Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Light, relaxed contact on the reins...

I get an email newsletter called "Horse Sense" written by Jessica Jahiel (pronounced ya-hell). She is a talented rider and excellent teacher. Her background and primary interest is ridden dressage, but she advises readers on a huge variety of other topics. I came across this thought-provoking quote in one of her articles that I think applies to driving every bit as much as riding:

"...riders who make a deliberate effort to let the reins sag and flop, with the idea that they will take up contact only when they "need" it, generally make their horses very uncomfortable and apprehensive because the horses can't rely on the riders to provide instant quiet communication through the reins.

"The ideal is a light, steady, relaxed contact that lets the horse's mouth feel every tiny movement of the rider's hands (and vice versa). What too many horses are given - sadly, by riders who believe they are being "gentle" - is periods of NO contact ("Horse, you're on your own!") alternating with sudden jolts when contact is imposed abruptly.

"This is unpleasant and causes horses to worry and become hesitant. Some horses will even move hesitantly or with shorter strides; most, though, will shorten, tighten, and arch their necks and go "behind the bit" so that their riders' sudden grabs at their mouths will be less painful and less surprising.

"Like a person walking fearfully on an ice-covered pavement, a horse in that situation will be extra-careful and tentative, always worried, always afraid, always ready for something painful and sudden to happen. It's not a nice way to travel...."

Although Jessica is talking about riding, I think her words are also relevant to people learning to drive, especially if they are coming from a riding background.

Many of us who ride Western on a loose rein think the normal pressure on the driving lines is far too heavy. Many people incorrectly trained in English riding think the contact on the reins should be heavy and unyielding, because the horse has to be held in a "frame".

It's clear from your words and from Jessica's that neither approach is right, but it is difficult for a new rider or driver find the appropriate middle ground of "just enough pressure". This problem is compounded by the fact that "just enough" will vary depending on the horse and the situation.

I remember ground driving my mare Sissel and feeling how she wandered and became anxious without contact and tended to ignore steady, heavy contact after awhile. She responded the best to appropriate pressure-and-release contact. Sometimes the "appropriate pressure" was pretty firm, and sometimes it was a lovely elastic give-and-take.

The "instant quiet communication" and "light, steady, relaxed contact" on the reins that Jessica talks about seems similar to the pressure and release you have been teaching us to use. It occurred to me that Jessica's way of explaining things might be useful for riders learning to drive.


More information about Jessica Jahiel:

Jessica Jahiel's HORSE-SENSE Newsletter
Copyright © 1995-2009. Jessica Jahiel, Holistic Horsemanship®

Materials from Jessica Jahiel's HORSE-SENSE Newsletter may be distributed and copied for personal, non-commercial use provided that all authorship and copyright information, including this notice, is retained. Materials may not be republished in any form without express permission of the author.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Training all the time

From Cathi:
I just finished reading Doc's latest article, "Who's the Boss? Part 2, Gently Becoming Your Horse's Trusted and Respected Leader" in the Winter 2009, Small Farmer's Journal which reminded me of something that I thought maybe others would find interesting.

Doc's concept of Training all the Time has been a powerful tool for me. I used to think, "I am not a trainer," little did I realize that I actually was training the horses! When one considers that horses are learning all the time, we do train horses every time we are with them. Taking that thought to the next level, it becomes our responsibility to be mindful in our interactions with them. We can use every opportunity interacting with them as a training session.

This model has taken me from thinking of 'training' as isolated formal lessons I scheduled with myself and my horses to training anytime I am with horses. As I feed, water, catch, groom, lead, tie, harness, trailer load, drive, ride, or simply move them from paddock to pasture, I do so in ways that teach lessons dealing with behaviors I desire from the horses. I set up situations that will make it easy for the horses to make the choices I want, and then reward those appropriate behaviors. I move, speak, and interact with them in ways that consider the horses' natural language.

Every lesson, no matter how small the step, is also intended to help them remember that I am their herd leader. This idea has made me a responsible horse owner, given me more confidence, helps the horses behave in ways that are safer (for me and them) and certainly helps me appreciate the positive changes I see in their behavior. Training is no longer a mystery that was somebody else's responsibility (ever heard anybody say they needed to "take the horse to the trainer"), but it is my opportunity to interact with horses in rewarding ways every time I am with them.

