Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rules of Engagement

Today my little sister came out to see my horse for the first time.  My sister has been getting her PhD in Scotland for the last few years, so this was the first time she's been home for any extended time for the last three years.  She has a background in Appaloosa horses, having won numerous World Titles showing in AphC.  It was fun watching her mount up on this tiny little Arab pony.  Oh yeah, did I mention that my little sister is 5'11".  Yep, she's super tall and most of her height is in her torso. Which meant she looked a little ridiculous.  Also, she didn't have riding boots so she rode in Black Wellies (fancy rainboots basically) and jeans.

I learned a few things today.  As my little sis' coaxed the pony into a trot and was rewarded with the heinous tranter, I was glad to know that my pony would try those tricks on everyone and not just me.  But in a few minutes my sister had found her rhythm and since she doesn't lack confidence, she soon had Tessa going in a nice steady trot all the way around the arena.  It was a good reminder that what I need is to have that quiet steady confidence more than anything.  My little sister hadn't ridden in three years, so I know it wasn't her rock solid seat and legs but her leadership that helped Tessa adjust so quickly.

The other thing I learned was a bit of showmanship.  Showing at Appaloosa Nationals (or World's or whatever the eff they're called), my sister showed her horse in multiple events, including showmanship.  She showed me today how to fit the chain under the chin.  How to ask the horse to move forward when you tip your shoulders forward and back when you walk backwards.  In a very short time, she had Tessa trotting nicely beside her and backing up quickly when she walked backward.  She explained that the chain was not there as a punishment, but more of a reminder that we are working on something.  She said that way the pony will know when it's important to watch me super close.  Tessa being the smart pony that she is, caught on to this concept quickly.

It was nice to do something different.  Both the pony and I appreciate variety and adding showmanship to our bag of things to do is a nice change.  It also really helped with Tessa's ground manners (much like ANY ground work can).  I feel more confident doing the showmanship groundwork that my sister showed me than I do trying out some of the natural horsemanship groundwork.  I think it's because the rules are simple and it's easy for me to tell if she's following them.

Rule 1:  The pony must stay in line with me no matter how fast or slow I'm walking.  I should be next to the pony's throatlatch.  Always BEHIND the head but IN FRONT of the shoulder.  If she's too far ahead, give her a quick reminder using the chain.  A quick reminder can be a gentle jiggle for a sensitive horse or a sharp reprimand for a not so sensitive horse.  If she's too far behind, use your whip (oh did I mention you carry a whip to do this) and reach around with your hand to tap her forward.

Rule 2:  Do not look at the horse.  This was hard for me.  I really wanted to check and see what she was doing.  But that ruins our straightness.  Do not look at the horse.  Expect the horse to be aware of YOU.

Rule 3:  When you stop, horse stops.  When you go backwards, horse goes backwards.  In the beginning it is okay to over exaggerate your shoulders and say "Whoa" to stop before moving backwards, but if your horse keeps going or hesitates, use the whip to tap, tap, tap them backwards.  Rapidly.  It's amazing how fast your horse can learn this when you adjust your expectations.  With only two corrections, I was able to stop and back up with Tessa right besides me.

Rule 4:  Until your horse has all of these down, stick to doing this next to a wall.  This way, your horse stays straight when they halt and back up.  Also, remember to NOT LOOK AT YOUR HORSE.

I'm definitely adding this to my toolbox since after we did all of this, Tessa was the most respectful she's been.  I also think it's not a bad idea for a horse to have lots of skills and showmanship makes a pony more marketable to 4-H kids.  Always a plus!


  1. Hmmm...think I'll try that with my ponies. Seemslike one of them (who shall remain nameless for the time being) really needs it.

  2. Sounds like the sister visit was a success and gave you some new fun things to work on. 'Quiet steady confidence' - I like that phrase!

  3. Ahhh showmanship is awesome and very helpful for ground manners! Glad you got a little bit of the pleasure world spin into the mix - variety is always good!