Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Being on Tom Time

Tom giving young horse time to see where it is being directed

directing into the water for the first time when horse became ready

"let's just stand here and think more about the water and being directed into it"....look at Tom's body language in photos

What, you may ask, is Tom Time? 

Anyone who knows horse trainer Tom Simmons laughs at this question after having learned first hand what it means.  For a horse...it means not having to be under pressure to learn quicker than it can.  This is a good thing for a horse who knows nothing about the concept of time, and a bad thing for us who have to be somewhere at a particular time or get a job done by a time frame.   Humans are driven by the clock...except for Tom.  I swear, Tom is part horse.  He thinks like a horse.  I have known the man for almost 20 years and he is NEVER in a hurry for anything.  A great trait that any horse can and does appreciate. 

The best way to train a horse is like growing an onion.  Layer after layer after layer around a good core.  THEY say that time is money.  Who is they?   Tom  trains a horse the only way I think makes perfect sense.  His "ideal" way is to have the horse come live at his farm for a year or so.  Of course it is not a full monthly training fee for that long (usually a flat training fee and monthly board); but, it does allow time for the horse to adapt and think about the process without feeling pressure.  This gives a very successful and solid foundation for whatever specialized training may follow.  Here, is where going slow is actually the fastest way of achieving an end.

The reality is that most people can't leave their horses with the trainer for however long is necessary.  They are on a time frame and money is a big concern.  Instilling a complete foundation can take as little as 3 months, but success depends on how the owner will understand what has been added, and follow suggestion on how to proceed to reinforce and perpetuate the good habits instilled.

 Foundation is everything.  Here is where many folks don't even realize just what it is the horse needs for a complete foundation.  I have never known a horse that Tom has trained give it's owner a dangerous time.  I have seen him work at things that no ordinary person or trainer would think of doing with a horse.  What is added (in the way of another layer) will give the horse a sense of security, a sense of purpose, a sense that he can satisfy the human, a developed habit to willingly obey, a complete job description (if you will) in how to act around humans.  The horse is taught how to reply to discipline.  The horse is given a  "peace zone"  where they have a reference place to go when things become scary or overwhelming for them.  If things go really bad, the horse knows to override the instinct to run and stands instead.  I like that layer!  I have been in a place where I made a bad decision and instead of my horse blowing up to run and get us both hurt, he simply stayed in place until I could extricate us from my driver error that caused a turnover.  Many layers are added with a "soaking in" period in between.  There is no recipe he follows...it is the individual horse that determines how to proceed and what is needed and taught. 

Tom does not believe that it is necessary to ride an unbroken horse in one hour.  I actually have seen him do just that pulling a youngster out of pasture and under saddle in less than an hour.  She was unusual though, and even though she was totally agreeable, you could not say she was trained by a long shot. 

After thinking about what horse folk are exposed to on the RFD (rural farm delivery) channel on TV in the way of horse training techniques, I thought I'd give my opinion of what is the best way to train a modern day horse.  I say modern day horse because although the horse may not have undergone very many changes in the last 100 years, the way we use horses definitely has changed.  Except for pockets of religious groups that ascribe to old ways of doing things, aficionados that want to keep tradition alive, and working cowboys, horses have become a luxury item of sport, fanciers and recreational use.  No longer are they used for every day transportation or work. 

Most every horse owner fancies themselves as being a horse trainer and unless they are wanting to do something specialized, most feel there can't be too much to training.  Just watching a few shows of the horse fare on TV will make some feel they can go out there and do it themselves.  It really doesn't work that way.  Modern folk, unless they can devote all day every day working with many different horses, don't have the time, experience or judgement to make a decision as to how to proceed with a horse or even know when a horse has learned and can move on to the next step.

A modern day horse needs to be trained to be able to put up with what is lacking in the human.  Sure, one can send their horse to a professional trainer for a few months and then it comes home to an owner that will be less competent than the professional.  So the horse slowly comes undone. The professional should build into the training of the horse, the acceptance by the horse to the mistakes that WILL be made.  How many horse trainers do this?  Very few.  I find it sad and dangerous to see folks bring the horse home only to have a wreck.  The weekend comes, or they test the horse immediately on arrival home, over facing it with the different feel and lack of consideration for the horse's perspective, firing it up just like they would an automobile come back from the mechanic. 

After all, one plans on having this animal for it's lifetime and build a great bond and possibly achieve great heights in sport, or just have a safe family horse that anyone can safely ride or drive.  Why should training take 30 days...or 3 months? It is a process that lasts a lifetime.  The horse deserves a good foundation.
I reflect on my horse career and see that the really important thing with a horse is to not have an agenda that does not include consideration for what the horse needs in the way of "time" to process.  Time to have layer of success build on layer of success.  Time to react, time to proceed confidently...TIME...ALL in good time. 

Here is a Tom quote: "Don't let where you want to go stampede you"  In other words, take your time for it will be time well spent.

going this fast came as a slow process