Here is an example of one way I have used this. Have you ever taken a flake of hay into your horses' feed area, and have your horse crowd into your space, and take a bite of the hay you are carrying? Maybe it is dark outside, maybe muddy, or icy and you are not sure of your footing, and the crowding horse makes the situation unsafe. I currently must walk through a paddock with three horses to get to the barn where the feed is kept. The horses are so happy (or are they just hungry?) to see me at feeding times that all three are right at the gate when I get there. I greet each one with an affectionate scratching on their forehead, and then make each one "go away" from me. I make them go 10 or more feet away.

As I walk to the barn through the paddock, I insist that they all stay away, no crowding into my space, or coming any closer than 10 feet. Once I get to the barn, I have established a routine of putting each horse's feed bag on, one at a time. The routine has gotten fairly elaborate, and I am surprised how willing the horses are to follow it. Sometimes one or the other of the horses will break the routine, and I go back to square one to remind them what that routine is. It is worth it to me to take the extra time to go get a horse, lead them back to the feed area, and resume the routine, so that we all keep the pattern going.

After they are done with their grain, they are given hay. The hay feeding station is inside the paddock; the hay must be carried through a gate and placed into the feeder. My arms are full carrying the hay; I used to feel vulnerable to their crowding and not very safe at this point.

Again, I have worked with them, and the three must go away as I come through the gate and carry the hay to the feeder. They are, after all horses, and frequently need reminding to stay away, however are willing to go back to the routine if I follow through with my request. If I let up on my requirement of them staying away, they would be back into my space; I have learned to be consistent. When I have placed the hay in the feeder, I tell them, ok, and they may then come in to eat. I am so much more comfortable feeding using this approach. It has been fascinating to me to watch the willingness the horses show to follow a routine, and the expectation they have for me to be consistent if they are going to be.

Starting Belle

From Walt:

Hey Doug! Thanks for helping me start Belle, our Suffolk mare, at the last Winter Workshop at our farm. Since then I have been working with her every day. Basically, I used your DVD Starting Colts as a guide to what exercises to do and added a few things of my own. I would watch part of the DVD and then go out and do it. One thing I noticed about you ‘moves’ in the round pen is that you have a really fast reaction time; where did you get that reflex speed?!!

3/2/09 You worked with Belle about 1.5 hrs. As I recall, she was defiant and you spent most of the time establishing yourself as the leader by pushing her away. You worked on keeping her attention focused on you. By the end of the session, she would turn her head to follow you and eventually turned a few steps to follow you. You called it good and then we left her in the round pen for several hours to ‘think about it.” I thought your idea of leaving her alone in the round pen to process what just happened was a great idea and hadn’t occurred to me before, but, as I thought about it, when your done with a session, if you leave the horse by itself and later come back as the leader to lead the animal back to the herd group; this act is a strong reinforcement of the lesson we are trying to impart.

3/3/09 I had Belle in the round pen. I did some basic lead rope exercises until she demonstrated that she wasn’t completely with me, so I pushed her away with the plastic bag on a stick (PBOS), until she licked and chewed. She was only bending her head in a little, and not dropping her head much, however by the end of the session she would turn to face me as I walked (with pressure off) to her left and a little to the right from the opposite side of the round pen.

3/4/09 I pushed her hard away from me with the PBOS to get more signs of submission than the day before. I was able to get lots of licking, chewing, and her head would bend in from the rail to me some. She would turn to follow me both directions from a distance and at her head, but I would loose her if I walked out straight, so I would continue walking but make an arc to pick her back up. Then I roped her out with rope, burlap bag, plastic baggie, and a plastic bag on a stick. I rubbed these items all over her and with the bag on the stick waved it in the air all around her. She accepted all of this readily and stood quietly.

3/5/09 I pushed her away and she early on licked and chewed. I hung out with her, brushed her out, roped her out and then tried to get her to follow me. She would follow me in arcs but not straight ahead, however she definitely had her attention on me. I had to do something elsewhere on the farm so I left her in the pen for a while. When I returned she readily followed me around both directions and straight ahead for a few steps. If I got out to far ahead I just arced around to pick her back up. Called it good for the day. This is when I discovered that leaving the horse alone to process things adds a reinforcing dimension to the lesson of who is the leader, as I mentioned above.

3/7/09 I laid a big piece of plastic down in the round pen. She was a little hesitant about it initially, but picked me up and followed me around readily without a lead rope. (I guess I should mention that when I say follow, I mean without a halter or lead rope in all cases unless otherwise stated.) I initially could not get her to walk across the plastic but by arcing and having her turn in circles I worked her closer to the plastic, eventually getting her front feet on it. I would stop and praise her, then continue. Eventually, I got her to walk over the plastic sheet several times. Then I worked with her feet during which she stood readily for.

