Archive for September, 2009

Once In A Lifetime Moment

First-Ride Picasso’s First Rider

Well of course the day doesn’t start like this, but sometimes it fun to know the ending before hand! Colt starting is one of the most amazing times in a horse’s life.  It seems so special  to be part of seeing and creating that moment for a horse.  The first impressions of a lifetime.

Picasso took his first few steps under saddle with Dave Williams aboard.  Dave brought Jaspar home from a summer of training and we held a little clinic at our place to work with Picasso and a couple of other horses.  It took under 2 hours to get Picasso to this point.  He was sooooo ready it made things go smoothly.   He’s only 3 years old so this isn’t the start of daily training rides.  The goal was to get him used to being saddled, have someone on his back, and let him get a taste of balancing a load, so to speak.

Picasso began to get ready for this moment with his ground work.  He is  learning to move off pressure and to follow a leader who gave directions from a place other than in front of him.  He is learning to have ropes used to wind and unwind him at a stand still.  He began to develop an understanding of moving from a feeling of energy and direction throuMoving-gh our lead rope activities.  One could argue that being chased around the pasture is moving off the feeling of energy, so he already knew that coming into the training process.  So what is the difference?  In my mind, nothing.  Training is about channeling his horse knowledge into behaviors that suit human purposes and create an environment that is safe for both horse and human to interact in.

Once Picasso was responding to directional information it was time expose him to a new sensation.  A horse blanket on his back.


Blanket-2Not such a big deal… Picasso checks things out from another angle.

Picasso has takes the blanket on his back in his stride.  During this part of de-sensitizing him, Dave made sure to approach Picasso with a blanket from both sides… remembering that the left side of the horse and the right side of the horse are two different creatures.  They may look like one to humans, but anyone who has ridden a horse one direction without a spook and then turned around to come back the exact same way only to have the horse spook, knows what I mean.  Both sides of Picasso were ready.  Next step… the saddle.


This is the point where things can start to get fun.  Thinking back to natural horse behaviors, the next steps are not surprising.  It’s just a matter of how long they last.  Picasso was curious about have the saddle attached to him and on his back.  You could see his brain checking for danger… it would be only natural to try and get a cougar off his back and the question in Picasso’s mind had to be one of determining the predatory nature of that saddle.  I’ve been to several colt starting clinics and people always seemed surprised when the next few moments after the saddle goes on for the first time inspire a bit of jumping around.



Moving with something on his back for the first time is a new feeling for Picasso and trying to figure out how to go forward yet still be balanced is a feat in itself.


After the Picasso stopped jumping around and was ready to stand still with the saddle on, the next step was getting him used to having stirrups bump against his sides and things slide across him behind the saddle.  This was all done from the ground before stepping into the stirrup.  Part 2 involves stepping up into the stirrup and just standing their as Picasso figures out what is going on.  At this point rubbing his sides and behind the saddle also help to get him used to the sensations of what a rider might do.  It everything looks good, part 3, swing the other leg over and mount.



Picasso was ready for his first mounted steps.


Dave was in the saddle and I was on the ground with a flag to help guide Picasso as he took his first steps.  My role was to provide energy if Picasso was  stuck or to help change his directions as he learned to feel the rope on his sides and face directing him.  Picasso was interesting in the processes and studies his role carefully.  The goal of this training session was to expose Picasso the saddle, carrying weight, and learning to move off of pressure/guidance of the ropes.  He did very well.  And he looks pretty cute under saddle!


Read Full Post »


CommunicationIt was tempting to just let Picasso hang out in the pasture an fatten up.  He has been through a lot for his age and I thought about leaving him alone for while to grow and get to know the other horses.  But there was a look in his eye that said differently.   Picasso had been alone for a while.  In a way, he had learned to survive by being invisible.  I felt like he was wanting to get started in “school”; to start learning a new way of being; to start participating instead of hiding.  He had come to me to start developing his potential so he could show the world he is more than a “small stunted horse”.  And he has already gotten stronger in a couple of weeks and begun letting his personality surface more.  Inside is a “spark plug” ready to fire.

