Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is the Horse Soft Inside? Part III - A Few More Thoughts and Some Good Rides

There are many gems in Tom Moates's book about Harry Whitney (Between the Reins).  A couple more that really caught my attention:

1.  Sometimes you have a good ride because the horse has in mind to do the same thing you do, but not as a result of your direction - if there's no real connection then the next ride might not be so good.

2.  The use of gadgets - tie downs, draw reins, aggressive bits, biting rigs - may result in a horse that performs in a way you want physically, but the horse may be mentally somewhere completely different since all you have done is limit the horse's choices.
If you seek a horse truly willing and on the same page with you, difficulties must be understood and worked through for better understanding and an improved relationship, not just mechanically altered. (p. 27)
3.  It's up to us to work to make the horse feel better inside:
. . . by breaking the connection between thought magnets [something like the barn, the gate in the arena, or another horse or the herd] and the horse we interrupt a way he has developed to seek a kind of comfort in various situations.  Some horses can project their thoughts very strongly to other places hoping to find consolation.  They do this even though they actually ruin their chances of serenity (simply being happy where they are) in the process.  If we block that defense mechanism but provide no alternative purpose beyond it, then we potentially leave the horse in a bigger void and less comforted than he was on his own.
The desire in the human should be to get a horse feeling better about things.  If a thought magnet draws a horse to somewhere else, it means that place represents a longing in the horse to get to some other place. He wants to feel better, which in turn means he isn't confident in his present situation.  If he wants to feel better by going over there then he already is trying to fill an emotional void inside himself over there.
If you block thought magnets, but offer no better deal in trade, then the horse is no better off.  He may even lose what confidence he has in the human.  (p. 35)
4.  It really isn't about pressure and release, which can be pretty mechanical:
Instead of 'pressure', which might be misconstrued as a crude physical pressure, the idea of 'blocking and redirecting a thought' seems more applicable and preferable.  Just asking the horse something as backing up a few steps may be enough to bring his thought back to us.  Sometimes getting a little big may be necessary.  Regardless, if we manage to block the offending thought and offer a new route for the horse to think along which fosters clear understanding and the comfort of our confidence and support, we help the horse to feel better inside. (p. 39)
5.  There's a wonderful section on the use of 'firmness' - not being aggressive or demanding, or negative,  but simply checking in the with horse, in a clear and not wishy-washy way and asking for connection - that I can't begin to describe.  But the basic concept is firm up - ask for the horse's attention, and always immediately ask for the horse to do something with a clear release to follow:
. . . if people handle firmness correctly, it provides the opportunity for the horse to feel good about the firmness before there every is a release to it because he knows a moment of clarity is at hand. Consistent clarity over time builds constant confidence in an outcome, even in the moments before it happens if set up right.
If the human handles firmness consistently, always using it as a precursor to asking something specific of the horse and providing a release timed to build in the horse's attention, relaxation, and understanding, then there is every reason for the horse to consider firmness a very positive experience.  (p. 87)
6.  And how important it is, in order to get that softness from the inside, that we insist - not in a threatening or forcing way, but in a consistent and persistent way:
Think about it, can you consistently always be adamant a horse stays with you mentally and accept nothing less?  It's not always easy to do when leading a quiet horse twenty feet, let alone when riding.  And what about when the horse responds correctly to your cues mechanically speaking, keeping his thoughts with you, but without softness?  Can you hold out further to get all the pieces of the puzzle you want in a horse at one time?  If you're looking for a horse to be right on with your requests and reacting in a relaxed way, then you'll need to build that in there too.  (p. 96)
* * * * * *
I rode all three horses today, in between various storms - I got right back in there with Drift this morning after his difficulties yesterday (see the prior post), and despite the unfamiliar time, he was just fine for his leading and his ridden work.  He's not soft inside yet, but we're taking steps to get there - we're on the road together.  His bolting/bucking/nervousness - which I've now observed when I'm working with him and when he's on his own in turnout - seems to be a reaction to an overload where he's very frustrated and upset - sort of a baby reaction.  We'll keep testing the limits so he can develop some emotional maturity.  Dawn and I had a nice ride building on our recent work on her carrying herself softly.  And Pie and I tried out the Cashel Bug Armor - we use the ride mask as well - other than the neck piece almost not fitting over his (very large) jowl - it fit and worked great, and he was completely unconcerned about it.  We only walked and trotted in the arena, but I think it'll do very well on the trails.  A very fine day with horses indeed.

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