Sunday, May 3, 2009

Eating on the Trail

Hi Rick,
What is your take on a horse eating while on the trail? I understand stopping and putting the head down is a no-no, but what if you never knew it was happening unless you witnessed it? There is some really long grass out there. My friend has to interupt my conversation I might be having with someone else, or my peaceful scenery observation to tell me what the horse I happen to be riding at the time is doing. I am 35 years old and have been riding since before I can remember. This is driving me nuts. I absolutely love going out every weekend to different locations, but because of my friend, I partially want to stay home. Thanks for your input.

Hi TJ,
I would not be overly concerned about your horse sneaking a bit of grass that is within easy reach. I would be aware of it and be prepared to give the horse something else to think about if it got worse.

Here are the rules for my trail horse: (1) go where I point you, (2) maintain your gait and speed, (3) do not become fixated on the other horses, and (4) respond promptly when I give you a cue. If my horse does all that, I see no need to micromanage her.

Horses often do exactly what we expect them to. There is a connection between what we think is going to happen and what actually happens. If I visualize my horse being calm, confident, and obedient when I ride her, she usually is. However, if I'm worried about her making a certain mistake and focus my mental energy on that, it's much more likely to happen.

This may seem like a bunch of hocus-pocus. However, we know for certain that horses read and interpret all kinds of signals from us that we aren’t aware we’re sending. The surest way to control those signals is to control our thinking.

In short, expect the best of your horse and put your mental energy there. However, remain alert and be prepared to respond to genuine mistakes. One of the best tools for dealing with unwanted behavior is also the simplest: backing the horse. (See my post to Mike on Fidgeting and Surging).

Your friend may have the best of intentions, but don’t let her take the joy out of riding for you. That is its entire purpose.


Horse mom said...

Yeah! You mentioned visualization in a conversation about horses! This does go all the way back to sports psychology, not just the band wagon that started after folks watched The Secret.

I use visualization all the time. It makes a HUGE difference. I'm not sur eif it's because we put an intention out there, and the energy from that manipulates things, or if it's more simply the horse 'feeling' what we are thinking.

I often play a game with one of my horses. I'm on him, and I THINK let's halt, at the same time I picture him halting beautifully and square. Low and behold, he halts beautifully! I do nothing with my hands.


Oh, and to just add a comment about the grass eating. I'd recommend you practice feeling what he is doing. Even if you decide it's ok for him to nibble, you may be a bit safer if you can feel him start to take the nibble before he actually does. Once you do that, you'll be able to feel him almost think about what he is going to do next.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Mr. Lamb...

Good answer to the reader's question. Visualization works very well when riding or being with horses. Regardless of whether it is something akin to being psychically in tune or it is a matter of our thoughts translating the correct 'feel' into our body language, good visualization is something I believe is essential in horsemanship.

I was remembering something that Mark Rashid taught a long time ago and it has always stuck with me and I continue to teach it to my own students to this very day. Horses are constantly asking questions of us. How we answer their question will directly translate into their behavior. Sometimes those questions are almost imperceivable and other times it is very plain.

My Granddaughter has an Arab cross mare that she rides. The mare, being the perfect horse that she is and needing/wanting to eat at every opportune moment, used to try to take advantage of my Granddaughter's young age and do a little "snatch and grab" on the run. In the beginning, due to my Granddaughter's young age, she didn't understand how the horse was asking the questions so we would help her out by calling out to her that her horse was asking "X", and she needed to respond with "Y". In time, she became more aware of her horse's language and feel and has learned to see things before they happen.

What we did was teach my granddaughter to visualize and ride with focus and mental energy...yet, still stay out of her horse's way as she rides. First off, when we ride, we have her pick a spot up the trail. It may be a tree, or a post, or a bush, etc. She then visualizes riing to that spot and directs her body to ride to that spot with focus and mental energy. Once we arrive there, we then pick another spot and repeat. (This is also a great visualization tool when working with young horses just starting under saddle) It is amazing to watch the horse's ears and body language as they almost zero in on the chosen spot and ride to it.

If there is a spot on the trail where my Granddaughter's mare is known to try a "snatch and grab on the run" we have my granddaughter raise the level of her ficus and mental energy to a spot PAST that temptation and ride toward it. Now raising her level does not mean kicking her horse forward and past the spot. It means sitting up straight, focusing on the far target and riding as if you have a purpose. This may mean collecting your horse just a bit, and then relaxing and bringing your level down a bit (Mr. Hunt used to use the analogy of turning the radio volume knob up or down slowly until you reach the desired volume)

Once we are past the temptation, she focuses on a new spot, relaxes a bit and stays out of her mare's way, and they go together to the new spot.

Again, regardless of the method we use, it seems that simple clear visualization is indeed essential in good horsemanship.

Is it psychic ability, Dr. Doolittle communication, or transfer of body langauge and feel? Who knows. Does it really matter? It is useful and we should all be striving to perfect this communication and perfect our horsemanship every day.

Thank you for allowing all of us to communicate, share, whine and gripe here on your forum.

Always yours in horsemanship...