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Welcome to the next leg of our horsemanship journey. To recap what we’ve covered so far (or if you didn’t start at the beginning) here are the previous posts:
- Horsemanship The Easy Way – Learn some basic truths about how horses perceive the world around them and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
- Essential Horsemanship Training Tools and WHY – The basic tools you need to effectively communicate with your horse.
- How To Speak Your Horse’s Language – Learn how horses use body language to communicate so they understand what you want. Use different levels and types of energy to communicate.
This post will cover an overview of how and why we should “play” with our horse.
There are seven essential maneuvers, which we call games, that are the building blocks of everything you do with your horse. You will use these games, either alone or in combination, to accomplish a task.
You Want Me To Play With My Horse?
Yes, I do! Hey, if you aren’t having any fun, you can be sure your horse isn’t either. So what’s the point? And if you make everything a game instead of a “workout”, it’s much easier to keep the right mental attitude. Remember, we don’t blame the horse if things go wrong, we try to figure out what we did to cause the problem. Make it fun and interesting so when it’s over you both are calm and relaxes.
**This photo is of one my first natural horsemanship instructors. She’s awesome! Click the photo to check her out.
Horses play with each other all the time. I have to admit, I’ve noticed that my geldings have always played more than my mares. Silly boys. It’s not unusual to see them out in the pasture rearing up playing Trigger, then play biting each other on the legs. Eventually one whirls around like he’s going to let his back feet fly in a double-barrel attack. Rarely do the kicks occur. They usually take offer and run to a different spot in the field and start again.
They groom each other by scratching each other on the withers. I’m sure they don’t care about their appearance, but I bet it feels good! Mine even stand in pairs side by side, nose to tail, so they can swish each others’ faces when the flies are bothering them.
Since horses are very social beings, we need to join them in their world. The more time we spend with them, the more they will look upon us as a member of the herd instead of a predator out to get them. Our goal is to become the #1 boss mare (even if you’re a guy). We want to be the leader of the herd so they all feel safe and trust us.
Now, at the moment, I’m not talking about ways to play with your horse like you would a dog. Fetch, tag, etc. aren’t on the agenda today. We may talk about silly games to play one day — though I will caution you: Be careful what you teach a horse, especially a baby. You may think it’s cute when they are little, not so much when they’ve grown into a big stout horse that still wants to play. (Story for another time.)
These games will not only improve your relationship, but will improve your horsemanship skills. So on to the:
Seven Essential Games
If you read the short description of these games, you’ll probably think, “that’s nothing new!” You’re right, this stuff isn’t new, it’s been around for a very long time. We’ve just packaged it up with names so it’s easier to remember. It might also make more sense as to what you are actually asking of the horse. By the way, your horse already knows these games.
- Friendly: Your horse accepts you, your tools, the tack, blankets, all manner of odd items, touching every square inch of his body.
- Porcupine: You can move your horse, in all directions from all zones with steady pressure.
- Driving: Rhythmic pressure causes your horse to move in all directions from all zones.
- Yo-Yo: The horse learns to go backwards and forwards from a distance, on a string, or not.
- Circle: Cause your horse to go out and around in a circle, maintaining the speed and direction you ask.
- Sideways: Move your horse sideways, both directions.
- Squeeze: Get your horse comfortable going over, under, through….stuff.
These seven games are in this order for a reason. The first four (in green) are the foundation games. The last three (purple) use a combination of two or more of the first four. I’ll be diving deeper into each one in upcoming posts.
The reason for the order is because your horse needs to understand the basic principle of one before he can move to the next. It’s going to be nearly impossible to teach your horse how to do a nice sidepass if he’s not sure about moving just his front or back end first. So we start with the basics.
Obviously, depending on your particular horse, you may breeze through these with no problem. But it’s also very important that you understand which part of the horse you are asking to move in which direction to accomplish the desired result. That’s the biggest hurdle. Then learn how to ask, how to be in the proper position, and what to do if he doesn’t respond correctly at first.
We will take a task, like trailer loading, and learn to break it down into the tiniest pieces. When you can see the small parts, and get them working well, the big thing just happens. Humans tend to have “straight line thinking”. I’ll ask a student to put their horse in the trailer, and they immediately take him right to the trailer. With no preparation or pre-flight check to see if the parts are working. This is an incredibly powerful way of looking at objectives, with horses or in every day life.
Break the big tasks into many small pieces.
Then Git Er Done!
So go out and play with your horse — you’ll both enjoy it and it will make a huge difference in your relationship.
Next we will discuss game #1, Friendly, in detail. If you don’t want to miss the post when it goes live, be sure to subscribe to my list so you get it delivered right to your inbox!