Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quiet, Simple

This is the first of two posts inspired by the concurrence of some things I've been working on and similar things Tom Widdicombe talked about in his book that I reviewed in this post yesterday.

Have you ever noticed how quiet the best horsemen and women are? They're quiet on the ground and in the saddle. Their aids and cues are so subtle that often you cannot see them - and involve extremely small changes in energy level, focus, body position and even thought. No flash, no dazzle, no driven, exhausted horses, no show. They don't "get after" horses, they don't yell and spur and whip and jerk on mouths. They're not into punishment or being "not nice" or "showing the horse who's boss", or being angry, they're into quietly and effectively getting the job done. They provide the horse with calm leadership and the horse relaxes into that. They don't think of the horse as an antagonist, they look to help the horse become a willing partner. The horses respect them, not out of fear or apprehension, but because they feel safe following their leadership. That doesn't mean that things don't get "big" once in a while, but if they do it's for a very specific reason and it's usually over before you hardly have time to see it. One reason they can work that way is that they are always "on", always "there" with the horse, and so they can get in there and quietly influence things before there is a need for anything bigger. Watching them work with a horse is almost like watching grass grow - it's happening right before your eyes but you have to watch closely to see it - that's a calming experience in itself. I think the best trainers and coaches of riders are the same way.

Some of these people admit that it wasn't always that way for them - they had to learn to be quiet and calm - and that gives me hope that any one of us can do the same.

One of the things Tom talks about in his book is how he works to establish a place with him, just standing there, where the horse can be quiet and safe, and relax because he is there with the horse. That's very much what I've been trying to achieve, both on the ground and under saddle, with both Maisie and Dawn, in our "just standing around exercises", and reading Tom's book has reinforced how important this type of work can be in establishing the horse's confidence, and a good working relationship.

One other thing the best horsemen and women do is keep things simple. We humans often have a tendency to overcomplicate things, or to try to do more than one thing at a time, and this can result in a confused horse. The best horsemen and women don't pile on aids or cues, they give the horse time to process and think as it's learning, and they focus on one thing at a time, and when that one thing is OK, then they move on to the next thing. If something isn't right with a horse, often there's a more fundamental hole in the horse's training that needs filling. They are willing to take things one step at a time, and to fill in training gaps and holes as they find them to be sure the foundation is sound. Tom in his book gives the example of horses who won't load - often the issue isn't really loading but other skills the horse is missing, like leading well. The best horsemen and women are less focussed on accomplishment of tasks by the horse and more focussed on the horse learning the skills necessary to accomplish a task. They break things down and make them simple and easy for the horse to learn. Often by doing this they make faster progress than someone who is in a hurry, but if progress is slow that's OK too. That's one reason many of the best horsemen and women don't do colt starting contests, where the time constraints can prevent doing work in the way they want to do it, for the benefit of the horse.

I'm working on me so I can make progress in working with horses this way, and reading Tom's book has been very encouraging to me. Calm, quiet and keeping things simple - those are worthwhile goals!


  1. Slow, simple, quiet and lots of praise is how we train our horses. We don't even keep a session very long most times and always end on a good note. We make the time to do it right and I also think it's the only way to win respect and give the horse self confidence.

  2. I am still learning to be quiet when I ride.

    Tom is so right about most problems stemming from simpler ones and the example of trailer loading is a good one. Kenny Harlow says loading is and extension of leading and teaches the horse the basics of leading before teaching him to load.

  3. There are certain riders I love to watch ride. Beezie Madden would be one of them. Even her 'hot' horses always look so supple and she is such a quiet, effective rider as she goes around a course of 5'+ fences. Her position is beautiful, her horses go beautifully, and they usually have very long careers competing at the highest levels. I don't kid myself that I will ever ride a tenth as well as she rides even on her absolute worst day, but it is something to aspire to.

  4. What could be better than calm and quiet.

  5. On the loading, I realized reading your post that both Cibolo and Lily are loading so well and all the tension is gone from the experience. Now we just load. Pressure is gone, it's just a dance. "I move out of here, you move there, I close behind you, we are in."

    It is calm and quiet.


  6. Lordy, I'm still learning to be quiet on the ground never mind in the saddle. Luckily horses are forgiving, patient and always honest, perfect teachers!

    Great post, lots to think about :)

  7. I am an extremely hyper person in "real" life, but I am quiet and calm with the horses. I was just thinking about this yesterday as I was mucking. I could win an academy award for acting because I change when I am with the horses. And it isn't just on the surface - it can't be or they would know I was faking. I have to really be calm inside. I do think running helps me so much. After a run I am a better horsewoman. Thanks for the great post. You have us all thinking about the quiet.


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