WALK YOUR HORSE!
The benefits of spending quality time with a friend!
How often do we get caught up in our training regiment feeling the pressure that we put upon ourselves to produce results only to loose track of what's most important to not only our objectives but to our very inner being?
What is most important to you? I would hope your answer would be to develop a relationship with your mount that would enhance his willingness to learn but also establish a strong bond of friendship and trust between him and every human he comes into contact with.
There are countless volumes of training manuals, DVD's, clinics, etc. (the list is endless) but in our relentless quest of the perfect solution to all of our training questions are we overlooking the most basic, easiest and enjoyable technique? Hand walking!
I'm surprised at how many times in my past experience I've witnessed hand walking prove effective and yet I was once again reminded of its value when this season because of the El Nino I was forced to practice this rare and simplistic exercise in training because my arena was too wet.
I am fortunate because the location of my facility has easy access to well maintained, scenic and easy to navigate trails providing endless hours of thrilling possibilities for a successful and enlightening "walkabout".
As days stretched into weeks I was not surprised with the progress most of my horses seemed to exhibit but they were well established having been in training for sometime. What did surprise me was one very young, very big and impetuous Warmblood and I was sure as time went on his attitude would become unbearable because of lack of strenuous exercise. The fact was he turned out to be quite the opposite. I was amazed at how over the weeks he went from starting each walk doing "airs above the ground" to eagerly but calmly awaiting my appearance at his door walking from the barn like a perfect gentleman and what was equally surprising was his demeanor when the sun finally came back and I was able to have him under saddle. His transformation was astounding so much that for a brief period it made this skeptic a believer.
I just couldn't leave well enough alone and once more started to question this horse's vast improvement but then I recalled many years ago when another young ambitious horse had come into my care. He was only a three year old rescued from the track. He was barely broke to the saddle when a kind hearted man that was barely a beginning rider brought him to me for rehab with delusions of grander that he could someday ride this horse.
The horse was a mess with a pulled tendon and suffering from withdrawal of track drugs. The vet recommended hand walking for 6 months and a lot of TLC. I convinced the owner that rather than pay me or someone to walk this horse he do it himself. I told him he'd have to be devoted with his time but I felt the payoff would be huge. Boy, did I have that one nailed.
For the next 6 months this man religiously walked this horse every evening for at least an hour through the neighborhood and what was interesting is how he would talk to the horse. He talked to the horse about everything. He told him how his day at work had been, how the market was doing, what the weather would be. He talked about world news, local politics, everything one could ever imagine. I thought the nightly scene was quite endearing but had no idea how profound the end result would be.
When the horse was recovered I began his training. Starting at the beginning I try to keep things simple engaging the horse as stress free as possible but to my amazement each and every new concept I taught him was met with complete and total acceptance, no resistance, and no issues whatsoever. It was as thought this horse had had years of quality training under his belt and everything I asked him to do he did with complete cooperation and trust. Within one year, the horse not only could jump a respectable 3ft. course with me but take his owner around the same course even though the man had been in lessons only since I had started with the horse.
The two of them went everywhere together; they were avid trail buddies even going out alone together (much to my disapproval). They did great at shows winning many classes, did trail trials and just about everything one could put a horse to.
I along with others will never forget this horse as one of the smartest and most willing horses I've ever worked with and I am sure that it's because of the consistent and quality interaction he had with his owner! Oh, and by the way, those long walks with conversation never stopped as the two of them remained fast friends!
So, what are you waiting for? I challenge you to give it a try. It's a beautiful day for a walk. Get out there, get going and don't come back until you're hopelessly in love with your horse!