Suddenly, the Horse Said “Yes”

Last two days, something remarkable has happened with Nazir: he suddenly said “yes”.

Let me explain…

the horse said yes...

When I got Nazir, he wasn’t really motivated to do anything except eating. Didn’t like lunging, groundwork, riding. Mostly, it was really hard to motivate him to do anything at all. His protest was silent and effective: he just didn’t move, was anchored to the ground. Whenever he noticed that we’re going direction riding arena, he grew roots.

It got a bit better once I started clicker training. With that, my entire approach to training changed, too. I used a lot more positive reinforcement. I analysed my training method and had to admit that it had involved a lot of negative reinforcement until that moment. It took some months to change my behavior. Habit is a bitch. As a result Nazir’s willingness to cooperate improved a lot. But still, quite often, he just said “no”. I had a hard time accepting that.

Then, last autumn, I got interested in the Academic Art of Riding as taught by Bent Branderup, mainly because I liked how calmly he teaches his horses, how they listen to him and give their best. His system is very logic, something that appeals to my inner German, and he can explain very well. I tried out some things, mainly groundwork, and found that Nazir responded quite well. He was more focused and seemed more eager to learn. But still, sometimes, he just said “no”.

I think it happened a few weeks ago that I just accepted my horse. I said goodbye to my fairy tale idea of him and saw him as he is: a bit overweight, hard to motivate, afraid of dogs, greedy, has “spooky days”. Of course, I didn’t stop seeing his good sides, but I just didn’t think anymore, “Oh, yeah, you’re afraid of that dog, get over yourself!” Instead, I focused more on helping him when he got frightened and doing something fun instead of training. I spend a lot of time with him on the pasture, rode him without saddle (quite a big thing for me; since my riding accident security was very important to me), worked mostly in walk, both on the hand and under the saddle. I taught him to react on the different positions of the whip in groundwork, taught him how to put more weight on his haunches in halt. All very unspectacular. Most of all, I began to trust him more.

Then, without any reason, or so it seemed, it happened. During our groundwork session yesterday, Nazir’s ‘motor’ finally started. I didn’t have to ask him all the time to walk more energetically, he just did. Round after round. After I stopped him to give him a treat, he was off again, in a good forward pace, listening to my aids and doing everything I wanted. Without discussion. Just like that. Then, today, the neighbour’s dog came running by the outdoor arena. Nazir is really afraid of this dog. His usual reaction would be “A dog! All run!!! Children and horses first!!!”, and I would try to hold on to the lunge line. I had prepared myself for the worst, Nazir went all tense, snorted that dragon snort, I told him “it’s ok, it’s just the dog”, and then: nothing happened! He was afraid like anything, I could see his heart beating in his chest, but he stayed with me. I patted him on the neck, told him he’s a good boy, and we stood there for a moment, observing how the killer dog vanished into the forest. And then, Nazir went back to work. Just like that.

For an observer, these things are hardly even noticeable. Knowing Nazir and his history, and our history, I’m so grateful that he decided to say “yes”, and that two days in a row. Knock on wood 🙂

4 Comments on “Suddenly, the Horse Said “Yes”

  1. This post sent chills down my body ! Beautiful, girl ! I must say that king of work is impressive ! And has started to get me thinking about that too… Will def look more into it !
    I didn’t know you had this blog will follow it more closely ! 😉

    • Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much 🙂 I really enjoy writing about this kind of stuff, very glad you like it! Cheers 🙂

  2. Bee,
    A few friends introduced me to Alexander Nevzorov (please look him up). While most of us can’t work with our horses in this way (he’s a tremendously talented horseman), we can start to make small, ethical changes. Like you and Nazir, I have been riding a little less, and working on the ground, plus spending time with him or pasture. I had precisely the same issues: planting feet on the ground, not moving — not on into the arena, but even into the tacking stall! Then I started to just ‘go with him’ against my trainer’s suggestions. He doesn’t like crossties (freaks out) so I don’t tied him, I just let the lead rope drape over a bar or tuck in under his chin so I can grab it quickly. He didn’t like concrete under his (non-shod) hooves, so I now tack him on the sandy floor instead. Some days I would put the saddle pads on and he would pull them off again. I began to look at his great sense of humor and laugh with him. I do plenty of walk work and I found out that he loves working over cavalletti poles (flat and raised) at trot. Trot is his favorite pace (he also has Upward Fixation of the Patella on his right hind (from racing days), so he’s not very happy when cantering, at least until he’s been warmed up for some time. I am happier with walking and trotting myself, se really we are well matched (I am 61, so don’t need speed). We ride some classical and some hunter hack, that’s it. Most of the time I just love TO BE with him. A few days ago I took him into the paddock on the lead rope (regular halter) and I was trotting him around, just doing ground work. He suddenly burst into a slow canter and bounced around happily. I let the rope out and he gave me a few ‘airs above the ground’, and then went back to trot. He seemed to be saying, “Now! You are getting it!” If we TRULY LISTEN to our horses, we will learn all we need to know. Captain Jack and Nazir are talking to us and we are listening now!
    Wishing you the best, thank you for the great articles and blogs!
    Nuala Galbari

    • Very well said 🙂 I think many people underestimate how important it is to just spend time with horses, and how much horses appreciate this. Many of course don’t have a lot of free time to just spend with the horse in the pasture, or just grooming, going for walks. And once you’re ‘not playing around anymore’ and need to win medals, I guess that’s out of the question, too. In the past few weeks I’ve somehow stopped expecting anything from Nazir. Spooky day? O.K., we work indoors. Grumpy? O.K., let’s play around. Not in the mood for anything? Let’s go grazing. Suddenly, he’s the most eager student ever. Wants to do stuff. Doesn’t want to leave the arena. Nazir! If you knew him like two years ago you would not believe it.
      Thanks very much for mentioning this horseman, I’ll check it out immediately 🙂
      What I like best about writing this blog is finding people who think alike, thanks so much for stopping by!

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