Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"What Do You Do, JUST, For Your Horse?"

Howdy Folks,

Yesterday I talked about Kessy and her willingness to find a way to keep both of us balanced at a quicker gait. It was that trying on her end that caused her to discover her newest gait, a Rack. A Rack is a 4 beat gait, like the Running Walk, but with shorter and quicker strides. It's comparable to a quick trot in speed, and that's the story here. I'd been asking for a little more speed than the running walk, but I'd been having trouble sitting the canter lately, so Kessy had begun to drop in and out of canter, even mixing in a trot, while seeking balance, and she found a gait neither of us knew she had.

Why did she try so hard? I think she tried so hard because over the past three years we've developed a partnership. I don't mean a partnership where I'm the "boss" or "alpha horse." I know, we're all told we need to do that to gain our horse's respect and obedience ... I've never bought into that ... Don't know if I'm right or not, I just know that's not how I think. The partnership Kessy and I have is one of equals. Does she do everything I'd like? No … not yet.  Do I do everything she'd like? No … not yet.

So how do you build a partnership of "equals" that works? I believe you've got to "give" to your horse. Most horse/human relationships are structured around, "training." In one way or another, the human "trains" the horse to do what the human wants. Some folks say they're all about "natural horsemanship." I don't think there is anything "natural" about a round pen. But however they do it, the person expects their horse to be, "trained" to the person's perspective. Some folks even say, "it's got to make sense to the horse." But often the training is still from the person's perspective.

Oh don't misunderstand me, training is necessary to the relationship, but if you work on the relationship first, the training is really just more relationship building. What does that mean? … 

Sadly most horse/human relationships consist of, feeding, training, riding, housing, grooming, hoof and other health care. All very important things indeed, but where is the horse's perspective in that? Sure they nicker when the person comes with the hay. Is it because she's happy to see the person, or the hay?

I believe for every hour spent in "training" at least as many hours should be spent "giving to the horse." Many horses are only in the ring with their person to be "worked" or "schooled" or "trained" or shown. The horse can't help but see the ring, or round pen, (or human) as anything other than a place of stress. Some horses will show it. Others will internalize it. The effects of that stress may not show up for years, but it'll show up. Then folks say "I don't understand why he started being so ring sour," or slow, or stubborn or any of the many complaints we've all heard too often.

What if for every hour in the training session there was an hour spent in the ring just hanging out with the horse? A person could toss a flake of hay out and sit with their horse there and read a book, or work on their laptop, or just watch their horse relax and munch hay. Takes too much time? Actually it's good therapy for the human, too. And it's doing something for the horse, instead of expecting something from the horse. It's more powerful than simply turning the horse out in the pasture and going home. Because you're there with her, without asking for anything.

Doing the release and relax exercises, based on Linda Tellington-Jones and Peggy Cumming's teachings are a most wonderful way to "Do something just for the horse." These exercises "give to the horse" without asking, or expecting anything of the horse. It's totally giving ... Total partnership building.

Sitting in the barn, or walking around their paddock, lot or pasture with them, just hanging out with them, this is partnership building. And in my opinion is really important to the horse. Yes it does take time. But aren't they worth it? And I submit it is time very well spent for two big reasons. First you'll actually need to spend less time training, because the relationship will be so strong. You'll hear your horse and your horse will hear you. Cues are easier to hear, feel and follow for both horse and human. Second these quiet moments do wonders for people too! We can all slow down a little.
Kessy, Saturday and me, "just hanging out"
I attribute Kessy's desire to try so very hard to take care of me that she found a gait, a new way, because she wanted to help her partner ... Am I silly about that? Well, perhaps, but that's my belief ... And I suggest if you can find the time to just give to your horse, by offering the relax and release exercises, and just hanging out with her, be there "for her," without asking anything in return, your relationship will deepen in ways you can't imagine.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. WONDERFUL and NEW perspective on bonding with one's horse, Dutch. And one I've never read before. All I ever read about is showing "who's boss" and "take him into the arena" and "school him", "train him", "show him" and on and on. This is the first I've ever read about giving to your horse just because you love him and want to spend time with him. It makes sense that doing that would do wonders for your relationship with him. Thank you for writing this and telling me something I didn't ever think about.

  2. Great information, Dutch! I'll be sharing this for sure.

    1. Thanks Jodi!! And thank you for being a Coffee Clutcher!