A young American has been staying with me these last 10 days, on an impromptu kind of intensive crash course (with no crashes, mind!) in learning horse body language, then adapting long lining for horse therapeutic purposes. She will put this knowledge into practice for her fourth-year degree course in equine entrepreneurship down in Ohio.
Hours have blended into days in what I call ‘horse-time’ – the time needed to work through an idea, movement or glitch. We’ve used four demo horses and the Challenge youngster besides – all very different horses.
It’s addictive, I admit, to just focus, focus, focus on nothing else – teaching and learning. It’s a kind of physical meditation that’s made me realize the very real appeal of shutting out the outside world, cloistered with like-minded people. It’s a kind of equine ashram.
We were not quite hermits though, as we did venture into town for groceries, high-speed computers that haven’t been surged by thunderstorm bolts and Ultrashield bug repellent for the now truly voracious mosquitoes! Plus, we needed human sunscreen and zinc ointment for the dimwit here who really underestimated the UV factor one blazingly glorious morning!
It’s-all-Good, my Challenge horse, now also being called ‘Mops’ and ‘The Eating Machine,’ has quite enjoyed having horse language savvy visitors moving around his living quarters, heaving in armfuls of scythed meadow grasses and filling up his insatiable demand for very fat hay nets. I wondered if he was just comfortable around women, but no. Bryan Schoures, the farrier who’s always been so calm handling the home herd’s feet requirements, came visiting and was snuggled in minutes, right up to his shoulder. Neat.
When it comes to training, the main deal between this horse and I, is that he’s always able to move forward. There will be absolutely no pull on the lines or the reins to turn, or shorten the neck or frame – not at this stage. (Germany’s Anja Beran, with her stunningly beautiful books and practical DVDs, goes for this principle big-time. Check her out online.)
Horses’ engines are powered by rear-wheel drive, so to speak, so if I want a bend, or a turn, it’s the back feet I need to address. Getting the lengthwise frame of the ribcage to stretch right out is what makes it happen. The front end just kind of lightens and lifts up and creates its own neck bend. This is actually self-carriage being created. This horse has that quality almost naturally (I lucked in there!).
With Liberty Work in mind, as well as the Cowboy Challenge type obstacles required in the Challenge, I recently set up a small course for him. I lined up old blankets on the ground and moved him through it one step at a time. With his head down (horse vision is strongest right down in front of their nose), he stepped nonchalantly over the rolled up, squashed flat, blanket obstacles.
Next, I unraveled the blankets to increase their width, hoping he would walk across them (think walking over a tarp exercise), but Mops still managed to step over the darned things, making a simple stretch to lengthen his stride. This is not quite what I had in mind, I thought, as I dragged yet more blankets from storage.
So, I completely laid the next set of blankets out flat, on a 12-foot stretch. With one single snort as we approached, head lowered (and level-headed), Mops walked over them calm as could be, in a nice four-beat walk. Gosh, I thought, this bio-mechanics and body-frame idea really works! We hitched up into trot, and he went straight over, or onto, everything as asked in a two-beat rhythm. With the canter (or lope if we’re Western, folks!), it was the same deal. So, we quit, he bowed, I bowed, we went home.