Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I am going to school to be a teacher. It is something I know I will enjoy, but I am a little nervous about honing my skills as an instructor. I do give riding lessons, but sometimes I don't believe my verbalization of how to do something is understood. I want to get better at communicating my thoughts as well as the physical process it takes to truly understand horses and horseback riding.
I know this blog is a good tool to do that, so I thought I would try to explain some of my thoughts on trust and horses.
When I get a horse in for training, the first thing I am concerned with is gaining their trust as a competent leader. I know that most horses will not immediately trust me (nor will I immediately trust them). In gaining their trust, I am also giving them my own, that is what a partnership is built on, after all. How can I expect to teach a horse anything if his only concern is a)avoiding me or b)trying to dominate me? By establishing a trusting relationship as the leader, his only job (to respond to training) becomes quite clear to him.
So, how do I go about establishing this trust? I use a couple of methods. I like to use "join up" but I approach it a little differently than Monty Roberts. He seems to be okay with just running the horse until it's ready to give in, but I don't want my horse to be that used up. In order to get the point across a little sooner I will do lots of direction changes in the round pen. Every time I make that horse change direction, I am controlling their body. I am particular about a lot of things when I am teaching a horse to join , but I won't go into too much detail here. The main idea I am teaching them, is that I am the "safe place". If they are away from me, they are working and I am directing that work, but if I invite them in, and they accept that invitation, they get a break.
This lesson is very important, it is the foundation I use when I am teaching horses how to stand (for saddling, for grooming, for mounting, etc...) When I invite them in, and they do accept ( I first expect them to take a few steps, but eventually want them to come all the way to me and eventually follow me anywhere) I will give them a short break where I take all the pressure off and ignore them, maybe even turn my back. After that, I will go on to rub them all over, wherever I want. Most horses will be slightly offended by this at first and will want to walk off, so I start over again with the join up. I am still allowing the horse to make his own decisions, whether he wants to stay with me or not. Fairness is key in building trust. I have never had a horse who didn't want to be with me after this exercise (though, I am not saying that will never happen). Also, once this lesson is learned, it seldom has to be repeated.
What I have described above is the first step I'll take in the training process. Once a horse learns to trust me, and understands that I am in control, it is much easier for the horse to learn and catch on to other training methods. He looks to me for guidance, and that is so important in training. I am not saying that this is the only way to teach trust, but I have found it works best for me. It is something I easily understand and know how to communicate to the horses. Most respond very well to it. Of course this is just the first step in a long process, but it is an important one!