15 March 2011

A Book, A Chair and A Stick...

While Compa improves daily, he certainly cannot be turned out with my herd. Although he would beg to differ...

I have a multitude of things I want him to learn, so today I grabbed a book, my beach chair and a training stick and lead Compa out to the pond. The training started the moment he saw all of my paraphernalia. The questions raged: Should I spook at that stuff? What is that? (Poking his nose at the chair.) And what is that and THAT?

Good questions, all.

I walked and he poked, inspecting every little thing. I keep reminding myself that he has experienced nothing! Never take this for granted (chanting the mantra - "remember, remember...") and oh he is so lovely about asking; his curiosity always getting the better of him. I love curious horses. They view the world from a fresh new perspective, with a new pair of eyes. I wish I had a film crew; it would be wonderful to share his expressions.

Anyway, I had two goals in mind for today and unbeknownst to me, Compa had one. When we got close to the pond, Compa made his goal very clear. Yesterday's walk near the pond had him flying backwards every time the breeze came up. The ripples on the pond really frightened him. He would not get within 20 feet of the shoreline. Yesterday I ignored his behavior, adjusted my walk to a distance that suited him and he forgot about the pond. Today, he marched right up to the shore, but jumped each time a ripple lapped the edge. Nevertheless, he stood his ground, lowering his muzzle and snorting loudly.

I placed my gear away from harm and waited while Compa worked out his thought process. Obviously, he wanted to find out about the pond. Fine by me.

He was having some difficulty with the movement, but he wasn't backing down. He was afraid, but his natural boldness kept him rooted to the spot. I was fascinated, but happy, too. This little horse tries so hard to figure things out.

Slowly, he lowered his muzzle into the water and blew hard. When the water acted like the water in his bucket, he blinked and drank. That was it. Once it was over, it was over, like it never occurred to him to be afraid. Fantastic!

Now it was my turn. Gathering my stuff, I headed over to a grassy patch with Compa happily following along. I plopped the chair open and sat down. Compa inspected me thoroughly and decided I was all right. He went about eating grass. My goal was two-fold: teach Compa to pay attention to the lead rope and teach Compa to pay attention to his butt location.

Goal #1 - In my opinion the halter belongs to the horse. After all, it's attached to them in such a way that it will not come off unless I take it off, therefore, they need to be mindful of it. Secondly, I've surely seen plenty of horses take the halter away from their handler. It's called "Yank The Lead Rope". I don't like to play that game, so I teach the horses to be mindful of their equipment. It works like this...

It is not my responsibility to constantly move the lead rope out of the horse's way. Not ever. If the haltered horse steps on the lead rope and jerks it's head up, it hurts behind the poll and across the nose. This may occur twice, maybe thrice before the horse figures out which foot is on the rope and before they jerk their head up they think about stepping off the darn thing. After a while, that horse will learn to feel the rope under their foot and they step off of it. After that, the horse learns to graze and move the lead rope out of the way so it never gets close to either front foot. TaDA! The horse is now responsible for his own gear and I can quietly read my book while I hold the end of the lead.

Compa figured out the whole deal after stepping on the rope one time. He jerked his head up hard, looked at me like it was my fault and when I ignored him, he figured it out by himself. All I had to do was sit there and smile at his intelligence.

Goal #2 - Pay attention to your buttocks, they are not to find their way into my face regardless of distance. Plain and simple, I don't like a horse turning their rear end into me. I do not teach this with any meanness or anger. While Compa was eating and concentrating on his lead rope, he turned towards a yummy bit of grass. I waited until I could see the crack in his butt and then I lifted the stick and allowed the string to come down gently behind him. Compa whirled around in alarm. I smiled at him. He stood there looking at me with questioning eyes and when he saw my smile, he went back to grazing.

He lost track of his hindquarters several times before he realized the string would find him each time he forgot. I never increased the pressure of the string. I didn't need to. Compa's natural sensitivity determined the amount of pressure I used. It was very small. It was all that was necessary.

We spent a lovely afternoon together - grazing without jerking lead ropes and no buttocks in sight.


  1. What kind of halter do you use? I have the nylon breakaway kind on mine now. I am constantly trying to move the lead for him when we graze, which we do alot of. This is very interesting to me. Would like to try your way. Compa seems so smart, and as challenging as he is, I bet you are enjoying it. :)Look forward to your blogs ... like a good book you can't put down.

  2. I use rope halters with tree line leads. The lead is tied to the fiador knot at the bottom of the halter with a sheet bend knot. Rope halters do not break, therefore they teach a horse to be light. Lightness is everything! I've had horses in for training who were known pullers. They'd learned to break away by pulling hard. They unloaded from the trailer, had a rope halter placed on their heads and they were brought to the high line. Of course, they tried to break away! The high line gave slightly when they pulled, but it would not break, same with the halter. These horses had to fight hard before they realized it was they who needed to release the pressure and not the equipment.
    Hope this helps.

  3. You had taught me to encourage my horse's curiosity and I have had so much fun with that. This last weekend Precio discovered 1) chickens, and 2) a gopher tortoise. He spent a good 20 minutes following the gopher tortoise, snorting and sniffing at it. It was hilarious. What a joy to see the world through the horse's eyes!
    Thanks Dee!
    I'm going to try the lead rope and "pay attention to your buttocks" game tomorrow. Pure genius.

  4. My favorite blog of all time! :)

  5. (To clarify, not only this blog post, but this whole blog - FAVE!!)

  6. Glad to read this post as I am always moving the lead so my horse won't step on it while I am hand grazing him. I now realize I shouldn't be doing that but letting my horse learn. And the butt thing! I definitely will see what my Bullet thinks about that! I am finding your blog very informative and things I can use for my own 4 year old gelding!

  7. Dee, I have been trying the "drop the leadrope" idea and letting him figure it out. It is amazing how quickly he learns to keep it out of the way. He steps on it once or twice and in a few moments time the rope is in a straight line next to him and he moves his body accordingly. Pretty cool! :)