One reason that I raise my eyebrows and roll my eyes with Big Name Trainers is their adherence to rules. It seems to be “do only this” when in reality, horses are individualistic animals which dictate a flexible and adaptable approach to working with them.
When working with students, either riding or with ground training, it is the inflexible ones who seem to end up having the most trouble. It’s hard for them to switch gears and gauge their response by what the horse presents; this seems to be because the student – who has learned never to think for themselves and that there is only “one right way” is trying to apply linear thinking to a situation that needs lateral, problem solving.
This was no more apparent to me then today with the Liberty work with Z in the large dirt arena. I could tell she was excited because she was really stepping out when I lead her out of her pasture. When I took her through the gate, she wasn’t listening to me at all and instead had her eyes on the two Black Beauties (the owners’ Freisian mares were grazing the commons which wraps around this arena). I let her go, and sat down in a chair.
She made her way down to the opposite end of the arena so she could get closer to the mares (who thankfully ignored her). About 15 minutes of grazing the arena (unfortunately, grass has gotten back in with all this rain), she finally started to walk back down to me.
I fed her some carrots, groomed her and then she left again when I squirted some medicine on her back leg wound. At this point, most people would have gotten impatient and just haltered her, however, I had time, so I sat back down for another 10 minutes. When it was clear she wasn’t going to engage again with me, I walked down to her, fed her some carrots, turned and left slowly.
At this point she decided to follow me. What really makes me snicker about a certain Trainer is the idea of that the horse is freely following because of a connection, when in reality she uses carrots. Not hard to get a horse to connect when you have a carrot – yet are they connected to the carrot or to you? In the beginning, trust me, it’s the carrot and not your phenomenal Chi-Power.
Here is where the concept of feel starts to play a huge part in how you work with the liberty horse. Remember, the liberty horse can leave at any time, and this is a huge arena. You have to be aware of the horses’ mood and anticipate their movement before it happens.
Case in point: She followed me on a tackless lead. When I stopped she stopped. Click, treat. We walked on and started a huge circle. At times she thought about disengaging, so before that could happen, I would change my own position to that of driving from behind, walking backwards in front or sending her away…
At one point, I dropped behind her and start leading from behind. This is not a new concept – irregardless of Carolyn Resnick citing it as if she has some sort of exclusivity rights to it. Leading from Behind started long ago with driving concepts, and is also detailed in works by Klaus Hempfling (Zone 3 p. 67 Dancing with Horses) and Linda Tellington-Jones. Resnick just puts the old “Monty-Roberts-Learned-from-the-Wild-Horses” spin on it which seems to appeal to the romantically minded, horse person.
Being behind the horse you have two choices: to follow the lead horse as if you are a partner letting the horse be in charge; or to direct the horse in front as if you are “driving”, selecting pace and direction. I find it useful to switch in-between these roles.
The horse partnership is not always with us as leaders and definitely should not always have the horse slavishly following us at all times, esp. not during liberty work which should allow more free will to encourage the horses’ beautiful movement.
Zone 3, Hempfling writes has medium dominance, optimal development of independence, self-responsiblity and confidence. This is why, horses who “don’t wanna” will often react strongly and leave when you are in Zone 3. You are putting a lot of mental pressure upon them and they have the maximum potential to make the decision to leave (as opposed to say, Zone 1).
What is interesting with Behind driving is that horses which are tuned out, abused or have been over-used by humans, will wander off from you and you lose their interest – in their mind you are just being a bully.
While, the strong-willed horse (like Z) will eventually get fed up with you in this position, and will also leave – generally at a higher rate of speed and like today with a good kick from behind (“fuck you!”) as an exclamation point.
Before the horse can disengage, you must time it where you leave the Behind position and go back from leading from Front, sideways companion walking, or sending away.
Leading from Front is Hempflings’ Zone 1 which has greatest dominance, minimal independence on the horses’ part, and where developing the horses’ self-responsibility is not really possible. However, Zone 1 is the position to start in when you have a horse who is really not listening – if you started in Zone 3, the horse would disengage before you could connect.
The point being is this is a fluid conversation and very much based upon how the horse is feeling that particular day, the horses’ level of training, the horses’ personality or amount of self-will, and your relationship with that horse.
To sum up today’s session with LadyZ: When she did not want to engage, I walked up to her, Said Hello (Carolyn Resnick’s term), fed a carrot and left. When she followed, I went into Zone 1 and she did a Tackless Lead down the arena showing me she was interested in working together and getting more carrots.
At one point when I felt her attention drifting, I went back to Behind (Zone 3) for about 6 horse lengths. Then I would move away, slowing my pace, often stopping or backwards walking to widen the distance between us. She would naturally follow (horses follow what moves away from them – whether that is from curiousity or just “hey! don’t leave me!” I don’t know but it seems universally true with them).
From Zone 1, I would drift to her shoulder (Zone 2) and using the whip behind me with slow taps on the ground keep her momentum (not allowing her to stop). If she was getting too close (her pushy horse behavior), I would fan the whip faster and raise my knees, signaling her to trot off – usually sending her away from me about 4 horse lengths.
What is interesting to note here is that when you send a dominant horse off, they often will react strongly – rearing, bucking, striking out or running off is not uncommon. Be prepared for it.
However, what is very interesting is no matter how strongly they object to being sent away, they come back, wanting to re-connect, almost as strongly as they left! Personally, I like it when there are strong objections to leaving – it generally means they will quickly re-engage.
The further she pulled away the less movement I would use – often just stopping. Then she would turn and walk back to me. Click and Treat.