The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Out for a Walk

Yesterday, I wanted to go for a walk, and I wanted to take a horse with me, preferably Bridget.  I must have been a little less tired than the day before, because when I walked into the field, halter in hand, and said to George, "No, I'm not taking you out right now, I'm taking that one," he didn't object. Maybe it was because they'd just been moved into the fresh (although still not very fresh, given the long drought) pasture, or maybe it was because I'd mustered up just enough energy to convince him.

As I haltered Bridget, George walked past, and she spooked back a little.  But he wasn't going for her - I think he just gave her a look which said, "Don't let this give you any ideas above your station, young lady."

Bridget was full of curiosity as we walked down the road.  She stopped for frequent snacks but was always ready to continue forward when asked.  When we got to the corner of Garlands' lane, I asked her if she wanted to go straight, go home, or turn down the lane.  She chose the lane.

In the distance, the other horses were whinnying - but Bridget ignored them.  Why do the left-behind ones always get worried, while the one going out doesn't seem to care?  We stopped for more snacks. That's our barn in the distance.

On the way home, Bridget displayed a little reluctance, sometimes, to proceed.  Having not "trained" her to move forward on command, I resorted to my usual tactic, namely walking briskly in the direction I wish to go and hoping she'll follow me.  Mostly she did, and I only felt a couple of tugs on the leadrope. 

This kind of interaction represents the sort of haphazard progress we're making, and the kind of compromises inherent in our way of doing things.  Ideally, I suppose, we would dispense with tack altogether.  But then she couldn't come out on fun outings. She probably would not have followed me without a leadrope, but she knows the leadrope represents some sort of temporary bond between us that kind of makes us a team.  KFH has his horses trained to reliably respond without tack, but he doesn't start out with no tack, and he initiates the horse's movement using a helper-with-a-whip.  I just can't see going out and following this, or any other, program  - following a set program seems to be a non-starter for me these days. With both George and Bridget, however, I have started to teach them to stop when I raise my hand.  I think it will be appropriate, as time goes by, and we become more attuned to each other, to introduce more deliberate cues of this kind.

What I find is that the horses' attention is very diffuse and mobile.  When I think of a horse who is working with a person, I think of that horse's attention being very focussed on the human, very on-task.  Our horses are not like that.  They seem to hold me in suspension somewhere in their attention, amidst a host of other things.  I am most certainly not the hub of their wheel.  Sometimes it's hard to accept this.  But I'm becoming conscious that this is an ok place to be, a place which traditional horsemanship would say is dangerous because the horse is not instantly responsive to my commands.  But it's not just bad-old-days horse trainers who have focussed horses. Horse people whom I respect - Spilker, Resnick, KFH - do have horses who are very focussed on the work they're doing together.

It's just where I'm at, and there's not a thing I can do about it except go with the flow.  Any time I wanted, I could throw in the towel, get me a round pen and a long whip, and have those horses paying all kinds of attention - I'd even be sweet and kind about it.  But that would be a shortcut to the wrong place.

When Bridget and I got back to the pasture, George was, of course, hovering by the gate.  I asked him to move off a few times, to no avail. Then he decided to go get a drink, which gave Bridget the opportunity to nip in. I think he does stuff like that because he really does want to be helpful but it's just difficult for him to admit he was wrong, and by going to get a drink he could allow her to come in and still save face.  Am I crazy?


  1. I think you're about George there and it's great that you give him the chance to find his own solution. I'm sure you'll get a lot of respect for that. It's so easy for us humans to just force a horse to do what we want when we want it, like the programs that recommend that you have to be the alpha at all times. I think it's a form of bullying though and who wants to be with a bully?

    I don't follow any program either. I think Spilker, Resnick and KFH have such innate magnetism with horses, that anything they do works for them. I find that what works for one horse does not work for another and then I get confused, so I read the books but I try to take my cue from the horses now. I read a review on KFH's new book and it posed two questions: 'Does my horse like to be with me' and 'Do I like to be with me'. Very interesting. I'm looking forward to this book!

  2. Thanks for the affirmation!

    Me too - I'm really looking forward to Klaus's book.