Part I: Cash’s Introduction to Herd Dynamics
Most of today’s clinicians and horse training experts rely on techniques which, in turn, rely on the horse’s natural social skills. But when your horse is – to put it kindly – socially inept, then what? Teaching your horse proper manners on the ground is vital to riding, even if the lesson is his first.
A little about Cash
Recently we brought a new horse into the herd: Flash, aka CashMoney. Cash is a lovely 5-year-old gelding who comes to us green broke from the family who raised him. While not papered, Cash’s bloodlines promised the potential for nice movement, intelligence, possibly a little cattle work and reining. His dam was on site – a really good looking buckskin with a great disposition. I could tell from first meeting that Cash was going to be fast, catty, and a thinker – meaning he would want to know why we had to do everything and not just blindly accept that we *were* going to do everything I say. That was fine with me because I like a horse with a mind. To me, he seems bold – he certainly moved that way. So I bought him.
Cash comes home; Rodeo Days
Cash had never been in hauled in a trailer, a project that I’m sure will be carried out here for you all to see – fun! We managed to get him loaded and home. The first day of transition we had him stalled up so everyone could take a good look at him without getting at him. This also gave him a chance to become acquainted with my very old mare, Queenie. Everything seemed great.
When we took him out eventually to become acquainted with the other horses, we had the usual of what I call “Rodeo Days” – meaning everyone had to run, buck, chase, posture, show what big ol’ tough horses they are, and so on. Fair enough – horses have social orders and the new kid in town shook things up. Usually Rodeo Days last about 3 days and then everyone gets over themselves. Egos deflate, bruises heal, and I can stop worrying.
After three days, however, we realized that Cash was still running terrified from everyone except Queenie – and the mini cow. (Nothing runs from the mini cow; the most she can do is lick you to death with that long scratchy tongue of hers.) The more Cash ran, the more other horses were determined to bully him.
Horses seem to be a lot like kids in elementary school; if you dare to cringe, you are guaranteeing that you will be the target of abuse until you are past graduation. That being said, this was just too much. Then it dawned on me: Cash doesn’t know how to be a horse!
Our realization about Cash
Cash was raised with his momma only – no herd. He apparently spent a lot of time in a pen next to her, not with her where she could push him around, pin her ears at him but not do anything really, and just basically teach him to keep out of her personal space.
When I lead him, I get the feeling that he’s a 2-week-old colt and *I* am his momma. Colts have a funny way of sticking to their moms like glue sometimes, invading that personal space in a way that the mare would never ever tolerate from any other horse. When Cash would see something new, all 1100 pounds of him would be quite firmly stuck to my side – a bit intimidating since he is fast as his first name – Flash – states.
Cash has been schooled by humans, but not by horses
Cash has experienced some Clinton Anderson techniques. For example, he will back up if you shake the lead a bit in front of him facing him. However, it seems to me that he doesn’t really know things like personal space, manners, and that standing 1 foot in front of your much-shorter owner with your head above her head isn’t the thing to do. Cash is neither doing these things because he is bad nor because anyone has neglected anything in his upbringing; he is just being a horse that has never really experienced a herd environment.
What a horse learns in a herd and why it is important
The thing is – herd manners are vastly important to modern training techniques such as that by Anderson and others based on the teachings of Ray Hunt and company. The body language and thinking used to teach a horse on the ground and then in the saddle are based on a horse herd dynamics.
In a herd, a horse learns that if one horse pins his ears and comes at him, he needs to move and move quick; however, you do not have to keep moving like you are on fire when that other horse releases that pressure. In a training environment, body language is used to move a horse forward in a controlled way.
In a herd, Cash would have been nipped and probably kicked for getting up in other horses’ spaces – no matter the reason. In a training environment, the trainer uses personal space pressure and physical pressure to teach a horse to think about personal space. In a herd, walking up to the alpha mare (in this case: me) with ears pinned back would have resulted in a lesson in manners.
A proper herd would have taught Cash that horses, by nature, are too lazy to chase you for a mile if you will just kindly heed their warning and move; continued terror is not necessary. In training, when a horse does what you want the pressure you used to get that result is immediately released.
The horses get the teaching job – for now
I was going to begin Cash’s training 3 days after he arrived. However, when you see a 40 inch pony chasing a 1100 pound/15 hand high gelding around who is terrified – you realize that he might need some adjustment time.
Now Cash is fine. We locked up the Tiny Terror (PonySue) so that Cash could taunt him over the stall without fear, Kat and Dante got over their jealousy, Jo never cared much either way about chasing Cash, and Queenie has loved him from the start. Cash is getting to learn how to move in a crowd with manners and without fear, how to think instead of reacting – a vital skill for the training process.
Now that Cash seems to understand a little more about how to be – well – a horse, we can go forward in his training on how to be an awesome horse. I am excited to share this with you in the upcoming segments. I hope you join us, Cash and myself, for our adventure.