Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Tricks for Old Dogs

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach old horse folks and old horses new tricks! My friend, Ted Nicholes and his family, hosted a great horsemanship clinic last week just a couple miles from me. I'm so lucky because I got to go.

Here I am in between my endurance riding friends Pat Murray (L) and Karen Vining (R)

So people often wonder why, when I have been messing with horses my whole life, do I want to attend a horsemanship clinic? I truly believe that we never can learn it all. Horses always have something new to teach us. And one of the things they have taught me is that I need to ride smarter. I need to communicate better than I did in the old days of just climb on and ride. Plus I don't bounce anymore! I go splat when I hit the ground! So I need a better trained horse than I did when I was 22 yrs old and would ride anything that had fur. 

Trish Frahm and Secret gained a lot of confidence over the week working with Ted. 

A lot of people think horsemanship is just brushing the horse and picking out hooves. But it goes much farther than that. Most dictionaries define horsemanship as the art or skill of riding a horse. But that means in order to ride successfully you need to communicate with the horse in a language that he understands, and I don't mean "Whoa dammit!" Even though I have done that, and I suppose so have you at one time or another. I've also read books for years on the subject, studied different master horseman and learned new things as I rode along. But there is always more to learn. 

My ADD kicked in and I found this huge piece of plastic that had blown in. I spied a training opportunity! So I worked and desensitized Brass until I had it over both sides. Notice I am at a 45 degree angle to the front of him so I won't get trompled. Note the slack in the leadline. This is a great exercise for noisy materials plus a horse like Brass who does not like things happening on both sides of him at once. And once I completed the task from the left I then had to do it all again from the right side because righty and lefty can be two different horses.

When I first met the Nicholes family it didn't take long to see they knew how to handle a horse. The skills just quietly oozed out. Along came The Big Brass, a difficult boy at best with a history of people problems, and Ted was the man for the job of calming and training the horse. Not sure why God keeps blessing me with difficult horses but over the years I think I have had more than my share. They certainly are dedicated to improving my riding skills. Anyway, Ted uses the Clinton Anderson methods, and those methods get good results. Why? Because in these simple exercises horses learn to respect their handler, we learn how to basically talk to the horse in his language, and all this builds up to a responsive and supple horse that probably won't embarrass you in public. And yes there are similarities to other horsemanship folks such as Ray Hunt, Tom and Bill Dorrance, and Buck Brannaman - but there are also some profound differences. 

Ted flexing Trish Frahm's mare, Secret. Lateral flexion is very important for one rein stops, turns and therefore safety. 

We began with learning some desensitizing skills that make our horses more solid and take the spook out of them. As Ted says, "Go ahead give your horse a heart attack. They're free. Make noise, be quick and animated, run up to him, get him used to everything before you get on him." This made me laugh because growing up with racehorses and being around different barns where some trainers wouldn't allow any loud noises and us kids couldn't run past the stalls. Dad had always said, go ahead and run and make noise, they'll get over it. And they did. We learned how to be the boss hoss and make our horse's feet move by having them yield their hindquarters and the fore quarters. We learned how to control the 5 body parts of the horse; head and neck, poll, shoulder, ribs and hindquarters. We learned so much over the week that I can't begin to enter it all here but I'll try to summarize it. But you could go to you tube at look at clips of Clinton Anderson training methods as you can others, or buy the DVD's.

Brass flexing nicely

One reason these methods work is horses learn from the release of pressure. Watch the boss horse, all he has to do is flip an ear or swish his tail and everyone scatters. That's driving pressure. The alpha horse moves the other horses feet away and says get out of here! When they leave the boss ignores them and the pressure is released. The reward for the right move is in the release. And it's pretty easy to see that the horses who moved their feet, lost to the horse who didn't really move his feet. So we make the horse move his feet and we win. But when the horse makes you move your feet you lose! An example: ask the horse to back with pressure and reward one step back with the release of pressure. Before you know it you are getting five backward steps. It just builds from there. 

Robin Peterson having her horse yield his hindquarters away from her, notice the hind leg crossing in front of the other. Her body language says, move out of my way! This comes into play not just in riding but in moving that horse when you open a gate from the ground or correcting a crooked back up. Just looking at the hindquarter of a horse backing crooked can make him straighten out. 

We learned how to teach the horses to laterally flex, bringing their nose to our stirrup or toes. Then we learned the one rein stop which I believe is the single most important thing anyone should know. One person said "We never did that in the old days." I guess Al & I were different because we would teach horses to flex and one rein stop many years ago, we just didn't call it that. Ted gave us a round pen demo and also laid Brass down. I may save the latter for blog number two. 

Karen Vining doing a one rein stop with her mare, Abbiroad. 

Lateral flexion and yielding the hindquarters once taught from the ground comes into play from the saddle. Move your horse over, safe stops, turns, a building block for bending at the walk, plus two track and sidepass which are advanced moves. But the horse has to know the basics first. 

Joseph Wieting has Houdini, a mustang, yield his hindquarters from the saddle. Remember in beginning moves that you exaggerate  the teach so as horse and rider learn the cues become less obvious. In a well trained horse cues are often not seen. 

Then after practicing some of these things we did cruise control. Put your horse in a desired gait for five minutes, allow him to travel where he wants, no turning allowed but you can do a one rein stop. The purpose is to further practice the one rein stop, when the horse builds speed you one rein stop, if he breaks gait - you one rein stop. By no turning allowed the horse doesn't get a lot of mixed signals. However with 7 horses we got a bit bunched up which made me nervous but it was good for the horses and all of us too. 

I dubbed it cruise chaos but it wasn't really that bad and no one fell off! left to right, Trish Frahm, Beth Nicholes, Robin Peterson and Joseph Weiting. The horses like to follow and bunch up but no one ran into anybody LOL

In addition to all that we did the sending exercise, lunging for respect stage one and two. Bending or circling at the walk. All that is just the tip of the iceberg of what all of us and our horses learned! It was interesting to note that the horses that came the first day that were pushy and disrepectful quickly improved. The horses who would not give to a rein and flex were doing great by Friday. Saturday we put it all together for different uses. And I think everyone left with a more respectful horse that was easier to handle and more responsive to ride. Therefore they now owned a safer horse which means MORE fun! 

Laura Nicholes, 7, on their pony, Snip

1 comment:

AareneX said...

Nice post--and you're totally right about needing/wanting a better trained horse now than I did 20(or more) years ago!