Teaching a rescue horse (or any horse!) to find his confidence and trust again.
After I had Bill in training for 10 weeks, we filmed one of his lessons with Manolo at La Mancha for a DVD project.
To set the scene…
Here is Bill, a young, green, timid, gentle giant in an arena that is normally very quiet with just Bill and I working together... But on this day there was a giant camera and tripod, a camera crew, bright spot lights, a handful of people watching and our director, plus 2 photographers moving around us snapping pictures while we worked ALL inside our usually quiet space!
How did he go? Bill was brilliant.
TIME and TRUST. I repeat these 2 words again from Bill’s Training Notes Part 1 as these 2 things are what enabled Bill to feel comfortable and confident working with me in this new atmosphere. Our day to day training together had built a solid foundation for Bill to rely on. Being consistent, calm, speaking in a soft, encouraging voice, not demanding more then he could offer, respecting his body and mind all played an important role in his education, and his learning to trust, learning to learn.
Before the lesson began I spent 10-15 minutes walking Bill inside the arena, we stopped for pats and we stopped to look at everything. When I was close enough to him to touch him while we walked I did. Bill loved being touched, he craved contact but not in a needy way, he just loved to feel close but being such a gentle soul he would never push into me or walk too close, he was always polite and always aware of my feet. Bill was a real gentleman that way.
Lights, Camera, Action…
PHOTO 1 Bill is trotting out on the lungeline while I am walking in my own circle which allows me to be close enough to Bill while he still is able to trot a larger circle. My lunging lead is not tense and both of my elbows are slightly softened taking the concussion for any awkward movements while I walk.
In this moment I have the bamboo pointing in front of Bill asking him to lower his head an neck. Ideally, I would like Bill to travel with his poll slightly lower than his wither and his nose in front of the vertical, his head and neck able to move supplely - its a work in progress. I am happy with his rhythm in this photo: he is tracking up just nicely, his ears show that he is listening to me.
PHOTO 2 In-hand work. I am walking backwards while Bill is walking forwards, I have my hand on the end of the lunge line closest to Bill’s nose with a SOFT contact, no hard, rigid hands. While always moving in a forward (backward) motion, I touch Bill very gently with the bamboo on his left hind leg asking him to move it slightly under his body while I create a soft bend in his body from poll to hock to create a simple shoulder-fore movement. I ask for only 2 or 3 steps at a time, and then in the same walk rhythm, we walk straight before I ask again. Only repeating this movement a couple of times during each full working session.
I am asking for only a slight bend throughout Bill’s body - LESS IS MORE. When doing this exercise, it is best to ask only once and receive good quality, correct minimal flexion than to think you need more flexion and ask 10 times incorrectly. Incorrect flexion will lead to more stiffness. Less, but good quality flexion, will overtime break down old stiffnesses, and soften and develop new, correct muscles.
PHOTO 3 Building confidence. Since we were working in a new environment during the day of Bill’s filming, when it was time to ride Bill, Manolo acted as Bill’s ground person. We started the ride just at walk with Manolo by our side. In this photo, you can see Manolo’s right arm draped across Bill’s neck and gently petting him on the other side. Bill is happy and relaxed walking with a nice rhythm, bending towards his ground person for comfort.
PHOTO 4 Here, Manolo is describing and using his body to show me the posture we are encouraging Bill towards. The rhythm we can see in the photo is quite good. Bill is almost tracking up even though the posture of his head and neck is a little too high. I am riding slightly forward in my posture in order to be light on Bill’s back, steady in my legs and steady in my hands with gentle contact. This was Bill’s 5th ride with me. Under the circumstances in a spooky camera lit atmosphere he exceeded my expectations, Still a work in progress.
Stay tuned for week 16 and see where Bill finish up with his training with me.
Note: Almost seven months after these images were taken we learned that Bill was euthanized after an accident. He was a special horse and our sympathy is with his owner who tried their best to provide this big rescue horse with a second chance.