The importance of understanding

Dandy16Mai16-01Dandy, who turned 2 on May 10th, trying to figure out a situation. You can almost hear think !

In the video series by Stacy Westfall known as “the Jac episodes” that inspired me to start my own colt, Stacy puts a huge emphasis on the horse understanding its training. My absolute favorite reining trainer (this guy is literally a genius in his discipline), Andrea Fappani, says in one of his DVD that the horse must come up with an answer by himself, that you cannot force it upon him, or he’ll reject at some point, as he didn’t find it himself, originally. That is the concept that no one can stress strongly enough. The horse, as a living, thinking being, will have ideas, and truly, whose ideas do you enforce best, if not yours ?

Furthermore, masters like Buck Brannaman or Ray Hunt of the Dorrance brothers, routintely tell us that the horse will usually be happy to do what you’re asking unless 1) he can’t physically perform it (I’m thinking about physically demanding maneuvers from a not very athletic, or unsound horse) or 2), he hasn’t understood your request. That’s a biggie. No, actually that’s huge. Because the human, making this very request, can never in a million years accept that it isn’t perfectly clear and understandable, even by the “dummest” of horses. But guess what, the horse’s perception is very far from our perception (maybe partly because his eyesight works very differently from ours, hence he literally doesn’t see the world as we do…), hence his logic is very different from ours, hence, you guessed it, his understanding can also be very remote from what we’d expect. Not to mention the fact that we often get mad at our horses for doing… what we’ve (unvoluntarily and unconsciously) trained them to. Horse is barn sour and think the gate is the funniest place of the arena ? Guess what, you’ve taught him that ! Doesn’t want go away from his buddies in the arena or on the trail. Yup, you’ve taught him that, too…

I’ve been convinced of those principles for a long time now. Simply because, if you chose to have a small shift in your thinking, and adopt the horse’s logic for a minute, it becomes blatanly obvious. But it was really a few weeks ago, and I saw a few pictures that had been made of my harldy 2 yr old colt during a work session, that the “understanding” thingy really jumped at my face. In those pictures, my young horse really appears relaxed, focused and inquisitive, in other words he looks like he is *understanding* what’s going on

Dandy03mai16-04Dandy, paying attention to the details of saddling up, a stage that has caused him much turmoil in the past

Seing the focused and “present””, soft look on my colt’s face in these pictures, I realize how far along he’s come, from the fire breathing dragon I offloaded from the truck around 3 months ago. And geez, I don’t blame him for being scared, confused, and feeling he needed to operate from self-preservation at that time. That’s where trying to see things from the horse’s point of view REALLY matters. Despite all our efforts we tend to see things through the prism of our modern life and human obligations. We think, “Heck, I care for you, feed you, pay your board and vet bills, I only want your well-being and be your friend, and you walk on top of me, invade my space, and will crack me in the head if you get upset, what’s wrong with you ?!”. We innerly accuse the horse of ungratefulness, but how can an animal, who lives in the present, be grateful if you presently make him feel threatened ?? Buck Brannaman said something that has always stayed with me, which is, no matter how wealthy, pretty, well dressed you are, the horse only reacts to you relating to how you make him feel, at this moment. So in those first moments, the first days, I had him on a lead rope and he was bargeing in my space (for comfort, no doubt !) I had to flag him out of here with all my determination (and I was very determined to not get ran over by a 900ish lbs stud colt), thus that added to his fright, he was scared, I was (rightfully) scared, we were both operating from self-preservation and that made for a very chaotic and non pretty looking danse. God knows I felt like crying home going home from that session that first day, as this was obviously not how I had dreamed us getting acquainted, but in retrospect I realize boht of us acted legitimately, relative to the threat perceived, and there was NO reason for me to take it personally. He didn’t “hate” me, he was just trying to stay alive (from his point of view) in this new reality that has brought his world upside down. Establishing those boundaries and finding a place where he could feel safe while keeping ME safe (as in, stay out of my space and should you spook, spook away, not on top of me) allowed us to start a conversation and install the foundation of how we could understand each other, and work together.

Dandy03mai16-03It kind of took me by surprise that a few weeks later, once he was back in a large pasture, he unvariably chose to trot to the gate to meet me when I showed up for work, instead of just taking off and trying to not be caught. But I believe the reason for that is that I offered consistency, and fairness in the sense that everything I did with him, he had been introduced to, and that any pressure “follow-up” was consistend and applied in cool blood, never out of anger or resentment. And every single little try, or even thought of a try, was rewarded with a release of pressure. This way, in only a few weeks, we had a good thing rolling

Dandy03mai16-02Loving the soft and focused expression on him here

Everything that seemed difficult in the beginning, or that he wanted to resist, all fell into place as we worked on it by small pieces and consistently. Some stuff was very easily grasped and accepted. Some other stuff he wanted to pick up a fight about, because it was probably either more important to, or less easily understood for him. And of course, being a 2 year old male colt, he would try (and still will) and test those freshly established boudaries now and then. That’s fine, the key is to not take it personally, and just realize I’ve missed or lacked on a small piece of training somewhere, that I need to revisit or get fixed before we can move on.

Dandy03mai16-01Hey, that almost looks like a horsey smile on that sweet face

We’re now fully to the ridden stage, though all our sessions start with a long reviewing of our groundwork. The ridden part itself is often very limited, because he can only focus that long, and also because, having just turned two, I absolutely want to spare his growth plates as much as possible. The choice that I’ve made to start him that young, is that I wanted his mind to be malleable, so we could work our way up slowly and progressively… and also that he’s my only horse and that I’m just impatient to ride him, lol

Dandy03mai16-05Still in the round pen, one of the really early rides

Dandy03mai16-06The lope was established and going great

Dandy03mai16-07As you can see, I’m just tickled to death with him

Dandy03mai16-08Look at the ears “What are we gonna do next ?”

So whenever I hear reports of horses misbehaving, being “naughty”, “lazy”, “stubborn”, etc, I always wonder how does the horse feel about the situation, and how good is his understanding of what being asked…

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