Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thoughts on Herd Dynamics

On Facebook I follow the Sand Wash Basin page.  I love those horses.  Especially Picasso.  If you haven't been to their page or to that blog, feel free to click right here to check it out.

So I was watching some of the video's on FB by Sally Wright (also on You Tube) and I found myself really watching the herd dynamics and then thinking how much our training methods reflect on that.  Of course I know this is no new revelation. People have been using herd dynamics for years, and all the big name training methods are truly based on those dynamics.

I found myself thinking of the day I rode with Kim and how she got so angry with Schnizzle when he would not lope a full circle and ended up hurting her back.  When I think back to how she reacted, she did not make her leadership clear to him.  She simply got angry and emotional and her message after that became very unclear to the poor guy. He was scared and confused and everything went down hill from there.

When I watched the videos I saw how Picasso, Tonka, and even the bachelor stallions controlled their mares (or other stallions in the case of the bachelors) with clear precise direction.  Ears pinned, neck snaked, body language as clear as a bell.  There is no doubt in the mares mind that he is in charge, and he will make them move their feet and body where ever he wants.

So now I am trying to examine my own training methods.  Am I clear in my message? Do I get angry and react? Well of course I have.  I like to believe that I have gotten better about it though.  I have never had to wail on my horses like she did. I have had to be firm, and I have used my stick on them, but I always make a point to rub it away afterwards.  This is not to say that I am better than she is.  After all, her horses do not run away with her.  They are soft and supple and have beautiful stops.

Most of my horses are very good about respecting my space. Sassy is starting to challenge it, but I see it and I know how to fix it.  My horses are all quite good about being messed with my me or a vet, or by anyone else if needed.  I have learned that when they do not care to stand still I have a tool that works better than anything.  I can push them sideways from one end of the road to the other.  That simple act of moving their feet in a manner that is not natural to them makes it clear that I am in charge.  It also makes them quite happy to stand quietly.  I do that move before I get on them too. I think it makes them think.

What about when I am riding?  Is my message clear?  I'm going to say no. do I fix that? I guess time and experience will help. Perhaps thinking clearly what I want before I ask would help. I know having Jay there to tell me what he sees makes a difference, but I don't have that much anymore.

Jay says that if you can't ride your horse from the ground, you will not be successful on their backs.  I believe this to be true.  Here is my example.  I can ground work Trax, asking him to trot, canter, flat out run, back up, step to the side, move his front end. or move his hind end.  The only thing I cannot get him to do is stop (well walk actually)  When he is trotting in his circle I slow my body down, keeping myself in position. I think walk and use my body language to say it. He still trots.  I will let my air out, I can see him watch me, but he still trots. Sometimes he will finally ease into a walk, but usually I have to get out of my "riding" position and move myself in front of his shoulder to get him to walk.  I have the same issue on his back. He will do pretty much anything I ask, but he runs through my hands.   Bringing him from a trot down to a walk is still a challenge.  

I need to think on this a while. What do I need to do different.  How do I, as his herd leader make him understand when I want walk?


  1. I've been thinking a lot about herd dynamics too. Scout is a lazy bum, and only grudgingly responds to cues as a general rule. But now that Dan is here he's ultra responsive (to Dan's cues) and while it looks like Dan is being mean, Scout seems to really want to be near him now. More so than he wants to be near me. Interesting... I already know that horses require a clear leader, but I still find myself wanting to be a softie, and of course that makes me less clear, and apparently less fun to be around.

    That downward transition is hard even for my lazy boy to do. I end up having to jiggle the lead or downright yank on his face sometimes. I'm not saying that's the right answer, but it has gotten Scout's attention when I needed it. I also try a lot of direction changes to help him realize that jazzed up running in circles is not what I'm after. I often won't even ask for a walk for a while, if I can tell he just isn't in the right mentality for that yet. It would probably be beneficial to do more work at the walk and very little at the trot. Which is hard for Scout because what I want is an energetic walk, and often he'll give me a lazy trot instead... Horses. They keep us thinking!

  2. I think that getting a walk on a longe line is seriously tough. Usually because when longed, horses are used to having to work. Usually that is the only reason they are on the longe, is to get sillies out, or get focused, and are often not asked for walk. So I definitely think thats one part of trying to get him to walk on the longe.

    Getting him to walk is tough. What I do with pony is using the 'keep their feet moving' idea.

    She gets hot and wants to trot everywhere and I end up in a fight with her mouth and she gets pissy.

    Instead, i sit back and close my hands over the reins until she walks. if she shows me she's hot and takes a few trot steps after her walk steps, I make sure she is taking walk steps (even one or two is fine with me) and then I ask for a trot. Its really funny because as soon as its something that I'm asking her for, she decides its not so much fun anymore. She'll usually walk calmly for a while after that, and then we'll have to repeat it every few minutes.

  3. I agree with what both of you have said, and thank you for some great information.
    Marissa I think you are absolutely correct in your assesment of what most horses are taught at an early age. They have been "chased" around a round pen to wear them down, so the downward transition is more difficult. Especially a horse like Trax who is super high energy.
    That thought becomes very apparent to me when I consider Sassy, who had no training what so ever when she came to me. One of the first things Jay taught her, and me, is that walk, trot, canter, trot, walk is absolutly vital. If I don't have those transitions on the ground I will not have them when riding. So she does it very well.

    Killian is harder to get that Canter out of, but the walk is his specialty...but then Big K is what I consider to be "Uber Slo Mo"

    What this tells me, as I read what you two have written, and what I know about my own horses is that this weekend when I ride Trax, before I ever get on him, I need to spend a good amount of time on that downward transition from the ground. It all starts there.

    Thank you guys, for your input, it really helps alot to hear what others have to say.