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.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Training Horses as an Art Form
And yet, I start horses and fix problems. Oh sure, it's the easiest type of training to get into. Lets be honest here. Big name trainers can pick and choose their clients, and very few of them are willing to get hurt by someone else's horse. The big market for no-name trainers is in the "this could kill you" category. Starting horses under saddle, and fixing problems definately is in the "this could kill you" category.
And yet, it's the thing I love most. Kinda.
My only problem with starting youngsters is their owners. No offense to any of my clients in the past, but humans are an impatient species. We want it, and we want it NOW! Oh hell yeah I've been the same way. That doesn't make it right.
When I work with a horse, I prefer to work with the horse on my terms, at the horse's time frame. We humans don't all learn at the same speed, so why would we expect an animal with a brain the size of a golf ball to do so?
So, because of that, I find that I LOVE starting my own babies, but hate working with other people's babies. Oh I have no problems at all with helping an owner start their own horse. When you lay in the saddle you can easily feel the tension, stress, and fear in a horse. That doesn't mean that you will feel it when someone else lays in the saddle though. It isn't always something you can see either. My problem is two fold you see. First off, I'm tired of getting hurt. I don't really need any more concussions for a bit! Secondly, it's not fair to the horse to push it past what it can handle. Oh sure, there are plenty of trainers out there who will do that. Yet I began training my own horses because I didn't LIKE how "those" trainers would handle the horses.
But with all that said, I still love training horses. I love the feel of the horse when it understands something. I can get high on the enthusiasm from the horse. I am amused by the wobbly steps of a young horse as it learns to carry a rider. And there are no words for the feel of a perfectly executed move under saddle. It's pure poetry.
I keep thinking that with a little advice, any one can do it, yet Jae tells me that I have a "real gift" for what I do. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around anyone having a "gift" for empathy. And empathy is really all there is to training a horse. At least to starting them under saddle, and fixing their problems. Higher end, discipline specific stuff - yeah, that takes skill and know how.
And then I stop and watch people. Not even people with their horses. Just people being people. They miss obvious body language, the ignore stress and fear in others, and they forget how to empathize at all. We've all seen it happen. And if humans have that much trouble understanding other humans, then how much harder is it to understand a completely different species?
So here we are, eh?
I started thinking about why I am not the "best" trainer out there (yeah, yesterday's blog, what can I say) and what it would mean to BE the "best".
I think the only answer to that is the ability to communicate with humans. There are many amazing horse trainers in this world, who will never be appreciated, because they can't make the horse's owner "get it". How ironic that the skills most needed in horse training are not the skills most rewarded! Look at Pat Parelli, John Lyons, Clinton Anderson, and any other trainer with a TV show. What do they have in common? They can make people listen.
And then there's the riding.
Lets be honest here, we expect our trainers to be excellent riders. We want them to make our horses amazing for us under saddle! The whole purpose of paying 300, 400, 500, 800, a few thousand a month, is so that we can simply step up and ride, with out worrying about much. For some, that means with out worrying about learning to RIDE.
And really, how many of you have taken riding lessons? How many of you learned to ride the hard way, by eating some dirt? How many of you are just winging it? Now a real dose of reality.... how many of you blame your horse for your own lack of skills?
In so many cases though, it's simply a problem of communication. You ask, the horse doesn't get it, but tries to give an answer. It answers wrong, and problems start.
So, this gets me to the point of my whole post here today. Learning to ride, and my thoughts on it.
I've taken lessons. WOW have I taken lessons! Almost all of them were English. Jumping, dressage, flat work, I've been there and been yelled at for it. Want to know what I learned?
I didn't need lessons.
See, I have minor scoliosis. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I have some old injuries that bother me, and I have crooked legs. My toes naturally point out, like a LOT, because my lower leg attaches crooked at the knee. My left turns out much more then my right. In other words, riding "straight" in the saddle is pretty much impossible for me. Instead, I had to learn to ride "balanced" and it took a 3 year old Arabian to teach me that.
When I sat "straight" my right hip pushed into him, so he drifted left. I swore I had the world's most crooked horse! Then a friend asked if it was me. She pointed out that horses are honest, and if he travels straight on the lunge, or at liberty, then the only reason he'd be crooked under saddle was me. It was a light bulb moment.
And now, I train horses for other people. I try so hard to make the horse's learning match the rider's. If the rider tends to sit a certain way, then I too try to sit like that. If the rider has a certain mannerism, then I try to mimic it. Oddly, I find that I learn as much as the horse in this process.
I mean, it isn't something that is easy to put into words. And yet, I find myself thinking obsessively about the art of riding a horse. Not the proper skills, but the moment of feel. The nuances that say "walk to canter" not "walk to trot" or the symbiotic feeling you have when executing a perfect side pass. Sure, a good instructor could tell you ever muscle to flex in order to ask for that, but so can a good horse. The only way to feel it, is to FEEL it.
I watched Leah trying to canter Jaz the other day, and it was amazing. She couldn't get him to canter when she asked, because she wasn't really sure what she was doing. The moment she stopped trying, and just felt it, and allowed it to happen, he transitioned nicely under her. Leah was relaxed and moved almost perfectly with her horse, and her smile was amazing. It's moments like that which I wish I could learn to share with people. I wish I could explain to them what that feels like, and how to relax into it.
So I have to ponder, is training horses really about training the HORSE? What we ask them to do are things that are natural for them to do. Rather, could it be that in order to be an excellent horse trainer, you have to be a good people trainer? Is it the balance of both?
What matters is what you can do on your horse.
Posted by Pinzgauer at 9:00 AM