Never be sorry about questions. There is little more important in life than questions. Questions are the source of all knowledge worth anything.
*I* think Roberts and I use the same techniques to the degree that we both use round pens. But then so do any number of folks. I know relatively little about Roberts' work in that I did read the book, watched his "Join-Up" video and have seen him featured on a few TV News Mags. In *my* opinion, from what I have seen, he uses his knowledge of horse herd dynamics to place himself in a position where he is ready when the horse is ready to accept whatever. From what little bit I've seen and read, his "whatever" always seems to be first saddling and whatever rider is used if a rider is used is usually what appears to be an experienced jockey used to riding relatively untrained horses.
I use my knowledge of herd dynamics to create one state (isolation)in order to create another state (socialization). I track the transition stages between the two by the way the horse moves and reacts. Rather than wait for the horse to go to the next stage like Roberts and, from what little bit I know about Lyons' mindset, and it is little, I hurry the process along by "guiding" the horse toward the actions I want it to do.
Some argue that a horse should not be "guided" but make the decisions on his own. I feel the time it takes is not important, it's the process. Whether the horse does the herd dynamics / bonder procedure because he stumbles on trying it or he's directed, in accordance with natural herd dynamics that is, is immaterial because it is the procedure that brings about the change, not the length of time it takes him to do it. The horse already KNOWS what to do. I merely tell him "it's time to do it."
Once the horse has performed the bonder and exhibits the behavior that tells me he has accepted the terms of our agreement, (he follows me, waits when I wait and does not object when I do whatever I want to do - lifting hoof, rubbing all over, whatever) I take him at his word. Until he tells me by his actions that he is unsure, changing his mind or has decided he doesn't have to do his part, I won't run him through the bonder again. He has to tell me by his actions that he's having second thoughts. Until he tells me *he's* having second thoughts, *I'm* not having any. Or probably more correctly, I'm not "supposed" to have any.
I have one mare who was a five minute bonder at the age of 19. That one bonding session is all it took. She is as trusting and easy to handle post-bonder as she was distrustful and difficult to handle for 16 years pre-bonder. I have another mare that needs a touch-up now and again, but the time between touch-ups has lengthened tremendously while the actual touch-up times have shortened to just a few minutes or so.
We have a 3 year old stud colt (at the time this was written) who is like a hormonally pumped teenager. He was pretty much unmanageable for awhile and just one phone dial away from the knife. Mechanics drive the junkiest cars, carpenters live in the shabbiest houses and horse trainers have the worst behaved horses. Unable to stand him anymore, he was run through the bonder last spring and has been run through about 5 times total for touch-ups since then. He has had a total of about an hour and a half's work. He loads, clips, bathes, leads, trims, listens and is rather quiet and respectful. He is the colt whose picture is in the bonder. I have not thought once of gelding him since spring. I thought about it several times a day before then.
I only perform the bonder when I need to. Once the horse and I have gone through it, we agree that we each have a job. My job is to do all the thinking, his is to do all the trusting. And we both do our jobs by listening to and considering each other. That in a nutshell, expressed in its basest form, is our agreement. Both of us have the right to question the other's depth of agreement. We can each say, "I'm not real sure about this." And the other can act accordingly. Ideally the other party will tell the nervous one, "See? No problem."
Now then, let's say I...hmmm...ahhh...decide out of the clear blue I'm going to blanket him having never done it before. I approach with the blanket (normally, sanely), he goes nuts. He has broken the agreement to trust me. If he does not come to himself rather quickly, we, along with our friend, Mr Blanket, are headed for the pen.
In the pen we do the bonder again. It won't take as long as it did the time before. When the horse tells me he's ready (he follows me, waits when I wait and does not object when I do whatever I want to do - lifting hoof, rubbing all over, whatever), I pick up the blanket and put it on him. If he becomes uncertain and leaves, I send him around a couple times in each direction then allow him to come back. *I* determine when he comes back. If he comes to me before I want him to, I send him back out. A couple times out and he's usually very compliant and the blanket means nothing. But horses are horses and people are people and sometimes things just go awry. If you're running yourself or the horse ragged, there is always another time.
Let's say instead of the blanket, we're talking saddling. So far I have not had any problem getting a saddle on a horse in MUCH less than an hour. The first saddling always involves complete tacking. I put the bridle on him mainly to start him getting used to having it on. I leave the reins on but arrange them so that if he moves off he won't step on them. Ideally, by first saddling he should already be pretty used to the bridle and reins, but for whatever reason, they often aren't.
At any time while I working with the horse and I have ANY cooperation problems I can't tolerate we go back into the RP for a herd dynamics / bonder touch up.
I find for the most part the bonder sets up an attitude of trust that usually gets the horse into an acceptance frame of mind for whatever I decide to do next. After all, we have an agreement. He and I are a team aren't we? He accepts that I am not going to do anything out of the ordinary. Since I'm the team leader, part of his agreement is to allow me to handle him pretty much at will - WITHIN REASON. I cannot put the saddle on him for the first time then climb up on the pen fence and leap through the air onto him because that is not reasonable. It asks him to submit to a predatory type attack. It is reasonable to expect him to accept my weight pressing against him or to be able to touch him anywhere. If his herd buddies can do it, I have the right to expect him to allow ME to do it.
Do I ride the first saddling? Not usually, but only because I have no great need to. He'll be a riding horse a long time and I have no desire to hurry. I do put a stool beside the horse and spend quite a bit of time accustoming the horse to having me ABOVE its head. I put a foot in the stirrup and get him used to weight without committing myself in case he leaves. I lean over, I pull, I monkey, what have you. If he leaves, I let him go and send him around two times both ways and then we go back at it.
I only get on him when he is indifferent to whatever I do and after having done extensive ground work; despooking, teaching him to give to pressure, to go forward when directed, to stop when directed. When I get on I get on just like I always get on a horse and get right back off just like I always get off. I will get on and off, varying the length of time I stay on so he doesn't get expecting me to get off at any set point.
Until he is indifferent about me being on his back, which shouldn't take long because of the despooking work, I make no attempt to get any movement. While it's way beyond extremely wise to have someone holding him during this initial mounting, I'm often by myself when I do this.
Okay, now I have him to the point where it's ho-hum for me to get on his back. I just keep increasing the amount of time I stay there until I can stay about a half hour or so and he just accepts it.
Depending on how he reacts to me being on him, depending on what I know about him in general, depending on a number of other things that escape me here at the moment, but more importantly depending upon how *I* feel I may have him led around awhile while I'm on him to change the pattern, give him a break or to relieve his or my monotony.
About this point I slip into little bit-yielding exercises while sitting on his back (transferring what I taught him from the ground to the saddle). If he moves I try to just sit there and let him go on his own choosing.
The key here is to be continually aware of his attitude. If he seems to be nonplused, unconcerned and tolerating I don't worry too much. If he's stiff, ears locked or appears to be unhappy with what's happening, I get off and send him for a few reminder laps to break the monotony and reaffirm our agreement. It also doesn't hurt one bit to take him back to ground work to re-enforce the basics.
I only use the round pen for two things. I use it for bonding - either the initial bonding or if the horse needs a touch-up. I use it for training for those times when I want him free yet confined. Once I'm convinced I can trust the horse and I think he has a halfway decent steer and stop on him, I don't ride in the pen for the sake of riding. If he and I are in that pen, we are working on a specific goal. It is not a punishment, exercise, riding or longeing area. It is a learning area. Period.
If you have a using horse the bonder serves as an attitude adjuster or connection cementer. It encourages the horse to be more receptive to your directions, more attentive and more willing to accept training.Click here to check out my very reasonably priced video & eBook inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.
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