Self workers

In my last column, I said I would go into more detail concerning three ways we can encourage horses to become “self workers.”

This self-working capability is what makes them truly valuable as well as making it more satisfying for those of us who partner with horses.

The worst part about doing nothing is we can’t stop and rest. Rest is a great motivator. Although horses can work hard, they also like to hang out for a bit now and then. To keep from souring horses, or worse yet having them balk (freeze up), it is good to rest horses at critical times and places.

The more sensitive we are to that, the more we can actually help horses become self-workers who enjoy what they do and encourage them to venture more places. If they associate rest – and a possible bite to eat – in between increments of work, they are more likely to develop more self-responsibility. In an arena, I like to rest horses in the center periodically because they usually gravitate toward the gates since most people give them rest when they leave the arena. In a round pen, they usually like the center so I rest them in different positions along the fence (usually not at a gate).

Horses naturally give us resistance leaving the barn area. To counter that, it is good to let them eat grass out away from home. We can also take some grain with us in some saddlebags and grain them out away from the barn periodically.

The way horses were used in the past, this was a normal way of doing things. They were rested and fed in town or neighboring farms and ranches. I mentioned before that the loggers rested their horses at the cutting and staging areas, working them between the two. Smart farmers rested their horses at the end of each row before they turned them around and headed the other direction.

Another way to help horses enjoy what they are doing is for us to work on the flow of communication and smoothness in work. Most of us have worked with people who were lousy communicators and blamed us for their own inadequacies.

I like to point out that one of the major differences between good and evil is whether cues or warnings are present or not. Surprises from lack of communication are not welcome to any of us. The major difference between a good horseperson and a bad one is that a good horseman has crystal clear body language and voice sounds that help cue a horse before correction, which in turn produces a beautiful smoothness and flow that helps all involved enjoy work more. We should never under rate the value of good communication magnifying great teamwork.

Positive peer pressure also helps to motivate self-workers. This evolves in part from the smoothness and flow of teamwork. Horses develop good habits from being in the company of horses that have mastered impulsion. Great horsemen of the past have had older horses teach their younger students by hitching them up together as a team (apprentice style rather than the modern crash course methodology).

When riding, I like to see riders teaming up together much like the U.S. cavalry used to move. This gets teams of horses and riders keying into each other to practice impulsion together. Great habits practiced together help with great self control individually.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. His columns are posted online at Email:

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