Teri, I went home to hang out and be with the boys.
The guys love having me there...
Even Black Elk, who let me put a halter on and take it off again without a bit of worry.

I was hoping to get Rascal to look around at the camera, but no luck!
He was keeping his ears tuned in instead.
I was ready to go.. but they, not yet!
I keep hoping somone will show up you just loves to groom horses!
After hanging out, I saddled up Rascal who is busy getting nice and muddy here, and we had a great session. We rode hands-free and at each stop I asked him to 'drop your head'.. which he did on his own accord about half the time and then with just the words. I was so tickled all I could do was laugh!  I was mostly surprised he'd learned the words..or was he just mind reading? You never know with these mustangs.

Week Two at the River Farm

Swans on Cook Road
Finally the weather was in the 40's and not raining! I was off to the River Farm again to work with the girls. I passed fields of swans resting and eating in the fields.
Turning at the Everybody's Store in Deming, I headed down the road to the Farm. On the way I saw a Coyote crossing the road. There was snow along the way and the hills were still covered in places.
I worked with the horses for a while and was just going to pop on bareback when Rosie appeared ready for her lesson. She was dressed for fowl weather and Sadie was sweet as pie.
Rosie played the Seven Games with Sadie
Gave her a few loving scratches......
 And climbed on for the first time this year. Sadie stood steady as a rock.  With only a few rides last year, I was so happy to see how quickly she was progressing.
 After a bit of tune up in turning and stopping and going on cue, they were off down the trail.
Down to the River for a drink, as if she'd done it 100 times!

I wondered who was living in the Tipi.. Looks so wonderful in the trees.

Back down the road with nary a glitch!

Now that is a happy face!! In case you ever wondered why horses.. take a long look at that grin!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Road to The Horse

Ranger, Shaman, Rascal and Black Elk, mustangs adopted from the wild.

If I had a TV, I would have watched Road to the Horse. But, I don't have a TV, so I rely on the internet. Not that I didn't already have opinions about the gentling and riding of a horse within a three hour time period. I have plenty. The first one is why are our top teachers modeling this behavior? Don't they realize this sends all of us a message that faster is better? The one that does it the quickest wins after all! I think this is nuts! Pat Parelli says; Take the time it takes so it takes less time. I say 'walk your talk'!
Ina and Ranger have a good connection- He is willing and feels safe.

I have learned so much from the unique combination of Linda Parelli's  teaching style and Pat's in deapth and intuitive understanding of horses. So, why do this? Why go on national TV and model that 3 hours is enough.  Turns out, he like many of us, made a bit of an error of judgement and either slid off  or fell off, depending on how you look at it. That's no biggie.. except it tells us the horse wasn't ready. Duh!  I think this is a perfect example  'learned helplessness' in the horse.
Mustang from Robert's Mountain in the Nevada Range

I feel the same way about the 'Mustang Makeover'. There the trainers have 100 days. In comparison this sounds like forever. But, it's not! It's a tiny amount of time for a prey animal to accept a predator on his back. I can assure you that rushing horse training will not pay off in the long run.
Betty and her Anglo-Arab Leo

I made a bit of a study of the results of the Mustang Makeover and to see how those horses make out after being adopted. Some seemed to be OK, somehow managed to integrate a massive amount of information in a very short time, some have their nervous system fried- and will hopefully recover with a long rest, some needed to be restarted from the begining and I would imagine many of the new owners are still scratching their heads as to why they can't get the horse to do what they saw the horse do at the Makeover. I know, I know they do that competition to let folks know how smart and amazing mustangs are.. but, like Road to the Horse -  the message is not good. Mustangs are amazing, but they are wild horses.. they need time!
Shaman who drops his head so 5 yr old Nyah can halter him.

I never heard Walter Zettle, or Nuno Oliveria, or any of the great masters brag about how quickly they can gentle and ride a horse. They say instead that the foundation is so very important, that what you do in the begiinning will show up again and again, and that training a horse should be as subtle as grass-growing.
Rascal gives his first riding lesson to a Kiatan

So, what's the rush? Don't think quicker is better! If it's all about the horse, do you think you are doing him any favors by rushing each excercise? I say love your horse and show him that by going slowly and watching for his interest and enjoyment in your play and training. Watch for his relaxation, the softness in his eye, his desire to be with you.