Horsey Therapist

Friday, December 08, 2006

Understanding regardless of equipment

I've been thinking about some recent discussions on a yahoo list I'm on (BillsBook@yahoogroups) which is set up as a study group focussed on True Horsemanship Through Feel (THTF) by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond, and on Leslie's new audio book, Horse Handling and Riding Through Feel. The talk has been about bits, and has left me scratching my head some. Finally, in good study group form, I opened THTF to look for some ideas from Bill about what was mulling around inside me.

I quote from the top of Page 95: "A horse that doesn't lead up well when you want him to, isn't going to be reliable to ride. When you cannot control the timing and placement of his feet in response to the feel you present with the lead rope, your intent won't be clear to him through the reins either."

There are other great quotes in the next few pages. This one I choose to focus on because behind the words, I'm given a bigger picture of what I have going for me, or not, that is basic and can be tested from the ground before I ever mount up. (See Page 96: Test Him Out: "No matter what you have on the horse's head, you'll first test him out on certain things to see how much he understands.")

I'm guilty. Guilty of overexposing my horses because in my eagerness to 'go for a ride', I have many, many times tacked up and mounted before adequate understanding was developed between us. It wasn't until my last riding injury that I took this ground preparation with great seriousness. Before that yeah, it was important, but heck, I can ride some wildness and gee, I'll take care of it from his back. Those are some of the less conservative, more thoughtless ideas that permitted some of my riding activities.

Now though, I do want to see signs of some solid understanding before I mount. That I can assess this by leading a horse someplace is so easy it eluded me. Now combine that assessing with some common sense (don't get on before the understanding is established on the ground) and I'm golden.

This ties in with the tack stuff I've been thinking about. I know quite a bit about pressure and release, and at times have been satisfied and confident that I can teach a horse where to find a release. Lately though I'm no longer satisfied with that, and want to teach my horse to follow my intent, my feel, with slack in the lead rope or the reins. This is different from finding his way off pressure. This is more like shining a flashlight to illuminate the route through a fully furnished dark room instead of shuffling along, feeling for the likely bumps into furniture as I make my way in the dark. I'm not sure if I'm expressing this clearly or not.

In any case, when I take the time to establish a clearer understanding about stop and go, and speed and direction, then it hardly matters whether I have a piece of cotton sewing thread in his mouth, or single or double jointed snaffle bit. He will respond to my intent, my line of sight, my body shape changing, the feel of the reins on his neck, but really, if I've done my homework, he would not have to run into the nutcracker on the roof of his mouth or stretching of his lips because he knows what to do and I'm paying attention not to let us get into something that might elicit my relying on applying pressure on the reins/bit/mouth.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not 'there' all the time with my horses by any means. But the vision of how it can be is clearer and my motivation is stronger than ever, and so far so good.

I'll include one more quote, this time from Page 97: "What I mean by 'leading up real free' is a horse paying attention to the feel of your halter rope, or your reins, and following the feel you present by livening up his whole body. The important part in this is that he's ready to move his feet, and will move them, before the float is ever taken out of the rope. And he'll do this without any confusion, and he won't be trying to take over with ideas of his own. No, it would only be in response to your feel to move that he'll lead up with a float in the rope and look for a place to go."

Now to keep my assessing frame of mind as I go out to feed some hay to the herd.

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