Today was the first day we got our MPL trainer Klaus at our own stable. We have a variety of horses there, 6 in total at the moment, but ofcourse our main “subjects” are Sam and Muratah. Jr got to play with Muratah and Addi and I learned (with) Sam how to stretch her back and strengthen her muscles.
First of all Jr got explained what “my place, my path/walk your way” means, and how the the “hayrack game” can help with that. Here’s the background and explanation of those 2 games:
Ask politely, it works both ways
You don’t want a 600+kg horse walk up to you and stand still almost on top of your feet, then inspecting you and your clothes with his 20/30kg head and biiig muscles in his neck. It would be much more appreciated if he would ‘ask’ if he could come closer to say hello and wait for you to say “ok”, isn’t it?
Also between horses a horse needs to ask another one if he is allowed to come closer. If his appearance is rude and/or unwanted, he will be sent off by the dominant horse. As humans do not have the ‘size’ and the materials (hoofs, ears to put in the neck, tail) to give a warning a dominant horse would give in such a situation, we will have to do it a bit different.
Make the horse aware of your presence
You first have to make sure the horse is aware of you, your being, and doesn’t see you as a bag of sweeties or the hay-carrier. He needs to start looking at you, with his head, with his ears, and respect your private space around you.
This is what we started our training with: with marking our path through the Picadero.
Walk your way
Using a leadrope which you actively throw in front of you while holding one end of the line and follow it, walking in a straight line till the end. This requires some practice and a good throwable leadrope, not too thick, not too heavy. Once you are at other side of the picadero you threw the line towards to, you stop, bring your energy down and have “a short rest” while you gather your leadrope in your hand.
Now turn around and walk into another direction, guided by the leadrope you first throw in front of you. Once at the other side of the picadero again, stop, bring your energy down and collect your rope. While going from one side to another side you completely ignore the horse, you only want to go to the other side. It can happen that the horse is too close and it is his own choice to step away from you and the leadrope that marks your path. If he does not, he might be hit by the leadrope.
How the horse might react
Some horses react very strong on this leadrope as they don’t know it, and are very scared. Bring down your energy, your activity and give a few swings with the leadrope, without throwing it. Sometimes even focussing on a place and actively turning towards it already lets the horse make a move. If the horse is too scared and starts racing around, just retreat and wait in a far end of the paddock until he has calmed down. Keep an eye on him but do not focus on him. Eventually he will calm down – and you can start again, in a very quiet pace.
Other horses don’t react at all and can’t be bothered being hit by the leadrope. Why should they move? They know you are a tiny little human doing your best to make him move. They know they are much stronger, so why go out of your way?
It will require some more energy from you to make him move a bit more. You can therefor take the end of the leadrope and swing it next to you (make sure you can extend it while swinging it) while walking in that same straight line to the other side of the picadero. Do not forget your “restmoment” at the other side.
One very important thing: Do not, do never focus on the horse. It might feel attacked and either flip out or attack you if it’s a dominant or abused horse. If you feel unsecure you could wear a basebalcap which hides your eyes a bit. Do not wear sunglasses as this makes the “staring effect” a lot bigger.
“He doesn’t go away!”
If the horse really does not want to move you could also take a whip (ca. 1.80m) to mark your path.
Swing it gently sideways, as high as 10cm above the track, and about 2m wide, from left to right and back. The more energy you put in it, the more the horse will react on it.
If he does seem to be bound to the ground, slow down your pace but move the whip more vigorously and destined, make wider moves and/or raise the rhythm. Eventually he will move. Do not walk out of your straight line you started. And don’t be afraid.
I don’t want to hit my horse!
If you are afraid that you might hit the horse, don’t worry, they aren’t that stupid. They can make their own decisions, just like they would do in nature. And they won’t let themselves be hit twice, as it makes them uncomfortable. Just do not stop swinging that rope or whip, continue your *straight* line and finish it at the end of your path, at the other side of the picadero.
There are differences in horses’ reactions when you handle the whip or the leadrope in different directions
Directions of the whip
Swinging directions of the leadrope
After having done this a few times and the horse moves away in a bit faster than normal walk for the “lazy types”, or doesn’t panic anymore and keeps running away for the scared types, we change our strategy a bit.
The Hayrack game:
We now focus on a point behind the horse (the hayrack) and “make your way through all” in a straight line. Eventually drop or swing the leadrope or a whip in front of you to mark your path and make yourself taller and bigger. When you are at the other side, stop and “eat your hay” while collecting your leadrope again. Turn around, focus on a point after the horses body and walk towards it.
Eventually the horse will go in a fast walk or a trot, by itself, around in the picadero and you can take your guiding and steering position from the centre of the picadero. But that’s for next time :)
Now some pictures from the training and what happened / what got explained!
Jr stuck with recollecting the leadrope, Muratah looking for a way out, to go to the other horses.
Sam inspects what is going on with Muratah. She knows this already and wouldn’t mind getting the same attention as well. She will have her special training later.
Jr going full of energy to his “hayrack”, making both Klaus and even Muratah go out of his way. Jr is very confident and straight forward doing so. He is full of energy and got even Muratah to move, although he wasn’t even in Jrs path.
Klaus explaining Jr about the minimum distance he should keep from a horse. A horse should respect your private space and stay out of it. Also it’s a safe distance to most horselegs when they’re from the floor.
Now Klaus shows a bit more how it could be ‘asked’ (bending forward, making himself smaller) to approach into the personal space.
Look at Muratah in the background observing this all with a sceptic eye.
Jr about to start his hayrack game. His focus and determination is already strong enough to make Muratah walk out of his focus, Jr didn’t even move here yet. Perfect! Notice Muratah’s right ear, pointing to Jr. He has full attention.
Muratah seeking his chance to sneak into Jrs space but Klaus gently persuading him to keep his distance. A short wobble with the whip towards his front hoofs makes him lift up his head and step away again. There is no agression, just a short warning, like another horse that would move his tail or put his ears in his back, curl up his nostrils at another horse doing the same.
Lazy Muratah eventually took off into a canter – amazing how much energy Jr is able to produce. He needs help of a whip or a rope to swing around to make himself visible and big, but he handles it all so well! A great learning day for both! And where it comes to the rope: Practice makes Perfect!
After this informative session with an eventually not so much impressed horse, we switched over to Addi. Addi is a 3,5y young Frysian gelding who likes to walk over people and comes so close it’s annoying. He also prefers to stand exactly there where you were aiming to go to with a heavy wheelbarrow and doesn’t have any intentions to move. You can’t push him out of the way because he is ignorant about that. He’s a little 9 times heavier anyway, so why bother?
Now Klaus has a little play with Addi, he accelerates Addi here by doing a “2 step accelleration” himself towards the backside of Addi. You see that the horse flips down his back side to go faster, also collects his front just a bit more.
Ofcourse you want to watch the publicum to see if they can say what is expected from you.
He loses interest here and starts eating. Klaus then approaches him like before and Addi has got to move out of his way.
The second time around Addi decides he might have a sniff to see what it was all about. All of a sudden a human became present in his environment who acted like a horse, and he asked if he could come closer instead of walk into someone. What a 180 degree change! And that in only 10 minutes!
Thanks to Klaus & Petra to make this all possible!