Perhaps it is because I get to work with the horses and riders one-on-one when we are taping the show or perhaps it is because I watch the show again in the editing phase and once again when it airs, that I can remember each one so well. Or maybe it’s because we work hard to find the best story in each episode– the one that is most compelling and the one the audience will benefit from most– and that isn’t always the topic the person stated in their application to be on the show.
Take for instance the barrel racer in episode 501, “Forward Progress.”
It was supposed to be an episode about a young competitive rider who wanted to improve her times, but turned out to be on one of the most basic fundamentals– that forward movement is the basis of all training.
The young lady in this episode stands out in my mind as an excellent rider– very brave and riding a wild and crazy horse– and the recipient of some very bad horse training advice. Anytime she would ask the horse to move forward, it would take off running and bucking across the arena until she picked up on one rein, pulled its neck into a pretzel shape and disengaged the hindquarters. Once she let the horse have its head, the whole thing would start again. Honestly, she couldn’t go 4-5 strides without disengagement.
I jumped on this topic in a hurry because it’s one of my biggest pet peeves about so called “natural horsemanship”– the over-use of the one-rein stop. It is not the answer to everything and I’ve seen many horses that I would say are terrorized daily by this idea. Ask it to go somewhere, then jerk its head to the side and tangle up its feet. I’ve seen plenty of horses at their wits end when disengagement is over-used. Although it can come in real handy at times, too much of a good thing is a bad thing and a horse has to move freely forward before training can begin.
The good news is that both the horse and rider in this episode did really well and once the young rider understood what to do, they both made tremendous progress. Once she got the horse to move forward without restriction and contradiction, they developed trust in each other and went on to do good things. I love it when helping a rider turns out to help a horse.
Another episode that really stands out in my mind from the last year is episode 513, “Positioned for Success.”
Like the barrel racer, this horse seemed to be a problem– too fast, won’t stop, won’t slow down, but in actuality, all that needed to change was the rider.
Mike was fairly new to riding and had purchased an older Arabian at auction because the horse was reported to be well-trained and reliable. Clearly, the horse’s past included endurance racing because once you pointed him down the trail, he was all-business–hell-bent for leather, even though that was not Mike’s intention.
Once I rode him, I was immediately enamored of this horse and I could tell he was a good soul with a lot of miles on him. But because Mike was a novice rider and didn’t know much about correct position, and because he felt like the horse would be taking off with him, he had developed some defensiveness in his position– legs braced forward and hauling back on the reins. This almost always makes the horse go faster.
It was amazing to see the transformation in both horse and rider once Mike’s position was corrected and I showed him how to use his weight to slow down instead of constantly pulling on the reins. The results were almost immediate and by the time we taped the conclusion of the show the next day, both Mike and his horse had found a new appreciation for each other as they went casually down the trail on a loose rein.
Are you beginning to see why I love my job?
One of the horses that stands out most in my mind from 2012, in episode was a little Paso Fino who was supposedly deathly afraid of plastic (521, “Plastic Makes Me Spastic”). Often the picture I see in the horse does not compute with the explanation coming out of the owner’s mouth– and this episode was the perfect case in point.
He was a mature and well-trained gelding– very fiery like a Paso Fino should be, but also very smart, thinking and well-mannered. Everything I saw in this horse told me he was trying his best to do the right thing. It didn’t take long for me to decipher the problem– the horse was not afraid of plastic; it was running away anytime plastic was presented to him because that is what he had been inadvertently trained to do.
People train the wrong response into horses all the time. As it turns out, the previous owners of this horse had chased him around the field in a Gator with a plastic bag on the end of a stick. So, in his mind, what he was supposed to do evertime he saw a plastic bag, is run like crazy away from it.
Although horses are one of the most sensitive mammals, they are also the most easily desensitized. It should happen fairly quickly (as it did in this show, once the correct technique was used). If desensitization doesn’t happen quickly, then something is going wrong and you may be engraining a fear response into the horse instead of eliminating fear.
With most horse training issues– the critical factor is the timing of the release of pressure. Whatever your horse is doing at the moment you release him, is what you just trained him to do. What they had done with this sweet little gelding is release the pressure every time the horse showed a fear response– thus rewarding the fear response. Eventually, the horse came to believe that what he was supposed to do was run like crazy anytime he saw a plastic bag.
As you can see from watching this episode, in a matter of minutes I was rubbing plastic all over him and waving it in his face while he stood still and relaxed. He was a very smart and willing horse– often the most misunderstood. He did not want to run or be afraid, he just wanted to do what was expected of him. It’s all in the timing of the release.
Most of the training problems people have with their horses are really quite common– the same issues come up again and again, and these are the topics we try to cover in Horse Master. What we are all tempted to describe as a horse problem, the horse would probably describe as a human problem if he could.
Looking back over the past five years of Horse Master, I remember so many cool horses and great people–both on the cast and crew. Time and time again, it’s amazing how a little bit of information and a few smalls corrections in technique can cause such huge results in a short amount of time.