Friday, November 28, 2008

Figuring Out The Parts

There is always a maneuver that causes each and every horse person to struggle. Sometimes we struggle with the concept, sometimes the application and the hardest, the execution. There are so many technical terms when it comes to teaching horses how to do the things we want them to do that sometimes the simplicity of it all gets lost. People who try to make training horses sound like some giant and mysterious process are either filled with their own ego or lack the ability to explain it in layman's terms.

Irregardless of the event, training a horse to do ANY maneuver breaks down to getting all of his body parts moving in the correct way. It is only the nuances of those maneuvers that make any difference. Those a person has to learn either from an expert or from watching a lot of horses perform at various levels and then look for the consistent factors.

My personal mindblock came down to figuring out how to move a horse's shoulders. Ohhh, I knew the concept. I knew the application. As long as everything was going fine!! When push came to shove though...I threw out the method and resorted to old style self preservation. And got myself into several wrecks. Luckily, I was never hurt and the horse was never hurt. It was just humiliating though, to have people watching while I lost control of the direction my horse was heading.

I started breaking colts when I was 12. To me, it was perfectly natural. My dad broke horses for people so almost everything around his place was pretty green. In those days, things were pretty basic-you sacked out a horse, saddled him, let him buck, chased him around the round pen til he was tired and then got on and rode. The first few rides you just rather sat there and maybe plow-reined him a bit if you could. Sure, some of them still bucked a bit the first few rides, but you learned to just pull that head around til they stopped and then you would just line them out again.

Boy, I think I just heard the collective gasp of the natural horsemanship crowd. All, I can tell you is that I broke a hellava lotta colts that way and never ruined a one. Back then, if you wanted to get a horse broke, you rode him. The loving, the petting, the gentling stayed in the barn. When you stepped on, it was time to go to work. It made for pretty good saddle horses.

Sorry, got kinda OT-Really the point I was getting at was the plow-reining. Back in those days, everything was plow-reined until they were pretty broke and then you worked on neck-reining. That is just how things were done. That is how people knew you were riding a colt. Plow-reining is simply pulling on one rein to tip the horse's head in that direction and then you kicked with the opposite foot until the colt moved in that direction. Colts picked it up pretty good in the round pen, but once you moved to the pasture, they might go a long way before they decided to turn. All I ever knew was just to pull harder and kick harder until they either turned or their nose was cranked around and they had to stop, move their hindquarters around and head off facing in the new direction.

Hmmm....see the error of my ways? I do too...NOW.

So, when I went to college to learn how to actually train horses, I learned some new techniques. Round penning made more sense. The first few rides made more sense. And the colt I got progressed a lot faster than anything I had ever trained before. He was a nice colt. A 3y/o Leopard Appy gelding. He was easy to break out and picked things up pretty quick. But, he learned to do one particular maneuver that I just couldn't figure out how to stop, much less fix.

He would be loping a nice circle. We would do inside bend work and outside bend work...and then ole' appy would just blow that shoulder to the outside and take off. My first instinct was always to pull his nose into the circle to stop him. That horse could kiss my boot while hauling ass in the other direction. Of course, he couldn't see where he was going and I don't think he much cared. He was just gonna leave. We bounced off a few walls and it actually got to where I was hoping he would, because that was the only thing that stopped him. I tried releasing his head a few times, but he just took that as his cue to bolt even harder. I sure didn't want to lope this horse much after the first few times he did this little maneuver. Smart horse huh? He knew what he was doing.

The riding instructor tried and tried to explain to me what I needed to do to stop this. I listened, I understood and when it would happen again...I resorted to pulling his head around. The instructor resorted to riding Appy himself. He bolted once! In about 2 strides, the instructor had Appy lined out and loping in his circle again. I was getting really POed at this point, because I knew how easy this should be to control, but I just couldn't get the job done.


Andrea said...

Oh I hated when that happened. When I couldn't get my horse to do something my my instructor will get on and make it look like a piece of cake.

It's a lot harder than watching a few movies and reading a few books. You have to get out there and ride, feel, and experience.

