GOT TRAINING PROBLEMS? ASK THE HORSE FIXER! © 2002 by JP Giacomini
Copyright ©2002, PUBLISHED 2002
“Training for Contingencies” versus “Miracle One-Day-Training”
This article on “colt starting” is dedicated exclusively to riders over 50, like myself or even over 30 for that matter, who need some scientific justification for the decrease in daring that comes naturally with age. Younger people need to save themselves the time needed to read this article, because I KNOW that they won’t really believe me as of yet :~). I remember being younger, a lot dumber and not able to hear the voices of experience. You, young and athletic guys can keep climbing on unprepared green colts and give yourselves a little adrenaline high. Come visit us later after a few falls and
whoopsies, when your bodies don’t bounce so well anymore. We won’t think any worse of you for it!
Let’s talk among ourselves, older and stiffer folks, about the exciting day when any of us has to sit on a horse for the first time (not YOUR first time, HIS). On that day, most horses still have a very limited knowledge of humans, except to be loaded, led or brushed. They are still mostly ruled by their instincts (geared towards survival and procreation). It is important to remember that ALL horses RESIST ANY CONTACT STIMULUS, at first by either pushing into it, or running away from it. Here is a (short) list of horses’ natural reactions and the resulting resistances to the likely pressures involved in handling and riding:
~ Throwing their head up when aggressed from their back (the easy way for a horse to kill a big cat trying to kill him is to throw himself backwards). Could that explain the resistance to halter pressure on the poll?
~ Tightening their flanks when pinched or kicking with their hind legs, both in defense against the biting of pack predators (wolves, etc.). Could that explain why our legs/spurs do not make horses go instantly (or calmly) forward or why they kick at the whip?
~ Brace their feet on the ground to push with their shoulder for the purpose of mating mares or fighting other males. Could that explain weight resistances to our delicate hand and leg requests?
To add insult to injury, the moment we get on their back, everything changes for the worse:
~ horses have to get used to a threatening presence above them that instinctively reminds them of somebody planning to eat them;
~ they have to tolerate a tight girth on their chest, yield to cold metal in their mouth or a hard rope on their nose and spurs on their flanks;
~ they suddenly have to carry weight and reorganize their balance and their gaits;
~ they have to give up their self-determination of direction, gait, speed and body position.
In a word, they have to give all their instinctual behaviors when we ride them. That’s a lot to accept at once, isn’t it? Particularly for a horse that hasn’t signed on for it.
Yet, you may ignore all that information and still decide to “get him rode” today, just like the “miracle rider” you watched at the Everywhere USA Horse Fair, did last week-end in his brilliant Colt Starting Demo. This method known as “Miracle Training”, consists of getting on the horse after minimal preparation (consisting of social whispers, round-penning etc.) and hoping for (pleasant) results within the afternoon. If you are not currently fit enough to cope with the amusing surprises thrown in by young colts, meaning if you are not as agile, relaxed and skilled as the guy from the fair, you need a complete makeover before you start this colt! Train yourself thoroughly as a Marlboro man body-double (the ones who do the real falling off in the
photo shoots). Enroll at the gym and take a yoga class to become flexible and agile, learn
to control your breathing and, most importantly, practice transcendental meditation to control your emotions at all times. You can also repeatedly go on really scary carnival rides until you can keep breathing throughout.
By the time you act as cool and savvy as the young man in tight jeans from the fair, you can believe that you are going to be just fine with that colt. Trust me on that, he said, that is: if the colt is not 10 years old and sold by the time you are finally ready to get on. You will have learned that the easiest thing to do when the horse suddenly jumps with his tail between his legs (just because a paper flew by) is to elegantly adjust your Stetson (or your Irish flat cap, according to the season and the assistance), rebalance yourself without squeezing your legs for dear life, and therefore avoid a serious bucking fit and subsequent public humiliation. If things get worse, you will certainly be able to graciously slide off, pretend you are not scared at all and jump right back on in a gravity-defying style.
If you are smarter, consider what the horse REALLY needs to know in order for this first ride to happen safely for YOU. At the risk of repeating myself from previous articles, here is a checklist:
~ the horse has to become WILLING (in general and , in particular to move forward),
~ READY (to obey NOW),
~ RELAXED (as the exercise permits),
~ ROUNDED (in his topline in order to carry the weight effectively),
~ SYMMETRICAL (in his response to your aids, so as to perform well and stay
~ SELF-CARRYING (so as not to runaway with you) and,
~ SELF-PROPELLED (so as not to need your constant nagging to go down the road).
In a word, it is a tall order to implement such a training program in a day!
One of the very simple principles that composes my list of training rules reads: “Do not expect your horse to know how to do whatever you haven’t taught him yet”. This really applies to the fact that each one of the little lessons we give, ONLY means that the horse has learned literally THAT action and no other piece of training we brainlessly assume/wish/expect to be included in the lesson package. When the miracle trainer gets to ride a young horse for the first time in one hour/day etc., it ONLY means that the horse has learned to put up with the weight of that guy, in that arena, without any other extraneous stimulus. Anybody more nervous than the original rider, any dog more exalted than the one who was there, any sensation other than the ones the horse was submitted to during the original experience, will not be tolerated by the horse without some degree of surprise, evasion or resistance. The horse may behave very well when his immediate world appears under control, but may later jump from under you if something different occurs (this can happen 3 days later, when the surprise effect has disappeared, as I have often seen).
Now consider the “Training by Principles Method” that prepare horses for all Contingencies ”. If you don’t have the inclination or the ability to ride like a young (and able) cowboy, then you need to train the horse and achieve the results mentioned in the checklist above. Principles of training followed to the letter will get your horse prepared for all the contingencies of life BEFORE YOU GET ON HIM, so he will be oblivious to your lack of balance, nervousness and assorted mistakes. Instead of getting on the horse the first day and spend the next 30 days (or his entire life in some cases) to erase the bad impression you created on your first ride, I suggest you rather spend the first 30 days systematically modifying his natural response to contact (through relaxation work) and his instinctual behavior (through a series of progressive exercises) into a new set of responses that will make your first day on his back, so to speak, a cinch! Next month, I will tell you how I invented the “Relax, Reflex, Reward Technique™ that I now use to prevent young (and old) horses from inflicting on me the indignities of fear and discomfort occasionally associated with horse training.
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