ChaseBugBanner

An Assessment of the "Disrespectful" Horse

“Did you say she was a kids’ horse – you mean giving pony rides to grandkids, that sort of thing?” Yes, that was it. For five years, the mare had been a saint, never put a foot wrong.

“So for five years, her job was to take care of these babes in the saddle… which meant tuning out the feel of a busy leg, or tug on the rein that did not really mean anything, or a squeal of delight or fear… as the mare adjusted a foot here and there to help them keep their balance. Have you watched those horses do that – the ones that take very seriously the job of staying under their rider?” There were fond sighs around the table, and a story or two shared.

“What was this mare’s job, actually, from her point of view?” The lady looked a little quizzical.  “Well they didn’t really ask anything of her” she said. This was the problem she had inherited now, “There is just so much to undo”.

“Well, the thing is, from her point of view, her job was to take care of everything, and it sounds like she was very clear about that job, took it quite seriously, and with some pride. No doubt she was loved and rewarded profusely for doing the job so well.” I sensed I was failing to connect the dots for this lady, as much as she listened carefully. “ For five years, she was responsible for where she placed her feet, for setting the speed, and the direction, as she also stayed under her cargo… right?” The lady softened a little. “In other words, in that context, ‘taking over’ was actually the job she was relied on to do.” The lady shifted  a tad in her seat.
“I know I haven’t met this mare yet, so I could be wrong, but I’d suggest that she is as honest as they come; perhaps it’s just that the job she knows so well is not fitting your expectations of her in this new context. “ The lady looked confused, and a little dismayed, as though this might mean there were no hope.  “So perhaps, all that is needed is to teach this mare her new job?” I added.

As she thought things over a little, it struck me as odd now that at one time I used those words in a pretty similar way. “Respect” and “disrespect” are used often when it comes to horses. Somewhere along the way, I noticed that their meaning seems to have become mostly synonymous with the horse being  “right” and “wrong”. By the time I made this connection, I had learned quite a bit more about feeling of the horse and it was obvious, on reflection at least, that being around horses need have very little to do with “right” and “wrong”. More interesting and more relevant is how well a person can adjust to access the horse’s mind and shape him to release his feet in a job they are doing together. I suppose you could say that when that is working, there is respect. It is not the kind mentioned above though. It is a mutual respect, that has come from offering the horse respect in a way that he reciprocated. There is a marked difference between the two. The lady looked puzzled, but more open.

“What is your mare’s job now, when you ride her?” I asked.

By now, the appy lady had that look about her that we have all experienced, when grappling with a set thought pattern that has slightly de-railed, but not quite. I was seeking to reveal the horse though – not to de-rail her, but to help her switch tracks.

“Well, her last job was to make her own decisions about where best to put her feet, but her new job is to offer them to you to place” I continued “It’s a lot like the thoroughbreds that come off the track. For several years after birth, they are taught to push into pressure – run through it please – the job is to move through and clear the path to the finish line. Then the horse is retired from racing and finds a home with a well-intentioned new owner. But this owner has often been taught to use a judicious escalation of pressure, with a different plan – to cause the horse to yield from it. Which doesn’t always work out so well at first.” The energy shifted around the table as the connection was made now, with the horse’s point of view. “And then the horse is criticized for being pushy and disrespectful”

Oops… there is that word again.

Mark Rashid

RashidBookCover

"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond

LDaudiobook

"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance

bilsbook

"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech

FaverotBookCover

“...plus le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle

CavendishBookCover

"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle