Ground Work: Part 2
July 3, 2020
The Energy you bring with you each time you are with your horse will set the tone for that day.
Spend any amount of time around horses and you’ll stop looking at them as dumb animals and realize they’re quite intelligent as well as emotional creatures just like we are. To be able to see this though you have to drop the per-conceived notion that they’re dumb animals that need to be beaten into submission in order to get anything accomplished. People who think that way about horses should consider what its like for the horse on the receiving end of that thought process. Quite simply, if you honestly believe you have to strike your horse to get results then you’re doing it wrong.
Horses have similar emotions as people do. They have good days and bad days. They experience happy and sad as we do. They grow very strong bonds of friendship as we do. What I mean by that is that they can bond to another horse in such a manner as not wanting to be away from the other horse. There are many stories of two horses being separated for one reason or another only to be reunited years later and the resulting reunion can be very emotional and stirring to witness.
Horses want, desire and even need a strong leader. Someone they feel comfortable placing their trust in. In the horses mind trust equates to survival. Horses are mentally wired to need to trust their leader and their herd to be healthy and happy. Having someone worthy of that trust is a matter of survival. That is how their mind works because they are prey animals and herd oriented. Notice, I said a strong leader – not a tyrant – who can be trusted. Yelling, showing anger and striking them when you the human are not getting what you think you want, is not how they define a leader worthy of their trust. Humans have a word for this type of person.
So, what is a novice, beginner, intermediate, or advanced horseman to do? Well, if you’re intermediate or advanced you already – or should – already know what to do. This is mostly for the novice, beginner and intermediate horsemen. Even perhaps those advanced that thought they were doing things correctly mostly because that’s how they were taught. Lets define what a strong leader is:
- calm and focused
- willing to listen
When I first got my gelding Sonny I made him a promise. I promised him that nothing in my hand would ever hurt him or cause him pain. I made him that promise because the very first time I had him in the round pen for some exercise I picked up the lounge whip and he flinched. As soon as I saw that I knew there wasn’t going to be any running in the round pen that evening. We spent the next hour getting to know just what that thing is for. It is to motivate and communicate a level of energy. Not to strike a horse with.
These days I use what’s referred to as a carrot stick – a slightly shorter stick and no whip – with a grocery bag attached to the end. The rattling bag at the end better and more directly communicates my level of energy with much less effort allowing me to remain much more focused while not unduly scaring the crap out of my horse.
I would show him the item and let him smell it, examine it, even let him put it in his mouth and toss it around. Then I would rub him with it. Crack it a few times and then rub him with it some more. When I saw him start to relax around it I started throwing it gently over his back and around his legs and belly. We were 20 minutes into this exercise when he began licking and chewing which was my signal that he was understanding and accepting what I was showing him.
I was showing him that which he feared when it was in my hand would not hurt him. I was building trust with him. That bond of trust Sonny and I share is deep and precious and is the foundation of our relationship. He teaches me things and every now and then I actually teach him something. I say now and then because as I’ve mentioned before he knows a lot and has a lot to teach and I’m more than willing to learn.
No matter the age of the horseman you’re never too old or experienced to learn something new. The teacher is not always human.
There have been times I’ve been frustrated with my horse or my wife’s horse Belle who is much younger than Sonny. We started her from scratch; she’ll be 8 in July 2020. The one thing I will never do is face them when I’m angry. If I absolutely cannot keep from losing my cool while working with them I will turn my back to them and let it out. Usually in the form of a few choice words. Never yelling and often sounding like a crazy person talking to myself. Then, take a deep breath and move on till I can find a good point to exit.
Remember that plastic bag on the stick I mentioned? I never touch him with it. I don’t let him make friends with it and I never, under any circumstances use it to intimidate him. It has one purpose and that is to help me more efficiently communicate with him my energy level. Think of it like the gas peddle in your car. The more pressure you use the faster your car goes. You’re raising the energy level. The more energy I put behind the bag by raising it in the air, the more pressure I’m putting on him to move his feet, The end result is he moves faster. Its that simple. That can also translate into rapid response as it relates to directional changes or stops.~Mark Weaver
If you're willing to learn there are many teachers. Not all of them are human!