Groundwork and free (liberty) work cunningly slid into what I thought was a reasonably well informed horse knowledge life ten years back, and I bless that then seemingly odd fascination, practicing now for that section of the ‘Challenge.
Personally, I don’t follow one trainer or one clinician, which is perhaps part of the blessing of having written magazine and newspaper copy on a weekly basis about nearly all of North America’s equestrian elite. No, I pick up one idea, carry it home, tweak it, work with it, refine and then exhausting all avenues, be OK with understanding yet another piece of the puzzle.
Then other ideas came with DVDs (watch them without sound, it’s interesting!), or YouTube videos online, or almost old fashioned these days, articles and books that get bookmarked just everywhere. Once I started looking, a whole renaissance of horsemen (yes, horsemen in the main) rode to the rescue.
The backcountry guidebook I wrote meant I took out a stall at Red Deer’s The Mane Event in April 2008, selling and publicizing; at the end of a very long day my feet were on fire from standing on concrete and nearly, very nearly, I didn’t ‘bother’ staying to watch the evening performance. Wow, what a close miss. That was the first time Jonathan Field ran through his Spanish bullfighting routine with his high-twitch Arab x Quarter Horse ‘Quincy,’ later followed with his two sorrels, and my first real experience of liberty work.
I simply couldn’t figure out what the hell some of the language was. At all. I telephoned up a few weeks later and asked if he had a video of the performance. No, came the answer and I squeaked, what?! horrifed. I’m guessing a few more people asked too and his DVD ‘Inspired by Horses’ went one better, running through his training and prep work at home; I’ve watched nigh on a hundred times.
A saddle fitting genius of a friend dragged me down in 2004 to watch Chris Irwin, in a round pen with three fairly dangerous horses. I had to quit watching after two hours with a ferocious concentration headache, driving home in a blizzard to the home herd waiting for hay and, watching, realized I needed to pony up big time. It took me three years before I could move without having to consciously concentrate, oh my! Our schedules sometimes coincide, and we connect from time to time, and I owe him for a concept he’d explained a year ago at a Madden demonstration evening (ah, the coincidence thing again, who even knew I would need such a solution!) with the ‘Challenge’ youngster on a very long ending-at-midnight-and- rain-soaked session three weeks back – and my perception that it was an extremely significant deal breaker.
‘Mops-Horse’ took me somewhere else on a personal decision, a first; that I absolutely honour what I knew of horse-language and horse-think, but also that I would never, ever betray that trust. Not him obey me, but I would understand him and work from there. I bless daily, by the way, this horse has one super expressive face and an eye that reveals exactly where his mind’s at. And, it changes like lighting depending on the shape of his body, the less-and-less body held stiffly or just so slightly bent away! That, and a sometimes most unattractive little curl just above the nostril that says it all and means I need to move away, take the pressure off, get him to move his feet, move out or all of those like yesterday.
So, as I work with this very aware youngster, I’m wondering more and more just how invasive we humans are to domestic horses? Do we need to touch and stroke and pat so much, really? I have to make every body-move decision count, every footfall, and concentrate like crazy – and yet by choice we don’t touch much at all although we’re standing close, or moving tight circles in a partnered groundwork dance
It’s awareness happening for me with all the lights coming on big time – and yes, I laughed when, without even being consciously aware of doing it, with three families of enchanting baby ground squirrels watching from the sidelines the other day, 13 in total and somehow I’d counted them, watched their antics while teaching the colt how to ground tie at the same time. Trackers and backcountry survival experts call that peripheral awareness apparently – well, wow.