Saturday, September 5, 2009

The lazy horse

"He's really lazy!" Or stubborn. Or dull. Take your pick, we hear it all the time in regards to horses. Don't get me wrong, there are horses out there, just as people, who just don't naturally have the greatest work ethics or who naturally are not as responsive as we would like. But partnerships with said horses don't have to be frustrating and fraught with conflict.

It is not about the horse. You, as the rider, have the choice of creating either a soft and light horse who is responsive to your aids, or a dull horse who ignores you. What people a lot of times do not realize is that a horse being lazy has more to do with them than the horse. The horse might be more inclined to be lazy or stubborn, but if you are working in partnership with said horse, they're working in partnership with you...which means they're working in harmony with you rather than resisting you.

Lack of impulsion is a lack of respect. The respectful horse says "yes sir, how fast, how far?" rather than "do I have to?". This is not the horse's fault though, because respect cannot be expected until it is earned - by you, the rider. Build a higher level of respect between you and your horse, as well as a higher level of responsibility in your horse, and you get a higher level of impulsion. Build up your partnership and they'll do what you ask of them because they want to and not just because you said so.

So, how do you solve the problem? Under-saddle, here is what I do with all the horses I work with (...from the Parelli website - in blue, with my comments in boring old black italics...):

Most people are told to kick a horse to go, which is ridiculous when you think about it from a horse's point of view. Imagine if you were kicked in the ribs on the way to the dance floor... what would your attitude be towards that dance partner? Would you even want to go?

Kicking a horse to go is one of my pet peeves - it's got to be one of the rudest things you could do to a horse (in my opinion). Kick any of our own horses and you will either have a horse bolting because you just applied a lot of sudden pressure (unnecessarily), or a horse giving you a sharp little warning buck because he's ticked off you "spoke" to him so rudely. I remember John Lyons instructing the rider to spank in lieu of kicking and I could never agree more.

By using four distinct phases of polite assertiveness, the horse can quickly become a willing partner; happy to take our lead to the dance floor.
Phase 1 – Smile with all your cheeks! Take a long focus, stretch your hand out in front of you with the reins, and tighten your cheeks. If the horse has not moved forward from this suggestion, continue through the phases and be ready to release as soon as there's forward movement.
Phase 2 – Squeeze with your legs, starting at the top, then all the way down to your heels (turn your toes outward to make smooth contact). This is not a strong squeeze. If you are straining or getting cramps, it's too strong! Remember, a horse can feel a fly land on him.
Phase 3 – Smooch while holding the squeeze, do not let go with your legs.
Phase 4 – Spank. Start by spanking yourself lightly slap your shoulders from side to side with the end of a rope.
Allow the rope to grow longer and keep up the flapping rhythm until it starts touching your horse on the sides of his hindquarters, letting it get progressively stronger if he has not responded.The moment your horse responds, release your legs, quit spanking, and keep smiling. If he stops or slows, repeat the phases again. Always begin with Phase 1.

At first, release when the horse gives you the slightest try. It's the release that teaches, so it is absolutely crucial to release at the right time so as to teach the right thing and to reward the horse for the effort given. Expect a lot, accept little. Progressively ask for more. Also, when you're first starting, use long phases - as you progress with your horse, you can use shorter/quicker phases as you ask/expect more responsibility of your horse.

Some common mistakes:
- Probably the most common mistake is kicking out of habit, quickly losing whatever respect you just earned, so really keep a watch out for this.
- Another mistake is to keep squeezing and/or spanking after the horse has made the effort to go forward. This feels unfair and confuses the horse because they don't know what the right behavior is.
- Be sure to put slack in the reins. It's a common habit to put contact in the reins when the horse goes forward. This is sometimes enough to confuse a horse trying to do the right thing. This is where the Level 2 Harmony Program techniques can really help.

Begin each time at Phase 1 and be prepared to go to Phase 4. Finally, be sure there's enough 'life' in your body when you ride. Think about how fast you want your horse to go and bring up enough life in your body to stimulate that... then let the squeezing, smooching and spanking support it. Your horse will learn very quickly how to get in tune with you.

I also do a lot of patterns with the unmotivated horse, including one I learned in a Jonathan Field clinic - Point to Point. I start at one point in the arena - Point A - and halt. I turn the horse to another point in the arena - Point B - and go through my phases quickly to get a w/t/c (depending on where the horse is in its training) to Point B. Between Point A and Point B, I only correct - first with leg and seat, then with hand - as necessary, and I don't nag. If the horse is moving at a sluggish pace, I leave him alone unless he changes gait - I don't correct him as he is about to make a mistake, I only correct him once he actually makes the mistake. As soon as we get to Point B, I ask for a woah (relax my body, then use reins if necessary). The horse has to stop on the exact point I picked out - if not, I move her back to that point. The horse knows where that point is (you should have your eyes on it and your rectangle of aids - composed of your hands and legs - should have kept the horse in a straight line toward Point B), so expect them to stop on that exact point. If you don't care, the horse won't care - the lack of precision will reflect in all aspects. We rest a moment (depending on the horse, the really unmotivated horse gets to rest the longest - reverse psychology), I pick out a new Point B, and so we continue. Rest is a huge motivator, particularly to the unmotivated horse - I use it in everything I do; whenever the horse does something to my satisfaction, she earns a rest break. Essentially this game does a number of things:
- it teaches the horse responsibility and earns their respect (ie. do as I say when I say or I go through these particular phases, stop when I ask where I ask, etc)
- teaches snappy, light departs and responsive, light halts (I relax, horse stops) - great transition work (which is a result of respect). The horse soon starts offering more.
- motivates the horse to work for you!

Another thing to keep in mind is to do something the horse enjoys! Mix your patterns and games up in the arena, hack out, send your horse over ground poles and cavelleti, heck, even work on your patterns and exercises outside in a field. The best thing you could do: give your horse a job to do. Everything improves when you do, including respect level, because the horse wants to do what you ask. Pretty soon that carries over to areas they're maybe not so psyched about (like arena work) because you've set the precedence of them wanting to do what you ask and so they do as you suggest anyways, even if the activity is not all that enjoyable to them.

On the ground, you can earn a higher level of respect through playing games horses play out in pasture together. Personally, I use the Parelli 7 games as well as the patterns: I have the horse navigate patterns in increasing levels on the ground, have them move their front and and hind end around, have them circle responsibly (without my micro-managing) around me, etc. Get your horse moving her feet more than you move yours. Be fair but assertive (but never aggressive). your horse's friend and act like a worthy partner they want to work for.

1 comment:

lee woo said...

Love it! Very interesting topics, I hope the incoming comments and suggestion are equally positive. Thank you for sharing this information that is actually helpful.