Monday, May 13, 2013

Ah Ha Moments

If you have spent anytime at all working with, or around horses, you are probably well aware of what I am talking about.  You are probably also aware that both you and the horse have them, but it's usually for the opposite reason.  The horse has them when they figure out what it is you are asking them to do; you on the other hand have them when you realize why the horse is not responding in the correct way to what you are asking for.  I much prefer for the horse to have way more of these moments than me, because if I'm having more than the horse, I am doing a whole lot of something wrong.

I try to train horses using baby steps or the K-I-S-S (Keep It Simple Stupid) method, which ever you prefer to call it.  I try to break everything down into the simplest steps, regardless of how many it takes, and not move tot he next step until the current step is nearly perfect. (I know that perfection is an illusion, but it conveys the message better.)  And by nearly perfect, I mean instant and light.  I'll use getting a horse used to being saddled as an example.  For the sake of keeping this post on subject, I'll state up front that I've already had this horse long enough to do most of it's ground work, so it knows that in the center with me is where it gets to chill out and rest.  So, what all is involved in getting a horse saddled and ready to ride?  First is the saddle blanket or pad, second placing the saddle on the back, third letting the girths down, fourth reaching under to get the front girth, fifth tightening the front girth, sixth reaching under to get the back girth, seventh adjusting the back girth, eighth getting the breast collar around the chest, ninth adjusting the breast collar, tenth attaching the breast collar between the front legs to the front girth, eleventh checking the front girth for proper tightness.  And all of that is just to get the saddle on, we're not really worried about getting in the saddle right now.

So ok, first thing first get the horse used to having a saddle blanket on them.  I like to use a thin Navajo blanket, because it can be folded up to be pretty small.  I start with letting the horse see and smell it with it folded up as small as possible.  I do not have the horse restrained in anyway.  If the horse chooses to leave, it can within the confines of the round pen.  I work the horse for a few minutes, then allow them to come back to the center, and repeat the first step.  Once the horse will calmly sniff and look at the blanket, with it still folded up, I start to rub it all over their body.  Again, if it wants to leave it can, it will be worked shortly then invited back to the center and I will start with the first step of seeing and smelling again, because I know that the horse is good at that step.  I again try rubbing the blanket all over the horse's body, not moving forward in the process until the current step is rock solid.

Now, for the sake of this, time wise, I am going to write this out in a step by step list, but keep in mind that you do not move on to the next step until the current step is basically set in concrete.  There will be some notes to describe the current step.  I do this process in a round pen with no halter or lead rope, but if you are not comfortable with that you can use them.  Now, on to the list.

Getting a horse used to being saddled:

  1. Let the horse see and smell the blanket with it folded as small as possible.
    1. A navajo blanket is usually used folded in half.  I can usually get about three more folds in it before it gets too thick for me to hold with one hand.  So, I can get it down to about 1/16th of its full size.
  2. Rub the horse down with the blanket, all over its body.
  3. Remove one fold & repeat step 1.
  4. Repeat step 2, with one fold removed.
  5. Remove the second fold & repeat step 1.
  6. Repeat step 2 with two folds removed.
  7. Remove the third fold & repeat step 1.
  8. Repeat step 2 with the third fold removed.
    1. At this point you should have the blanket at the size that it will be used on a regular basis.
  9. Take your lead rope and wrap it around your horse's heart girth.
  10. Pull the lead rope snug with only your hands, and then release the pressure.
    1. This is to get the horse used to pressure in that area gradually.
  11. Put a surcingle on the horse, and adjust it snugly.
    1. If you do not have a surcingle or access to one, you can make a temporary one using two girths, an off billet, and a cinch.  It doesn't have to be spectacular to serve the purpose intended.
  12. Remove the surcingle.
  13. Let the horse see and smell the saddle.
    1. Depending on your saddle size and weight, rubbing the horse down with it is out of the question.
  14. Set the saddle on the horse's back, but do not let go of it.
    1. Leave all of your normal equipment on the saddle, but have it tied up, like how you store it.  Let the off side stirrup hand just like you normally go.
  15. Remove the saddle.
  16. Repeat steps 14 & 15 until the horse stands calm and relaxed for it.
  17. Pull the front girth under, and cinch it up, just enough to keep the saddle in place.
    1. Cinch the girth slowly, allowing the horse to adjust.
  18. Pull the back girth under, and adjust it properly.
  19. Pull the breast collar around and secure it properly.
  20. Secure the breast collar to the front girth, between the front legs.
  21. Tighten the front girth, slowly allowing the horse time to adjust to the new pressure.
  22. Ask the horse to move off.
    1. The first time the horse moves with the saddle, its reaction can range from explosive bucking to just walking off calmly.  Either way, be prepared for it.
  23. Repeat steps 18-22, until the horse stands relaxed until you ask it to move, and then it moves off in a calm manner.
The reason that I wrote all of this out is to try to explain how I try to avoid my Ah Ha moments.  Whoever said that you can not plan out how to train a horse was wrong, except for one aspect, the time.  It takes however long it takes.  But you can plan out the steps to get there, in an attempt to prevent your Ah Ha moments and increase the horse's Ah Ha moments, which come from them getting what you are asking for.  In the example above, we want the horse to stand, quietly and accept being saddled and then move off when told to do so.

The process that I described above actually takes less time to do that it took me to write it out; and possibly less time than it took you to read it, depending on your reading speed.  The key for it to work is to keep repeating the entire process until the horse no longer resists any part of it; and to not move on until the horse has its Ah Ha moment about each step of the process.  You may not be able to plan this out to the minute, but you can plan out the steps required.  Then you will have measurable results, regardless of if it took you one minute or one hour, just be prepared to spend whatever amount of time it requires.  Just remember to increase the horse's Ah Ha moments and decrease yours.

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.

Until next time,