Sunday, November 14, 2010

Training vs inherent behaviour

I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. I picked up Reserve Champion Hack at yesterdays A&P show. Even more pleasing was i only entered for a bit of fun, and to give my horse some experience of competing at a show with crowds of people and lots more distractions than what he usually does(I am an eventer by trade) i am not a 'showy'. These competitions are like the beauty pageants of the horse world. Everything has to be immaculate, colour co-ordinated, turned out to the absolute perfection of polished neatness. Not always my strongest point. But a 5am start, hours of sewing plaits, brushing, spraying and polishing paid off. not only did i take my big warm blood eventer, but also my four year old pony, that a local girl rode for me.Photo above. in only her second outing ever. she was a picture of calmness, handling everything (including a pet sheep running across the arena during her class) asked of her, standing contentedly ringside with no fuss for hours. This almost made me happier than wining the purple ribbon, because it shows my training is producing calm, happy, well mannered horses than can also perform and hold their own in competition.

i love competing, it something that really drives me, as well as keeps me motivated to keep improving, and always seeking to train myself and my horses that little bit more. But there is one thing that irritates me. Everywhere i go people comment on how "lucky i am to have such nice, quiet horses". ITS NOT LUCK! I actually spend hours training my horses, teaching them ground manners, getting them relaxed with any exercise they might be required to do in competition, and establishing good and relaxed behaviour patterns with them. It does not all maigically come together for me on the show day.When they go to a show, nothing changes, my riding stays the same, they are still required to have good manners and behave. This is what keeps them relaxed. Some horses are definitely more calm and less easily excited than others, but all horses can learn to behave calmly. Horses are not inherently crazy, or inherently calm . it all comes down to how we deal with them, and the work and preparation we put in before hand.

Horses are not the best at figuring things out for themselves, the reason horses can be trained so easily, is because they are a herd animal that looks for guidance form a leader. Most horse people know, that once horses start getting upset they can just wind themselves up into a panicky state really fast. If a human can be that leader for them, and not let them get to this point, this is what can keep them calm and at ease in new situations. Just a note, but if you have two herds of horses, one with a stong lead alpha mare or stallion, and another herd without any pecking order/leadership. The herd with the alpha horse will always be calmer, less skittish and happier looking.

Being the leader is not about being rough, hitting, yanking or pulling a horse around. It just a bout setting standards of behaviour that are always followed. Even at home i expect my horses to stand still while being handled. they are not allowed to push, rub, leap and stand on top of me(basically same rules as a dominant horse,ever seen any horse pushing boss mare around?) . Especially with Matai, but all my horses when i working with them, they are not allowed to ignore, look off in the distance or call to other horses. The rule is they are focused on me.

So when i take them out to competitions, they know to stand still and quietly for the grooming, handling or when leading them about.By the very fact that they have to stay focused on me, and not whatever else is going on, they never have the chance to get worked up and upset. before i even get on their backs they are already behaving how i want them to be. The riding is just a extension of the ground work, they get rewarded for relaxed and focused behaviour. so They learn to be relaxed and happy out competing, and because each outing is only ever associated with good behaviour and experiences they continue to become more relaxed with every show.

Good horses aren't just born. They are made, and become good horses through correct handling and training.