3/8/09 worked her with the plastic sheet still on the ground in the round pen. From the beginning she followed me readily all directions and over the plastic. Kris, my wife, came along which was a distraction to the horse, and I will need to work with her further on that. After Kris left, she readily came back with her attention on me so I elected to not make an issue of the distraction and continue with some positive work. The horse was back following and standing with me real well. I laid the harness and collar in the round pen and had the horse follow me near, around, and away from the harness which I accomplished like I did when I introduced her to the plastic sheet—in turns and arcs. I put the collar on her, which she readily accepted.

Then I moved the collar about on her shoulders and removed it. I repeated this several times and she stood well. Then I put the collar on and had her follow me about the round pen, over the plastic sheet doing turns and stops. Then I did the same maneuvers with the harness. I approached her with the harness, shook it and backed off.

Next, I touched her side, legs and neck with the harness, and then backed away. She accepted this test well. Next I put the harness over her back and removed several times. Finally I harnessed her with the collar and had her stand. I was real careful to get the harness on her securely so it could not fall part ways off and create a negative experience. After I had her stand for a while, I tried to get her to follow me about the pen. Initially, she didn’t want to move because she didn’t fully understand what was on her back, so I gently drover her with the PBOS. After she figured it out she followed me around the pen no problem. I left her with the harness on for about 30 minutes and removed.

Called it good for the day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More about the B Bar Ranch workshop

From Doc:
The major focus of the Haying with Horses Workshop a the B Bar Ranch will be hands-on . . . haying with horses. Those participating as hands-on students will be pre-qualified to assure they have reasonable experience and skill harnessing, hitching and driving teams. By doing so, we intend to maximize the time we can actually work horses at making hay, and minimize time spent on the basics.
In addition, each day Don Yerian will spend an hour or so demonstrating his method of starting young horses in harness. We will follow the training progression of a specific horse throughout the week.

At other times in the mornings, or during challenging weather, we will focus on the equipment used for haying with horses. This will consist of discussions and demonstrations on evaluating, comparing, selecting, tuning, maintaining, repairing and rebuilding such equipment.

The majority of our time, however, will be devoted to actually making hay. Hands-on students will rotate between mowing, raking, baling, picking bales (optional) and putting bales in the barn (optional). Groups of hands-on students will assist and monitor one another, with the instructors providing close overall supervision.
There will be optional workshop related activities on some evenings, such as viewing and discussing selected instructional videos and talks on the nature and mind of the horse, horse psychology, the language of horses and how we can learn and use it to better communicate with them -- in ways they understand and that make sense to them.
We'll be posting prices sometime next week.

Click here for more photos of the haying workshop.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lets go have fun at the B Bar Ranch

From Harley:

Theresa and I are busy putting together our summer activities schedule. We are looking forward to going to the B Bar haying workshop. (July 12-18)

We hope that our friends will come too.

I attended the B Bar workshop several years ago and had such a good time, I’m really anxious to go again. I want to drive those fabulous Suffolk draft horses with Don Yerian and Doc Hammill in a hay field that has a million dollar view of the mountains.

It is more than just a workshop. The B Bar is a terrific vacation too with great accommodations and gourmet food. I really enjoyed the evening discussions around the dinner table talking about horses. Doc and Don have some great stories to tell.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Accommodations at the B Bar Ranch

From Jane:
These photos just came in from Doc and the folks at the B Bar Ranch in Montana, home of the haying workshop July 12 - 18. I knew it was a nice place and all, but when I saw the photos, my jaw dropped. Seriously, I was not expecting this.

The B Bar is a private ranch and isn't open to the public; Doc's workshop participants are one of the few groups of people who have the privilege of enjoying the ranch during the summer. The result is a draft horse workshop and luxury vacation rolled into one, and there's a special rate for spouses or friends who just want to hang out at the ranch or use it as a home base for touring Yellowstone.

Here's the outside of the lodge where you can eat meals and hang out when you're not working horses. You can either stay here in the lodge or in a private cabin.

The dining hall where you can enjoy gourmet meals prepared by Chef Aaron.
Another view inside the lodge. The perfect place to listen to Chef Aaron recite cowboy poetry after dinner or talk horses late into the night with Doc or Don Yerian.
All of the food is organic and much of it is grown in their large garden or in this greenhouse on the ranch.

Here's one of the cabins:

The hayfield is shared with the thousands of elk around Yellowstone. Doc says this is about a quarter of the herd they saw that day.