Light Hands Horsemanship – Part 2

This is a continuation of my post on the Light Hands Horsemanship clinic that was posted on June 3.

Saturday morning started with cowboy coffee (including the grounds), biscuits and gravy, and breakfast burritos; all cooked over a campfire of Kingsford charcoal. The seminar started with a presentation by Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, talking about “Natural Horsemanship.” According to Dr. Miller, the natural horseman understands the behavioral psychology of the equine (including mules) and uses the instincts natural to Horses rather than the instincts natural to Man, to train horses. Understanding the horse’s psychology and instincts allows us to be light, rather than coercive, in our interactions with them. This does not refer only to light hands on the reins, although that is a part of it.

He demonstrated lightness with a video of Portuguese bull fighting, something that I had never heard of, although I have seen live bull fighting in Spain. Portuguese bull fighting is done from horseback and although I have never thought of myself as having a poetic nature, there is no other way to describe the movements of the horse and rider as they faced and avoided the bull. It was poetry in motion. This is something that I would love to see live as it is practiced in California where the bulls are not actually stabbed, killed, and dragged away as they are in Spain. In California, the bulls wear a cork saddle that receives the blows and the bulls are lead away after the fight.

During Dr. Miller’s talk, Monty Roberts, the man who listens to horses and is a neighbor of Art Perry’s, made an appearance. [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/yuF5jv3DMZg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] Later that day I was seated at the same table as Mr. Roberts for lunch, but was too shy to speak to him. I did however eavesdrop as he told a story about being recognized by the girl behind the counter of a burger joint in Finland, but is never recognized in the town where he currently resides.

During his presentation on Saturday, Dr. Miller listed ten characteristics of horses that he believes that we must understand in order to communicate effectively with our horses. On Sunday he added an eleventh. Dr. Miller’s 11 Essential Characteristics are:

1. Horses are prey animals that rely on flight for survival.
2. Horses are instinctively afraid of predatory behavior, but not of predators who are not behaving in a predatory manner.
3. Horses have the ability to move quickly, giving them a very fast reaction time.
4. Horses have an excellent memory with the ability to remember FOREVER what to run from and what not to run from.
5. Horses are fast learners – which can be both good and bad.
6. Horses are easily desensitized, provided the stimulus doesn’t cause pain. (Author’s note: make sure your clippers are sharp the first time you try to clip your horse.)
7. Horses are herd animals, but in the absence of other horses will bond to a surrogate.
8. Horses communicate with body language.
9. Horses live within a hierarchy, which is established and controlled by the movement of the horses’ feet.
10. Horses are very perceptive by means of sight, sound, smell, and touch.
11. Horses are full developed neurologically at birth. (This is why imprinting works.)

Horses respond to operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement.) A stalking stance, a closed hand, and staring into the horse’s eyes are all predatory behaviors that will stimulate the flight response. Stroking in the direction the hair grows, (as opposed to patting the horse), a relaxed, passive stance, and avoiding eye contact, are all reassuring behaviors to a horse, which allow horses to learn.

On Sunday, Dr. Miller used videos to demonstrate the advantages of imprinting newborns. He also mentioned the two most common mistakes made with imprint training. The mistake of rushing the initial training is most commonly made by men, while the mistake of failing to perform the follow-up training is most commonly made by women. I obviously need to learn more about imprint training before I decide whether or not to try it.

Stay tuned. My next post will cover the presentations of Jon Ensign demonstrating ground work with a 2 year old.

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