Thursday, March 28, 2013

Revelations in Ground Training

As you may recall from recent posts, I moved to a new state and thus a new barn. I also am leasing a new horse. This guy's name is Nikodemus. Niki D  has begun to irritate me over the past few weeks. He has consistently had no respect for my personal space on the ground; he has been biting me and chewing up my tack; and he wouldn't pay any attention to me when it was time to mount by grazing so that it would take me like 20 minutes to get on him. I was starting to get anxious about this when I wasn't with him. How to control him began to wake me up at night. So silly.

So, I did some research.

The biting issue was my biggest issue. There were two things I read which I decided to try out, though I had little faith: stop hand feeding the horse, and don't get close enough to the horse to let him bite you.

I also renewed by subscription to Giddy Up Flix. I ran into this video called "Defining your Space" by Gawani Pony Boy. This seemed EXACTLY what I needed to do and wanted to do. Below is the trailer.

Side note, which you may elect to skip over follows!

The whole "natural horsemanship" thing seemed like it made some kind of sense, though I personally feel that anything defined as "natural" is a subjective, culturally infused concept. Based on a medical anthropology graduate education, "natural" is a shifting concept very much related to the time frame and concept in which it is used. In my mind, "natural hosemanship" works because it has an underlying theory. That's it. There is nothing "natural" about it. It is really just a consistent, theoretical approach and framework and works because of its consistency. But really, I digress.

Every time I watch one of these "natural horsemanship" videos, they always seem so....un-me. The practitioners are usually Western riders and generally male. They use round pens to which I do not have access. The horses are usually not warm bloods. You don't see dressage riders parading this stuff. Everyone at my last hunter barn totally made fun of the concept.

So, after watching "Defining your Space," I thought to myself, "I don't know if this is for me." Mr. Carrots really thought I should try it out though. Gawani Pony Boy's first exercise is controlling the horses feet in a round pen. He did a few moves like throwing a rope in front of the horse and making noises at the horse. The goal is to get the horse going around you in a large circle, controlling his direction and distance from you.  Didn't know if I could swing this. The second exercise was leading the horse, expecting him to stop three feet behind you, and then stepping back when you turned around at him.

Amazingly, this all worked. I put a minimum amount of effort into this for a massive pay back. I sort of modified each of the exercises into something that seemed do-able for me as a small, timid-when-it-comes-to-horses lady.

I took Nik-the-Mouth into what I had available: a square turnout. I took him off the lead and let him go naked. He cantered off, immediately into a circle around me. I was able to get him to go in the other direction by just twirling the lead when he stopped. This was FAR easier than I thought it would be.

Then, I did the exercise where I would lead him. It seriously took the horse about 3 walks then stops to totally get what I wanted. He was so smart.

Lastly, I did this "still as a statue" exercise that I saw Julie Goodnight do once.

And the results? For about twenty minutes of ground work, I now have a horse that leads beautifully, doesn't try to graze when walking back from turn out, does not bite and pays attention when it is time to mount. I am so thrilled and I couldn't have asked for more. Really, I just could not have asked for more. My whole point is that this ground training thing is perhaps easier than it may at first seem. And you don't have to do exactly what the person you watch does. You can modify and make it something that works for you, your personality, and the tools that you have available.


  1. Bravo! Yes, the natural bit is really what comes naturally to you and to the horse. It's vaguely reminiscent of parenting, actually. If you don't believe it or it doesn't feel right to you, it won't work. They will know.

    I personally love round pen work and it helped (helps) Calabar and me a great deal. I cured his biting by keeping him out of my space. It worked because he really likes to be close to me and was sad when he couldn't be. :)

    1. Yes, I did not get that before! It really seemed to work because we did what was natural to us. That is the perfect description! Thanks.

  2. I love this post! I really recommend checking out the documentary Buck if you aren't familiar with Buck Brannaman. It's a wonderful story, it really illustrates his style of natural horsemanship (I don't care for the term either), and there are warmbloods! And yes, he's a cowboy.

    It's really about knowing what the horse's natural response is to our actions, and using that to get them to do what we want them to. Work smart not hard! ;-)

    1. Thanks, Amy! I will have to check out Buck. He works with the LOPE organization to re-train OTTB. I really like your description of knowing the horse's natural response to our actions. That makes a lot of sense to me.