Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is the Horse Soft Inside? Part III - A Few More Thoughts and Some Good Rides

There are many gems in Tom Moates's book about Harry Whitney (Between the Reins).  A couple more that really caught my attention:

1.  Sometimes you have a good ride because the horse has in mind to do the same thing you do, but not as a result of your direction - if there's no real connection then the next ride might not be so good.

2.  The use of gadgets - tie downs, draw reins, aggressive bits, biting rigs - may result in a horse that performs in a way you want physically, but the horse may be mentally somewhere completely different since all you have done is limit the horse's choices.
If you seek a horse truly willing and on the same page with you, difficulties must be understood and worked through for better understanding and an improved relationship, not just mechanically altered. (p. 27)
3.  It's up to us to work to make the horse feel better inside:
. . . by breaking the connection between thought magnets [something like the barn, the gate in the arena, or another horse or the herd] and the horse we interrupt a way he has developed to seek a kind of comfort in various situations.  Some horses can project their thoughts very strongly to other places hoping to find consolation.  They do this even though they actually ruin their chances of serenity (simply being happy where they are) in the process.  If we block that defense mechanism but provide no alternative purpose beyond it, then we potentially leave the horse in a bigger void and less comforted than he was on his own.
The desire in the human should be to get a horse feeling better about things.  If a thought magnet draws a horse to somewhere else, it means that place represents a longing in the horse to get to some other place. He wants to feel better, which in turn means he isn't confident in his present situation.  If he wants to feel better by going over there then he already is trying to fill an emotional void inside himself over there.
If you block thought magnets, but offer no better deal in trade, then the horse is no better off.  He may even lose what confidence he has in the human.  (p. 35)
4.  It really isn't about pressure and release, which can be pretty mechanical:
Instead of 'pressure', which might be misconstrued as a crude physical pressure, the idea of 'blocking and redirecting a thought' seems more applicable and preferable.  Just asking the horse something as backing up a few steps may be enough to bring his thought back to us.  Sometimes getting a little big may be necessary.  Regardless, if we manage to block the offending thought and offer a new route for the horse to think along which fosters clear understanding and the comfort of our confidence and support, we help the horse to feel better inside. (p. 39)
5.  There's a wonderful section on the use of 'firmness' - not being aggressive or demanding, or negative,  but simply checking in the with horse, in a clear and not wishy-washy way and asking for connection - that I can't begin to describe.  But the basic concept is firm up - ask for the horse's attention, and always immediately ask for the horse to do something with a clear release to follow:
. . . if people handle firmness correctly, it provides the opportunity for the horse to feel good about the firmness before there every is a release to it because he knows a moment of clarity is at hand. Consistent clarity over time builds constant confidence in an outcome, even in the moments before it happens if set up right.
If the human handles firmness consistently, always using it as a precursor to asking something specific of the horse and providing a release timed to build in the horse's attention, relaxation, and understanding, then there is every reason for the horse to consider firmness a very positive experience.  (p. 87)
6.  And how important it is, in order to get that softness from the inside, that we insist - not in a threatening or forcing way, but in a consistent and persistent way:
Think about it, can you consistently always be adamant a horse stays with you mentally and accept nothing less?  It's not always easy to do when leading a quiet horse twenty feet, let alone when riding.  And what about when the horse responds correctly to your cues mechanically speaking, keeping his thoughts with you, but without softness?  Can you hold out further to get all the pieces of the puzzle you want in a horse at one time?  If you're looking for a horse to be right on with your requests and reacting in a relaxed way, then you'll need to build that in there too.  (p. 96)
* * * * * *
I rode all three horses today, in between various storms - I got right back in there with Drift this morning after his difficulties yesterday (see the prior post), and despite the unfamiliar time, he was just fine for his leading and his ridden work.  He's not soft inside yet, but we're taking steps to get there - we're on the road together.  His bolting/bucking/nervousness - which I've now observed when I'm working with him and when he's on his own in turnout - seems to be a reaction to an overload where he's very frustrated and upset - sort of a baby reaction.  We'll keep testing the limits so he can develop some emotional maturity.  Dawn and I had a nice ride building on our recent work on her carrying herself softly.  And Pie and I tried out the Cashel Bug Armor - we use the ride mask as well - other than the neck piece almost not fitting over his (very large) jowl - it fit and worked great, and he was completely unconcerned about it.  We only walked and trotted in the arena, but I think it'll do very well on the trails.  A very fine day with horses indeed.


  1. Good post, again. All about giving the horse confidence in both the rider and himself which in turn makes for a true partnership. Fair but firm and most of all, consistent.

    Glad the Bug Armor did the job. I think you both are really going to like it. Takes a bit longer to tack up, but it's well worth it.

    And, as I have noted, I do dressage schooling--walk, trot and canter--just fine with my Boys' wearing it.

  2. I liked the idea of thought magnets. These posts are great.

  3. These are really interesting thoughts and I'm finding them very relevant, both for my new lease and the one I just ended. I have to admit that while I'm pretty clear on the what and why of this philosophy, I'm not as clear on the how. I guess I find it's easy to say firmness should be handled correctly, for example, but not as easy to know how to do it in various situations. Perhaps I need to read the books :) I think I'll incorporate some of my thoughts on this in my next post...

  4. I may have to get some of that bug armor as well. I really should have bought stock in the Cashel company!! I bought five more masks this weekend.

    Soft inside is so, so important. These are good distinctions. Like the section on 'blocking and redirecting a thought' rather than pressure and release.

  5. Greetings folks from the Amish community of Lebanon county. Richard from Amish Stories.

  6. Geez, Richard sure gets around (he left the exact same comment on my blog post yesterday *rolls eyes*). Sounds like you guys all had a pretty good day. That books looks like a worthwhile read too; I'll have to look for it - thanks for the intriguing excerpts. ;o)

  7. Very interesting series of posts; I like the idea of facing the holes in training and working towards softness and confidence. This will really help me with Chickory.
    Also, reading this post, it really struck me that this is how parents should deal with children- just about everything you've written in the last three posts can apply to parenting.

  8. Kate, I'm primarily a lurker but want to say I'm so glad you're okay from your fall and recovery process, and I continue to immensely value what you share of your knowledge of horses. In the case of helping Pie feel better, how about some perhaps simple behavioral modification, aka, desensitization exercises. You've got a round pen of some sort, I believe, and plenty of bikes, goats, children - and perhaps some friendly neighbors who could help - all the elements you would need. I'm thinking of some examples from Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks.

    If you don't already have a Dually halter, that's the piece you might need for this particular form of the work to help Pie understand your intention via pressure:

    Tractor fear:

    Fear of cows:

    Washing line phobic:

    Then, this video of spoiled horse Fizzy, and how Monty demonstrates the Dually Halter while Fizzy wears a heart rate monitor, is good for keying in to how the halter works. Fizzy wins the blue over Drift for spoiled. :) (I was mostly focused on the first half of the video, not the 2nd half loading part.

    I'm just thinking that some external exercises with the strange things in Pie's environment would trickle down to help you regain your confidence when riding.

  9. Oops, forgot the link to spoiled horse Fizzy:

  10. It takes tremendous discipline to find that correct firmness and connect it to action. I think somewhere along those lines my work with smokey unravelled.

    I identify with this statement you made:
    His bolting/bucking/nervousness - which I've now observed when I'm working with him and when he's on his own in turnout - seems to be a reaction to an overload where he's very frustrated and upset - sort of a baby reaction.

    Im pretty sure that's what happened on our last big outing/disagreement. I find it still a big mental barrier for me, but am hoping that slowly widening our circle will get us thru it...


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