Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Importance of Being Flexible

It's important to be flexible. I'm not talking about being able to touch your toes - although that's nice too. No, I mean in working with horses.

I have a horse named Two Strike. I acquired him in January 2010 when I went to pick him up to train for someone and he ended up being given to me. I'd actually seen him for the first time the past May and he'd stuck in my mind ever since. So when he was offered to me, it didn't take me long to make the decision.

He is a... "different" kind of horse. Highly reactive and not very trusting at all. In an oddly ironic way, he has lived up to his name - having met my thigh with his hoof two times. The first was an accident, the second was my fault. Both were cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with a horse who thinks everyone and everything is going to eat him, right NOW.

Despite all of the challenges he presents, I can tell that he wants to be a good boy. He tries hard, sometimes too hard, to give what is asked of him. By that I mean that he will move QUICKLY when asked. He is always on alert and it's rare to ever see him in a relaxed state.

Anyway, he hasn't had much work done with him over the past several months due to the roller coaster ride my life had taken me on this summer. Last night I decided to get back to work with him. So I gathered up some tools - a training stick, lunge line, and bridle. Then I went to get him.

We started in the arena at liberty. I let him blow off some steam while I set the direction and speed. Then we moved to the round pen. I found myself working him off line and I ended up focusing on two things. One - turning in to face me when he changes direction. Two - "Whoa" means stop where you are and don't move. Somehow along the way he had come to the conclusion that "Whoa" means "Come here" - which has no translation for when someone is on his back. Whoa means whoa... or quite simply, stop.

We worked on those little things until I was happy with his changes of direction and until he stopped three times and stayed at the fence. Then I called him in and gave him some attention.

My next step was to climb up on the fence and got him to come in close - something he's always been very wary of (having someone up high). We worked through that for a little while. All I did was stroke his neck over and over and over from above, until he relaxed. He was surprisingly calm and seemed quite relaxed at the end of our training session.

As I walked him out of the arena, I happened to notice the training stick, lunge line, and bridle all hung neatly outside the gate where I had put them. I smiled a bit as I remembered that I'd had plans for the training session. I ended up on a different path and I think it was for the better.

Yep, it's important to be flexible when working with a horse.