Horse Training...It's ALL THE TIME
For todays post, I was going to just cover horse interactions and I've hunted up some great examples! For my first group, I give you OP, Vinny and Jagger! That's them up above. OP is the "peacock"...the one already with "radar lock" on Mike and the camera. Everything about his body posture shows that he's on high alert to something in his environment that looks different and odd. And he's right! Mike standing on he fence rail with the camera isn't what he usually sees when he comes out to this pen. OP is a four year old. The other two handsome geldings (with radar lock on OP) are (3 year old) chestnut Vinny and (2 year old bay) Jagger. Just for future reference, at this point all three have had all training done by Mike, with OP having the most! OP was a Regional Top Five in Sport Horse In Hand this year and is already started under saddle. Vinny's just beginning under saddle work (there are other blog posts showing different stages of his training) and Jag is the "baby" of the bunch and OP's half brother. There...cast of characters set!
I really did intend this post to be all about observing horse interactions, but I found that before I could get on with observing (what we fondly call) "boy bashing", these photos led me straight to another topic, and one of my favorites! So, as usual, I'm just going to "roll with it"!
As a horse handler, you are ALWAYS cast in the role of trainer. ALWAYS! Every single time you touch that horse? No! Every single time you enter 'his area"...you ARE A TRAINER. For better or worse. EVERY SINGLE TIME! This is something I don't even consciously think about, but it's what I do.When Mike headed out to the pen with his camera to get these shots, this session was supposed to be all about getting images of these geldings interacting. But before that could happen, I had to get them all out there in the pen. Because some of the best moments happen when they first "greet" each other, Mike had to be already "on the camera" which meant someone else had to bring out "the merry band" of players. On this day, that was me.
"Lead out for play time" IS TRAINING TIME! Especially with 3 youngsters coming out of box stalls knowing that it's...."Woooo Hooo! "TURN OUT TIME"!!!!
When you look at this first photo (below) you can see that without thinking twice about it, I went out of my way to find my favorite "glove stick".
Yep...just to be sure you can see it, I've put the big arrow with "Stick" on it! And while "the stick" is very useful for teaching personal space while leading, in this particular instance, it's not just for the horse I'm handling. It's for the other 2 horses already loose in the pen! OP was the last horse out, which is always tricky.
In this moment, I'm not training 1 horse, I'm training 3!!!! I'm training OP to "focus on handler while other fools are playing" AND training the other 2 fools as well. They are not allowed near a horse that I'm handling. You can obviously see that Vin and Jag already know this, by their conspicuous absence from the gate area, but I assure you they were waiting for OP! There was nobody else there to "shoo them" away from OP. But because I am very consistent about having "the stick" with me, when I do a turn out (or bring in) with a group of horses, Vin and Jag KNEW it would be "very bad" to crowd me. If you think I'm particular about behavior when I'm around one horse, you should see how demanding I get if I have more than one to manage!
In the photo below, you see me preparing to take OP's halter off for turn out. IMPORTANT POINT! I made a special "arrow" to point out that we would NEVER turn a horse out with the halter on. This is one of the most basic of horsemanship "horse keeping tips" about keeping your horse safe. It's something most people learn when they are a kid in pony club or 4-H. But it's something that I'm seeing a distressing amount of. I just don't understand why you'd leave a halter on except for someone simply not willing to take the time to do it right. Go figure! Notice that I've added in the time stamp that shows the exact time when Mike's camera shot the pictures!
What do you see in the picture above?
I've changed my mind about turning him loose, that's what! Why?
Because, here's what's going on!
What have we here? I've changed my mind about turning OP loose, because OP's attention is NOT ON ME! Actually, if you go back to the first OP photo, you can see that rather than focusing on me, he's already "lost focus" a bit and is actually trying to watch the other 2 geldings already loose in the pen AND on Mike, on the fence rail! Not very much of his attention is really on me, and even though he's perfectly still, it's not a good time to "turn him loose"...and it won't be until he is more interested in me than in Jag and Vin! So take a good look at the picture above. I'm happy with the fact that OP is standing nice and still and he's not "in trouble", but I need for him to learn the lesson of "focus on the two legged herd leader". So I'm WAITING! Do you see my hand on his neck and the tension on my lead line. This is me, "redirecting" OP's mind. We didn't get the picture, but because these are lessons we do every day, OP did turn back to me and we got on with getting the halter off and being given permission to leave and join his buddies. This is a lesson that I NEEDED TO DO NOW! Turning OP loose with his head turned away from me sets him up for future failures of a spectacular kind. How many of you have (or have observed) horses that spin about and run away from their handler bucking and kicking with joy because "they're free"? Understandable reaction from the horse and complete failure of the handler. They can run and buck after the handler has "left the area" but not while you're standing right there. Make a note of the time stamp!
Now....let the play (and the observing) begin!
You can see from the time stamps that things went from "calm with handler" to "chaos with friends" in less time than it takes to type! Once "free to go" OP raced straight to his buddies... they had been hanging out on the other side of the pen...while still keeping his eyeball right on Mike on the fence. What might this say about OP's personality versus the other two?
Below, I've included just some of the images from 10 minutes of this session of "horses being horses"! At this point, I'll leave it to you (the readers) to come up with some thoughts on what we can predict about what they are like to train, based on what you can see in these pictures. Enjoy!