Thursday, May 10, 2012

Be the Captain of your Ship

 There is an attitude that every horse owner should attain before walking to the barn to greet their horse for whatever is planned for the day.  Like clothing, this attitude is the uniform that the horse will see every time.  It is calm, quiet, slow moving, consistent for every contact with the horse whether it be feeding time, training, pleasure time or competition. 

Stack the cards in your favor, every single time, so you will succeed.  This may not be the most fun part of working with a horse, but it is the most important part to insure safety for all. It is necessary every single time so that the fun part will be there for you when you have built the confidence for yourself and the horse has the same confidence in you.  Whether it be for riding or driving, this holds true for all equines, minis, mules etc. 

Ask your trainer or mentor for a protocol for each and every drive you make.  Go through that exact same routine every time.  You will know what to do and so will your horse.  I would not ride or drive with others until you can keep to your protocol even in the presence of others.   Stick to organized activities and lessons for as long as it takes to gain the confidence and skill to know how to react, better yet, avoid situations that can put an abrupt end to the sport you are pursuing.  It is work, costs a bundle in lessons, equipment and commitment....but, it can pay off wonderfully in a lifetime of accomplishment and pleasure.

You must be the Captain of your Ship.

Protocol is a definite set of rules or actions that one performs to insure a safe ride or drive.  It is understood by you and the horse.  If one step is missed, you are courting disaster.  Think of it as a "pre-flight check list" that a pilot does each and every time they take the plane out to fly.  There is a definite protocol to be followed by the law and by common sense.  In driving, protocol is the routine....Routine.  I can't stress how important it is especially for a new driver or an inexperienced horse.

Sometimes people think I am distant and not too friendly in public.  What is really happening is I am focused and following my routine to make sure my horse and I will have a safe and successful drive.  I try to analyze and make decisions about everything right down to who I choose to drive my horse near if I am in a group.  There is a reason I do everything I do with a horse because not only is my life at stake...but my horse and the people and animals around me.  Driving is serious business and can be great fun, but it is serious business and one must treat it as such.

It is good to take lessons from trainers.  Learn what their protocol or routine is for every drive.  Then here comes the thinking part of it for have to think and assess if it is correct for your situation and act accordingly.  If you have questions, ask your trainer but try and think for yourself.  You can't lean on trainers for ever.  You must try and gain the ability to assess situations for yourself and make decisions that will be best for you.  You know yourself better than anyone and by doing what is best for you, you are taking responsibility for you and your horse and being the "Captain of your Ship".

Things to consider are:

  • How often do you drive your horse and what do you need to do to prepare him for work?  If he has been out to pasture all winter, bring him back to the barn for a few days to get into "work mode" and re-establish your routine.  Remember how it is going back to work after vacation? can take a little time to get back into the groove...aka:  routine.   Get your equipment out and ready to use (don't do like I sometimes do and remember my sunglasses after I am hooked).  Think ahead to avoid having to leave the horse unattended or at risk of moving before giving the "go ahead" command. 

  • Groom what is only necessary to insure no dirt under harness parts.  In other words, don't spend an hour aggravating a horse getting him spotless before you go out and get him dirty.  Do the bulk of your grooming after work.  His coat is warm and releases hair, dirt and sweat more readily after work.

Teach horse to stand while harnessing and hooking.
  • Harness efficiently and exactly in the same way every time.  Never hurry and expect the horse to stand and wait until you ask for movement.  You don't see the passengers telling the captain to hurry up and cast off.  It is the captain's decision...every time. 

  • Lead the horse to the vehicle in the same way every time.  I lead by the reins near the bit and make a big circle to the left and stop in front of the carriage.  If at home, hook him in the same place every time.

Take your time and your horse will expect to wait.

The captain directs the helper every step of the way.
  • Make your actions exactly the same each time...your horse has a computer for a brain and wants routine.  He wants to be assured of what is coming next.  It is a secure  feeling for him.  It is like having a job description where one knows what is expected.  

  •  When hooking, do it yourself and don't let people stampede you into doing things differently or their way  (unless you are working on what is correct with your trainer or mentor).  If you need help, direct the person to take your orders and stress the importance of doing things your way.

  • Be careful of having headers for your horse.  Some people can bring their nervous energy to you horse's head and make your horse nervous.  They grab and hang on when they shouldn't, or do nothing when they should.  Just be careful and explicit in your directions if you have help.  Stress calm and quiet.

First time hooking keeping it short and simple.
  • Keep your initial drives short, purposeful and direct your horse every step of the way.  Don't "showboat" like the captain of the Costa Concordia or deviate from your plans. 

  • Keep working with a trainer or mentor and employ your own brain in the decision making process.  Just don't take orders.  Start taking command and know why you are doing what you are doing.  

  • Training (every time one touches a horse, they are training or UN-training) is a serious business.  I continue to learn from the best.  What is taught is so simple, yet so hard to achieve.  Simplicity is the challenge. 

I am still on my learning journey.  All I can do is give you something to think about.  It is your journey and your responsibility...wear it confidently like a uniform.

             Assume command of your ship! 

Driving my favorite ship "Lance"   photo by  grandson  Caleb Ott