Monday, March 15, 2010

Wonder Rider

This time the FSOTD blog post was in regards to a girl who can (gasp!) ride!! Yeah. It sort of inadvertently happens when you are around horses a long time and have ridden a lot, Cathy. You sorta learn to ride along the way. I will refrain from remarking on Cathy's own riding habits despite alleged years in the saddle, but honestly!!! What the girl is doing is certainly nothing special, for a young lithe rider who has spent years in the saddle. Check out the video Breathe.

Such riding should not usually be necessary however - for the most part. The 8yo Paint I trained last year had bucked off his owner as a 4yo and had not been ridden since. When I first worked with him on the ground it was obvious, just as with the first horse in the video Breathe, that he was going to buck if I got on him (exact same displays of behaviour). He was fearful, reactive, and dangerous (and studly, to boot!). When I did saddle him my first week with him, he immediately humped up and acted like he was about to explode. And the first time or two I worked with him on the ground with a saddle on his back, he did explode, in much the same way as that first bay in the video. SO I DID NOT GET ON. I worked with him on the ground, had a few tense moments here and there in the saddle later, and eventually (over 60 days) produced a horse who was henceforth ridden on a daily basis by his owners on their ranch. One of our Thoroughbreds (my main guy, Link), whom I acquired late 2008, was extremely explosive under-saddle when I first got him. So much so, that I quit riding him for several months until I could sort out his myriad of issues on the ground first. He would just explode under-saddle (and on the ground, of course) and there was absolutely no stopping him. Now however, he is going great and is currently working towards showing Training Level dressage this year. We worked from the ground up though and thus I never had to invite his head nailing my nose into my brain, because by the time we got to the saddle work, he was ready for it.

I am not saying this girl is wrong in getting on (to each their own and she is not abusing the horses, plus we only see short clips of her actual time with each horse so cannot propose to know the full story), but the method she is using really does invite possible injury and it does escalate the situation, which can result in a terrible experience for the horse and/or a horse/rider injury or even death. Just for me personally, it is not worth it. I can and will ride through a buck or two, or even more if necessary (and my main Thoroughbred does have panic attacks every so often still yet that I usually ride through), however if the horse is going to full-blown explode such as did some of the horses in the video, and (seemingly) often - I can and will work it out on the ground first, because it works and is safer. The bay horse at the beginning of the video is clearly upset, reactive, dangerous, and not focusing on the individual longeing. Safe to mount? Nope. If he is not paying attention to the person on the ground, there is no way in hell he is going to pay attention to a person on his back. Work with the horse until they are safe, relaxed, and focused on the ground, then mount up. I know many proclaim it impossible to work through an under-saddle problem with a horse without riding it, but that simply just is not true. The reasons for problems under-saddle: tension, fear, disrespect, are all root causes that can be resolved on the ground. The loose, supple, relaxed, trusting, respectful, happy horse is going to remain so under-saddle (to an extent).

I just kept thinking throughout watching the video: sure the young woman has a nice velcro seat, but she is on the horses' mouths quite a bit (though she is actually decent in that respect, and I do not blame her with the bolter in that particular scenario), is using spurs (such as with the grey Arabian) to push already fearful and reactive horses forward (which carries the high risk of increasing the horse's fear response because you are increasing the pressure), is seemingly always carrying a whip (which she uses for punishment, though granted it is simply a dressage whip and she only taps lightly)...and man, that's just a lot of horses that buck under her!!!! Why do they all want her off? I love the challenge and associated rewards of working with the tough problem horses too, but they don't all buck by the time we progress to under-saddle work! In fact when they do, I know I have pushed them too much (which sometimes is necessary with a horse in training, unfortunately, just due to the logistics of time constraints, but not to that extent). There is the bay at the dressage show - if he was such a problem horse (who nearly flipped over backwards), what is he doing at a show? Was he really ready yet? Is that correct training and riding to be applauded? Or is it a mistake on her (the trainer's) part, or even ill training? Granted it is rather difficult to judge from my seat at my desk.

The 'after' clips do show improved horses and so I have to applaud that. I personally don't like every detail (some of the nosebands, tense tails/backs, riders' loud legs, possible hand-dominated headsets [??], etc), however I am being a bit picky because the overall picture is one where the horse is obviously much happier and more compliant than initially. Also, I appreciate this girl's philosophies. Like I said, overall she is creating useful horses out of former problem horses and is trying to educate people along the way, so I am not trying to sound overly down on her (sorry!). Her methods simply differ from my own and those I admire, and that is ok because she appears to still be doing good by the horses (which I respect, because it is what is ultimately what is important). I just thought Cathy could have featured something even better I guess; the rider in question is a good rider, but not beyond what I would expect of someone experienced with horses and who is training problem horses is all. Furthermore, I do not think that what she (the rider, that is) is doing on those horses (as an experienced rider who knows how to get out of sticky situations and how far to/not to push a horse) is recommended for the average rider, as Cathy obviously believes (heck, Cathy tells beginners to take note in her blog!). Cathy also points this out as being better than what Linda Parelli was doing - how so if they ultimately produce the same (and in my opinion, Linda's methods can produce better, but that's just my biased opinion)? I can personally attest to the Parelli method turning out horses with similar and better behaviours of the 'after' vids of the horses in question in the video, because I have done so myself, using Parelli methods (including on horses formerly deemed 'untrainable' who later turned out to be fantastic dressage/jumping/youth prospects) - and often without the 'chaos' in between. And this LACK of pissy behaviours Cathy speaks of? The horses were definitely going much better in the 'after' vids, however I did see some pissy behaviours afterward.

Here is an excellent 'after' for a problem-horse. Gaston is a former stud and was quite dangerous at one time. Parelli Natural Horsemanship, btw.

Here is a video of another problem horse, Quincy, trained by Jonathan Field (the instructor I initially learned Parelli from):

I can assure you none of the above riders used spurs or whips and they did not 'ride out the buck' (etc). Also, they have successfully dealt with many a problem horse since! What they do, I would (and do) definitely recommend to beginners.

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