And I didn't casp when you talked about breaking out colts. I do about two to three weeks of ground work and line driving, then it's time to get on. I don't do all those "games" and such, no need to beat around the bush. I still believe that riding is the only way to really get a horse broke.

Can't wait to hear what happens next.

Vaquerogirl said...

I've been riding and breaking horses all my life too- and I did pretty much what you did- except I have always done ground driving in there too. I took my very first 'lesson' when I was 47- the trainer misunderstood and thought I had never been on a horse ever. Boy was he impressed- at first!
Any way- we all have our issues- and it helps when you can identify them. I'm stuck with lead changes- know how, know the theory- can't get my horse to do them...still working at it EVERY day!
Can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

Melanie said...

Ooooohhh another great story!!!! I grew up riding a lot of horses (well broke, well trained, show horses) who were trained the way you described, and I agree that it usually did not cause any harm to the horse whatsoever.

I often struggle with what I call the "natural horsemanship" movement, because some of them (not all though), put way to much emphasis on ground work, and not enough emphasis on riding. I guess it's great if your horse responds and listens to you on the ground, but if you are a rider, what matters is if, and how, they respond and listen to you under saddle.

And, as most riders will tell you, how they react under saddle may drastically differ from how they react on the ground. That being said, I am a believer in ground driving, and taking time to introduce a horse to the world of riding, just not months and!!!

PS-Hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Mrs. Mom said...

What makes a well trained horse?

Wet Saddle Blankets.

Pony Girl said...

Natural horsemanship isn't just all loves and pats and sunshine and rainbows :). I think the bad rap NH gets is because people assume it is nothing but spoiling your horse. And if done in the wrong hands by people who don't understand it, I think it can be misused, and perceived that way. However, if you watch horseman like Buck Brannaman, you'll see there is no spoiling. It's just a different way or getting the same destination. And although Parelli does do an awful lot of groundwork, I do think the upper levels focus more on riding.
I like reading your stories! Hope you had a happy thanksgiving!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving...I hope you all did too. There is nothing better than good food, good friends and just the right amount of celebratory spirits.;)

Guys...natural horsemanship gets the same bad rap that "cowboying" a horse does. I've seen a few horses ruined by rough and abusive handling. Something that some moron thought a cowboy would do. I've also been around some spoiled, hateful POS's that have had nothing but Natural Horsemanship things done with them. Neither is right!!!
While I hope the stereo-type of "cowboying" a horse keeps people from overly abusing a horse, I also hope the stereo-type of the pissed off NH-trained horse running all over his owner keeps people from going overboard with that method too.
A real horseman walks right down the middle of that road. One day he may have to step over and give ole' Thunder a bit of rough treatment and the next he may have to do a bit of petting and loving.

And lets just face it...for as long as humans have had domestic horses, there have been good horsemen and poor horsemen. We are not reinventing the wheel, we are just smoothing out the bumps in the road.

Unknown said...

And? And? And?

Sigh. It's going to be a long time between posts...


Train Wreck said...

Very good post! I agree. It is nothing new. Perfect comment as far as good and poor horsemen. I think it is allba matter of what works for you. You sound like you could teach the instructor a few things now!

Vegas baby you ready?? We are leaving MON!!

Gracie's Mom said...

Your story really resonates with me. While I don't agree with the gal who told me their method of breaking colts was to "pinch" them to get a halter on and then tie them to a rubber line until they learned to stop pulling back, I also think that horses who have a job tend to be a lot better all-around horses than ones who are just ridden around in circles all the time. And I say that because I had a horse who's job was to ride around in circles, and it sucked! She was a nightmare! Not only that, but people get tired of riding in circles--so then of course the horse is bored as well and that's when they decide to start making things interesting! :) I am also a rider who needs a few minutes (or hours, or sometimes a day) to absorb what an instructor is telling me. And my instructor has absolutely no patience. Luckily for him, he's a lot better at setting the horses up for success than people! So what did your instructor tell you to do to fix the bolting?