Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Community of Interest › Books/Resouces › Some things can't be found in a book
- April 17, 2015 at 11:17 am #85392dominiquer60Moderator
Often Facebook conversations are short and to the point, here is a recent post that shows “not everything can be learned from a book.”
Sasha: Can anyone recommend a concise and comprehensive book on draft horse psychology for a beginner? Thanks!
Stephen Leslie “Think Like a Horse” by Cherry Hill—Storey Publishing
Sasha L. Salayda Thanks!
Christine Barensfeld I think you can sum up draft horse psychology in two words, “More food!”
Rickey Glen Thomas The Nature of Horses, Stephen Budianski
Carl B. Russell I would recommend that a beginner not get distracted with equine psychology. If you are looking for guidance on behavior response then many of the published trainers have good books, Parelli, Roberts, Miller. I always got great info from Lynn Millers books when I was starting out.
The fundamentals of horse behavior are pretty simple, and usually are found in the details of broader texts about more comprehensive material. Many people tend to try to use human thought process to figure out horses behavior, and I have found that to be at the root of many of their “problems”.
Horses will respond positively to a leader that is present and treats them as horses. A person distracted with trying to figure out a human correlation to the interaction is not present with the horse, and therefore will be cultivating difficulty getting the animal to follow their lead.
There are a few passages in The Man Who Listens To Horses, by Monty Roberts, that go a long way to describing this disconnection, as well as having a reasonable description of the basics of equine behavior.
Sometimes simpler is better. Instinctively you will know more than you can read. Clear the slate. Wipe away the expectations and preconceptions, and don’t worry about anything that happened in the horses previous life. I have found that it has less to do with what I know about the horse, and more about letting go of what I thought I knew about myself.
Rickey Glen Thomas One reason I use the Nature of Horses in my classes is that Budiansky looks at the natural history of the horse versus trying to dissect behavior from a strictly human perspective. As well, the sections on the neurophysiology of how horses see and hear is absolutely enlightening when connected to training techniques and active observation from a keen teamster.
Sasha L. Salayda Thanks Carl and Rickey.
Carl, can you share more about letting go of what you know about yourself?
Carl B. Russell Sasha, we are taught to use our intellect to “figure” things out. It is a valuable skill, but it can lead to “over-thinking”, and habitual internal conversation. We are conditioned to reason out the process of what we are working with, and what we need to do to work with that. Is there an equation? Is there a series of facts that we can combine to create a map of activities to adhere to as we move forward?
Horses are a lot simpler than that. They are intensely present, reacting specifically to immediate stimuli. We do much better if we clear out the plans, the facts, and the equation, and just observe the reactions to our actions. Our own action and reaction is exactly our contribution to the conversation.
If we filter our reactions through preset expectations, our communication (with the horse) is rigid and too complicated. The horse can be stand-offish no matter how skilled and knowledgeable we are about how they think or act. When we are fluid reactors, responding in kind to the reactions that they show us, then we are communicating in a way that they can understand, and the communication will be open to growth.
My first lesson in this was years ago, when I had horses for two years. I had a lot of ideas about why they do what they do, and was spending a lot of energy trying to be more clever than them. I had a mare that had been mistreated and allowed to get away with some really nervous behavior. I was trying all kinds of things to work around that. One day I had 85 year old Floyd Fuller come to float her teeth.
Now, she was nervous with simple activities like harnessing, so I figured that getting rasps stuck in her mouth would really set her off. As Floyd approached her I braced myself, but was completely taken back as she physically relaxed. He looked her in the eye, put his hand on her nose, and just started filing her teeth…. no twitch, no drugs, just an old man and a horse.
He didn’t care about what she had gone through before. He didn’t care about what I thought would be the problem. He didn’t care about anything but how she reacted to him. He reacted immediately, consistently, continuously, and very nearly invisibly.
I didn’t mean to suggest that these are easy concepts to master, nor that as Rickey Glen Thomas suggests, that some basic understanding is not necessary. I just know there is a tendency to try to understand the behavior, rather than to focus on reacting to it.
It is this tendency to “understand” as the basis of strategy, versus learning to react on the surface of the moment, that I refer to as what I thought I knew about myself. In the long run it is the refinement of reaction that builds effective communication.
Sasha L. Salayda Thanks Carl, this is very insightful and simple.
