Horse whispering, part 2
Last time, I proposed that genuine horse whispering consisted of testing for problems, understanding the problems, then solving them. Many horses might not be bothered with a rider on their back from the very beginning, yet others will be. This is true with nearly everything we introduce to a horse. Some will accept things that others will not, and vice versa.
I usually start by testing how and where horses accept human touch. I will then move on to testing how well they give to pressure and even rhythmic pressure, before testing how well they accept me and my equipment in motion around them.
With human touch, the easiest and safest thing to touch on horses is their shoulder. If they are fine with that, then we can graduate up to their head and then down to their feet, then back to their tail. If they have a problem with a certain area, then I will stroke the area they are most comfortable with, with more the strokes gradually into uncertain areas. It is good to stroke quickly into these areas, then moving out quickly, gradually leaving our hand there longer and longer. If a horse will not let us touch it, and especially if it turns its rear toward us, I will pet it with about a four-foot stick. When it accepts that, then I will start tapping it with the stick to encourage it to show me its shoulder (in a small area such as a stall), then I will pet with the stick when it responds correctly.
We might have to “touch” its two-foot space, before its one-foot space, before its three-inch space, before an actual touch. An actual touch should be soft and quick, backing off then trying again. These are the kind of steps that can help solve the problem fairly quickly. All of this is under the “observe, remember and compare” attitude of God’s fourth commandment. We have to feel out the situation, trying not to be robotic, but rather sensitive to adjust to fit what is happening.
When we test horses’ ability to give to pressure, we are determining how much control we will have if they panic and try to leave, or ignore our requests to stop or change direction. If we have a problem there, then we need to use near perfect timing with our pressure, and release to have the crystal clear communication of God’s ninth commandment. Sometimes horses will panic when they first feel pressure, so we should use a longer lead rope and a small pen to help them. The longer lead rope allows them more of a buffer, and the small pen helps to turn them. But the timing of when we apply pressure and how much is important for the horse to think and not panic.
When we have established that we have a reasonable amount of give to pressure for control, then we can start introducing movement by us, and then our equipment. We should test jumping, swinging and all kinds of movement that might bother a horse. We need to be sensitive to their concerns. If they are bothered about a lead rope landing on their back, a saddle would be worse yet. Before I attempt a saddle, I will get them fairly comfortable with a lead rope, a blanket, a stick with a bag or string. Many times I will get on a horse bareback before I saddle to determine whether they have a problem with me on their back first. If there is a problem, I can get off much quicker than being in a saddle, then try again. I might have to give them a ground workout before I try again so I can establish being on their back as a resting time for both of us.
I also want to know if horses have a problem with me moving close beside them, because when I am riding I am close but just higher. Before I get on, I will get them used to me bouncing beside them as though I am jumping on, then on one of those bounces, I can weight their back for a little bit. When they accept my weight draped over their back I will get on.
Usually the main reason a horse will buck is the feeling of the cinch tight at their girth when we saddle. They will not usually react until they start in motion. Some horses won’t be bothered until they walk, trot, or run, and some will not be bothered at all. These are some specifics concerning testing a horse, and how we can break it into smaller steps to overcome problems we find.
“Horse whispering” is horse training that gets results quickly because we are sensitive to a horses real concerns. Our attitude, distractions, among many other things may affect our success here. But the key is to “focus” so we better know the steps we need to provide to the horse to help us both succeed.
The most realistic thing we can do is ask God to show us the things we may not be seeing in true humility.
Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: email@example.com.