Who else is typically a skeptic to the point that you might even talk badly about something without ever having tried it? I certainly am when it comes to anything in the horse world that has been commercialized, BUT I have changed my mind about Parelli Natural Horsemanship. Why?
Before I can move to ground driving or working under saddle, I must first know that my horse can work in a forward frame of mind on a lunge line. Teaching a horse to carry forward energy on her own is key to having a horse that will be responsive to light aids and bold/confident when approaching new obstacles under saddle.
In this first session with Q working to teach her about maintaining forward energy on a circle, I hope you can see the progression from frustration and confusion to her lightbulb moment of learning to maintain forward energy on her own. It takes lots of small adjustments to body position, intensity of aids (the end of the lead rope and my voice in this case), as well as patience and good timing for rewards.
Also, always keep in mind that no matter what you do with your horse, they need mental breaks just as much as physical breaks. In this 30-minute session with Q we had a break for free lunging, and a couple breaks to go back to "forward, halt, back" as a way to give her a mental break.
It's a long video, but I chose to share the full session (I only cropped out the sections where we ended up being out of the camera frame) because I hope you can learn by seeing the "struggles" that resulted in the success. And please notice that once I got her going in her more challenging direction to the right, I stopped after only a few circles. There is no need to continually drill your horse asking for perfection. Often times the best reward in your horse's mind is being able to rest as soon as they figure it out.
Of course each horse is different, so there's never a one size fits all solution, but Q's personality is one that is more timid and thoughtful. If you have a horse that tends to be bold and even pushy, you may need to be more assertive with how you approach this exercise, but if you have a horse that needs confidence and is more sensitive, this is the approach I would take: be kind, soft and very sparing with "demanding" a response.
For anyone who has been following my work with Moon on Facebook, you will know that I've been taking it VERY slow since she arrived in January.
As you watch this video of our second ride, I hope it will be clear how much that extra time will benefit our work under saddle. I'm still only riding her bareback and will keep our sessions to under 30 minutes for a couple more weeks, but she is much more in tune with me than she was when she arrived four months ago. The in-hand exercises, desensitization and ground driving have all helped me figure out some of her "buttons" while giving us time to establish a working relationship built on trust.
In the video, I utilize 3 ground poles setup like the mathematical Pi symbol. This is quite possibly my favorite configuration of ground poles for two key reasons: it's very simple and quick to setup and it can be used for a multitude of different training exercises for green and advanced horses alike.
The double poles are set perpendicular to the single pole and are spaced 5 feet apart. This setup gives me the ability begin introducing trotting over ground poles with first a single pole that has two "guide rails" leading up to it and then also to begin introducing a series of poles (2 in this setup). The 3-sided "box" created by the ground poles also gives me a visual space to practice halts and rein backs, and if I space the poles slightly farther apart (closer to 9 feet) then I can even use the full box for practicing canter work over ground poles.
Additionally, I can practice side pass by having my horse either straddle the poles or utilize a pole as a front "boundary." For a more advanced horse, I will use the slightly larger box to focus on transitions. Each time we enter the box I will ask my horse to either halt/walk before trotting back out, or I might trot into the box, halt and then do a turn on the haunches to trot out a different direction. As I'm REALLY starting to ask my horse to work more on her hind end, we can also trot into the box and "pivot" out of the box by making close to a 90-degree turn out a different side of the box without losing our rhythm.
The key to this setup of ground poles is to challenge your brain to always be using the box area as a space to change something about your horse so your training rides never get stale and boring.
Yesterday I took Dove to her third Dressage schooling show since she retired from her racing career a little over 6 months ago, and it did not go at all as I had planned. Ever since I started working with Dove, she has been the epitome of calm, cool and collected. She has handled ground driving in an indoor arena during a severe windstorm that actually tore off part of the roof while we continued working, she has gone on trail rides, she quietly stands ground tied in the barn aisle, she is a saint for the farrier and has had riders of varying levels on her without any issues.
But yesterday was different for Dove, and that's okay. I recently posted the following on Facebook, and re-reading it gives me a great feeling of pride for knowing that I did indeed put it into action at the show yesterday.
Always take it slow, don't get angry at your horse but also don't be afraid to give him boundaries, set him up for success with small wins and never be too proud to go back down a few levels to help rebuild confidence for both of you when something goes awry.
So, what happened?
Let me set the stage by providing some background that may sound more like pre-emptive excuses:
By Kyle Rothfus
This blog is dedicated to providing insight about OTTB re-training, Thoroughbred pedigrees and general equine care. You can also track the progress of horses I have for sale through posts here.