Sasha L. Salayda Are there resources to learn how to conduct myself in a way that demonstrates clear communication?
Carl B. Russell Mentors….
Ian Snider This gets to the heart of our discussions eh Carl B. Russell?
Carl B. Russell Sorry Sasha, I was off and running when I posted that one word response. It is the truth, and I really have never run across much written reference to that. I personally just picked it up by absorbing through observing my mentors, and putting myself out there through repeated attempts. Most of the “language” I learned, I saw in action.
Sometimes one would make a comment that would sink in slowly, and take shape over time, like “If you want to drive a horse across a bridge, drive the horse across the bridge”. On the surface this seems like an over-simplification of the endeavor, but there is an active intelligence there underneath. “Figure it out” and “Don’t take short-cuts”, and “There are no tricks, only effective communication”….. and “It can be done”.
You can also see the tendency may be to figure out why the horse won’t cross the bridge, or what you might be able to figure out about the barriers preventing the desired activity. The quote does not mean to force the horse across the bridge either.
There is a way to communicate effectively with horses. It is an active communication that has thousands of years history. Truly more intuitive than many things in our modern culture, and each of us is capable of figuring it out through practice. It isn’t magic.
I was told to buy a horse and go logging. In today’s culture we recommend that folks take classes, and apprenticeships. Getting training is valuable, to learn techniques and practices, like line tension, safety, hoof care, harnessing, etc., but I can assure you that becoming an effective demonstrator of clear communication will only come from hands-on practice.
Sasha L. Salayda Thanks Carl, and don’t apologize- it’s a busy time of year! The reason I have asked for additional resources is that I am in the position now to acquire a single draft to perform light work, and also take the opportunity to further build and refine my skills. I have taken numerous workshops, and have had some hands on time with some local farmers. I know I am very much a beginner, but I believe I have the foundation to get started. My concern is that I am starting my own farm enterprise this year, and also working off farm. Between those two things, I know that most likely I will not be able to attend many more workshops this summer, and I don’t know if I could count on calling up local horse farmers in my area if I needed help or pointers. So I am wondering if there are any resources, even videos, that could help me with the basics.
Carl B. Russell I think any material that can help you expand your understanding of how horses react to pressure. I have seen folks over the years use round pen work well for joining up, or conditioning response, but I have always thought that it’s greatest value would be the exercise of pressure/release-based communication. Sometimes I think we get caught up in the details of tasks, and don’t always step back to see the bigger context.
When we have an idea of what we want the horse to do, it is an intention. Presenting that intention to the horse constitutes pressure. Horses innately respond to pressure in a certain way. Understanding that, and learning how to read the response while applying the pressure, so that we can modify our own response to the benefit of the “conversation”, will advance the initiative.
Unfortunately I have pieced my own perspective together through years of observation, video clips here, passages in books there, conversations with other teamsters, and just plain practice, so I personally cannot turn you to just one text.
However as I mentioned above, I have often thought that the real benefit of “round pen training” was not the join up, or the conditioned response, but the development of foundational pressure/response dialogue that can be drawn out into all other work with the horse. I have read some of both Parelli, and Roberts, and found good descriptions of equine behavior, in language that I could understand.
The challenge is always going to be finding the material at the time when you are prepared (your own experiential perspective) to understand it within the context of what you are working on. That is why the actual mentor thing works so well. Go out and try something….. Go back and watch your mentor, and ask a few more questions (or even the same ones over again)…… Then go back and try it again.
I have found that static resources like books and videos are locked in time and space, and of course have plenty of information, but they are not as malleable as real life experience……although I know more than one of us has a book covered with smudges, with ripped covers, from being propped up on a stump as a field reference…..
You are a thoughtful, intelligent, and courageous young woman, with good foundational exposure. Those are solid building blocks to start from.April 17, 2015 at 5:39 pm #85395Does’ LeapParticipant
Thanks for sharing that Erika. I do not participate in Facebook and it is it nice to see some of that conversation.
Carl, thanks for the articulate insight. I would be interested to read about your interactions with your new team.
GeorgeApril 17, 2015 at 7:27 pm #85397Donn HewesKeymaster
Erika, Thanks for doing that. I was wishing this great FB thread could be moved here but it was beyond me. It was fun and interesting to read. I love the analogy of children when thinking about horses (most parents think I don’t have clue!). Of course we would want to study their psychology and physiology, but the ones who always do the best with kids are those that will let go of all that and be in the moment. Tall order sometimes.April 19, 2015 at 5:33 am #85398Carl RussellModerator
George, the new horses have been staying at a nearby farm, so I have not had a lot of time to work with them. The folks live thee have been caring for hem, handling them, and keeping them engaged.
