A few days ago (July 7, 1998) we received a call from some people who wanted to come out and watch me work some horses because they had heard how well my two riding mares were doing. I use a training method that is a compilation of some things I've learned from my lifelong experiences with horses and animals and the work of people like Linda Tellington-Jones, John Lyons, Stan Allen and a number of other force-less trainers...or more accurately animal communicators.
Right now everyone is all hopped up on "whisperin" and view it as some mysterious art. There is nothing mysterious about it. Every move an animal makes says something. Every thing you do around an animal says something to the animal. The degree to which you have studied and understand these movements determines how well you can communicate with the animal. There is no whispering. It is wordless, yet the animal hears and understands it plainly.
Anyway, they came out this evening. I also invited a friend of mine who for 20 years ran one of the large State Breeding Farms in Poland before coming to America. He also is a student of communication nuances and we have exchanged a lot of ideas.
We took one of the Holsteiner stud colts, a very large (16+h) 2 year old who has not been handled as much we should have (we have too many horses and obligations..another story) and has very little respect for people, and took him to the round pen.
In addition to being disrespectful on the leadline, he was terrorized by spraying from bottles and water hoses, he also was a halter evading head raiser, and paid no attention to the presence of people or handlers. In short, he was a pain in the butt.
I stood outside the pen and explained what I was going to accomplish and how long it would take. I laid out what I would do and what the horse would do which was basically get the horse to accept what ever I wanted to do to him (within reason of course) within 20 minutes. In order to do this I had to tell the horse by my actions that I was the leader of our herd and he had to submit to my leadership. In other words, we had to sort out our pecking order. His anti-social actions already told me he considered himself to be the top horse. For us to get along, I had to change that.
I got in the pen and he ignored me. He picked at grass, called to the mares in the pasture, looked here, looked there, ears flicking in every direction but mine. He was telling me, "You are not worth paying any attention to. You are nothing to me."
I had run the hose to the pen primarily to try to beat the dust down. I gave him a squirt with the hose which told him, "Here's something that I will do to you and you'll not be able to stop me from doing it.
He took off around the pen, "I'll outrun you and leave you here."
Well, he could run all year and I would always be the same distance from him no matter how long or fast he ran. After about two laps his inside ear was locked on me. "Suddenly, you HAVE become important."
A few more laps and a couple of direction changes later his lips were moving and he was licking his lips very plainly. "Hmmmm...I'm running my brains out and he's keeping up. I have a problem. How do I get out of this? I'm going to tell him, 'Hey, I'm just a grazing animal, I'm one of the herd and if he let's me stop all this work we'll talk it over and he can be the boss.'" He lowers his head submissively which says, "Okay, obviously you are the boss, can we talk?"
And all the time I'm blasting him repeatedly with short burst hose sprays which he now ignores because he has a more pressing problem, me. I turn him back and forth in a 20 foot arc on the pen for a few times and then the hose gets tangled and kinked. I turn my attention to the hose and he comes to me because my turning away has told him, "I'm going to leave you alone, you seem to have learned your lesson. If you want to join the herd and behave yourself, come on."
I unkink the hose and he's standing quietly beside me. I blast him all over with the hose and he makes no effort to move. He accepts it. He allows me to touch him all over, hold his head to the ground, run my fingers into his mouth, up into his nostrils and into his ears. No amount of arm waving, screaming, yelling or jumping gets him to leave my side. There is no head raising when haltering. He ignores the fly spray. He is saying.."You are the herd boss. You call the shots."
He is submissive and it hasn't taken the 20 minutes I allotted to it.
One of the spectators says, "You have accomplished in minutes what takes me days to do."
My Polish friend then tells me to stand by the rail and send the colt across the pen. He then goes around picks up a spooker sheet laying there from another horse's session and flaps it at the colt. The colt bolts and I start kissing body parts good-bye as he races directly at me. The colt skids to a halt beside me and watches my friend flap the sheet. He is saying, "You're the boss. I'm going to do what you do about this." As my friend flaps the sheet the colt keeps me between him and the sheet.
