Butter wouldn't melt

Sunday, 7 October 2007

...or so you might think. Charlie Brown chilling out in the morning sun over the weekend. Really, how could this wee pony be anything but sweet and docile?

Well rewinding back just a couple of weeks ago it was more like Crazy Charlie and Rodeo Bill. Only
Crazy Charlie was completely insane and Rodeo Bill was crying girlie tears of frustration. Spring grass is like a drug problem for a horse (well no, maybe just my horse!), it sends him fruit-loopy for a few weeks every year. But you have to let them eat it at some point eh. But up close it's not pretty and I was shitting bricks trying to deal with one uncontrollable, mad mother F of a horse.

Despite the fact that a horse weighs around half a tonne and has a hell of a lot of power (and so has the physical ability to do pretty much whatever he wants whenever he wants), getting a horse to do what you want really mostly comes down to him believing that you are the more powerful. Like so many things, it's pyschological. You can whip him into shape obviously, but my concern has always been that the relationship is then based purely on fear and not on trust. One day when the situation arises that the shit really hits the fan, the horse is gonna split and run for his own life without a second thought for me and my safety.

So I've been trying out some horse whispering techniques, aka Natural Horsemanship. Made famous by Pat Parelli (who has made a small fortune by now I'm sure), in a nutshell the approach is based on imitating horses' own behaviour in the herd situation to win the leader status, ie. the horse will look to me to make decisions and provide protection.

You start out playing with them from the ground using ropes and signals (because I don't have horse teeth, horse legs and hopefully not a horse face!), until pretty soon you can get your horse to do heaps of stuff just by using hand signals or some sort of physical or verbal cue. I still have a long way to go, but the results have been immediate and positive. After 15mins my horse had more respect for me - no more barging into my space; no more swinging his arse round at me when he didn't want me picking up his feet, no more rearing up on the end of the lead rope frightening me half to death. Now I can do things like remain standing still in one spot whilst send him walking backwards using a simple command. This now works whether he's attached to me by rope or not and we make use of obstacles like poles he has to walk backwards over or backwards through streams. We've started on sideways manoeuvres now and after that will come riding with no bridle and trying to get similar techniques to work when on his back. When I can get him walking up into a horsefloat on command I'll throw a party (horses are natural claustrophobics and Crazy Charlie had to be sedated to get him on the horse truck from Wellington to Nelson)!

So, it's cool and really exciting to see a different approach achieving results. Heaps big thanks to Tanja and Kim for supporting me when I was struggling and encouraging me to try something new. Hopefully I can capture some of our horseplay on film for the full effect.