Monday, October 10, 2011

Slow Horsemanship

You may have heard of the Slow Food movement - the idea that real food, prepared with real ingredients, with a focus on the pleasure of the preparation and the eating, is better for us - our health and happiness - than convenience and speed.

I'm trying to practice Slow Horsemanship - the same idea, really, using careful, slow methods - paying lots of attention to the "ingredients" - my horse and my interactions with the horse and the horse's responses - without gimmicks, gadgets or artificial deadlines that get in the way of doing things with care and softness.  Learning takes places in the spaces as much as in the doing, I've found - the horse and I need time to process what is being asked of us, to understand and to respond.

Many problems in working with horses, and most of the abuses that occur in the horse world, would be avoided if Slow Horsemanship were used - if people weren't in a hurry, and didn't want quick results.  Haste does indeed lead to waste, and haste is the parent of impatience and anger.

One of the things I've noticed is that when you watch really great horsemen and women work, there's no flash or show - sometimes it's just like watching paint dry and things tend to be very quiet and low key - but real work is taking place.  Once in a while there's a big move by horse or rider - but only when necessary and it's mostly over before you hardly have time to notice.  The best horsemen and women get the best from their horses because they seek partnership and provide leadership, not dominance. That's my ideal.  There are good horsemen and women out there in all disciplines.  I've been fortunate enough to work with Mark Rashid on a number of occasions, and I try to remember some of his principles, including that "horses don't wear watches."  I also always remember the story he told this year about the horse he was riding at the clinic - how he and his wife only rode the horse at the walk for 9 months because the horse wasn't ready mentally until that point to do more - it took that long and that was OK.  That's why Mark no longer does colt starting in clinics - the artificial time constraints don't respect the needs of specific horses and how their training should progress.

Another thing I like about Slow Horsemanship is that it allows me to build a solid foundation, where any gaps in the horse's knowledge are addressed and filled in before we proceed to the next step.  I think a solid foundation gives both the horse and me confidence as we try new things together.  And the foundation is more about things like attention (to one another), patience and self-calming, relaxation, softness and shaping time and space together than it is about the specifics of what the horse is trained to do - I think if the foundation is there the horse can be trained to do all sorts of things.

Progress is so incremental that I hardly notice it myself - sometimes I wonder if I'm getting anywhere but then I look back and see how far we've come - each horse in his or her own way on his or her own path.

Slow Horsemanship . . . I like the sound and feel of that . . .

29 comments:

  1. Goes right along with your "slow-eating" regimen for Pie's tummy troubles.
    I've always been impressed with your patient and methodical approach with each of your horses.

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  2. I dare say that anyone who practices real animal husbandry, no matter the species in question, works this way as a matter of course. They don't look like they are doing very much but it's amazing what they've accomplished at the end of the day. All your posts are good, but this one hit the mark with me !

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  3. Slow Horsemanship is a good name for a process that lets the horse take the time he/she needs to learn. We use the same methods and take it slow. It's worked for us with all of our horses. The hard part is people are always saying how they should be doing this or that by now or further along in their training. I think that's wrong and we do what we feel is right.

    Hope Pie is doing better today. I left a comment on the last post, but I guess it didn't go through.

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  4. Jason - that's a very good point - I've never worked much with animals other than horses but I expect the same principles apply.

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  5. I completely subscribe to this philosophy in working with horses. My husband, Brian, subscribes to this in everything - including food preparation and eating. I am learning to apply it to other parts of my life, but for some reason, when working with horses, I always slow down and proceed at a ridiculous snail's pace. I think their size has always been intimidating to me so I settle myself down and go slow.

    Recently, in fact, I have been questioning my need to blog at all publicly because it seems impossible to detail the slow, boring things I do behind the scenes. I like to read and reread my own blog to see the progress that the boys really do achieve, but I feel sorry for anyone else who reads it!

    I like how you explain slow horsemanship, Kate, in this post.

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  6. Betty and I do this with our horses. We think of it as accepting the horse where he is at that moment and what he can give. We liken it to the way we tried to raise our two sons. You can't rush children and they can have good days and bad days. We tried not to judge ourselves as parents by any one day, but by their growth over time. It seems to me that we should look at our horses in the same way.

    Good post.

    Dan

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  7. I love it! Don't "they" say slow and steady wins the race!

    This perfectly describes what I am attempting to do! Everything you say makes so much sense! It is like you take thoughts from my head and put them into meaningful words. Thank you!

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  8. I'm with you 100%. It's so important to take things slow and to work where the horse is -- not where we aspire to be. ...and I like slow cooking too.

