In the performance world we all know if we ask for a spin, stop or turn on a cow, if our horse is hunting whatever we are asking of it, they will try harder, move faster and smoother, if they want to do it.
The title of this article alone is counter productive to true horsemanship and the chance to get everything your horse has to offer in the way of performance, both physically and mentally. It is human nature to want to make our horse do what we want or think they should do. Any time we try to make them do anything we are losing. Losing willingness, losing softness, losing try, losing trust and losing freeness of movement and their mind. When we try to make our horse do something we are gaining some things but maybe not what we want. We are gaining resentment, gaining stiffness and bracy-ness in movement and gaining an unwilling attitude.
Our horses can be like most of us if put in a situation with no choice. Feeling like we are being made to do something, it becomes likely that we are not going to put our heart into it and do our best, to say the least. Some of us, including myself, when put into this type of situation, will be a little bit cranky and ornery about it and probably retaliate to cause a bit of trouble and ensure we have some control of the situation. Well horses are the same way. By the time I was sixteen years of age, I had been on and rode nearly 500 head of horses in the situation I grew up in. With the training and clinics we do, I have probably got on and rode 200 horses, on average, a year for the last twenty years. My point is that, I have lived my entire life on the back of a horse and I feel within a minute of getting on one what they are thinking. Most horses have been made to do whatever we ask of them therefore they are not as free, soft, willing and athletic as they could be.
Most horses by nature are amazingly tolerant and adaptable to our way of communicating, some a lot more than others. We call them better-minded horses because they do not question out authority, our bad timing and feel, possibly our temper and over all lack of knowledge in how to communicate with a horse and listen to what it might really need.
Training an arena performance horse, to me, is so much different than training a ranch horse. First, many things we ask them to do as an arena horse are a bit different and more extreme in movement than a ranch horse. The main difference, I believe, is that a ranch horse sees the point in everything he is being asked to do without as much time constraint or pressure day after day. When a performance horse learns to trust you, they can do some absolutely amazing things. In most situations, our jobs limit our time, or in my case, people are paying for monthly training, so we try to get as much out of the horse as possible. This situation makes it easy to fall into the rut of trying to make them do what we want and make them try as hard as we think they need to. I am guilty of this and I think every trainer is, but a true horseman listens to what the horse needs. They then figure out how to get the horse to want to do what we ask of them. When a horse wants to do something, they try harder, stay softer, move freely and quickly and use themselves athletically at a whole new level.
So how do we get them to hunt what we want? We will talk about that in next month’s issue.
Good luck and God Bless,
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 11