Friday, January 24, 2014

The Subtle Art of Subtlety

For the most part, I'm really, really loud person. I'm emphatic, I'm noisy, I'm yelling, I'm demanding. Move this here! Do that now! Get out of my way, I'm coming through! 

You know who does not tolerate this in the slightest? O. O does not suffer fools and loud aids and noise. She is just as proud and belligerent and hard-headed as I am, and she lets me know exactly what she thinks when I am too loud in any way. If you give too strong of an aid - if you are demanding without giving her a forewarning that something is coming - she gives you the mare stink eye, flattens her ears, and either blasts off or totally ignores you. She couldn't give you a louder "SHUT UP I'M NOT LISTENING TO THAT NOISE" if she mastered the human language and yelled it right into your ear.

Sometimes it surprises me how quiet I am with her, and how much better she listens if I am as quiet as I can be. On the ground, I can do whatever I want - hell, I could turn cartwheels down the aisle setting off firecrackers and I don't think she'd care - but under saddle and on the lunge it's all different. If you poke her in the side or thump her with your leg, she completely ignores you, and makes an ugly face. If you whisper with her leg, she zips right off. It's kind of as if she thinks the loudness of those kinds of aids is just too rude to be true, and she can't possibly oblige me if I don't oblige her first. 

The other day I was pleasantly surprised to find that she takes a contact in her hackamore. I had no idea she'd do it, and quite frankly I'd never bothered to ask her to put herself together when wearing it. I'm admittedly a bit of a dressage purist, and found the idea of going on the bit without a bit to be somewhat incomprehensible, but that's obviously a bit of a silly thing to get hung up on. In her hackamore, if you take a light contact and put her to work, she goes right out to whatever length of rein you give her and takes the exact same kind of feel on the reins that she takes when she is bitted. It was really kind of incredible, and made me feel pretty good about our progress - whether or not she has a bit in, she is understanding how to contain herself in whatever package I ask her to be in, and responding well to my body. But, I have to be quiet in everything that I do, or else she's not going to give me the time of day.

Today on the lunge I noticed just how closely she listens to me, and just how deliberately she ignores me when she's not interested in listening. The wind was blowing, but she hears every single word I say and notices every single move I make with my body. Her canterwork is really coming along on the lunge - REALLY coming along -  but I have to preface every canter aid with a quiet, long, "aaaaaaand..." so that she knows it is coming. She is still liable to jerk her head up, pin her ears, and blast off if I am too loud for her liking, but the quieter I get, the quieter she gets. If she doesn't want to transition downward from canter to trot, she twitches an ear at me and keeps going. She hears exactly what I say, she just opts not to until she's ready. (There is usually some kind of argument after this happens... you can't just not do what you're told, there are rules after all.)

But then there always comes a point in the lunge when I realize I am literally whispering to her. I barely make a sound but she hears everything. I barely make a move but she sees everything. I didn't realize it until today but she takes half-halts through the lunge line as well. If I tighten my core and the arm holding the line lightly, she takes it as a half-halt and slows herself. Conversely, if I give in the line, she takes it and goes outward with it. It feels like having a really long rein. It is really, really awesome.

I should make a point to long-line her more often. I think we could really do some awesome things.

So, do you have a hypersensitive and belligerent critter in your herd? Or one that demands that you listen up and pay attention? 


  1. My horse Armani is quite sensitive and I have also found, in the last year that I've had him, that being quiet and patient go a long way towards getting him to do what I want. This crops up more on the ground than under saddle. I am not a loud person when dealing with horses but some of his behaviours had me getting there to discipline bc he should know better. Once I understood he was too sensitive for scolding him into what I wanted, I had to learn another way. I do struggle with the balance of obedience vs being understanding of what he is working through. Sometimes he's just being the 4 yr old that he is and needs a kick in the pants. Sometimes he needs patience and a bit of time to work through whatever is worrying him, with me being understanding instead of insisting. Now I get it right most of the time but still occasionally make the wrong call when I think he's just being an ass and needs reminding when really he is legitimately worried about something.

  2. That's an awesome example of just how well you and your horse can communicate, and the level of respect (sometimes? haha) you have for one another! Loving her new clip by the way!

  3. Aaaaaaand you just described my Guinness. I tell people he is a chestnut mare trapped in the body of a gelding!
    He will not tolerate a rushed grooming or tacking job. Rushing in any way stresses him out and he WILL LET YOU KNOW, GIRLFRIEND! He has taught me more about patience and adjusting my schedule than anyone else ever could.
    Under saddle, he does not tolerate heavy riding. Any loud communication through the bit will have him tuning me out completely. However, the barest whisper of twitching through an incredibly light contact will have him shooting off at my command.

    Silly delicate horse! It would be so much easier to learn dressage on a less dramatic-llama, but I wouldn't develop nearly as much feel!!

  4. My girl is super sensitive and very easily offended. She tries really hard to be a very good girl, so 'shouting' at her, particularly with your leg or hands, is in her opinion, completely unfair. Her idea of a shout, though, was my other mare's idea of a whisper! Thank goodness I'm one of the few who are forgiven our intermittent 'rudeness'.

  5. I also own a red-headed mare (hence the blog name... hehe) and I don't think I could ever own anything else after I've owned her. She's sensitive, opinionated, lets me know when I'm sucking, and rewards me when I work my butt off. She keeps me humble and I wouldn't want it any other way.

  6. My pony is an interesting case. On the ground you can be about as subtle as a wrecking ball smashing through a building. The only thing he will do without even a whisper is back up. I don't even need to touch him and he shifts into reverse. In the saddle I have to be quiet and gentle. I have to keep my hands butterfly light or he flips out and goes zooming out of control. I suspect someone rode him with very harsh hands (I will admit that at times I am not always the gentlest, but I'm working on it.) I think with time, love and effort his attitude will change. He is a very misunderstood creature, but hopefully I will be able to unlock all the little secrets in his brain.

  7. Very good point. I should probably pay more attention to being loud vs. quiet around Q. If my calmness = her being calm is any indication, I have a feeling she hates loud aids as much as O. Thanks for sharing; it makes me think more which can only improve the relationship with my horses.

  8. Nope. Not at all like my horse lol. They are such individuals aren't they? :D This post makes me happy though since you were able to take contact in the hackamore with her. I ride in a bitless bridle and was worried I wouldn't be able to work him on a contact when the time comes. Thanks for mentioning that!