Sunday, August 31, 2008

Horse trainer psychology - part one

Today's picture is of Splodge's head

I am more concerned with the psychological affects on me of what I am doing, more than I am with what I do. This is mainly because early on in my life I found the going pretty tough at times and I realised that for me, the name of the game was survival.

So now, everything I do, I try to set it up to give me as little psychological stress as possible. A good example of this is my vegetable garden. For years I have fought against nature in the form of slugs, snails, butterflies, and all, and eventually I realised if I am going to continue gardening and maintain my sanity then maybe I need to get organised with some defenses. Now I don't get half the knock-backs I used to get, and I really enjoy getting out there and seeing my plants not all being destroyed by greedy slimey monsters.

So how about the psychology of horse training? Well, I am working on this too. Remember here I am talking about how it psychologically affects me, not about the psychology of the horse. Obviously horses are different to vegetables (although some would disagree) in that horses are affected by your psychological state. It is important to present to the horse a sound state of mind, which in itself is a good incentive to organise your life in a way that promotes this. Horses are not impressed by erratic human behaviour - qualities such as impatience, anger, frustration, and so on do not really help. Horses work well when you are in a calm and balanced frame of mind.

But there is another side to this too. Horsework, at least in my experience, does not always progress in a steady way. Sometimes things move forwards very easily and other times things almost seem to move backwards. It is important to just keep going, and important not to get too involved in evaluating the day by day experience. I try to look at things over a period of time.

* * *

Monday, August 25, 2008

The story of Splodge, cont'd

So what's happened to Splodge - well, soooooooooooooo much.

When I first bought her I was pretty much told by everyone she was an upside down horse and I would never get her to go right. Well, I didn't care at the time - my view was that if she goes where I want to go what the hell more do I want from her. That's still my view really, but I do admit I have got a little more picky about how I want to go where I want to go. Basically what I have added in is that I want her to be concentrating on the job in hand and not have her mind wandering around checking out for lions and tigers or whatever.

So anyway, searching for a way to quieten my horse's mind has led me to all sorts of stuff that I have heard people talking about, but I have never really thought might apply to me and my horsemanship. But it does! Over the last few years I have been studying how the horse's body works, and how the horse's mind works, and as a consequence, to a degree how the horses spirit works too. And a bit like us, it's all linked together.

As hard as I am trying to keep this subject simple, you can already see that it would be easy to write a book about it.

So back to Splodge. I went riding on her yesterday and my oh my she was good. We went up on Easdon Tor with Sarah riding Winston (our new little pony), and as is my way I spent a lot of the ride studying Splodge's mental state. She wasn't perfect but she was good. She got very slightly worried by a herd of ponies about quarter of a mile away from us, and once or twice she was a 'bit rushy' on the downward slopes. But what pleased me the most was that when she rushed she leant into the bit a little and when I asked her not to she quit leaning, rebalanced herself and slowed right down to the speed I wanted to go.

Sometimes it seems like a long old road training a horse, but rides like that feel good!

I know that isn't the story I was going to tell, but somehow that story isn't going to work without a bit of background info about the work I am doing with my horse - I will get to the story in a bit, I promise.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Once upon a time there was a cross horse trainer...

So I don't know if you know this or not, but I earn my living as a horse trainer. I don't earn much of a living - enough to eat and keep from going into debt. I really enjoy my work and I've got this funny idea that by not making a successful business my priority I can totally focus on my work.

Today I was riding Splodge in the school and I was thinking to myself, jeez, what do I know about horses - not much really, and yet I have been teaching horsemanship for nearly ten years now. Does anyone else feel like this about what they do? I learn so much every day and yet I still feel like I don't know much - It's a big subject.

Anyway, the other day I got sucked into contributing to a thread on a Discussion Group. I've been on there before and it's always been very friendly, so I guess maybe I let my guard down. We were having a very nice, and imformative discussion about various training methods, and as I always try to be about everything, I was being very open and honest about how I work.

Yep, you've guessed it - before long I was being cast as the devil trainer who is cruel to horses, admittedly by some people who don't know me and have never watched me work, but somehow it got to me a bit. On the great spectrum of what happens to horses in this world I promise you I am not by any means the worst. If these guys are so concerned about horses why don't they focus their efforts on the REALLY BAD stuff that goes on out there. Actually horses really like me and are generally pretty happy with the dealings they have with me, and actually from my perspective I am far from a bad trainer.

