Narrated by Kate
To give you a bit of background about me: I started out a “new” horsewoman. I spent my suburban childhood and college years without a single animal companion! (GASP!) The only animals we had in our home were a few fish … and they only lasted a few weeks before my dad tried to clean the tank. (Sorry dad!) I came home from school to an empty fish tank - so, fish were out. On top of that, my parents could never agree on a size of dog they wanted: dad wanted a great pyrenees like he had grown up with, and mom wanted a small dog that didn’t bark or shed… 🤔 (basically she wanted a stuffed toy) - so we never actually had animals.
Meeting horses for the first time was a bit intimidating for me. Honestly - just being on a farm with 6 dogs was a shock to me. But, in a sense I think that helped me in my training abilities. I was a clean slate. We have people of all abilities contact us, some have had horses (like Lisa) for practically their entire life. Others, have spent their life around horses, but have never owned any. Still others, have extensive experience with dogs but want to get involved with horses, and a few are just like me.
I’ll share one of my favorite learning stories, that may help open your eyes to some lessons your trainers have been trying to teach you.
Denver & the Scary Grate
We were out training in downtown Oxford. It was a gorgeous day, years ago, where we had visitors who were purchasing horses shadow us to get a feel for how we train our horses. We had started writing down our training material but didn’t have seminars available yet. Downtown Oxford has a nice piazza area where you can often hear bands playing and a nice lawn area where students were doing their homework and relaxing in the grass.
Steps are a big deal for horses, we all know that. But, try concrete steps with a grate at the bottom of them for drainage. I want to say we had Denver and Dallas out to train together. Dallas - like the champ he always is - walks carefree over the grate and up the four wide steps to the platform. Denver, starts to follow Dallas, but notices this strange grate and plants his feet. I squat down on the stairs (boo-boo #1) and give him a little pressure to move forward. He resists, so I let up on pressure to let him regroup. His head bobs down to smell the grate and I apply pressure again. He pulls back a bit but I “hold my ground” (boo-boo #2) and keep pressure to see if he will come forward. Sure enough - he caves into the pressure. But, did you notice boo-boo #1 was my squat? He caves into the pressure and jumps towards me. Practically on top of me. … Well… I was in shock. Lisa came over and took Denver so I could stand up and regroup.
Red in the face, I started to think, “there is no way I can handle horses!” I take Dallas from Lisa and she goes back at it with Denver. Remember that key that horses learn in pictures - that is NOT the kind of picture I want Denver using every time he sees stairs. Lisa takes him around the ramped sidewalk, back into the grass (careful to avoid stairs) and talks her way thru doing this again with Denver.
Keep moving, forward motion is always better. If he stops to smell the grate, which he thinks is a big black hole, let him, then turn around, regroup and head forward towards the steps again. Walk NEXT to him, say “step” and continue forward as if there is nothing out of the ordinary. If you are nervous, the horse will pick up on that. If they stop, turn around and try it again.
Low and behold, after giving him a second to smell the grate, turning around to regroup and walking towards the steps again; Denver took a leap over the grate and walked right up the steps. She continued this movement a few more times until the leap turned into a slightly elevated step. We end training on a positive note then walked back towards the trailer.
The Learning Curve
I am constantly learning! I don’t think I know near enough about how horses’ think or perceive the world. I do know for a fact - you can only get better if you practice. Learn from your mistakes, and create ground-rules for what to do in certain situations. Sure, I came into this with the least knowledge of all of us, but I think it has truly made me appreciate the bond I share with all the animals I have “started from the bottom” with. The relationship I have with Denver is quite a unique bond now, because we have made mistakes together and grown thru them. I’m thankful for my learning curve and hope to continue learning from each horse I have the pleasure of training with.