Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lessons learnt from Bill.

Sorry I have been thinking on this topic after I was asked about it. I don't want to go through a step by step of training her, but if anyone has a question about the specifics well thats fine, I'm happy to answer those. Instead I thought I would share the key lessons Bill has taught me, mostly by taking advantage of my monumental errors.

The most important thing that Bill taught me was that you have to let the horse dictate the pace. A couple of times I have been caught out when I have pushed Bill too fast. When I was breaking her in and on the third ride I asked for the trot. She started to buck but stopped and we left trot. On the seventh ride we revisited this issue and she was much better. Another time I got absolutely drilled when I rushed her backing and when she was asked to walk off with me hanging off of her back she just exploded and I was cannonballed. Rookie mistake. You want to extend everyday a little further on what you know the horse is solid with, but at the same time you need to keep the increments to what your horse can cope with. Connie wore her cover no worries, it took two weeks before I could put Bills cover on without having someone holding her.

You want to have appropriate facilities and use appropriate equipment. Don't use anything you are attached to because chances are it may get broken. My corral, with it's tape fences, isn't that great because Bill both walks out under the tapes, or on occasion just runs straight through them. When I knew Bill was going to have her legs roped up I took her over to the cattle yards because I knew she couldn't escape from those, and damage both herself or the facilities. At the same time you don't want to spend to long in the round pen because it's very mindless for the horses, an it's actually quite hard for the babies to balance on a 20m circle, especially at the canter. Once you have the aids for go turn and stop it's time to get out. When I was first trying to catch Bill, when she lived in town, she went straight over the fence and I had to go back and build up the yard and drive her into a cattle race before I could get a halter on her, and she was only a few months old.

You want to teach a horse in a way that makes them confident. It's not so much about teaching the horse to cope with what is happening at that time, but to teach them to cope with/accept other new things as well. Bill was an exploder. Everytime we did something new i.e. put a saddle on for the first time she would go ballistic and buck and buck and buck or just bolt around like a mad horse. She wanted to fight against everything. I don't think it was really until we roped up her legs, and hobble trained her that she really learnt to give in to pressure and thats helped her to cope with new things a lot better. She stops and thinks and the moves on with none of the theatrics.

Have a goal for every session you do with your young horse, be it a full lap of walk in the round pen, or the first trot on the lunge, or your first solo ride in a new area. When you have a goal you have a place to end your session. Yesterday, I wanted to consolidate the right canter lead and to do two trot poles together. She was instantly good with the trot poles, and after two good canters on the right lead (one of which was a full lap of my riding area) I called it a day. It's important to finish on a good note, even if it means you have to back track to where the horses is comfortable. In the same vein don't start anything you aren't prepared to finish. If you have to work for 3 hours to get her across a drain then thats what you have to do. Once you start something, if you give up, the fight next time will take you 6 hours.

Be consistent. Everytime you ride or work with any of your horses you are teaching them, albeit to walk all over you at feeding time, or to be nicely mannered citizens. If your horse cuts a corner and you don't go back and readdress the issue, ie walk through that corner, and ensure they follow the track you want them too, you can very quickly teach them to cut corners. Once they do several things repeatedly the neural pathway gets stronger, so it's important to reinforce the good. Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice does. Horses respect consistent boundaries and so you have a much happier young horse if you can be consistent.

Riding a baby always makes people feel insecure because they tend to be fairly unpredictable. You need to fake the brave if you can't be brave in your own right. They pick up on your insecurities. One day riding Bill, I was hesitant and unsure and she wouldn't go around one end of the round pen. The next day, I was feeling better and she never had a problem with it. It also helps if you have an older horse to take the lead when you are doing new things, then the older horse can be brave.

Don't be afraid to try different methods
. Just because you hate someones method doesn't mean there isn't something you can learn from them.

When you are doing your training make sure you have someone horse savvy helping you. Mum as averted falls from bill for me with good timing and instincts. Dan on the other hand didn't not obey my command of keep her head up at all costs and so got to see me turned into a splatto.

When you are riding, go forward. It's so much safer. It may be scarier and you will have less control but a horse thats going forward properly can't play up. I like to trot a lot on rides out and about the place for this very reason. At the trot they see less dragons, though when they do spook it will be bigger! Enforce the go forward too, when you ask for it, make damn sure you get it, because one day you will be riding down the road with a big truck coming towards you and when you say go forward you want your horse to respect you, more than she fears the truck. I carry my stick for this very reason. I ask and if I don't get, I hit.

I have a friend who has a theory that a horses ears will touch before they blow up. I have never noticed this to be honest but she is pretty adamant about it. If you see that I guess you are in deep shit? Or of course you can hope your go forward is still functional. It's a terrible feeling riding a horse with it's back up but it is just one of those things, let them walk out of it, or lunge them, it's better not to stop.

I guess thats all I have to offer in this regard. Most of it is old advice really, that gets passed around a lot so perhaps there is even some truth in it.


  1. Some pretty good stuff we can all take to heart - thanks!

  2. Yep, yep and yep! Have come across most of these issues and am pleased to note that we have got around them in much the same way as you describe. Good blog, lol!

  3. Excellent list!! Izzy has a tendency to lag behind my leg, which means her spook can be kinda of explosive to ride. When she's forward, though, I feel like she more takes me with her when/if she goes.

    Bill sounds like quite the project. I'm glad you have her instead of me. ;-)