Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back To School

doesn't mean to me what it used to when the kids lived at home. The anticipation of the new school year, the mad rush to get clothes and supplies together . . . to make sure the kids were as properly prepared for their next adventure as I possibly could . . .

Now I am still working on proper preparation, but the kids are on their own. Hopefully some of the stuff I tried to teach them stuck, but like most humankind (all of it, that I know of) they will best learn from their own experiences, and then can engage their education and make their best choices as to what next. Doing the right thing has to be individual choice, learned not forced.

This is a horse training blog, not child rearing, so how does this apply? Well, I am still working on proper preparation, only now it's for myself, and my horses, rather than my family, although the principles I have learned from good horsemanship tend to cross over really nicely. Through my experiences of handling hundreds of horses since I got my first pony at the tender age of 2 1/2, my education studying other people who have handled even more equines than I have, a philosophy of engaging willing cooperation from my horses in all aspects of their handling has been born.

Believe me, it was not always this way. I changed up because what I saw happening, in person attending clinics, watching dvd's, taking lessons from people I admire, and talking to the clinician's at Expo and wherever I could showed me methods that are faster, safer and more effective than what I was doing, previously. I could be from Missouri. I am a "show me" kind of gal.

Ever since I got a buttermilk buckskin filly for my 7th or 9th birthday (who can remember that long ago) that acquainted me with dirt flavored toothpaste on a regular basis, I have had a desire to turn out gentle saddle horses that don't want to buck you off in the process of getting them there. That journey has taken me a lot of places. I came from the old "show 'em who's boss" school of thought that has translated into being the right kind of leader. A horse that respects you will trust you, and one that doesn't, don't, if you follow my drift. Trust, respect and confidence in each other are the building blocks I use to get everywhere else I want to go with a horse, and I do it that way because people who are better at this than I am have taught me so, and my horses continue to teach me.

I have the honor and priviledge of being able to teach a couple of horsemanship clinics this Fall, and I am thinking hard about how to present the tools that I employ. It isn't so much the methods, themselves, or the bits, or the ropes, the sticks and the strings. What matters is the underlying approach and the mindset. That it's the little things that create the big ones, positive and negative. That horses don't compartmentalize, if they run over me on the ground, they will think it's perfectly okay to ignore me in the saddle and why shouldn't they? What changed just because I managed to scramble aboard? That if I set their feet while I am handling, grooming and saddling and I allow them to yaw and wander around, why should I be surprised when I go to mount, or want to stop along the trail, and pony continues the behavior he's had all along and steals steps to get where he wants to go?

Little things . . . allowing a horse to acknowledge my hand before I sling a halter on them. Working out jumpiness and stiffness when I find it, coming in from the pasture, instead of waiting til I get to the round pen or the trail or the show ring . . . Fixing what I find when I find it, and not blaming the horse because he has a different idea of what we are doing than I do. Where does the responsibility for communication between us lie, anyway? Him? Is it his idea to come in from the pasture, his buddies and that good sweet summer grass? Strap on a wood and leather contraption, place a bit in his mouth and pack around . . . well, more weight than he would have to on his own, let's just say that! Nope, it's my idea. Might be nice if I take responsiblity for it.

Since I have bought into that basic philosophy, things have really changed around here. I like the changes. I like the soft eyed horses I ride, I like the fact that anything around here that's broke will go down the road without much fuss. If you remember (those of you who keep up with this thing, LOL) last Spring, I ran into what many of us do, a Spring fresh, herd and barn sour crew that cried, wanted to stay home, return home, and were not a lot of fun to just jump on and go with. Once upon a time, I'd have corrected that problem with the ends of my reins and a handy set of spurs. Would it have worked? You bet. Will I still let a horse know in no uncertain terms it's not okay to run through my hands, legs, or ignore my cues, you bet. Does that sometimes involve a snap of a rein, or letting a horse find a poke in the side. Yes, absolutely, if necessary. I just don't start there, and often don't ever have to go there. I do what it takes to get the job done. Ray Hunt used to say to offer the horse the good deal each and every time you ask something of him, and now I do. Once they figure out you mean it, and you will reward and release them as they reach for it, it's amazing how much easier this stuff all becomes.

It's been a good summer, and we are not quite done yet!