|" Grady "|
During my down time from riding I’ve been reading some horse related books. Recently, I finished a book that I thought might help with Donnie’s problems. It’s called “Empowered Horses” by Imke Spilker. The description of the book states, “Learning Their Way through Independence, Self-Confidence, and Creative Play.”
The basic idea behind this book is to discover your horse’s independence in a “human's world” by becoming more passive, receptive, and accepting, giving your horse the physical and emotional space to take an unbelievably active role in your interaction in both work and play. To support the horse with exercises and develop games that will collect and balance his body as if by magic. How with these interactions the horse will enthusiastically work with you inviting you along for the ride of your life. (This is basically copied from the back cover of the book)
I found there were some good insights to be found in this book. One being that horses never get to choose what they want to do but are constantly told what they must to do. They are never given the free choice to refuse. Also, if we want willing partners, we have to empower them by giving them the choice to work with us. There is some little bit of agreement on my part with this basic statement. However, as I read more and more I couldn’t see myself going along with all the games played with the horses in the book. One segment has the girl and a horse running up and down hills playing together with a collar attached around his neck and a lead. Other games included running around the arena with the horse being free. That’s just not in the cards for me, although it seemed to work for them. The book makes it clear that you can devise your own games of play to make it fun for the horse. It’s all about thinking of ways to be receptive to your horse.
Some other things also struck me as not-so-doable. Sure, I'd love to empower Dusty with all kinds of free choice, but she's already an opinionated mare, and I'm well aware of how she feels about most things. If I followed this book's advice, walked into the field to put Dusty’s halter on and she turned away then she’s telling me no she doesn’t want to come and work or play with me. If I subscribed to this theory, she’d never have to do anything she didn’t want to. The principle behind all the playing and games is to empower the horse and make the horse want to be with you and interact with you all the time. If you ask for something and they say no, then it’s their choice and you should respect it.
I may have interpreted the book wrong, but as I read it I was picturing all of our horses and their distinct personalities, most of the time thinking what would work for some and not for others. I came to the conclusion that Dusty would more than likely take advantage of the situation and tell me to take my halter and take a hike if given the choice--but maybe I'm not giving her enough credit? The boys might be more receptive to some of the concepts and games, but not all. A lot of times when they come up to me in the field or follow after me in the arena it's because they think I have treats in my pockets. I believe the horses they worked with in the book were much younger than my herd and probably more open to suggestions. My herd has mostly been there, done that and know when they can take advantage of a situation.
There were movements on teaching the horse to balance and be aware of their bodies. It would take too long to go into it all here and the pictures do better justice to the techniques than I could write down. A picture is worth a thousand words. Most were done from the ground but it also covered how they would introduce them to a saddle and rider. Some of the time the riders in the book would jump on bareback with no bridle and walk and trot around the ring. Again, that’s not in the cards for me right now--or probably ever.
So in conclusion my thoughts on being with and training horses would basically come down to the theory that there is a balance to be had between not domineering, manhandling and downright abusing a horse and still getting respect from them and attaining training goals. If everything is left up to the whim of the horse, it can be a recipe for disaster or just a plain waste of time. The book’s basic principle is good if not taken to extremes. And if taken the wrong way her ideas could be dangerous. In my inexpert opinion, it’s not a complete training philosophy, but a good idea to keep in the back of your mind when dealing with your horses: they're involuntary partners who didn't sign up for this, so try to be patient, give them as much choice as possible within reason (i.e., listen to them when there is resistance to see if there is a LEGITIMATE cause) and make it fun. But it shouldn't be a free-for-all either, so don't mistake this for a true training philosophy or a way of life. Be mindful if this is all you do all day your horse will be out of control and you might get yourself killed. Not to mention you will basically have a big pet on your hands. It’s nice if we all have warm fuzzy feelings about our horses, but if that's what we want, maybe we should have house cats and not 1000lb+ animals.
Partnerships with horses demand MUTUAL trust, but also respect. Training, by nature, requires one party to do the asking and the other to do the answering. To be clear, it's the human who is training the horse, not vice versa. Asking correctly is what being a good horseman is about. The horse shouldn’t be allowed to give you the finger and walk away any time he chooses. That to me isn't empowering horses, that's disempowering humans. For the short time he's asked to do his job, in exchange for his room and board, it's not too much to expect that they meet us half way. Many horses may have been demeaned by humans in the past and will continue to be demeaned by humans in the future, but it doesn't mean we have to demean ourselves to be better horsemen. We can still be good horsemen without making ourselves ridiculous in the process. Prancing around fields Julie Andrews-style (cue the “Sound of Music”) with our horses and calling it "training" isn't empowering to either species--it's embarrassing.
While this isn’t a book review if you are at all interested in something covering these principles of training and interacting with your horse you might be interested in checking it out. The book has wonderful pictures showing how it helped the horses they worked with and their methods. The author and assistants worked long and hard on this book for years. I’m sure I’m over-simplifying what the book actually wants the readers to grasp to better understand their horses. When I started this post I felt like I was back in high school writing a book report. You know when you really have to condense a whole book into a few thoughts. What are you’re thoughts on this sort of training for horses?
Until next time
Quote for Today
Closeness, friendship, affection: keeping your own horse means all these things.
- Bertrand Leclair