Our life with horses began one year ago. It would be an understatement to say it has been a challenge. We didn't have a clue what we were getting in to. It's been harder than anything we have tackled on our road to country living. And you know what? The work has been worth it.
But let me start at the beginning so you know where we were coming from...
We had done some riding as a family but we had never owned horses. Our boys had taken years of summer horsemanship. We even tried out some cattle sorting but we still considered ourselves novices. So we purchased nice, trained horses, one of which was considered a "babysitter". It didn't take long to find out that we were in over our heads. The trained horses that we bought soon found out that we weren't trained and quickly started taking advantage of us. When they didn't want to listen and respond, they just didn't. They were also scared ~ of everything. One of us was going to get hurt if we didn't do something. We started looking for help.
Help came in the form of a natural horsemanship trainer. He normally trains other people's horses in his barn but what he really wanted to do was teach others how to train their own horses. What we wanted was someone to come to our arena and round pen and teach us how to work with our horses. It was a perfect match. The first time he talked with us he said three things, "We are going to start with groundwork", "I don't want you to ride until I think you and your horse are ready" and "we will only go as fast as the slowest person". Those three things were not encouraging but he also said, "I will have you riding bareback and bridleless when I get through with you." We knew he was the right person so we agreed to meet once a week for 3-4 hours (remember there are 5 of us). It would be an ongoing investment. But we had already invested in the horses, arena, pen, saddles and tack. Besides that, this is what we wanted to do ~ what we had always wanted to do. That was in October.
We feel like we have come a long way since then. Diligently working many times per week, sometimes everyday, we have learned a lot about horses. Still we have a long way to go. We continue to work on groundwork and aren't riding our own horses although we are taking riding lessons on our trainer's horse. Each time we work with our horse, we learn something new or reinforce something learned. While we do that, we build the partnership between horse and horseman. Our natural horsemanship training really has been more about training us to work with our horses rather than training our horses.
We have faced some challenges with each horse and with each of us. Three of our horses were fed a diet of all alfalfa before coming here and had never been desensitized. The most important things I have learned have been about myself and how my own actions and reactions directly affect my horse. I'm still working on my self confidence, my fear, and my determination. Natural horsemanship is making me a stronger person. I say that and yet it is a work in progress. I was teary eyed yesterday in the round pen because things weren't going right. Each day has sucesses and failures of it's own. It's just part of life with horses, I guess.
The techniques our trainer uses are primarily Clinton Anderson but he also pulls in some Pat Parelli and John Lyons too.
Here are a few of the things that we are working on now...
Ground tying (not moving from the spot where you left them untied)
Flexing (working toward the one rein stop)
Patting down with the saddle blanket and saddle especially in places that it should not go.
Throwing the lead rope over their back, rear, legs, & neck without them moving.
Rubbing them down and even slapping them with a stick and string or stick and towel
or even a plastic bag.
This is not easy since horse are scared of things that move and make noise. Plastic bags are horse eaters, you know.
Little Cowboy has been working on standing still while being groomed, ground tying, and
just waiting patiently.
We are doing lots of this ~
establishing leadership by making them move their feet where we want them to go.
Stop when we ask them to stop
and give us "two eyes" when they do.
This is the sign of a respectful horse.
We are also disengaging their front and rear ends 360 degrees, circle driving and lunging.
Our motto is, "Do it a thousand times, and then do it a thousand times more."