Monday, January 31, 2011

The Blank Slate

When you look at Betty, you can either see the glass as being half empty, or half full.

I'll admit it, on several occassions I've seen the glass as half empty. It's so much nicer (and EASIER) to start with a horse that's had a good foundation in the basics, like being halter broke, leading, tying, picking up feet, etc. I have especially enjoyed that good foundation with Paula. Except for the terrible lease situation, she's been in my care, custody, and control her entire life. I haven't been the best person at staying on top of training, but she was halter broke before she was weaned, knew how to tie before her first birthday and has been trimmed, bathed, and clipped for the majority of her life. Nothing is much of a big deal to her, so adding anything on top of that is not a huge feat. Couple that with her kind demeanor and life is pretty easy for us, as a team, I have to admit.

But Betty has led an isolated, albiet well-cared-for, life in a pasture with her momma. She is friendly and so very sweet, and she will allow me to put a halter on her (as long as I go slowly), but that's pretty much it. She's now two years old and technically not halter broke (because she doesn't lead). She is wary and lacks confidence and trust. So, I can see the situation either as a lost cause and we're starting so far behind that it will take so much to get caught up, or I can see her as a blank slate--an opportunity to train a horse that has absolutely no bad habits already formed. I choose to see her as the latter.

It is also a good opportunity to blog about our work. Now, I'm no horse trainer--I just play one on TV. Seriously, though, I've broke out a few horses of my own over the past nineteen years (good grief, that's a depressing statement) and I've worked as a show barn manager (aka "glorified groom) briefly, but I absolutely don't consider myself a trainer. In recording what work I do with Betty, I'm merely offering up a plate of raw ideas. You can take what suits your own tastes and cook them up yourself. I'll try to tell you if the peppers are especially sweet, or if the snow peas are past their prime, but in no way do I ever want to suggest that the way I do things is the "right way." As far as I'm concerned, the only right way is what works for that individual person with their individual horse.

That is my major complaint about most clinicians--they claim their way is the only way, and are sure to include that you must buy their "special" equipment, feed, DVD's, ropes, hats, clothing, and overpriced tickets to their events for you to succeed. They're just salesmen (and some are very good ones at that), so their followers fail to realize that what they preach isn't going to work in every situation. Soon the books and "special" sticks end up on Craigslist and the horse still sits idle, more confused than ever, with progress at a complete standstill because what the clinician said would work, didn't.

What has always made sense to me is to listen and read everything, from the top trainers to the everyday schmo, and then use what works best for you and your horse. I believe different methods work on different horses, because horses all have different personalities. I sacked out Paula in one day with one item before saddling her. With Fabian, I sacked him out with everything I could find, both with and without the saddle on. Fabian needed it, Paula didn't. Paula would have been bored to death if I had treated her the same as Fabian, and Fabian would have gotten me hurt if I had treated him the same as Paula. These are live animals, not automobiles. There is no Chilton's manual for horse training, and there never will be.

I used to love to work horses with my sister. Although we'd often get into fights (as teenaged siblings often do), we had the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other. If something didn't work, we'd come up with a plan to see what else we could try. No one taught us how to break out a horse, but by reading our horse magazines (before the internet), watching some VCR (yes, I'm old) tapes that mom had gotten us, and by just using our creativity, we broke out two ponies pretty well together. We'd talk about how best to take that next step with our young horses and draw upon what we'd learn between what we read and the lessons we had taken from various trainers. We'd not only train, but also learn, together.

I miss being able to bounce ideas about training back and forth with her. It seems since we've grown up and become adults, that we're all absolutely sure in our training methods and can't possibly need any help. Why would we talk about ideas when we have all the perfect solutions to every possible problem out there?

Of course, I'm being facetious here. But that's where we often gravitate to, even if it's not that extreme, isn't it? I know I catch myself doing it and I'm obviously not that unique.... I remember how much fun it was to try new things, and to explore possiblities with our horses. I say let's try to bring that back to the forefront. There are no solutions (horses aren't math problems, after all); there are just ideas.

So, in the spirit of a free and wide-ranging exchange of thoughts and ideas concerning horse training, over the coming months I will do my best to document Betty's training--the good, bad, and (hopefully minimal amount of) ugly. If you have any ideas I'd love to hear them as well! And of course, I love reading the blogs of those of you who make it a point to document your daily training exercises. There are tons of good ideas out there, and I, for one, appreciate that you take the time to outline your processes.

In any case, I will certainly make some mistakes, and hopefully have a few victories to share as well. This is a great opportunity to start at the beginning, and its a journey I look forward to sharing.

It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. ~Harry S. Truman


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to hear more. My Pie is like your easy one - great foundation, completely trusting and just plain easy to work with. Drifter's more of a question so we'll see. And then there's Dawn, the challenging one, but oh so excellent in her own way.

I agree completely that what is needed/works with one horse may not be the same for another - it's important to adjust what you do and how you go about it to the individual horse. I hate, hate, hate trainers and clinicians who have a set "program" that all horses and riders must follow - I'm a big believer that all horses and riders need good basic skills but different approaches can be very helpful.

For example, Dawn and I have done and will do more scary object training to build her trust and self-confidence. Pie really doesn't need this at all.

I just love the individuality and personality of each horse.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think working with an empty slate if preferable to trying to fix something someone else did wrong from the beginning. It seems that's the only kind of horses we've ever had. My daughter actually used to take on horses that needed to be retrained, but that's another story.

I'm not much into all these new horsemanship guru's methods either. Each horse is and individual with a different personality. No one size fits all training is going to get the job done correctly.

I'll be following along as you and this beautiful girl travel the road to success.

Annette said...

I'm with you on the big whiz-bang trainers who make you believe one size fits all. What works for one, does not work for all. It's going to be fun following your journey with Betty!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Looking forward to your "training" journey.

I agree with everyone else that training methods have to be tailored to the individual horse... same with riders for that matter. Training is hard work, and is more successful when the trainer is engaged in the process :)

smazourek said...

Something about this post seems familiar... Oh yeah, I remember now- Gwen was exactly the same way when I got her in 2009. When she arrived it took me 10 minutes to get a halter on her and then she wouldn't lead, she'd just run in circles around me and spook every third step. It took forever to get her anywhere. Long story short: Been there, done that.

I'm looking forward to reading how you move forward with Betty's training, I'm always welcome to new ideas so I'll be learning something.

CCC said...

A fresh new enterprize, opportunity to learn. It'll be fun to hear how it goes.

Anonymous said...

And you have an award over at my blog - feel free to ignore it or pass it on as you wish.

Jessie McCandless said...

Thanks so much, Kate, for the award! Aren't these easy horses such a joy, really? Even when they are more challenging, there definitely is something to be said for the training aspect to never be the same--it keeps things interesting!

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who is skeptical of program-training methods!

Jessie McCandless said...

I love the prospect of an empty slate as well. Thank you so much, everyone, for all the encouraging words. Betty really is a hoot and what counts is she wants to try so hard. I feel like as long as she is willing, our future is very bright.

Shannon, that's great to hear that you've been through something similar with much success. I've had an unhandled yearling but never one this late. It will be an interesting journey to be sure!