I’ve had my horses at home for almost a year now. A glorious, empty bank/full heart year. I wanted to share a few of the huge changes I’ve begun to understand about my training process now that I have my horses at home. There are aspects of keeping horses at home that I never fully understood about owning horses until I was living in MY own home.
Now a little back story: I grew up with horses. I saw them every day. I heard their nickers, I fed, cleaned stalls…groaned and complained about my chores….and I rode them, bred them and foaled them. I lived the ranch life but I didn’t really understand what a privilege it was when I was a wee kid. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone…and yet when began my adult journey and I started boarding horses I was just so happy to have my horses with me, in a new state, with no one I really knew so my horse was there to comfort me. (yup I was the weirdo at work always talking about my horses but never really interacting with people) Horses were a source of comfort and a retreat from the culture shock that is adult life: A slice of the familiar in an unfamiliar world.
So what did I do each time I saw them at the barn? Fed them treats, brushed them, talked to them and rode them or worked on a specific something each time. Usually in that order. My whole focus was getting my boys going so I could Event them and if you look at my early blog posts here you can see that.
Then I found my current awesome, amazing home….and I took a MAJOR leap of faith and bought it. For the first time in over 7 years I had my horses HOME. Not my home growing up or someone else barn. MY home. Things began to change with how I began approaching training. As I began to see my horses day in and day out I began to notice nuances that I never noticed before. I began to see the individual personalities of my horses. The uniqueness to both my horses all the time not just under saddle. I became curious of how horses actually responded to each other and their responses in turn. I started seeing how they looked at things. From items they saw every day to something new I set out just a few minuets before. I began to see how they interacted with each other. From playing to ass whooping and everything in between.
As I began to observe their changes of behavior I began to hang out with them more. I’d spend time scratching both boys. Sitting out reading a book while they grazed and just being around them but not asking for anything in return. As the days, weeks and months wore on I started to see them accept me as part of their herd. A weird herd mate with very abnormal tendencies in their eyes, but they began to relax around me and see me as a friend instead of just a treat machine (though they never stop begging). They began to hear the sound of my truck and meet me at the fence and appear to be excited to get out of the field to see me. If I was doing chores they happily gather to graze close to where ever I’m working
I began to realize that every time I went to see them I didn’t have to bust out the saddle and bridle and ‘work’ on something. I began to experiment with body language (a very ongoing learning experience I might add) and see how the boys reacted to it. As I began to use more conscious body language the boys began to react to me differently. Respect was earned on a herd level. Cash, the alfa of the 2 horse herd, suddenly respected ME as the Leader when I moved him off like he moves Jack. When I stood my ground and made him back off using only my body language.
Jack began to play with me. Running and kicking and having a great time (especially with treats involved) and Cash began to investigate the playing as well and would try, and usually succeeds, in stealing me away as ‘his’ human, much like a horse will keep a buddy away from others in a pasture.
The longer I have had them at home the more I’ve realized that what I required was less ‘training’ and more listening. As I begin to listen to my horses. Watch their moves and learn what is a ‘I don’t understand’ response from the ‘I’m an unruly spoiled brat’ response our understanding on the ground AND in the saddle has exploded. As I have begun to use patience and persistence in training my horses have come around 100 fold in their trust and effort to please. As I have gained respect so I have given it. I realize now when I’m pushing something to hard, When I’m asking a for a specific response wrong and when I need to re assert myself as leader. Or when my horse had reached his limit and we need to stop, regardless of how long or short the session has been.
Nothing is with force anymore (unless I let my emotions gain hold…I’m still human after all). Now I don’t mind spending a whole session at the walk. I don’t mind completely deveating away from what I thought I was going to do that day. I will continue to change my training for each individual horse as best as I can. What works for Jack doesn’t work for Cash all the time and vice versa.
I think one of the biggest changes for me is I no longer care if I event. I no longer care if my horse can jump 2’6 or is in the perfect frame and ‘accepts the bit’. Heck half the time my horses aren’t even wearing bits. While I still love the feel of jumping, the adrenaline rush of competing isn’t needed anymore. Instead of working towards shows, I’m now working towards building relationships based on trust and understanding for both of us.
Having my horses at home has completely changed how I look at my horses, how I train my horses and how I advocate for my horses. My ideals have almost done a 180 from where I was a year ago and I’m perfectly happy with it. If we aren’t seeking to better ourselves then we are failing ourselves and our horses.
In the end I think my horses have taught me more then I could ever teach them. It’s all still a work in progress and I’m sure I’ll make more then a few errors along the way but for once I’m looking to my horse to help me out and not another human.
Until next time.