Thursday, September 2, 2010

Horse Training: Bullet - a courageous and willing young horse

Often I get called to work with difficult horses; horses that have been damaged by horse-owners who, possibly  unintentionally, confuse and frustrate their equine companions. It is not difficult to spot such a horse. The horse lives in a very quiet and honest world and therefore holds nothing back when expressing his state of mind at any given moment in time. I'm happy to say that this was not the case with Bullet, the 14h1 twenty-eight month old Palomino gelding that belongs to Ted and Darcy Creason of Central Oregon.

As a self-employed horse trainer now living in Central Oregon I often hand-out my business card to anyone with cowboy boots, a pick-up truck, a cowboy hat or just about anyone looking like they have to do with horses. One day about a month ago I gave a business card to a young lady named Charlie, Ted and Darcy's grand daughter) and shortly thereafter I received a call from Ted asking if I could put their gelding, Bullet under saddle.

Bullet is an exceptionally kind and mellow young horse and I liked him the moment I set eyes on him. I could tell immediately that he'd been well taken care of and although the Creasons are not professional horse people, it was clear that they have a more than normal amount of heart and horse saavy. Heart is a major component in working with horses; otherwise the process simply as an exercise in exploitation. .

  When I first put Bullet into the round-pen he was a bit confused; nobody had ever asked very much of him; and he was therefore quite naturally a bit spoiled like a child who just doesn't want to go to school at first. Once Bullet figured-out that we were going to have fun boy he took to it like a duck to water. Plus, he's just that kind of curious, let's git'er done kind of horse. By the way, it is my opinion that it is the trainer's job to find a way to keep the horse's interest during training and to keep him curious about the learning process. Bored horses simply lose respect for the trainer and don't see any reason to be interested in this dull, lifeless and often egotistical person with which he is faced. 

Bullet took the saddle without even a wink and never bucked once when asked to walk, trot and canter with the saddle on his back. If a horse trainer understands the importance of working with discipline and with techniques that build confidence and self-esteem in the horse it is not often that the horse will feel exploited.  One of my intuitive training rules is that I never let even a moment go by when I'm starting colts without praising and building the horses self esteem. Someone asked me once to explain my philosophy of starting colts and all I could say was that I simply continually praise and talk to the horse while artistically and subtly slipping in a question here and there so that the question is asked in such a soft and non-invasive manner that the horse answers the question almost without even noticing. It is kind of like an acupuncturist I went to years agowhile living in Germany. He would take your mind off those needles in such an artful and genuinely kind way that the needles would be inserted without one even knowing. 

Normally I start colts in either a hackamore or in what's called a dually halter which was designed by Monty Roberts. With Bullet I began with the dually halter and after a few weeks progressed to the hackamore. Once a horse learns to respect and give to the light pressure on his face then just about any headstall will do the job if, that is, he's not bothered by it.  I never force equipment on a horse that he is obviously having difficulty with. 

As stated above at first Bullet didn't understand that he simply had to resign himself to his new task. When asked to move-off to the right by a slight direct reign and a little off-side leg he became cranky like a young child when asked to do his homework or make his bed. It is, by the way, a natural and necessary part of the learning process for both student and teacher. Both horse and trainer must learn to respect each other during the learning procedure. Without force or aggression we learn how to ask in a way that has dignity and honor while the horse learns to comply. If we keep this in mind and don't try to force things the horse will always , in a short time, do what is asked of him; patience in the process being a virtue for sure.

With some horses that have been taught to rebel against owners who have forced them to comply there is often a fight mostly because the horse just isn't happy with the attempt to force issues. The whole process of going under saddle, under these circumstances, can be quite difficult to say the least but with Bullet, who had developed a respect and a genuine affection for his owners and for people in general, he only wanted to please every step of the way.

A horse trainer worth his salt does not simply get the horse to do what he wants but rather, through studying the horse, getting inside the horse's head and understanding the language of Equus a good trainer creates a partnership with the horse so that the horse wants to give him what he wants. There is a huge difference in not only the process but most certainly in the end result. With one you get an unhappy horse performing against his will because his will was never taken into consideration in the first place but with the trainer who enters into a partnership with the horse you get a fully spirited, willing and even enthusiastic companion. It is heartbreakingly unfortunate that many horsemen have never experienced the wonder and the joy of the latter.  It is something to behold indeed and the horse thus trained is a totally different animal when compared to a horse put under saddle using old fashioned aggressive training methods.

And so it is that although Bullet needs miles under saddle to make him a truly disciplined, predictable and solid mount, for a young colt of only twenty-eight months he is exceptional for sure. Of all the horses I have worked with Bullet has a very special place in my heart because of his courage and his willingness to trust and to trot joyfully into the unknown. Good job Bullet and thank you Ted and Darcy and Charlie. It has been and continues to be a real pleasure for me. God I love my job.

And I whispered to the horse; 

"trust no man in whose eye you do not see yourself reflected as an equal".
Don Vincenzo Giobbe circa 1700