Sunday, January 24, 2010
A Way to Connect
We’re in the middle of the winter doldrums around here. I was realizing that I was just taking care of my horses on auto pilot. The girls have also been bored and follow a routine like old school horses traveling the well worn path. We’ve still got many weeks to go before we can revive our spirits with Spring. I remembered how much fun we had with clicker training several winters ago, so I started poking around for a new project.
Leave it to Carolyn Resnick, a wise and generous horsewoman, to share something really special with everyone during this slow season. She has been teaching her “Uberstreichen Exercises” on her blog. These simple activities can be done in the barn or in a small area and offer new ways to connect with your horse. As simple as they appear to be, they are actually a great way to test how well you are able to communicate with your horse. Ultimately, she believes that they will give you a more positive response and encourage willingness from your horse when you ride.
I decided to give them a try. The first exercise can be done with the horse wearing a halter and standing in a stall. The horse must first be comfortable with you being there and stand quietly on its own. You put your hands on either side of the horse’s head, touching the halter straps, but not grabbing on so your fingers don’t get caught. Carolyn tells us: “Hold the horse’s head straight, breathe deeply, and relax. If the horse turns his head one way or the other gently bring it back to where the horse will tolerate it, then let go slowly and walk away and disconnect. The disconnect is very important to practice. The horse is learning to give and to stay put. He is learning to be responsible without you having to police him. This teaches your horse to stay focused in a hold as well as in a disconnect. Self-carriage of the horse’s gaits can only occur when the horse is free from the rider’s active influence. This exercise starts the journey. Self-carriage creates proper carriage and natural collection.”
It took a while for me to reach the point where Silk and Siete understood what I was asking them to do. They were both attempting to look around just in case they were missing anything else, but finally I could see them decide to humor me and stay focused on what I was asking them to do. So, now I’m going to do this again for a few more days and then attempt to move on to the next exercise. It’s always amazing to me how the simplest action can often be deceptively difficult and can reveal so much about how you approach things in the world. To be quietly determined, without losing my patience and to stay cheerful is a lesson that will serve me well in other aspects of my life.
The other thought that Carolyn shares with everyone is an idea she learned from her father when she was a little girl. Reading what she wrote had a profound effect on me. When she began to train an unruly horse, her dad asked her, “Where would you start that you are not afraid to do with that horse?” From then on, she has always begun training a horse with “what I can do that is safe and that the horse will allow”. Again, it’s a very basic notion, but how often do we try to rush ahead and ask our horses to do too much too soon?
I urge you to visit Carolyn's blog and read the exercises carefully before you try them. They are a real gift and I thank her for her generosity and willingness to share.