The vet came last week. Or the week before. I'd have to look to be sure. Anyway, last week I rode Super for the first time in a month. Because I got to the farm so late, I saddled him up in time for the gloaming and by the time I finished groundwork it was full on dark.
I moved the l solar light from the pasture to the round pen and the ride itself wasn't remarkable. All I did was walk and bend and work on barn gravity. If you haven't heard, barn gravity is the gravitational pull of the barn on horses. Actually, it's not very scientific and the term comes from a short story from a book of short stories about horses named Barn Gravity. This was back when I was kid and the short story was so good, that I asked the librarian for the book. That was not as stkupid of a question as you might think because many of the stories in the book were excerpts. But she gave me the look, one reserved by adults for children who ask stupid questions and, after seeing the book was a collection of short stories said "no" there was not a book by that name.
But I think she would have said that about any of the stories because she didn't realize the book was full of excerpts. Nevertheless, this one story really was just a story and that was a disappointing day for a horse crazy kid who could do nothing about it, except read books.
Anyway, the concept of barn gravity describes perfectly what happens when you separate a horse from his place of leisure, food, and friends. Super is no different and he wanted nothing more than to leave the round pen and get back to eating. My point is, the ride was boring. The exciting part was the ground work.
I've taught Super to go the direction I point and to walk on one cluck, trot on two, and canter at a kiss. The canter has been a bit of contention with us. By now I could be able to walk, trot and canter on a loose rein without steering. Alas, Super ducks and dives in the canter, bucks and tosses his head. None of it is a big deal and I've watched much better riders have no trouble with him. But I am not a good rider in the sense that I can muscle my way through things.
And anyway, if he takes the canter badly from a ground cue, it's not suddenly going to be better with me on his back. That would be like getting on an airplane with a hole in the fuselage with the expectation that you can fix after take off.
So, I've been trying to fix it on the ground. But not really. Partly because I was worried about Super's stifle. If he was resistant to canter maybe there was a physical reason? And there was, but not what I thought. It was his teeth.
You know, evidence based horsemanship has a lot of running horses around in a circle. While it uses the horse's flight mode, the fact is, you could train any animal this way, even humans. On a psychological level, it's very effective, not only in getting a horse obedient but teaching him what he can do. Just this Sunday, Super wanted to know what was in a bag I was carrying around. He could have turned around and come investigated. Instead he back up six strides straight as an arrow until his face was level with the bag. He sniffed it, realized it did not contain carrots and was disappointed in to life.
So back to last week. For the first time ever Super cantered off with out a head toss. His head was so low in the canter... I've not seen him relax that way. When the vet did his teeth he said Super's head tossing should quit. Well, we don't ride much in a bit so we don't have much head tossing, but as it turns out it was his teeth. Now this vet had the tools and at least some of the expertise that an equine dentist would have.
And though I could have forced the issue about the canter, I'm glad that I did not. I probably could have bullied Super to being good in the canter. But I'm glad that instead, I worked on it patiently. And left it alone a lot. "Natural Horsemanship" is anything but, and using the methods aren't better unless the trainer is better. Not better in skill, but understands if the horse is failing to learn something then the teacher is teaching it wrong or, as in Super's case, there was an external factor.
I used to love "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard," but I think now that there must be caveats in putting such ideas into practical use. Perhaps it should be "Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard and don't be a bully."
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018