Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Inner Horse

This post is going to make sense to approximately one reader. Sorry to my other one - my next post will be about love, relationships, and sex, so hang in there.

There are so many theories about training horses, and funnily enough, they are all right in some way, or they are all right for someone somewhere. But the real truth about horses is beyond a theory. There is something in the horse, which man can capture, and when he does, he can nurture it, and it can turn into the most powerful thing.

This thing is the inner horse.

Get the use of this and you will never need to mess again with all the tricks and methods that we can spend a lifetime buying/selling/learning. Sometimes I truly feel the power of the horse's spirit, and it's availability to me.

More and more as I go on working with horses I aim my work at connecting with the inner horse, rather than fixing the symptons of the disconnect. Actually with practise it becomes easier to spot the opportunities - here is an example. I was working with this horse that every time you went to put the bridle on, it threw it's head in the air. It was quite dangerous. So what could I have done. Well, I could have used advance and retreat, or I could have just hung in there with the bridle until the horse thought, 'oh, sod it, ok!', or I could have used clicker training (the most extreme example of working with the 'outer horse'), or I could have taken loads of time to build things up between me and the horse until he trusted me enough with the bridle. There are many other 'ways' I'm sure.

I was in a public situation so I was pretty exposed, what with instant internet reports and all, but I thought, well, what is the correct way to do this. It might not be pretty and it might not be to everyones taste but I did it anyway. I just let the horse know that I didn't approve of him throwing his head every time he objected to something I was doing. It was easy - as he threw his head, I just backed him up with some fairly intense energy. Three times he did it before he just stood there and let me put his bridle on - job done!

How is this the inner horse? Well, I didn't train him to do an external action - I changed his mind about me and what he thought he could do and not do around me.

It's not always that easy, but if I can see a way I take it.


  1. Everybody and Everything needs to understand their boundaries in order to relax and feel secure.

    The horsiest guy I know, always said that he trusted horses as far as he could throw them. He believed that they stayed up at night scheming about ways to get back at him...I suppose his self fulfilling prophecy came true in 'the end'..
    which, if I recall, is where he usually got nipped.

  2. That's interesting. Maybe this worked because you helped that horse get in touch with his inner foal.

  3. Horses need to know the boundaries just like dogs and kids. I have used the energetic backing with mine on a couple of occasions and it works well. Refocuses them, I think.

    My Thunder is pretty easy going and wants to learn - which is great - doesn't get pissy when he can't figure something new out - just keeps running through his repetoire of things already known until he comes upon a close proximation of what I want. When I reward him, he stops and thinks.

    A smart young horse, really - actually uses the brain in his head instead of letting his instincts rule.

  4. Tom, I love this post. Thank you. It is what I have been getting a glimpse of recently, and it has given me so much more knowledge about my horses.

    A friend recently asked if she could ride one of mine (not the baby one, don't panic). She hasn't really ridden before, and the whole way round she was asking what she should be doing with her hands, she her heels be down, how straight should her back be etc etc, and I was at a bit of a loss. 'It's not really about that' I said (although I'm not saying your seat etc isn't important, I had just been focusing so much on other stuff, that I had forgotten about that part of it).

    But then I struggled to explain what it is about...maybe I'll tell her to log on here.

    Anyway, I am equally looking forward to the next post about sex and drugs.

  5. I've been wanting to share this quote for a while, and although it's not strictly relevant, dammit, I'm going to do it now...

    It's from Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:

    'It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them. On the other hand it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.'

    I know this doesn't really fit with what you are talking about, Tom, but it's wry and I like it.

  6. I wish you lived down the road

  7. Donn - you would so love working with horses - it's way more subtle than your friend has lead you to believe.

    Erica - inner foal! mmmm not sure, maybe!

    Ponygirl - I've seen your name on Donn's blog and wondered if you would get to read this stuff. In your last paragraph you say it all really - 'getting a horse to think' is the way to go, no doubt about that.

    Kate - looking forward to working with you tomorrow at the clinic, and naturally I assumed you would be interested in any posts about sex and drugs.

    Janey - nice quote isn't it. And it makes such a difference if we do take into account how our horse is feeling about things. Eeeeeek I'm beginning to sound a trifle evangelical about this - don't mean to be I promise!

    Ziggi - Move nearer - it would be fun to work with you and your pony.

  8. we're not having much fun - we've lost the plot, not that we ever had it mind!

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  10. I've been loving the more horsey posts recently. It's so easy to get bogged down in all the methods and the tricks and what 'should' or 'shouldn't' be done with that horse with this problem. I suppose listening and getting to that inner horse is one of those hit and miss things that hopefully gets easier to spot the more often you happen upon hitting it?

