People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.
I actually enjoy mucking out horse stalls. Not because scooping poop is an ideal way to spend my free time, but when I’m not pressed for time and can muck at a leisurely pace, I relax and find myself getting lost in thought. As I continue to seek out the opportunities necessary to make training horses a successful and full-time career, “What can I be doing better?” or “What am I not doing that I should be doing?” are often the themes of my thoughts. Today’s topic went back to my “Why?” I’ve already blogged specifically about why I train horses; to TRAIN horses to be calm, yet responsive to cues, and to change the mindset of others who feel that dominance and submission are the tools necessary to break a horse. Today’s thoughts drifted back to the beginning. I paused for a minute and looked at my own horses as I realized, it all started with them. This goal of a successful and full-time career training horses started with them. And I started asking myself, “Why did I decide to train my own horses?”
I reflected on Lakota first. She was in my immediate sight and I often think of her first when I think of training, because she seems to have the most to learn. When I first bought her she was very high strung. Her eyes were big, her head was high, and she quickly turned away or bolted from anything out of the norm. She was nervous about trailering. She would toss her head, pull back in the trailer, and kick the trailer. At first she wouldn’t even back out of a trailer, this progressed to rushing off the trailer backwards when I was trying to load her. She was sensitive to every touch. I could barely pet her behind the withers without her twitching, much less put a saddle on her without her quivering and snorting. She wouldn’t let anyone near her back feet. The first time the farrier was out I think he spent an hour on just one of her rear hooves. It took a long time for me to get her showing any signs of relaxation while working with her.
Why did I decide to train her myself? Because she is going to be a horse my daughters will ride. I want her to be responsive. I don’t want them to have to use force to get her to do the things they are asking. Too often I see young riders pulling and kicking on their horses as hard as they can to try and get their cooperation. I’ve seen annoyed horses act out in dangerous ways with their riders, and people act like it is no big deal. What is that teaching the next generation of horsemen/women? As well as responding to cues, I want Lakota to have the mental skills to remain calm. In new situations and moments of surprise and uncertainty, I want to be able to trust the horse my daughters are riding, to keep a level head, and keep them safe. From what I have seen as typical, and not knowing many trainers in my area, much less the methods they use, I was certain that to achieve these two goals from Lakota, I needed train her myself. I’ve been working with Lakota for about a year now. She has come a long way. She does great with trailering. I pick up and clean all four feet in a matter of minutes on a daily schedule. The farrier is out regularly with no troubles. She will flex laterally, disengage her hind end, walk, trot, and lope on a loose rein, steer, and back up softly. She will walk, trot, and lope over small obstacles on the ground. We are currently working on side passing. My oldest has ridden her on leadline. My daughter is only 3 years old but has already made up her mind that Lakota will be her horse and they will do mounted shooting events together. In her words “Ride Lakota fast, shoot balloons.”
About the same time I started training Lakota, I started retraining Broker. He was my first horse. Before he was my first horse, he was my sister’s first horse. He is an older horse, who has always been a great horse, until he started bucking. It didn’t take me long to realize, as most bucking issues are, it was a result of inconsistent and improper handling. In this case, it was my handling. With him being my first horse, I didn’t know any better, and I allowed him to be disrespectful and lazy for long enough that it evolved into bucking. Why did I decide to solve this and retrain him myself? Because he was my first horse, who had been patient and forgiving in a lot of situations in the very beginnings of our relationship. This lasted until he realized, at the time, I was not an effective leader and someone needed to step up the plate, he felt it might as well have been him. And I let him. I made that mistake, and I owed it to him to be the one to work with him to fix it. After re-establishing our roles, so that he realized I was a leader who he could trust, and also one he should respect, we began working on the bucking. It did not take long and I was able to ride him again without a buck. Until I started asking for a lope. This is where I really saw the laziness come out. The buck was back when I asked him to lope. However, I now had tools to work on this. I put the time in and we worked through this. He is now my willing partner when we ride and if I give him a job to do, he is more in tune to me than ever before. I’ve realized with him, I can actually start working on and accomplishing some of the things I have always dreamed of doing in my riding, but never thought were possible. And this was all done by re-TRAINING my horse… not breaking him.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.