...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.
Supposedly, equine have the intelligence of a 3 year old child. I always ask my riding students what 3 year olds do best and there is always a chorus of, “Get in trouble!”
Who hasn’t faced the scenario of arriving at the barn in the morning, before breakfast yourself, of course, to find that one of the horses has escaped?
Folks, as I always say, this can be funny, but only when it happens to someone else, and only if the horse doesn’t get hurt or get into the grain.
What a great way to start off your day to find she has helped herself to not one, but all ten bales (that were) stored neatly on the side. One bite here, one bite there, throw a little around the aisleway, no, that one looks better, don’t forget to leave a calling card or three.
Then she goes on a treat-hunt, pulling off any brushes, combs, fly spray that may have been neatly tucked away in their totes by the cross-tie. Those little rubber bands used for manes at the show are so much fun to pick up one by one once they’ve been scattered, and let’s be sure to step on the shampoo bottle, too. Mom will slip on it for months hereafter.
That cooler laying neatly up on the tack trunk is her open invitation for a game of hide and peek-a- boo. No treats there, so throw that on the floor, too, and step on it. Might as well leave a calling card on it, also, wouldn’t want to spoil the effect she has going.
From there, she licks the latch to the grain room, once, twice, three times, leaves some spit and chewed up hay on it before heading back to her stall. But only briefly, this is to check the feed pan to see if some grain may have magically appeared while she was out.
Then she says, “ Oh, look, my halter and lead rope hanging neatly on the hook next to my stall, I think I’ll try to put it on myself.”
She goes back down the aisleway, doing that famous head-tossing-yes- motion that horses do, halter and lead flinging up and down, before dragging it along underneath, right through all the calling cards and loose hay, leaving it in a dirty heap on the floor at the other end of the barn.
It’s fun to watch Mom try to find it.
Better check that grain door again, maybe it magically opened on it’s own. Lick, lick, lick..
Stop by Babe’s stall for a mare squealing contest, visit with her boyfriend, Old Joe, he sure is handsome for 32, hey, maybe he’d like to join in on the fun, let’s try the latch...
You walk in on a one-horse party as she’s happily munching the biggest hay pile jackpot of her lifetime, tripping over the dirty remnants of your hard-earned gear. She gives you a calm look with her big brown eyes as your blood pressure blows the top of your head right off and you ceremoniously slide into cardiac arrest.
After making sure the barn door is closed, check to see that the grain room door is closed, then check the horse for any injury.
This is the time it really pays to have your sharp tools and pitchforks put away and the grain in an enclosed room.
Sometimes you can tap their hip and push their head in the direction of the stall; they know they’re never allowed to be out fooling around in the aisleway by themselves. They’ll head for their stall with your guidance, and you can start to clean up the barn.
Losing your temper at this time solves nothing; if you enter the barn to the aforementioned scene, screaming and waving your arms to herd the horse back into the stall is only going to make it worse.
Besides, whose fault is it that the horse escaped? The horse is just going to be a horse and use its natural curiosity to go exploring and smurfing for treats.
The same goes for training exercises. In the gospel according to John, (1) there are usually several case scenarios at work while training a horse.
If you are asking him to do a specific move, say, disengage the hip, for example, and he is going through a repertoire of tricks, doing everything but disengaging his hip, one of following is possible: (2)
1. He doesn’t know the cue, therefore he doesn’t understand what you want him to do.
2. It’s Tuesday, and he never disengages his hip on Tuesday. (Meaning, “I know what you want, I just don’t want to do it.”)
3. Stallion issues/attitudes.
4. Physical problems; soreness, conformation.
The patient Horseman will take the time to diagnose what is going on with the lack of (correct) response to the cue.
When you care about something, it shows in your actions. It shows in your attitude and how you treat the animal.
When you care about something, you value it. When something is of value, you spend time with it, nurturing it. Working an animal through his issues until you get the desired response to the cue requires time, and time requires patience.
Rushing through the session and then losing you’re your temper is considered poor Horsemanship.
Remember that 3 year old child? Your horse is that 3 year old child.
If he really doesn’t understand what you want, imagine what you look like losing your cool towards that 3 year old child.
Realizing your “thresh hold” is considered good self-discipline and makes good training sense.
“Self-disciplined-discipline” also makes sense. (3)
It is said that your true Horsemanship attitude comes out when there is no one else around to see what you are doing, how you treat your animals; hence the Invisible Horseman.
The way you manage your life is reflected in your training style. “Un-disciplined-discipline” is just brutality. Continued discipline after the 3-second rule is considered brutality.
If you feel yourself losing your temper with your horse, it is time to put the horse back in the barn. Ask him a simpler task that you know he can do, so you can end on a good note, dismount and put him back.
“It is good sense in a man to be slow to anger, and it is his crowning achievement to overlook an offense.” (4)
Be patient with your horse and be a wise and self-disciplined “Invisible Horseman.” Remember the words of old Mary Twelve Ponies! (5)
The aforementioned article is meant as a guideline and not professional horse training. Nor is it psychiatric analysis, though one should seriously have their head examined should one be considering purchasing an equine.
Always consult the services of a qualified horse trainer should you feel your horse’s training needs are beyond the scope of your capabilities.
Till next time, then, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”
1,2: John Lyons, horse trainer, “The Perfect Horse”
3: “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, MD
4: Proverbs 19:11
5: “There Are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders,” by Mary Twelve Ponies