  11. Utlah - glad you are enjoying the 'horsey' posts.
    I think once you start to home in on the 'inner horse', (and how long before everyone is using this term), the more real your work feels. I just feel a bit uncomfortable now, if I have to go round the houses.

  12. I like going all round the houses on horseback- you can nose into everybody's gardens as you pass.

  13. Helloo all.
    More than one way to skin a cat, apparently, but not sure I want to know even one.
    But as far as dealing with horses goes, if we always approach with the intention of being as clear and fair and consistent as we can, we give the horse best opportunity to understand what we want.
    We can't blame them for not doing what they didn't understand we wanted.
    Well, we can't 'blame' them even if we asked the question and the answer they came back with was 'no, don't want to, why should I?'
    We just make it clear that to do what we asked nicely for has a more pleasant outcome, than not doing it.
    Backing up strongly is one way, but any kind of activity done on our terms which makes the horse use more energy than they would just doing what we wanted in the first place, should yield a positive response.
    Horses mainly want to get it right, if we just gave them the opportunity and put them in a position where they can.
    I know as well as any how forgiving they can be, but sometimes mental panic can set in, they become unable to think, just need to react.
    By moving them around, lowering their heads, and generally asking for activity they go back into a more comfortable frame, and are happy for us to make the decisions.
    We move their feet, control their speed & direction, we earn the right to be trusted and obeyed. It's a big responsibility which we should always treat with the utmost care & respect.
    Looking forward to expanding my knowledge of sex & drugs in due course, but of course I'm FAR too old for all of that really.
    Take care

  14. hey! Nice picture - looks like you're going to start singing too!

  15. Hi Row, and welcome to my blog. It's good to read stuff from people who think the same way. I just want to point out that sending the horse back is what I did at that one particular time - it's not my 'way' of doing things. I'm sure you know that, but it just looked a little like I only had one answer there.

    Ziggy - I like my hat. Kinda need one these days what with all the sunshine we are getting.

  16. You did a nice job with that horse :)

  17. Also to add - its about not letting your horse practise what you don't want him to do a bit I guess.

  18. Hi Elaine, and welcome to my blog - hope you are ok with the sometimes dodgy content - hate to lose a friend!

  19. Tom we talked ages ago and I've finally found your blog. Actually it was through googling "Horse breed racism", as you do. I liked the bit about working horses, and I find that the minute I want to do a job with Henry, he picks up the intention, and we work together. He doesn't see circles, or specific paces as work, and doesn't co operate, but I ain't fussed. We have fun. Hope to speak soon.
    Simon "saddlechariot" Mulholland

  20. Tom - Hey not only do I eventually find your blog but I also find that you are talking about my horse ! I am that one reader with that horse who this post makes sense to – although it appears that others are with you on your understanding. I will forgive you for changing her to a him – it appears that sex may be clouding your literary content at the moment – however it certainly isn’t affecting your judgement.
    I simply want to say a very big THANK YOU to you and Sarah for helping me and Tinta over those three very special days . Ok so it may have not looked pretty or to everyones taste – but it was damn well effective ! I have not spoken in detail about our experience on any forums as I have seen how even photographs can be mis-interpreted from clinics from those who think they are in some way ‘holier than thou’ even though they where not even present.
    You will be pleased to know that I have kept up the consistancy of what you have taught me and Tinta knows that if I have hold of the lead rope and go to put her bridle on she will happily lower her head - strangely enough if tied up and I go to put the bridle on she will still try to throw her head up !! - Yet the minute I untie the rope there she is still, head low and obliging. Due to the dark evenings we are now tacking up in her stable – to which she has added a new aversion - walking away from me round the stable – having taken advice from June I was simply told to use a similar method and chase her round – I call it my ‘demonic woman act’ – sounds scary – well yup lots of energy and IN CHARGE. – So imagine I am making lots of shooing noises my horse is walking quickly around her stable and by the time someone has got to her door to see what all the fuss is about I have Tinta head lowered, happily accepting her bridle.
    It certainly has opened a whole new world for me since meeting you and my realtionship with Tinta has grown immensly becasue of it. I really couldn’t believe that in effect I was teaching her to rear and whilst in the weeks prior to your clinic I had put her reluctance down to a possible back issue – as you said the release that she was gaining by throwing her head up was a difficult one to prevent when you were on the ground and she did get pretty intimidating with you initially until she realised that all you wanted her to do was to simply stand still and have her bridle – but then we have little idea of what has gone on her past, having come over from Spain at the age of twelve with white snips on her nose not being part of her natural markings but more of some barbaric spanish backing device, and her life as a polo pony living the hard, fast life to now begining to take time to relax and enjoy herself in retirement as an 18 year young happy hacker round the Buckinghamshire countryside.
    Many thanks Tom – will see you again in the spring.