Yesterday afternoon I wanted to work with Galahad in the west pasture—the one they are resting at the moment. Open space to work, and no other horses to try to eat his treats. I brought him in at liberty, with no halter to control him. That meant that there could be no “cheating” on my part. This was about me figuring out a way to get him to want to walk with me over to the south fence where I had set up the little piles of hay and soaked grass hay/alfalfa cubes (this time of year, the horses have ZERO interest in plain hay).
I knew he would be very happy to work with me over by the fence once he discovered that there were yummy hay cubes involved. The challenge was to get him to walk with me over to that area instead of going where he wanted to go: to the main pasture gate and out to where I usually feed and work with him.
When he first followed me into the west pasture, Galahad immediately started walking toward the main gate. I stopped him (which he does willingly) and asked him to walk with me toward where the treat piles were set up. He followed for a few steps, then refused and put on his “stubborn face.” That’s the expression he often uses when you first ask him to do anything that’s not his own idea.
Galahad isn’t categorically unwilling to do what’s asked, by any means. The thing is, if he perceives it as an order, he will almost always balk and get sulky. I really believe that’s a leftover response to the way he was trained initially, by the so-called “trainer” who was his original owner (yes, the one who starved him nearly to death). My own trainer used the same kinds of Natural Horsemanship methods (though with way more skill and understanding), and Galahad seems to think that anything that seems like “training” and not “fun” is something he needs to refuse, if he can. “No” is his default setting.
That’s why Carolyn Resnick’s methods work so very well for this horse: One of the most important ideas in her method is to make the training fun for both horse and human. Galahad responds to that beautifully!
(Disclaimer: I am NOT certified by Carolyn Resnick, and anything I talk about or show here is MY INTERPRETATION of what she teaches, not something she has approved. If you like what you see, I urge you to take one of her online courses, or go to a clinic like the one we’re offering this June here in Missouri with Certified Master Trainer Teddie Ziegler.)
So my task yesterday was to figure out a way to make Galahad WANT to walk with me instead of checking out each pile of poop on his way to the main gate. It was a fun challenge! I’ve got a little video clip of the process–quite by accident, and only because I had the camera running when I went to get him. Watch it full-screen if you can.
The first thing I did was walk away and ignore him for a while. He knows he needs me to open the gate, so he stayed pretty close. I just hung out, following him slowly but pulling weeds and doing my own thing, not pestering him. I tried catching his eye and drawing him to me, but he was having none of that. Too “natural horsemanship” for him. I needed to be more subtle.
I also knew that if I tried too hard to influence WHERE he walked right then, he’d take off at a trot and head directly for the main gate. So I just waited. After a while I went and stood beside him, letting him look around and graze. When I could feel his attention shift to me, I moved a little ways away from him and resumed pulling weeds.
It took a while, but he had turned his body and was keeping an eye on me. I continued to wait.
Eventually, he moved closer and I was able to call him over. I wanted to use a draw to get him to walk with me, not to push him, but I was on the wrong side; so after a while I moved carefully to his other side, turned slightly away from him, and he came along with me. Yippee! Still had to be careful, though, and wait when he stopped to look at something or other. But suddenly he was willing!
Times like this, when all the study and observation I’ve done pays off, are just magic. Even such a little thing as this is so special to me, because it means that the bond my horse and I have, the relationship we’re building, is growing. My Galahad loves me, there is no doubt, in the way horses love. But horses are not dogs, and “obedience” and “leadership” have different meanings to them. How amazing it is to know how to time my requests just right and express them in a language that he understands, so that he’s willing to follow my leadership!
So yesterday turned out to be a fun game for both of us, just like Carolyn suggests. No pressure, no time frame, and staying very much in the moment. Woohoo!
Wow…. This is a dream come true for me.