For once I have no words. I’m sure you all have days when you don’t feel like writing your blogs, or you don’t have time. But I’m empty. I’ve run out of words or ideas to talk about.
Usually writing something helps me clear my head or sort out my feelings. When I feel like a mouse stuck in a church tower I usually am at my most literate. Now I’ve just spent ten minutes trying to finish the previous sentence and I’m still not happy with it …
Often when stuck on things to write I go back to my list of prompts for topics, for when I’m stuck for ideas. However, the list eludes me so you will have to put up with this.
Getting Hold of the Smooth Handle.
This quote has stuck with me from a child reading What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge. It referred to the fact that people need handling in certain ways, and can easily be rubbed up the wrong way.
It occurred to me yesterday that this applies to horses just as much as humans. On the ground horses need different approaches and techniques for handling them. The overly dramatic need quiet words of reassurance or a stern word to tell them off. The more thick skinned horses need more of a push to get them to move over, or back, or left, or right. If they invade your personal space they may well respond to you shaking your hands and “growing” so that they are pushed out of your space. Other horses, however, would instantly become headshy. Some horses respond to a loud voice and stamp of the foot, whilst others worry at that reaction.
In the saddle, some horses are like wise thick skinned, and require a tap of the whip to get them to respond to your aids. Others, throw a tantrum and the whip is a hindrance rather than an aid. Here, the voice is often a useful tool, along with the nicely nicely approach.
As horse handlers, it is our job to work out how each horse wants to be treated, and treat them accordingly so that we get the best out of them. I ride and handle a number of horses every day and have come across many different types, which I can use to gauge the personality of a new horse so I can quickly work effectively with them.
One horse I know tries to bite the other horse on the way to the field, but a tug on the leadrope means he stops and pulls back, which usually causes more problems than it’s worth whilst you untangle yourself. A growl of the voice stops his teeth dead in their tracks.
Another horse has stallion like tendencies, snaking his head towards you in an attempt to dominate you. Waving your arm to make you take up more space, soon pushes him back down the hierarchy ladder.
One horse I ride hates the whip, and gets distracted when you carry one as he’s constantly got his eye on it. However, he sometimes switches off and becomes lazy in the schooling session, in which case I take the loop of reins and touch his shoulder the next time I apply the legs and he instantly reacts, focusing and respecting me again. I find it incredible that just the slight touch of the reins against his shoulder can be so effective. After all, I don’t even bring them away from his skin!
A mare I ride has taken a long time for me to get hold of the smooth handle, as she can be behind the leg and on some days not want to work, having the attention span of a mouse on a hot plate, but after experimenting with different approaches I’ve found that the whip causes her to resist you, and the voice can be helpful, but she does switch off to it after a while so I try to limit its use – keeping it for the initial transition, not for riding a circle, and then verbally praising her after. I now use little spurs as they just provide a little bit more authority to my leg aids and the combination of asking firmly seems to work with her.
A youngster at our yard is a bit bullish, in that he has no respect for the handler coming into his stable, so one day we took a stick and as he started to barge out the door we rattled the stick on the metal of the stable, scaring the youngster backwards. It was much more effective than shouting or pushing, as he just appreciated being held up! If he ever takes it into his head to barge again I’m sure the same approach will remind him of his manners. However, a nervous or flighty horse would be terrified by this approach.
One horse I teach has negative associations with the school after an injury. She’s got the all clear from the vets now so our lessons involve riding very much from the seat, so she can’t kick out at the leg aids, and the hands stay light and positive, so that she feels able to move forwards. Any naughtiness results in the aid being repeated with a small growl of the voice, otherwise it is just ignored and I think she will grow tired of it. In terms of her work, we are keeping it very basic until she stops any narky behaviour because we want her to be on our side as the work gets harder. You could see in the last lesson her rider beginning to get hold of the smooth handle because the mare showed lovely strides intermittently, which hopefully will become frequent and then constant.
When horses spook at something they all need a different response from the rider. Some need a quiet pat and “it’s ok, nothing to worry about,” whilst they take in the situation. Others need that firmer word and asking to move forwards, perhaps because they should know better, or perhaps because if they stop they are inclined to nap.
When a horse is fidgety on hacks it’s the riders discretion as to whether they are anxious, so need calming reassurance, or whether they need a bit more authority to walk properly, or a trot to get anything out of their system.
I’d like to think I can grab the smooth handles all the time, but just like people, horses can have a few handles which need to be tried and tested first. It teaches you a lot about society and people skills though, trying to get the best from a variety of horses.