I'm going to be honest-way back in the day I never really did a lot of thinking about trying to read what a horse was telling me. Oh, I knew about the big things in terms of ground manners- personal space, lead from the left, etc. But I never really thought about what the horse was telling me before I ever climbed on his (or her) back.
Of course, once you know better you do better. And I know a lot more than I did even 10 years ago. And in the past 5 years I have learned even more.
I've learned to pay attention to how the horse responds when I go to halter them. Irish is pretty easy going and you can walk up to him and throw a rope over his neck to lead into the barn. Carmen is a bit trickier. She sometimes walks right up, sometimes hesitates. When she hesitates I don't push because that sends her even further away. And that sets up a dynamic that I do not want. Instead I create a whole 'no big deal' vibe with my body and usually spend some time scratching Irish or even sitting on the ground. I'm trying to not get into chasing her. If she moves away we can get into the game of 'can't catch me' and it's not what I'm looking for. It has happened to me and I have a lot of thoughts as to why it did on that particular day but that's a different blog post.
In the past I would go up to a horse (barn or field), put the halter on and bring them in. I still do these things but it's different. Now I hold open the halter and wait for Carmen to put her head in. Interestingly enough she does 9/10. Sometimes she puts her head in and then flinches out. I refuse to do it up then- I just wait (now in the field I do have the rope over her neck so that I can keep her close). I do that with the bridle too. I won't let her put it on angrily.
|this is her skeptical face but she's pretty relaxed|
During grooming I try to observe carefully to see what she's thinking and feeling. Is she relaxed? tense? distracted? hungry? (often hungry). It helps me understand what I may need to do to support her. Sometimes I realize that I might just be lunging and then making a decision to mount.
I've noticed that if I let her push me a bit or act cranky, up in the ring she's also a lot more resistant. If, however, I correct her behaviour in the barn, she responds much better in the ring. It seems that I am establishing the rules of engagement before I climb in the saddle.
Carmen can be quite dominant at times on the ground. She doesn't push into me at all but she can pin her ears, be snarky and, occasionally, snap her teeth. I need to respond to that clearly and quickly that some things are just not acceptable. I tend to ignore the pinned ears (mare face). If she snaps I make her move around me in the aisle. I do this until I see a change in her attitude. I am not angry nor am I harsh but I am not soft either. I try to do it to the point to get what I want and then relax everything. Back in the obstacle clinic Mike asked me a really good question (paraphrasing here):
Mike: When is Carmen the most engaged and willing in her work?
I thought a few minutes. Then said:
To be completely honest, it's when I'm really clear about what I want. Even if that means I'm being harsher than I like.
Exactly! he said (or something like that) horses like things to be clearer more than anything.
I do groundwork before every ride. Sometimes it's short, other times it's the bulk of our time. Mostly it's in between. I'm looking for her to be engaged in the work and trying to find the answer. She's pretty smart and can start to offer things before I ask so I try to make sure I vary it a bit. Otherwise she can be obedient but tuned out. I'd rather her be less obedient but tuned in.
|Here is Carmen not sure about listening, but she's |
really trying (also may change her mind later)
This year I've really started to pay attention to my communication (or interpersonal skills if you like) with Carmen. I've been working really hard to eliminate the thoughts that start with or include things like: I hope/why can't you/that's too hard/don't. All of those mean that I'm not sure and then how can she be. So if she makes a mistake in our ground work (like ignoring me or overreacting by moving 8 feet when I only asked for 1) I just stick with the plan and keep working.
I'm trying to make this work for me under saddle. This includes me doing my damndest to eliminate my own tension that my body does independently when it suspects we may be in danger. But also not accepting refusals or doing something different than what I ask. Clearly I also need to look at myself- was my ask appropriate (i.,e does she understand it and did I ask correctly).
|whee- if all else fails go forward|
Last week I was in a lesson and Carmen was fixated on the C end of the ring (the day before that was the bestest spot in the world, today it was full of death and despair). We were working away from it but she was becoming more and more obsessed with it making the work pretty shitty. I decided to march us down there to deal with it. It was not pretty but we did it.
After Shanea was talking to me about working away from the spooky spots and working towards them. And I agreed with her. Sort of. You see, sometimes when Carmen becomes obsessed with a spot the area in which she can work productively will shrink and shrink and shrink until you are stuck standing at one part of the ring and even then she's not so easy. I have found that when she's like that tackling it head on with 'this is what I want' (mostly bend and not racing like a fool) we can get to a good place. I don't know if Shanea believed me and I'm willing to be wrong but this is my experience.
Sometimes I believe I have to tackle things head on. Other times I can be more subtle.
I see posts of people asking what do when their horse does something and the advice is so varied I'm not sure how they sort it out. The problem is that it depends on so many things that there often is not a simple answer. It depends on the context (windy day, mare in heat or sore, construction next door, etc), the horse's general demeanour (is this totally new or a part of their pattern although perhaps more extreme than typical). I believe that there literally is no one answer for all situations. And that may be where we struggle as a horseperson. I know I do. Now I am far more comfortable to make a decision and then later have to revise. At least I made a decision.
|no desire to be a flat squirrel|
I don't know if this post really makes any sense. It does in my head so I hope I was clear.
|relaxed post ride|