Thursday, June 12, 2014

being the leader

It's always nice to get back to basics in any work, particularly with horses. There's something about working with a green horse that brings out my creativity. I have my methods down and understand how to get the results I want. Because my big guy has been sick, I've been working with a horse that was trained and sold, and purchased back after hardly being  touched in over two years, so I'm not totally starting over but she is spoiled. But I have to say that it sure seemed like it the first few sessions of groundwork.

I use a form of natural horsemanship that goes by the principles of the human taking over as the herd leader. When the leader says to move the feet, the follower does that. When the leader says come and be close to them where it's safe, the follower does that gladly. The wrong things are made difficult and the right things made easy. It really is that simple in principle.

But to be a leader, one must be able to communicate. Horses and humans speak different languages, but we are both adaptable. Somewhere in the middle, we compromise and speak a language that both of us understand. It's like going to a foreign country where no one speaks your language, so you have to learn theirs or stay lost and frustrated. In the case with horses, we have to mostly learn their language, a language of movement, reward, and trust. By using a language the horse more fully understands, we can get what we want from them more easily, because they understand us.

I realize I'm sort of babbling here, but I was thinking about the progress I made with this mare in only a hand full of groundwork sessions. She went from being a spoiled brat (when she used to be a real sweetheart the last time I saw her before she was sold) to being the horse that I remembered. It took standing up to her tantrums and not backing down but we got there. I also only take the sessions one step at a time, so that once we pushed through one comfort zone and expanded her trust in me as leader, we ended on a good note. The next session, I'd push a little more, we'd work through a tantrum and then end on a good note. She's a fast learner, a grade horse but clearly an Arabian/Paint cross. Very smart and calm. She wanted a strong leader who could tell her where the boundaries were but one who was fair and gentle whose judgment she could trust.

My big boy was much harder than this little mare--dominant and confident with presence galore. He continued to challenge me for years after starting natural horsemanship, but he also came to trust that he didn't have to worry about anything unless I told him to worry, so he stayed calm. This little mare just had to be reminded that humans had to be respected as the leader and she gladly relinquished her attempts at leadership and now just wants to be with humans, completely loving and obedient.

All it takes is understanding between two species to attain that. Every horse is different, but they will all gladly follow a strong leader who can assure they won't be harmed. It's amazing to see that process again.

Next week, I get on her for the first time. It's probably been over two years since she had a rider on her back, so I am treating this like a colt starting. It will be interesting to see how she takes it. The saddle was no big deal today, but a rider on the back really changes things.

While my big guy is regaining his spirit and some weight, I have this cute little project to keep me busy. I'm grateful to the owner for giving me this chance to do something useful for her that gets my mind off my horse's problems.

I'll post updates when I have significant news on Sweetie.

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