Picasso has dealt with pressure in his life, mostly in the form of survival.  As his life goes forward pressure will take on a new meaning.  We all learn to “give” to pressure.  What does that mean?  We learn to move away from pressure, like if someone is on your right side and pushes your shoulder to the left, you move away and the opposiHorse-to-Horsete would be true if someone switched sides.  And we learn to lean into pressure, like when you get a great big hug from someone you like.  Horses teach each other this concept very quickly.  In the picture of Picasso and Jaspar out in the pasture, it is clear from Jaspar’s face and body that Picasso needs to give to Jaspar’s pressure. Clearly, Picasso wishes Azure would give to some pressure as well.  The notion of moving away from pressure or into pressure is something horses teach each other early on.

Picasso-Azure Communication

Communication involves a lead and a follow whether it is in conversation or action.  As the interaction continues the roles may flow from one to the other in a seemingly seamless manner, but in order to overcome inertia, someone has to lead.  Picasso had been in halters and lead ropes before I got him, but he didn’t truly know what it meant to follow a lead.  He sometimes gets himself in trouble with the other horses because of this.  Picasso follows to be with a leader whether the leader is horse or human.  Sometimes he ends up running into his leaders from behind.  The lead-follow relationship is hard to wrap your mind around sometimes to sort out what really needs to happen for connection to be there between the two.

DirectionFor me, the distinction begins to get clearer when I put on a lead rope and halter on my horses.  When I take Picasso to the pasture in his lead rope he “follows” behind me, but he is not taking and sort of specific leading information from me.  We are traveling the same direction, but as two separate parts.  Picasso knows how to do this well.  What he doesn’t know how to do is follow a lead when the lead is not in front of him.  Picasso and I learning to communicate as a lead and follow now with the use of the halter, lead rope, body positions, and energy.  It is challenging for Picasso to follow directions from a distance.  He wants to be right on top of his lead.  Getting his directional ground work in place is important for moving onto what will later become the communication between a horse and rider.  He is a very smart and willing partner to work with and makes our time spent developing our lead-follow relationship rewarding.  As Picasso learns more about this lead-follow relationship, his self-confidence will develop along with his trust in people.

Read Full Post »

And Your Name Is?


Horse behavior is fascinating.  The body language is so meaningful at every look, a sound, a body position, or a gesture.  Sometimes it is the slight turn of a hip from one horse that sends another horse off to the corner without a hoof ever being lifted.  Or a look in their eyes that shows big gestures may not have been meant to have a big impact.

Sometimes something just feels right.  Picasso Moon had only been with us a day when it seemed like it was time for him to meet one of the horses and start making friends.  I noticed the night before he seemed to be paying close attention to the mare across the isle from him. He seemed to be taking cues from her as to what to expect.  I decided to try putting him out in the big pasture, that still has some grass left in it at the end of summer, with that older mare, Chansyk.  I selected this pasture because the grass might be more interesting than fighting for territory and there was plenty of space if compatibility became an issue.  The pasture arrangement also allowed Sage, Beau, Azure, and Robin to observe the introduction process from a safe and uninvolved distance.  Usually introducing a horse to the herd would be Sage’s job; I’ve always trusted her to pave the way and make things go smoothly.  But with her current duties steadying Beau, and her own mobility in question, Chansyk seemed like the one for the job.  She was a broodmare before my friend got her (back when she was 12 yrs old).    I was hoping her marish instincts would kick in… and they did! Listen-BoyRead-My-HoofNot-There

Of course Picasso Moon was not without a few boyish moves of his own!  Watching Chansyk and Picasso Moon interact, it was clear that Chansyk had no intention of actually striking Picasso Moon or hurting him; she simply had a point to make and a line to draw.  The look in Picasso Moon’s eye makes a statement of its own.

My friend, Andrea, had come out to the barn to help me get the horses turned out.   She had never had the opportunity to see or hear horses meet for the first time outside of arena settings.  She took a seat to observe the horses’ behavior.


Things actually went very smoothly and it wasn’t long before Chansyk was showing Picasso Moon around the place. And Andrea and I went off to clean the barn and watch from a distance.



Read Full Post »