Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How do you feel about...

...carrot sticks, bamboo poles and those sticks with flags at the end?

I must admit I was feeling out of the loop. I've had a decade off, and when I came back to horses there was all this talk about 'natural' horsemanship. And I was left thinking...what the heck are they talking about? People kept telling me, "It's different than when we were growing up!"

And they kept using these sticks with flags or plastic bags at the ends of them. "Teaches your horse to face their fears!" Er...okay...

Sunny faces a fear...but without me shoving it into her face

Of course, I made the jump back into horses by adopting wild...and I didn't want to screw up my horse, right? And all the wild horse folks seemed to be jumping on the natural stick with a flag wagon, so I figured I'd give it a try with my new horse.

My new horse wasn't impressed. Nope, she was not. Tried to kill it. Since I was at the end of it, I decided this wasn't a good game to be playing and set the stick aside.

Since then, I've seen a Parelli video and read about countless mustang trainers using the stick. They were all waving flags and bags in their wild horse's faces. In the meantime, I've adopted two more wild horses, both of whom thought I was trying to kill them with that stick with a flag or a bag at the end.

I am apparently a stick with a flag or a bag failure, as none of my girl's are passing the face your fear test with it. I probably couldn't crawl out of a Parelli Level 1 bag with such an obvious lack of skills!

We don't need no stinkin' sticks, mom, as long as we've got hands and ropes!

But that's okay, because I've found I don't need a stick in my hands to get my girls to face their fears. I need my hands on their bodies, touching them in places they've never been touched. I need the end of my lead rope rubbing up against them, or flipping over their backs. I need chickens and dogs running under their feet. Basically, what I need is for them to realize that I'll never put them in a place that is a threat to them; rushing them with a plastic flag or bag shortly after adopting them isn't the way to do that.
Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but just hanging out will never hurt me.

For my horses, facing their fears meant coming to terms with an item that was left nearby. You may recall the saddle being left on the rail of the corral for Quiet Storm; she was afraid of it, but went to Darling for comfort because she trusted Darling. Had we pushed the saddle on her, we would have become part of the fear equation, but instead we provided moral support by giving her a pat and continuing our chores as though the saddle was no big deal. By the time Darling climbed onto her back, Quiet Storm had no fear left. She trusts Darling; they've developed a bond.

All of my horses are able to face their fears. Some, of course, have come about it more quickly than others. They'll all walk over plastic tarps, past squealing pigs and through water; not because they want to, but because they trust that I'm not going to put them in danger. None, however, has needed a savvy flag, string or stick to get the job done.

What are your thoughts regarding flags on a stick?


Andrea said...

I agree, you don't "need" most tools that are commonly used. But I did use the bag on a stick, lunge whip snaked around the legs, and the bamboo pole. I didn't need the pole for general touching, but I did rub and touch his back legs with it before trying with my hand. And I desensitized him with the plastic bag. You can do the same with ropes. They're just not as loud and scary. Check out the way Clinton Anderson does it, if you can and if you feel like taking the time. He starts far away, with a rhythmic slap on the ground (rhythm is important). Then gets closer and closer, etc. Doesn't start out in their face... But yeah, do what you can with what you have and you'll end up with the same results. Well, as "same" as they can be with horses being so different!

Christy said...

What a great post Tracey!! I too was told to put a plastic bottle on the end of a stick to use as an extension of my arm. One minute in there with Henry and I knew that it was obsurd and after throwing it aside Henry accepted me and my real arm and hand, just fine!!

I think that gut instincts are the way to go. I knew immediately that it was the wrong way to go!!

BTW- thank you for the ear, and the advice. I am feeling encouraged today and am planning on upgrading the round pen to allow him to stay!! Exciting news!! I'll email you a bit more later this afternoon!

Rising Rainbow said...

I think there are lots of ways to accomplish the same thing and each of us should do what works for them.

My understanding of natural horsemanship has nothing to do with bags on sticks or poles or whatever. It has to do with doing it in a way that makes it easy for the horse to do the right thing and hard for the horse to do the wrong thing and being a partner with the horse instead of a master over the horse.

photogchic said...

A lot has changed. I felt SO out of the loop when I got back into horses. As I read and learn and experiment, I think the natural horsemanship techniques are really effective.

This thing with the stick and the bag--You don't wave it in their face, you work in stages until you reach a threshold. You may start with a white bag laying on the ground far away and edge closer with your work and see how the horse reacts. See if you can eventually get the horse to touch its nose to it. Then you might tie it on your stick and walk with the stick in front of you and the horse following behind. Then you might turn and face your horse and do approach and retreat with the bag on the ground until your horse reaches out to sniff it. You graduate to making noise and waving it, but everything is in no-threatening steps. I do think it is something you might want to introduce to your horse after you have a really solid relationship. It is one of the desensitizing tasks that really takes a lot of trust. It is a very cool process to watch if you are into horse psychology. Hope that helps.

Tracey said...

When I had horses as a kid, it was without the benefit of parents who supported my habit in the manner I'd have liked to become accustomed to. No lessons, no clinics; nothing other than 4-H, which really taught nothing. What I learned, I learned on my own.

People are shocked when they ask me 'Who do you follow', because they automatically assume you must go to clinics and learn from one of the marketing gurus, which I do not.

I finally broke down and borrowed a Parelli video when Jet came along because I felt like I really needed to see what was different. And you know what I found? Natural horsemanship is just good horsemanship with a fancy name that's catching on. Nothing was different. At least not for me. Sure, they broke it down into steps that were easy to follow. I'd followed my instincts and had the same response.

I'm not knocking those who find they benefit from clinicians and step by step videos, as I think you can learn something from everyone, even if it's what you don't want to do. What I've learned is that my instincts are good and that I don't need a bag on a stick to get my horses desensitized. I never used one before, and I've always had very sound minded horses.

I think MiKael hit the nail on the head by saying, "It has to do with doing it in a way that makes it easy for the horse to do the right thing and hard for the horse to do the wrong thing and being a partner with the horse instead of a master over the horse".

I've always called that good horsemanship!

smilnsigh said...

I know nothing of horse training.

But I do know of COMMON SENSE.

And with all 70 years of living under my belt... I'd say your way makes the most common sense.

So there! ,-)


Clickoncowboy said...

I'm not going to presume to tell you how to train your horses. I've trying to get mine to clean up after themselves, but no luck. I have taught all of my horses not to come when I don't call.


Katee said...

When my wild horse gets scared he stands behind me. Or at the very least he puts his head behind me like if he can't see IT, IT can't see him.

I like the image of Darling giving support and protection to Quiet Storm. When push comes to shove, somebody has to be the boss, but that doesn't mean that you can't be partners and friends, too.

NHN said...

There are many times a carrot stick or similar are very effective. But not with every horse. The stick is to be used as an extension of your arm.

You don't need to use one. What you are doing is "Natural"

Callie said...

This is a great post! Made me chuckle. I also agree with Mikael.