I have been very impressed by the horses. They are big, but generally have pretty good manners. However, some boundaries are a bit foggy…. I have been stepped on more times in the last month than I have been in 10 years.
My first work with them was altering. In the box stalls, getting them to either present their head to me, or to let me approach to put the halter on. One of them, I cal Tom, is like a rubberband. I move forward, he moves away, I pull back, he swings my way. We did that about five times, and he realized we were on the same wavelength, and as he would swing toward me, I would modify my approach to get him to trust that he didn’t have to move away. I may have left him alone for a while, but basically we got the halters get thing worked out in about 15 minutes.
The other, Mike, has some issues around his head. He also tends to be very responsive, and trusting, but even as he gives me his head, he has a tendency to wiggle and fidget as the halter is put on. I have been wanting to look at his teeth ever since I got him, which he is not excited about. Yesterday, after brushing him, which he loves, and will stand for anywhere, as long as the other one isn’t there to push me away, I decided to see how far we could get with the mouth. He just doesn’t trust me to hold his lips open while holding his head for me, so I had one hand on the halter and started fooling with his lips with the other. Finally I grabbed his upper lip, and just held on while he tossed his head. In that exercise, there would be instances when he would pause or partially relax, and I would correspondingly relax my grip, until after about a minute or two, he let me pull his lips back. I have to keep one hand holding his upper lip, but I could use the other to pull back the lower.mi could hold his tongue yet, but I got a cursory glimpse of what is going on in there.
I have handled all of their feet, clipped and rasped, and they have held them on my knee for me. I have taken them for lead rope walks, two at a time. They can demonstrate some distracted behavior,Mears and heads up, almost alarmed, which seems to go along with the soft boundary issue, that may be residual from being neglected, just not getting continuity from a human leader, because they clearly are willing to take my guidance once they determine that I am not phased by their expression. Mike has a tendency to wheel and shy from compost buckets, round bales with tarps on them, and the usual tigers in the grass, but easily focuses on me again when I apparently do not share his concern.
I have purposefully not tried to learn the specifics of the past, but is seems clear to me that they had some good imprinting as younger horses. They yield easily when asked to step over, with just the slightest touch. They are very large horses, and will politely navigate the narrow walkways in the barn where they stay while on lead. They are pretty seriously hers bound to each other. Leading to their most distracted behavior, and since I don’t have the time available on a regular basis, I have not pushed that too far yet.
I’ve had harness on them, but nothing more than adjusting, and getting them used to my approach.
Generally, my approach with any horse is to just use normal interaction to asses those points where the animal is resistant, or distracting of my interaction, then focus on exercises that reduce the discrepancy between what I want, and how they responde. Working around their feet with a apple picker in the stall, one kind of batted at it, so we spent a few minutes refining that interaction. I am not concerned about the tool, or the horse learning about the tool, just about clarifying ,yacht ions so that the horse sees me reaching toward him, and that I am reading his response, so that I modify my approach to match his comfort level, without letting go of my intention. When the horse can clearly see that I am cognizant of that form of communication, they quickly start to look to me for more of that kind of interaction.
This is what I work on. Building communication over and over again in every facet of our interactions. As I have mentioned, not specific to the details of that interaction, but in general to the bigger context of physical communication. If they have some reason to be distrustful because of their history, it clearly matters to them, as experience has taught them to act a certain way. However, I have found that they are even more keenly aware of how I present myself, and when I actually stop in the midst of what I am doing, and give them the respect, and show them that I know they can understand me, I have found that most of these behaviors can be worked through.
Anyway, I feel like I have my hands on a pair of very valuable horses. They are large and in good health, comfortable, and responsive. Now I know that I have harnesses that will fit, so I expect we will be doing some driving soon enough.
More later.April 20, 2015 at 3:25 pm #85404dominiquer60Moderator
Donn, bringing the FB text to the forum was as simple as highlighting, copying, and pasting the text here. I did a little editing, and could have done more for ease of reading. It seemed to me a good conversation to capture and save from the ever volatile FB.
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