Pat Parelli, coiner of the term "natural horsemanship", founded his program based
on a foundation of love, language and leadership. Parelli Natural Horsemanship
allows horse owners at all levels of experience to achieve success with their at-home educational program. For more information visit www.parelli.com.
PNH is not affiliated with any operations mentioned here.
July Web Exclusive!Bomb-Proofing Your Horses
by J.F. Pirro
Horses are natural flight animals, particularly near predators, meat-eaters or unfamiliar distractions. They're also trained to tolerate loading into a trailer, or having a farrier work on a hoof. However, if a duck flies up from a marsh while your horse is plowing a field, can you get it back on task? Will you be safe?
A horse that suddenly traverses its emotional threshold, can "blow up" and tear up a trailer, burst from a stall, or quickly hit 30 mph even with a plough behind him.
"We're predators. We're meat-eaters," says Jan Dawson, president of the American Association for Horsemanship Safety (AAHS) and author of "Teaching Safe Horsemanship."
While the position on (and approach to) desensitizing or "bomb-proofing" a horse differs, such trained exposures are essential for the safety of man and working beast, especially since no one's using grandpa's horse anymore. That horse was probably worked so hard it didn't want to run.
Eventually, tractors replaced horses. Now experts say there's a revival for working farm horses, and it's time to decide if an investment in training will eventually help an operation's bottom line.
At Rough Terrain Farm (www.roughterrainfarm.com) in Randolph Center, Vt., the emphasis is on natural horsemanship, based on a horse's natural observed behaviors, motivations and communication. Even problem horses can learn to substitute trust for spookiness. "They learn to give up star-gazing and spooking because they're generally no longer distracted and are listening to you," says Leslie Haynes, the farm's longtime owner and a British Horse Society certified riding instructor.
She admits that natural horsemanship is a marketing term, but it's an approach she believes in. However, she's no horse whisperer. "That's when I cringe," she says. "No, no. That's spooky. I believe in handling horses with kindness and in dealing with their spookiness, not bullying them through it."
Despite naysayers, Haynes, 62, has reclaimed spooky, unsafe horses.
Rough Terrain Farm is also the leased home of Vermont Technical College's new four-year bachelor of science degree in equine studies. Her daughter, Jessica Riley, is the program director for the college program in a midstate setting of predominantly varied organic, sustainable farms. Many farmers in central Vermont are using draft horses, or light-duty horses, even if just to collect sap.
Training sessions start at the stall door, where Haynes wants a horse to step back, lower its head at that threshold and learn that if he's not anxious or impatient, it'll go better. Then, she starts horses on an 18 to 24-foot loose lead out to a round pen, where they're taught to pay attention to body language, change directions, listen and ultimately join up in a leader-follower relationship. They become more cooperatively responsive, obedient, relaxed and safe.
In the round pen, horses are bomb-proofed through a "sacking out" process that introduces them to a variety of sights and sounds. First, the long lead rope is used to rub, tickle and wrap around a horse, then there's exposure to a towel, umbrellas, plastic bags, tractors and manure spreaders and long drives with a garden rake dragging along behind to simulate the sound of a carriage. "Then, you still have to trust that they'll be brave when a UPS truck comes barreling down the road," says Haynes, who admits that there's no such thing as a bombproof horse. Central Vermont has bears, for example, and she hasn't figured out how to desensitize a horse to a bear-unless you can train at a local zoo.
If you struggle with trailer loading your horse or have other behavior Truth in marketing
problems, natural horsemanship is the perfect solution.
For free training articles and solutions to bad behaviors, visit www.parelli.com.
Dawson traces bomb-proofing back 20 years, and whether selling horses privately or at auction with that label, she says word got out that you didn't want such a horse. She still calls bomb-proofing more of a salesman's word than a horseman's word.
A litigation consultant in accident cases involving horses, Dawson urges the need for disclaimers. "About the only horse that you can say won't spook or buck is the one you put the quarter into," she says. "To say a horse is bomb-proof or safe just isn't true. You can say that you know the horse, that it's had desensitizing, police training, that it's gone through flags and balloons, but the first time the horse gets hit with a brick, it's over."
Reactive or not, horses need confidence. They won't always get it from an inexperienced or nervous rider, yet it remains incumbent upon a rider to know how his horse will react.
Sans a break in an insurance premium, Dawson says she's always surprised to hear from farmers, who are more likely to seek help from another farmer or an associate, rather than take a horse to be trained and broken, or to teach a rider how to prevent accidents.
Alex Fraser of the Fraser School of Driving Horses in Deer Lodge, Mont., buys and sells farming horses to the Amish, and knows the sect well, but says, "They're not all horsemen. The horse for the Amish is a tool, but they do know that if they take care of the tool, it'll work better."
Fraser sees a revival for farm horses driven by those carving out farming niches and "feeding off yesteryear," those who can't afford big-tractor farming, but could give it a go with a pair of horses, which double as instant marketing ambiance. He's fielded calls from younger farmers looking for a team of horses to do the work. But they also think it's easy to drive a team. "It is easy-if you know what you're doing," Fraser says.
Workhorses, too, have changed. They're taller and leaner. They're bred to be showy and highly motivated to perform, just not with a plow in tow. "At a county fair you'll find a lot of draft horses at the hitching post, but most couldn't pull a plough across a lawn let alone a field," Fraser says.
He, too, speaks of a rider's nervous energy. Horses often spook because riders spook first. "It's the handler, not what color balloons [used in training]," says Fraser, who calls his sessions awareness and safety clinics and learning opportunities, rather than bomb proofing. "It's the vibes the rider gives off. You can have all the imprint and desensitizing training in the world, but what's natural is for the horse to have a reaction. I love a reaction, which usually comes in the third or fourth day. With a blow up, he shows his true colors."
The author has been published in national and regional magazines as well as daily and weekly alternative city newspapers. A gentleman farmer in Quakertown, Pa., he writes about people, social trends, historic preservation and 18th century America, agrarian culture, land use and sports and recreation topics.