The benefits of ‘listening’ to each individual horse

I was talking last week about working a mini pony named Poochie.  However, he does have a brother named Shmigley.  This week I am going to talk more about Shmigley.

Shmigley (Photo by Amy Miller)

Shmigley (Photo by Amy Miller)

This mini has been very challenging, to say the least.  It is not like he is mean or a very disobedient little guy, he is actually very obedient.  The problem comes from him being very spooky.  I could work with him one day and the next day it seems as if he is back to square one.  However,  I have been taking natural horsemanship lessons that are helping me to connect with him more.  We are also looking into the fact that he might be deficient in some minerals or something else in his diet.  We are still checking this out.

The first area of discipline is being able to catch him without forcing myself onto him, but instead to teach him that coming around me is an enjoyable experience.  I start out by having Shmigley run around in an arena.  I run with him at his pace.  If he starts to slow down, I slow down,  If he speeds up, I speed up.  And if he stops, I stop.  If Shmigley looks at me at all, I turn my whole body and look away from him.  If he starts to approach me, I continue to stand and have my body turned away from him, and I am usually looking away or down toward the ground.  However, if he looks away from me then I start walking in his direction until he looks at me and then I stop and turn my body and glance away.

At first, it takes time to teach any horse this game.  When Shmigley would look in my direction but not come forward, I would just sit on the ground and not move but still have my body pointing in another direction.  I then hold my hand slightly up with my palm down, in a non-threatening way, so he could reach out and smell it.  I can be sitting like this for quite a while.  But if I do this every day I eventually have Shmigley walking right up to me because he recognizes the game and knows that good things happen to him when he is with me.  This is great for helping this little horse to understand that I am not a threat but a friend.

I am also finding out that Shmigley doesn’t like a lot of pressure.  I ask him to approach a jump by gently rotating my fiberglass stick — called a carrot stick — towards his rump, and the minute he moves forward I stop the motion and reward him but dropping the tip of the carrot stick towards the ground, all pressure off.  I continue this motion of approach and retreat until he gives me a little more movement forward each time until he is finally over the jump, or has progressed enough in whatever direction I wanted him to go, whether up a pedestal or touching a ball, approaching and touching something scary, etc.

Now when I am completely through with whatever the exercise is — let’s say it is jumping over a jump —  I have gotten him to go over it a couple of times and I am now making the decision that we are finished and I take all the pressure of Shmigley, about to turn my attention on other exercises to do with him.  The mini then decides to jump the jump a couple extra times.  It’s the same way with the pedestal.  I had him approach it and eventually asked him to put his leg up on it.  But I thought the exercise was good even though he didn’t completely get up on the pedestal with his two front legs.  I was finished for the day since he worked at the courage for awhile.  He did everything I asked of him, but trying to have both hooves on the pedestal was a little much that day.  I can do it again the next.  I was finished with that exercise and ended the pressure and he tried it immediately, getting both hooves up on it.  So I am learning to give a little and then release the pressure before he tries and to see if he does it.  I am still experimenting with it.

In the time I spend with him, I am finding that my relationship is getting better, our understanding of each other is getting better, he’s more trusting.  I love it.

So between last week and my experience with Poochie and this week’s experience with Shmigley, I am here to say each individual horse or mini has their own distinct personality.  So while teaching our horses, we need to find their own distinct personality and their own way of training that needs to be done a certain way or you might not reach them in a natural way.  In other words, we need to learn how to understand their language and how to listen to that horse’s individual language and need.

That is what I am doing with all my horses:  learning to listen to each individual horse.  Training can be different with each horse and that is a new and fun discovery for me.  I am learning a lot from these horses and my present instructors.  But the more I learn, the more I understand that I still have a lot to learn about the horse.  Know this, that you must never stop learning about anything.  So go out there and learn everything you can.  Read books, watch videos, learn from instructors.  Enjoy learning at a new level, and the more you progress you will become more knowledgeable.

Please share with me your own experiences if you would like so others can learn what you have learned.

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