Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weird or Not?

I haven't written anything in ages and thought it was about time for my next blog entry. Well, during the past week I had the most amazing experience with a horse.

My trainer gave me a horse to ride for a while. This horse, a little bay mare, nervous and high strung, is probably the most sensitive horse I have had to work with both on the ground and under saddle. She has a very hard life before, where she was ridden by a rider that was too heavy for her and had terrible riding skills (all hands and no legs). Now, at the age of 15, we are re-schooling her which is a challenging task but one that I am really enjoying.

I have been longing this mare for the past two months to help strengthen her back and teach her balance. Yes, I am a Parelli fan and I longe my horses :) Weird, I know. This mare always rushes when being longed. She will start off at a trot, get faster and faster and faster until she breaks into a canter. Then she'd canter relatively fast (mostly because she struggles to keep her balance) until she is tired and then only slow down to a trot. This can take up to an hour, sometimes two!

Having been influenced by Parelli, I felt that I had to find a way to teach this mare to stay calm and keep her balance. I had to show her how much better it feels to stay calm. Now, my trainer is not a Parelli fan, and I am not one to force my beliefs onto others, so I knew that I wouldn't be able to play around with Parelli patterns and games (at least not by the book). What was I to do then?

I started thinking of a DVD I watched a while back called The Path of The Horse. It showed the views of a number of “natural horseman” (I'm not really sure what to call them) and Linda Kohanov was one of them. Please note that I am not a big fan of Linda Kohanov's work. It's all a bit too spiritual and “airy fairy” for me. BUT, I don't think she is entirely wrong either, especially after my experience.

Anyway, so I was longing this mare same as always. She was rushing and I was just standing at the centre watching her go around. Although she wasn't tearing around the longe ring, she wasn't calm and balanced either. Usually, I don't talk to the mare much when she works, because she tends to speed up when the commands are given. But watching her be in such a state made me want to tell her that everything is okay, she can relax. I just started to relax my body, taking all the tension out that I could. I slowed my own breathing (taking deep breaths), the same I would do when riding to keep myself relaxed. For the fun of it, I also gave soothing commands (like “steady” and “good girl”or whatever) in my head, instead of verbally. Before my very own eyes, the mare seemed to pick up on the change and slowed down! I couldn't believe it! I studied her going around and watched to see if I was really seeing what I was seeing. There this nervous mare was trotting around like she never has before. We changed direction and the same thing happened. She was fast at first but the minute I relaxed and tried to tune in with her, she slowed down.

The mare has been longing better than ever for the past two days now. Her downward transition from canter to trot is now picture perfect where it used to be a horror show. I have also observed that she is now starting to relax more through her back too :)

So, wether I sound crazy or not, I am starting to believe that when working with horses , on the ground or in the saddle, it is as much a mental “game” as it is a physical one. There are definitely things in this world that we don't understand yet, and, will take a lot of believing to understand.

Anyway, this is just what I experienced. Weird, isn't it?


  1. I don't think it's weird, I just think that horses are very much more in tune to nonverbal cues and wired to watch body language, when we think something we don't realize how our body reacts ever so slightly and an animal that is programmed (naturally of course) to pick up on body language will respond to this.
    I think we are always looking at things from the way we work and it is hard to understand it any differently so people like the Linda you mentioned (never heard of her but I can guess how she is based on you description!) make it into something, in my opinion, it isn't. But good for you on your success with this mare!

    I don't follow Parelli, I have heard he is opposed to lunging. I can understand that excessive lunging is not good for their body and I don't lunge much, but I have seen some great improvements in horses that have been lunged over poles as directed by an equine chiropractor and it has really helped the horses physically.

  2. I think at the end of the day it all comes back to a horse's natural instinct to follow a confident and strong leader. A tense leader is worried about something (danger, ect) while a relaxed leader is confident in their surroundings and basically saying that this is a safe place. I'm sure when the mare trots out in the pasture she is balanced. Or even trotting in a round pen by herself. Its when she gets around people with the intent to work her that she starts worrying about what is up and shotting off unbalanced. When a calm, tension free leader is around she starts to realize that this place might be safe (= the slowing down/balancing up).

    I usually prefer working out issues in basic ground work and then flat work. Possibly round pen work as well. The longe line just leaves too much room for accidents when you're not dealing with a trained horse. I get a lot of the same reaction by just taking deep breaths and thinking easy.

    Not sure if that made any sense but this mare sounds a lot like a little red-headed hano/tb mare I worked with.

    Good luck!

  3. Thanks guys. I'm glad to hear what you guys think :)

  4. Glad to see you writing again too!! :P I actually check and read your posts pretty regularly, but just didn't have the chance yet to comment ;)

    I sing and talk to my horses all the time and especially to relax them or to get each of us in tune and in rhythm with one another. Link especially has benefited in a similar way to your mare. 'Talking him down' was what helped us develop his trot from something akin to a chicken running around with its head cut off to something rhythmic and beautiful. I think the singing/talking not only causes us to relax (etc) our own body posture and such and thus send out 'relaxing' nonverbal cues, but that it also somehow has an influence - the verbal aspect of it, that is, on the horses as well. After all, there is scientific proof that music has an effect on fetus' in the womb, so why wouldn't it have an influence on another animal already in this world? definitely not weird or crazy :)

    Horsemom, Parelli is not opposed to longeing per se, he is just opposed to mindless circling. If you use longeing or 'circling' in a beneficial way, where the horse's mind is being worked, then it is obviously a beneficial exercise rather than a 'harmful' one.

  5. I really liked your blog! Sounds like you’re on a good track with this mare. I know it can be hard being a Parelli student in other surroundings sometimes. But as I heard a wise man say – “Mind, flexion, weight, feet”… So if we can understand how to get to their mind, I think the sky is the limit!!! We need to trust our instincts and if the horse is responding it doesn’t matter what we call it..
    Karin Pettersson, Parelli Instructor (Sweden)

  6. Lol, that is not weird at all and has nothing to do with Parelli. It should be common knowledge for people who regularly handle horses. Horses communicate by body language, so it only makes sense that the way to calm then is by showing them there is nothing wrong, with your posture. Words do not mean anything to them but tones help too, as you experienced. If you are willing to try it, T-Touch is wonderful 'tool' in handling horses, as it is very simple and down to earth, no hocus pocus, it is just a perfect way to calm yourself and calm your horse with it, and with that to develop a bond with your horse that is not based on having to do something, but a mutual moment of rest. I found it worked very nicely when I was trying to ride my horse away from 'known' ground. Before he would turn around and flee, while now I let him stand still, without kicking him forward, and did T-Touch on his neck while still on his back until he let go of the tension that doing scary things brought on. Then we could do another few steps forward and start again. You do not even have to believe in it, just try and see ^^