Monday, April 5, 2010

It Doesn't Matter if It's Real or Pretend

My wife and I have an understanding when we are riding. We have given each other the right to say anything about riding or horsemanship without fear of recriminations. Now in any other life endeavor this could be potentially a very dangerous situation, but with the horses it's working our for far. Twenty nine years of marriage helps too.

A couple of weeks ago we went on a "wild flower" ride through some cattle graze lands. The grass was high and when we stopped, the horses would nibble. Because we were with other riders who we had just met, we were reluctant to correct this bad behavior. Needless to say, once we got back they were looking to drop their heads and chomp at every opportunity.

I use Clinton Anderson's yielding hindquarters exercise when Jessie tries to eat grass. A couple of corrections and she gave up her union card. My wife was having a problem with her quarter horse, Dusty. He just wasn't getting it. I could tell she was getting frustrated. I couldn't see anything specifically wrong with what she was doing, but never-the-less it wasn't working.

The next weekend we went out, Dusty was still looking to graze. This time I noted my wife was a little slow with making the correction and she wasn't getting the energetic movement of the hind feet. Now, I just had to figure out a way to politely convey this.

Here's what we did: We found a spot away from any grass and I said we needed to practice yielding the hindquarters "energetically". I started demonstrating this. Jessie does this exercise fairly well, but for the purpose of my demonstration I said, "And you can't do this angrily. Just do it like you're enjoying it and as if you could do it all day long."

Then, thinking I was demonstrating some wonderful insight, I said, "Now watch what happens when you raise your voice and scold your horse." And I did that. But even though I was acting, my heart rate increased, my body tensed up, and I could feel Jessie tensing up too. It surprised me. It was amazing the physiological changes that took place just by "pretending" to be angry.

I stopped and looked at my wife and said, "Honey, you gotta try that." She did and she felt the same thing too. We practiced it a couple of more times without the pretending and we both got quicker and more effective. And, there was a lot less anxiety.

We moved back over to a grassy area and she kind of dared Dusty to nibble and when he did, she went into action. He tried it once more on that ride and did not even try on Sunday's ride.

We both learned a bit. A little preparation can prevent frustration. And it's hard to train your horse if you are angry.
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