90 Second Breakdown
Some people think that you might have to work on something very, very different in order to accomplish major improvements in a horse's behavior, but actually, paying attention to the the smallest, seemlingly most insignificant tasks can lay the foundation for improvement in all areas.
Honestly, most times when I begin to work with a new horse or horse and handler combo, I don't know what we are going to work on. I always ask the handler what they see as the issues that need improvement, but I'm being completely honest when I say that 99% of the time, my first sessions will not end up at all like the owner imagined.
I've reached a point in my career that I'm 100% comfortable with "being different" than other trainer or instructors. Actually, I've never had a problem with that label, and as I've gotten older, I see it as a very, very big compliment.
For example, I prefer for "my people" to wait until I get there before tacking up. In most cases the lesson or session begins way before the handler thinks that it has. My observations start with simply watching the horses attitude in the stall when we enter the barn and then the whole shooting match evolves as I watch the "herd dynamic" between the horse and his humans.
For today's post, I'm going to use a workout that I did with Amos. Amos is a 6 year old half Arabian gelding and I've known him since he was a foal. Amos has never been abused or neglected, but his handling and training haven't been consistent. His family are very experienced "horse folk" and they have been part of our "horse family" for over 15 years.
Amos with Jamie and Morgan
When I started working on this post, I called Morgan to check some of my recollections with her, and she said that I showed her a bit about long lining with her first horse, a Morgan named Song! Honestly, I didn't remember that til Morgan mentioned it. But now I remember having Song in the lines, trying to teach her to 'back up" and having the feeling that I had a "truck with the parking brake on" on the end of my lines!
Morgan and Song when we first met!
Eventually, Morgan trained and showed with Phire and Axel and also rode many other horses we had in training. I mention all of this just to point out that Morgan is not a "newbie" to riding or indeed to the theory of horse training.
When I went out to Colorado this fall, Morgan scheduled some time with me to help her with some problems she was having with Amos. She has taken him to some small shows and he was fine "some of the time", but there were times that she simply could not get him to go forward. Assuming that Morgan had trained him the way I would have, this simply did not make sense!
Morgan and Amos...tons of potential!
Did you see that word 'assuming" up there. That was my first mistake. Morgan indeed knew that I lunged, bitted and long lined horses. What she could not have known, was how long and to what extent I did those things. At what point did I deem a lesson 'well learned" and the horse ready to move on?
The first 90 seconds of having Amos on the end of my lead rope pretty much informed me of what crucial pieces of information Amos was missing. And to put it simply, he thought that "go forward" meant "go forward if you think it's a good idea". That is not correct. "Go forward" means "go foward...end of discussion"...and yes, "because I said so" is also part of the education he has missed.
How did I arrive at this revelation. By how he led out to the round pen.
The video link here is 7 minutes long, but I only annotated the first minute and a half. Then I got the bright idea of doing screen captures to point out the details so I've put those into a slide show! Either way, you can see that what looks like an "under saddle" will actually be addressed by going back to basics first.