Friday, May 31, 2013

Hard to Get (Tex, the Kentucky mountain horse 2)

I took Tex for a spin in the Pocahontas State Park late Saturday afternoon. He proved to be a solid trail horse. We negotiated traffic, herds of deer, creeks, wooden bridges, and fallen trees without a single problem. He’s been at the farm for a week now, getting settled into his new digs. He has demonstrated that he is hard to catch. So, he’s still in the “new guys corral” and not in the big field with the rest of the geldings. Another rider had worked with him earlier in the week. As predicted, she had trouble catching him. She finally caught him using what the boss called “that Parelli thing, where you chase them around the ring.” When I went to fetch him up, I could get close to him, but when I reached for him, he would bolt. I decided to try “that Parelli thing” myself.

The method is not unique to the Parelli program, it is used by many practitioners of natural horsemanship. It takes advantage of a horses natural instincts and social behavior. This technique uses how a horse sees itself in the herd hierarchy of the animals and people around it. In its’ simplest terms, the horse or human that can make another horse move, outranks that horse. It combines that with what a horse perceives as aggressive, friendly, or passive actions and positioning.

I started by taking up a passive position near the horse, or in country boy terms, “acting like I wasn’t up to nothing”. I stood sort of sideways to him, facing in the opposite direction from him. I fiddled with a handful of hay. I hoped this made it look like I wasn’t interested in him. He’d already shown that he was curious, but was mistrustful of bribes. I fiddled with my hay and slowly zigzagged towards him. I was careful not to face him, but kept him in my peripheral vision. If he took a step away from me, I took a step away from him, but continued zigzagging toward him. I eventually got by his shoulder, close enough to touch him. I kept a “friendly position, standing beside him facing the opposite direction, the way two horses stand when they’re scratching each other’s withers. I knew that if I reached for him, he would bolt, so I waited for him to reach his nose toward me. When he did, I put my hand toward his halter, and he took off.

This is where the running around part comes in. The concept is, that the one who can make the other one move has a higher rank in the herd. When Tex bolted, he didn’t run away, he just moved well out of my reach. The important thing here is that HE made that decision. In other words, Tex was controlling the movement. To change that, I swung the lead rope toward him to move him away from me. It didn’t matter which direction, or what gait, he was moving because I wanted him to. When he wanted to stop, I swung the rope faster and moved toward him to keep him moving. I pushed him around the fence line like that for several laps. When I wanted him to stop, I swung the rope forward of him, picked up a handful of hay, and began zigzagging toward him again.

The second round went about the same as the first, so I pushed him around the corral again. The third time, he allowed me to take him by the halter. Tex is a joy to ride, but we’ll need to work on the first step in that process.

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