The spectator throws his hands up in the air and shrugs, "I've never seen anything like this."
All easily explained. No mystery. No whispering. No words need to be spoken.
What happened at this demonstration is the direct result of horse herd dynamics. Horse herd dynamics is a very rigid code of social interaction between herd members. Horses are genetically pre-programmed to react in a set manner to a set action by other herd members, or someone who is acting like a herd member. Ages before man came on the scene, horses were communicating and interacting with each other. It is instinctive, powerful and very direct.
All easily explained. No mystery. No whispering. No words need to be spoken.
I was asked by my guests about how long lasting the results are and whether you need to do it repeatedly.
It really depends on the individual animal. Some, like Dee, the 19 year old Morgan mare who went from a horse judged dangerous by everyone who rode her including the trainers to the nicest riding horse I ever had, will get the program burned into their psyche in one session and they will keep it.
Some, like Summer, buckskin Morgan mare, will "cheat" and go through the motions for a session or two before finally submitting to the program. These horses usually do not allow you to freely work inside their mouth, nose or ears which I take as a sign of submission. They stand by you, they allow you access to vulnerable areas and allow you to do a number of other annoying things to them because it is less work to stay by you and accept it than it is to flee.
But when it comes to head work they say, "I don't think so," and evade just enough to get out of having to submit to it without being blatantly rebellious. In nature a lowered head is a sign of respect and submission and a non-submissive horse WILL NOT allow you to freely place and keep its head in a submissive posture unless it is submissive and acknowledging your higher status. Depending on a number of factors, I usually send "cheaters" back out until I get the same signs I looked for earlier and hopefully in addition I'll see them moving their noses in a circle. This says, "Hmmmm..I seem to have screwed up because now I'm being chased away when a moment ago I was just standing relaxed." At that point I allow them to approach me by ignoring them which they usually do very quickly. As the horse approaches I look to see if he has a new attitude.
Linda Tellington-Jones believes, and I concur, that looking at the mouth and how the ears are is an indicator of the horse's mental state. If a horse has a short mouth and closely held together darting ears that is the sign of an extremely suspicious horse that will be reluctant to freely accept, or do, anything new. I look at the length of the horse's mouth and the placement of the ears and worry lines above the eyes, at the beginning of the session. As the session moves along, when I see the mouth length increase, the ears begin to move apart and flop and the worry lines lessen if not disappear all together, I'm reasonably certain this horse has got the program and will "probably" accept head and mouth work. If not, he is very close to it.
When a "cheater" does fully get the program, because *I* am a suspicious cuss, *I* may need additional sessions at a later time to convince *me* the horse has gotten it. Within reason, repetition only re-enforces, so the horse, being submissive, is not harmed or worsened. Once you get past the cheating stage, cheaters usually are more firmly in the program than the others.
Now, about Moose, the demonstration horse.
The next day I went in the stall. He obediently moved to me. "Okay, I remember we are a herd and you are the boss." I went after him with the fly spray. Instead of slamming all around the stall, kicking out powerfully and bouncing onto me, he stood and wrinkled his skin as the spray landed on him and he lightly threatened me by displaying his hoof. Since the night before he accepted this with no sign of noticing, I took it to mean, "I wonder if he really is the boss or he's got me buffaloed." I glared into his eyes which said, "Yes, I am. And I'm willing to confront you and push the issue should you desire." He then pushed his face against me which said, "Just kidding." And I then sprayed him at will while he *tolerated* it. I know from time to time, Moose will test me to see if I'm weak enough to replace as the herd leader. He accepts me as being the herd leader but he is ready to step in and take my place the second he feels I can't do the job because that is a stallion's natural purpose. He will need an occasional tune-up, more for me than him. The tune ups will be farther and farther apart until they are seldom needed if at all.
When you get into a mode of "What is this horse saying to me?", you'll be surprised what you can learn. If you know what the horse is saying you can reply accordingly.
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