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  9. I have a 'Slow Food' cookbook... now I'll just have to wait for you to finish the "Slow Horsemanship" book. Super ideas! I'll stand in line when you visit my area for a book signing!
    Ah... that would never happen! I can see you writing the book, but I believe you'd be too busy riding to do too many book signings!

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  10. I'm seeing this more and more with both horses. It took Lily more than a year to "open herself up" to me and begin to connect. Smokey is learning slowly, sometimes weeks will go by, then I'll realize we have passed a milestone.

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  11. Well said Kate- excellent post. Haste makes waste! I don't show, so the only agenda I have to live up to is my own, and I find any time I hurry, things go wrong.

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  12. I don't know the orgin of this quote, but it's one of my husband's favorite horse sayings - "Make haste slowly"

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  13. Great post.I like the sounds of that too

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  14. As someone once told me, when you get a horse out of the paddock, you must tell yourself (and the horse) that you have all the time in the world to work with him. That way, if something goes wrong, you take the time to fix it rather than end on a bad note. Bad things happen when rushing around horses.

    However, my weak spot.... trailer-loading a brat of a horse... slow horsemanship indeed, aka, practice every single day for an hour!

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  15. p.s. I'm happy to become your newest follower!

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  16. Slow horsemanship. I like the sound of that! Our family is new to horses. We jumped in and bought 5 (one for each of us) last year not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Obviously, it didn't take long to find we needed help. Our trainer teaches Clinton Anderson and we have all been working together through the Foundation Series. It's been one year and we just started riding. Slow? Yes. But honestly we just now became ride ready and our horses ready to ride.

    I have to tell you, this enoouraged me. Just today I was speaking with someone I don't know well about our horse journey and she told me it was ridiculous that it was taking so long. That we just needed to ride. But that wasn't the way we wanted to do it.

    Jumped over from Just Horses and glad I did.

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  17. I love that thought. I really wish I was a good horsewoman. I try really hard to read Sam but I really find it difficult. So I have lessons and try to learn to speak my ponies language better!

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  18. . . . I should like to remind every rider to look to himself for the fault whenever he has any difficulties with his horse. - Alois Podhajsky

    I think it is up to the teacher to find the teaching key that unlocks the lesson for the horse, rather than blame the horse for not having the right lock. The human is the one wanting a result, so it is up the human to do the work to get the result. I am relatively new to the horseworld, but lessons for social work (my profession) transfer so well to horses. The most important one being "anyone has the right to make bad decisions," and I see it as my job to make Pippi want to make good ones.

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  19. great post - I'm trying to do the same thing myself (weird how I'm reading lots about this now!)...after trying to rush things by pushing myself and my horse to do stuff that we weren't ready for and not having it go well...

    I just read Rashid's "Whole heart, Whole Horse" and it really resonated with me. You are lucky to have ridden in a few of his clinics.

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  20. I love this! You said-
    "Many problems in working with horses, and most of the abuses that occur in the horse world, would be avoided if Slow Horsemanship were used - if people weren't in a hurry, and didn't want quick results."

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  21. I completely agree with the concepts of both Slow Food and Slow Horsemanship. I remember the story about Mark and Crissi and the horse they walked for 9 months. I don't remember where I heard the story, but I strive to be that patient and thorough. It can be difficult, I feel a lot of pressure from others who think I should be doing "more" than I am.

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  22. My favorite clinician says:

    "Slow but go... go but slow."

    Great post - we're definitely on the slow horsemanship track ;)

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  23. Wow! We are on the same page today...great post Kate. Thanks for visiting my blog post "Tom Time"...Yes indeed...everything you say is true...Nancy

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  24. I agree for the learning process and the health of the horse. Excellent post.

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  25. Kate, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Sometimes I think I am not making progress with my horse, because I go very slow and look for tiny improvements, but progress is being made, at his pace. And his pace is the correct speed for us.

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  26. I've just come over from the carnival to read our inspirational post again. The first time I read this post I blogged a small extract of it and asked members of http://hat-net.co.uk to pop over here and read the whole thing themselves. If only more people would take "slow horsemanship" on board life would be much happier for amny horses and their riders aand I believe they would eventually achieve so much more.

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  27. horse care courses - thank you for your kind words. (I was wondering where those hits from hay net were coming from!)

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  28. Brilliantly said, and I think this applies to more than just horses... it applies to life.

    I spent many many years just rushing towards a goal, as if getting there faster would make me more 'successful'. But what's the rush? I've been so much more content lately, to keep working, showing up, and doing. And I've been surprised by noticing all the other little things that happen outside of my supposed goals. Being patient with myself is so wonderful!

    "Make haste slowly" is something that my dad always told me, and I think described it all very well.

    http://thatwhichreallyis.blogspot.com

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