The thread got closed before I could answer the allegations, but anyway, here are a couple of things people said about me.
Sorry but Good luck to the horses is all I can say.
by Rachel

'The one picture that absolutely rocked me was of the poor black horse having to cope with someone dealing in such a way with his mouth....and the reason supplied? To unlock a brace in his poll. There are other ways to do it. Thats all. Hmmmm.....Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't it the practitioner who said he didn't use gadgets to exert pressure? Just some food for thought......please take as that.
by Apachepony
I also see that fundamentally, myself, and a few others, are a million miles away from this way of handling horses. There have been many points raised that I would once have debated on and on. But then it becomes about ego , and ego has no place with the horse. So, in the interests of peace, I will say thank you very much, I have learned an awful lot from this thread, and sadly not much of it was about the horse
by Apachepony
For what it's worth I may as well add my piece while I'm here.....For me it is all about perception. The HORSES perception not ours. It's about HOW they learn what it is we want them to learn. Clearly horses do learn their lessons with you Tom but it's the HOW that is important to me and the horses. Tom, you say your not pulling, the horse is and whereas this may be true, the result for the horse is still pain in the mouth untill he has learnt what is required of him. You also say you don't use pressure halters... there seemed to be a lot of thin rope halters in the photos. Whether they tighten round the head or not, when you put pressure on any thing made of thin rope, they hurt a d**n site more than ordinary head collars....thats how they work so quickly. They may make us look like great horsemen that we can solve long duration behaviours in an afternoon, but all the horse learns is " Jesus!! unless I do X, I'm gonna get a searing pain behind the ears, right where a host of optical nerves lie!!" And Kas....snap shot, moment in time, it may be but it's still very harsh and when there are better and kinder ways this sort of stuff, in my opinion, is unneccasary
by Julie
Thanks for your comments you guys. I absolutely respect your right to say and do whatever you like, but I really don't like your rudeness - I hope you don't take that to your horses.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Horse stuff!

Don't worry, she's only having a sleep

* * *
"Hi Tom, I've got a horse here that you should really come and take a look at". It was Vicky on the phone and as usual she was trying to sell me a horse.

"So what's so special about this one", I answered rather cynically.

"Well, come and see her, you will love her. She has such a lovely temperament and the guy says if I don't sell her soon he wants her back. I really don't want her to go back to the dealer guy, please come and see her".

"Ok ok, I'll come and see her, but she better be good".

"She is good Tom, I promise, you will love her, she's called Splodge".

"Splodge! for fucks sake, what kind of a name is that!"

* * *

So that afternoon we drove over to Vicky's to take a look at Splodge. I've known Vicky for a few years. She is good horsewoman. Not good in the conventional sense, but she gets horses going really well, and they seem to like her, which counts for a lot in my book. I like the way she rides - sort of a bit wild really. So her horses are used to most things that are going to come their way.

Splodge turned out to be a pretty strange looking horse. One of my friends later suggested I file the front of her head off to make her less ugly. She also had a bit of high wither and a sunken back, like she had maybe been sat on too young. Anyway, I got Sarah to ride her because she can tell pretty quickly if the horse is going to be any good for us or not. She liked her and that was enough for me. After a bit of messing about we eventually bought her and now five years later she is my main horse.

I recently bought a Black Rhino western saddle for her which works really well for both of us.
So what's the point of this story. Well, over the last few days me and Splodge lost our way a bit, and now we are working on getting back on track. I'll tell all in the next post if you are interested (suggested response here is, ooooooooooooh yes please).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Vote NOW!

This blogging thing, I'm not sure what to do with it. I looked back over some of my stuff and it is really quite good, but recently I have to admit, it has been shite! I know some people blog on about having sore kidneys, piles or impotence (amazingly I have none of these complaints), but I kind of feel that my blog should somehow be more than just a record of me me me me!

Please vote for any one of the following ideas.

1) Pretend I am dying from cancer and blog about my remaining few months on earth.

2) Pretend I am a gay guy with two kids, trapped in an unhappy marriage.

3) Pretend I am an absolute stud going for the record presently held by Gene Simmons.

4) Pretend I am having a wild affair with the lady of the manor up the road.

5) Pretend I am on the run from the police since escaping jail for drug offences in the 70s

6) Use the blog to advance my career as a horse trainer.

7) Put up a post telling everyone to Fuck off

8) Fuck off myself

Whichever idea gets most votes, or if anyone comes up with a better idea, I will put it into action.