Monday, January 27, 2014

A Soft Wall

     I didn't start writing blogs to teach people how to train horses but, rather I wanted to share information on how to become better and (hopefully) more successful at their horse endeavors.  To that end, on occassion I write about discussions we've had at the barn.  Here I go again....
     When I ride, people (not just clients) often ask questions and so I get a chance to explain what I'm doing and why.  The other day, I was working with an older horse, a horse that can be a little afraid of moving up to the bridle when loping.  Now this horse has a lot of natural head set and can pretty much "hang" in the bridle as long as nothing is asked of him.  Well, that doesn't work for Trail and it certainly doesn't work when trying to improve a horse's collection. 
     So, I will let the horse hit my hands when it hits the bit.  I don't pull or jerk, I just create a soft, pliable wall with my hands.  I tighten my fingers on the reins but my hands stay put.  After the horse hits this "soft wall", it will drop back to the bridle as I push him with my legs (being careful to not add too much momentum).
     Using this technique, the horse will lean to move up to the bridle when asked and not to be afraid of the bridle because you're not hurting his mouth, you're just containing him.  You've made it easy for him to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing.
     This method is borrowed from classic dressage and it helps greatly if the horse has been bitted-up and worked properly from the ground during longing or ground driving.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Orleans

     As many of you know, I love to travel and see "the world", I like to walk and wander the streets of a city, just absorbing everything around me.  I was back in New Orleans recently doing just that.
     The French Quarter in New Orleans has many mule-pulled wagons for tourists.  For the most part, the mules are well cared for and are suitable for the job so I like to go down, deep into the "Quarter" and admire them.  I was really annoyed though at one driver, here's what happened.....
     There's a lot of crazy traffic in New Orleans, tourists and locals driving the narrow streets, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, bicycle carts, noise, music and lots of confusion - even a one-man-band taking up a lane of traffic as he played and pushed his "float" of dozens of instruments down the middle of the road. 
     So, this mule driver somehow got into a real problem at an intersection.  It probably wasn't his fault (not sure) but instead of calmly trying to get out of a bad situation, he lost his cool, got really mad - cussing etc. - and nearly got his mule hurt and his wagon wrecked.  He darn near jack-knifed his wagon and in the process almost hit a car (who was probably the problem in the first place) and put his mule in a very precarious situation.
     The mule "knew better" and didn't want to make the turn but the driver forced the mule.  Now, in this case it all turned out ok but not because of the wagon driver who thoughtlessly put his mule at risk.  So, what bothers me about this?  Well, several things really.
     Firstly, we as horse people do not make good decisions when we are mad.  The thinking human in this case lost his temper and was not taking care of his animal or even himself.
     Secondly, all good training is based on trust.  The bargain we make with horses is that we will take care of them and not put them in harm's way.  We will be responsible in our expectations and our behavior.  The horse's (or mule's!) part of the bargain is to willingly do what we ask and give their utmost when needed.
     Thirdly, we as a horse community must be very aware of how we are perceived by the non-horse-owning public.  This mule was well cared for and this was probably an isolated incident but I'm sure many people were aghast by what they saw of the driver's actions and reactions.
     Here's the big problem: I think that if we in the horse community are not careful in our actions, we stand to be interfered-with by well meaning but ignorant animal rights groups.  The non-horse-owning public and even some owners with little experience are often not qualified or  prepared to understand the relationship between horses and their trainers and riders/handlers.  I firmly believe that only horsemen have the knowledge to give the best care and insure that horses lead good and productive lives.
     Horses and mules are not pets, they are working animals.  Most, if trained properly, are happy with this bargain we make.  Just watch any good horse doing "his job" and I'm sure you will agree.  This relationship could change if we allow outside sources to have input into the care and training of horses.  The only way to prevent this is to make sure we conduct ourselves in a professional and horseman-like manner at all times!  See you next week!  JD (And...... Go 'Hawks!!)

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Side Pass

     I see many people struggle with the side pass.  Often their horses have not had enough basic work leading up to the side pass and sometimes the horse is just not ready.  This makes for lots and lots of resistance on the part of the horse.
     So briefly, here are some of the steps I go through in developing a good side pass:  First, the horse must do good walking and small jogging circles - bending through them with their whole body, stepping up with their inside hind leg and dropping down nicely into bridle while wrapping around my inside leg.
     Second, I like to spiral the jogging circles, making them large then small again by applying my inside and outside leg appropriately.  This begins to move the horse's rib cage.  The rib cage is so important!
     Next, I like to teach a counter bend, preferably at both the walk and jog.  Often it is easier to introduce this maneuver from a jog as the momentum really helps.  Again, make sure the horse is yielding softly and dropping down in the bridle. 
     I rarely find it necessary to use a fence when teaching a side pass, it's just not necessary and I think it can create another set of problems to deal with later.  I also rarely start a horse side-passing over a pole, I'll introduce the pole later, when the horse is comfortable with the basics of the maneuver.
     When the horse is totally comfortable and accepting of all this, then I start the side pass.  I like to ask my horse to step forward (from a stop, then ask him to move laterally over.  Be sure to give your horse a space to move into by releasing or opening up your leg on the side the horse is moving into.  If the horse starts to lead with his shoulder, I stop the shoulder (essentially blocking the horse momentarily with rein and my leg slightly in back of the cinch) and move the hip until it is in line with the shoulder.  If the horse's hip is getting ahead of his shoulder, I open my off rein up and "push" the shoulder with the opposite rein and use my leg right at the cinch.  If the horse gets balky and resistant, I move him forward and try it again.  If he's still resisting, I might work on something else for a while, let my horse clear his mind, then come back to try the side pass again with a fresh start.
     I always finish a side pass with the horse's body in a straight line - never curved.  Over time you will get a nice side pass with the horse crossing over in the front and the back.  Hope this helps!  Talk to you next week, JD.