A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses
I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The first step in training
But, here I'm talking about training a horse to ride. Now, I suppose that means that the first thing I teach a horse is to lunge. You can read all about my thoughts on lunging here. Since I've already rambled on about it recently, I'll spare you from doing it again. Suffice it to say that lunging, no matter how you spell it, is required for how I work with horses. I need them to know the verbal commands, and to understand pressure. Pressure from the bit, the saddle, the girth, my presence.... with out being able to accept that, then I don't have the first clue of how to work with a horse. Some do, I don't.
Remember when I said I trained slowly. Well, this is what I was talking about. Think of it like trying to teach someone physics. The first thing you really need, is to have a common language. Lunging is what gives me that common language with horses.
I have no idea why every one loves to get pictures of me doing this, but I have a dozen of them.
The important thing for me though, is that the horse will stand calmly. For those of you who have worked with young horses, you might be thinking "well how long does THAT take?" and the honest answer it that it depends upon the horse. Rooster here had NO interest in standing to be mounted. He would step, shy, bolt, and basically do anything to make me hurry it up. And this horse was broke when he came here.
See, standing to be mounted is important, but it's boring as hell to teach. My method is simple. I walk the horse up to a mounting block, step up, and begin to mount very slowly. If the horse moves more then simply to brace up, then I lunge it. Eventually the horse learns that it has 2 options. It can stand, or it can move, but it can't avoid the work.
Imagine if your best friend or spouse was to suddenly pull a gun and put it to your head. You can't really see the gun, so you don't know if it's a toy, or real, and this person has always been kind gentle and caring to you, so you can't believe that they would be serious. Fear would jump in your gut, and your body would tense. You might widen your eyes, brace your neck, or try to step away. Sound familiar? It's what most young horses do the first time you want to step up on them.
Eventually you might realize that there's a greater purpose there. No matter what it is (maybe it's a ploy to get you out of danger? Maybe it's for candid camera? Who knows!) and you'd consent to the play, and relax with that gun to your head. Maybe you wouldn't until it was explained to you in very careful detail. Just like a horse does when thinking about accepting a predator into it's most susceptible area.
So, I stand on a mounting block, and pet the horse. I do my best to make this a pleasant experience. I ask the horse to "Stand" (not move its feet) and then slowly pet it all over. Depending upon the horse's level of comfort, I might do nothing more. If the horse accepts it, then I move on to wiggling the saddle, patting its rump, and touching the horse all over. Especially on the off side of the horse. I want the horse to understand that things happen on both sides of it.
Depending upon the saddle we us, Western or English, we may stand in a stirrup, or simply lay across the saddle. The trick is to balance your weight completely over the horse, just as a rider would be balanced. Balanced enough that you can be carried around with out slipping off.
Now, as you can see, I tend to use a ground person. This makes the horse feel more confident, as there's something similar to the previous set of lessons (Lunging) and someone for the horse to look to for guidance. Not every one has this option, but I've found it results in happier horses who progress faster.
So, from putting pressure, to completely laying on the horse, we begin to move forward. If at any time the horse begins to panic, bolt, or spook at any of this, we slow down, and go back. Nothing explains a new task like repetition. Remember that horses are completely honest, and they can't lie. If the horse is acting scared, then it's scared! They don't know that this is "work" or something to dread, they simply know it's weird, and that they would rather be eating.
Of course, if that happens, you have to slow down, take a few steps back, and repeat.
One thing I've learned though, is that nothing seems to help a horse learn as much as time. If a horse is scared and bolts, simply go back to what the horse was good at, end on a good note, and call it a day. Give the horse the night to think about it, and on the next day, the horse will likely act as if it has been doing this a while. Just letting a new idea sink in often is the best trainer.
Now remember that I use a ground person, and a mounted person. As you can tell from the pictures, I have spent time working in both roles. Once the horse is willing to carry a mounted rider a few steps, or a small circle, we start working towards riding. Like real riding.
Amy begins to give the verbal commands, and I obey them. The horse watches my body language if she needs a hint on what exactly we want. Once the horse is listening completely to Amy's commands, and I'm just walking there on a slack lead, and reacting after the horse, then I remove the lead. We continue to do all of this with Amy in sole control of the horse, and only my presence there for guidance. I step further and further away, until I am standing in one spot with Amy and my horse working around the arena with out me.
See, praise is something a horse understands. We've been teaching them for a long time that "good" means just that! If they are insecure, a pleasant "good girl" will reassure them that their reaction is the one you want, and it helps them to learn faster. This is what clicker training is all about, it's what Pavlovian training is all about. With out thinking, you have likely taught your horse your phrase for what you like. It can be anything, but I bet you repeat it often. Mine is "good girl!" said in a specific tone. When you say this, the horse releases hormones associated with other happy experiences, and has a good feeling. This sets the training in the horses mind as being correlated to happy things.
Before, I have always just done what feels right. Working with Amy, I have had to explain what it is that I do, and that's not as easy as it sounds! I figure that by writing it down, as I go through the process, I can get it all straight in my own mind. So don't be surprised if I continue to make long, photo filled posts about what exactly I do, and how slowly I go about training a horse.
Backing a horse is just the first step. Even here I've jumbled so many things together, from asking the horse to stand still, to asking it to bear weight and respond to the aids. Usually this process takes weeks for me, depending upon how quickly the horse can learn.
It helps me greatly when readers ask questions about steps, and make me stop and put it into words. It helps me tons when I have to think as I type, and make those feelings into a verbal image. So bear with me as I vomit my experiences onto the blog sporadically for the next bit. And here's hoping that Sweetie doesn't send me to the ER! This will be the first unbroke horse I'm working with since my accident in April. So far, I'm feeling good about it, but another accident might be the last straw for me.
Thank goodness Sweetie lives up to her name!
Posted by Pinzgauer at 9:00 AM