Wet or Dry?
There is nothing quite like it. The feeling of anticipation, just prior to lift off. You thought you were on a relaxing trail ride with some friends but now you find yourself a part of the NASA space program. You and your horse have come to a special part of the trail ride. You have come to a creek crossing; not a river or a stream but a creek. For our purposes we will define a creek as a flowing body of water that is approximately … small enough that your horse should not be worried about it.
After stopping without provocation and snorting at the water several times, your horse performs the complex maneuver that one friend has described as “Pole Standing”. This pose can also be called “The Flagpole Pose” or in Yoga, “uttanasana”. Whatever the name, this pose is instantly recognizable. The front hooves hold firm as the back hooves inch forward. The pose is in full form when the toe of the back hoof is touching the heel of the front hoof. The horse's back should resemble the back of a Giant Galapagos tortoise or perhaps an armadillo and she should look like she is standing on top of a flagpole.
Next comes the moment that we have been waiting for, lift off. Your horse can walk through puddles. She can walk chest deep through a good-sized creek, but for some reason she must tackle small bodies of moving water with the technique and vigor of a pole-vaulter. So when is it going to happen? When is she going to send your head flying backwards and rip the saddle horn out of your white-knuckled hands? Only the other horses on the trail ride know the answer to these questions. At some point during all of your kissing and clucking and squeezing and kicking, it will happen. When lift off finally takes place, you will face only one of two outcomes. In the end you will be either wet or dry. If you come off, you will be wet. If you stay on you will be dry. When you think about it, it would be comforting if all of life’s outcomes were as black or white. Wet or dry?
Most of us have ridden the horse that will not cross water. Some of them are scared to death of it. Crossing water or crossing a bridge or crossing a plastic tarp; these are not difficult to teach the horse and rider but they require a good amount of foundation. There are many exercises that must be perfected before attempting to teach the horse to cross water. If I were training a young horse, “going through” (the name I have given this exercise) is exercise # 14. This means that the horse and rider must be proficient with exercises #1-13 before conquering the water difficulty.
First there is the classroom work: Ground exercises designed to build relationship, trust, status and respect. Next, a series of pressure exercises. These exercises include “halter”, “lead-line” and “bridle work” and are designed to teach the horse to give to different types of pressure. Finally we begin to teach exercises like “stepping up”, “ground tying” and “going through”.
Tackling the difficulty with water crossings
goes something like this.
-You are riding a horse that trusts you because through hard work and consistent teaching you have earned the status of “Alpha” in the herd.
-Because you perfected forward movement, our very first classroom exercise, your horse will move forward every time you ask. She may not take a step or stretch out her neck but every time you ask for forward, some part of her body moves forward.
-The horse would never think about coming into your space without first asking permission. You established this personal space during “the inside turn” and “leading”.
-When frightened, your horse looks at the thing she is afraid of and stands calmly. This response was established and nurtured during “fears”.
-She can handle just about any kind of visual
or physical stimulation without moving her feet because of our work
with the exercise “acclimation”.
If all of the above tasks are in good working order, we begin with a blue plastic tarp lying flat on the ground and spread across the area where the horse will be walking. It is best if we teach this exercise in the classroom. (Some folks call this a round pen or round corral). I like to place some dirt on top of the tarp’s corners so that the tarp doesn’t move.
Next we ask the horse to move forward towards the obstacle. I have to stress again that if forward is not working and your horse does not respect you or your space, your efforts will produce nothing more than a frustrated horse and a frustrated teacher. If the horse moves forward, reward the horse by backing off and making the horse comfortable. If the horse does not move forward, continue the pressure to make the horse uncomfortable.
In my experience I have found that there are at least three tools that will make you a better teacher.
1. Your ability to recognize microscopic efforts
and tiny successes.
2. Your ability to be aggressive without getting angry.
3. It takes as long as it takes.
You will need all three of these tools for this exercise. If the horse moves forward, reward the horse by backing off and making the horse comfortable. If the horse does not move forward, continue the pressure to make the horse uncomfortable. That’s all there is to it. When you have perfected the exercise with a blue tarp, move on to a sheet of plywood. Perhaps you have a green or white tarp.
Now we can transfer the exercise to the real world; put a rope halter and lead on the horse and move the exercise outside. I like to work on exercises like this one (exercises that require brain activity) for 15-20 minutes per session. Now outside, ask your horse to move over or through the selected obstacle. If the horse moves forward, reward the horse by backing off and making the horse comfortable. If the horse does not move forward, continue the pressure to make the horse uncomfortable.
Lastly, this becomes a mounted exercise. Your results while mounted are directly linked to your proficiency as a rider. If the horse loses all trust in you, because you are not very trustworthy while in the saddle, your results will drop off dramatically. Face the selected obstacle and ask the horse to “go through”. If the horse moves forward, reward the horse by backing off and making the horse comfortable. If the horse does not move forward, continue the pressure to make the horse uncomfortable.
When your horse accepts that it is more comfortable to go through than it is to avoid going through…when this concept becomes real to your horse…your horse will always go through. So which do you chose, Wet or Dry?
About the author:
GaWaNi Pony Boy's teachings have been embraced worldwide. His “Relationship Training™” is about fully understanding the horse, student or partner before attempting to communicate. Pony’s teachings are all about creating a life long bond between those involved in the relationship. To contact Pony, visit www.ponyboy.com or call (570) 325-2012.