Posted - 09/29/2006 : 12:21:16 PM
After reading posts from beginners asking for help and after physically helping my niece last weekend, I decided to share my philosophy and experience with horses.
GROUNDWORK, we have all heard the term but exactly what does it mean? Most people who follow their favourite guru's training method will tell you its - games, roundpen work, waving sticks - but what is it really?
Horses are huge animals with a strong flight instinct. We want the horse to tune into us, listen to us, and only us, and not be concerned about things going on around them. We want them to be submissive and obedient. If their attention does stray then we want to be able to get it back immediately.
Horses have to be taught to stay with us on the lead. It is not fun being dragged around by a 1000 lb horse, or having same horse pull away and go play in the traffic, so we need to teach them they must always stay with us - always - that is never optional!!!
We need to understand some basic methods when working around horses. We are built on two long sticks, with a wide pelvic bone, a bunch of little bones stacked on top of each other with a huge round ball on top and long sticks coming out the top. What kind of chance of injury do we have after looking at our conformational makeup? Lots!!! Wrenched shoulders and knees, broken fingers, step on toes, hurt backs, bumped heads. In order to be safe and healthy we need to develop some safe habits, and understand the reasoning behind them.
Always stand square, with feet pointing ahead.- picture standing in the back of a moving pickup truck. If you get bumped you have a much better recovery chance side to side than front to back and also, your feet are out of the stepping path. Keep your arms close to your sides and use your body to absorb some of the shocks. If a horse yanks hard, let the rope play through your hands, you are not big enough to pull that horse down physically.
We put them in a confined area so if they do pull away, they won't get hurt and we can retrieve them.
We start with a halter and a long cotton lead and gloves (rope burns are not fun). Right hand 4 to 6" from the halter, the tail of the rope in a big lope in the left hand. We stand with our body square to the horse and ask him to walk ahead. If he trys, then stop, pet his neck and try again. If he drags, stop and back him up sharply. Turn yourself square again and ask to go ahead. Repeat until the horse is walking quietly at your shoulder and paying attention to only you. Once you get a nice forward walk, then work on Whoa!! And whoa means only whoa, it means stand still and never move your feet until you are told. If you get a whoa and then wiggles, back them up again. They will soon realize that working is harder than standing still.
Why am I so concerned about body position? Remember your favourite guru and the "magic" he creates - well it really isn't magic it is just he understands horse psychology and knows where to put his body and when. Horses are masters at body language, just sit and watch a herd interact. If you understand how horses respond to body language then working with them becomes much easier.
When we square our body to the horse and lean forward the horse instinctively knows that we are going to step forward and they are to follow, if I lean back they will get prepared to stop. If I look directly at them, move so my body is facing them and take one step toward them, almost any horse is going to move away. That is how things work in the horse world. I also teach my horses to stay where they are when I turn and point my toes at them. That cue means, pay attention to me - and only me. No more annoying trying to eat grass, or seeing what is happening or wiggling.
This groundwork is setting up a system so that the horse will always be paying attention to us, and they will always follow our body, or move away if we step into their space. Sometimes a dressage whip - or magic stick - is needed to reinforce the demands, sometimes you need a rope halter, sometimes a stud chain. It all depends on the horse, you start out quietly and softly and then change equipment as the horse dictates.
All our horses whether brood mares, games horses, trail horses, show horses, or boarders are all handled exactly the same way. I want respect, and I demand immediate compliance. I want a horse that always stays beside me, stands when I tell it and moves away if I direct. I do not pull or tug or push. They soon learn its much easier to go along with my way of thinking!
Anyone who is having problems with your horse, try this. It isn't easy, you do it over and over and over again but the results are definitely worth the work involved. If this proves helpful I will do another segment.