When I first began to learn about working horses in addition to riding them, I was taught to use a dressage whip with a plastic bag, a rope halter, and a series of lead ropes of varying lengths. There were a number of things that stand out about this method: first, I learned that if you really want to get the horse’s attention, that plastic bag will do the trick; second, I learned that I am not an expert rope handler and never will be. More often than not, I’d end up smacking myself in the face with the leather end of the rope. There were weeks on end when I sported red welts to prove it. My trainer urged more practice with the rope, tied to the fence: I was hopeless.
In the round pen, I was so klutzy that once, chasing an “impudent” horse around with the stick and bag, I fell and caught myself on a jump in the middle, collecting a splinter the size of a fountain pen. Even after a trip to the ER for removal, I didn’t think, “Hey, this type of training is not for me.” This was cowboy training, pure and simple. Natural Horsemanship, slightly feminized, applied by a skilled and powerful woman who taught me a lot. Still not for me.
And not enough. Not enough of the right stuff. When I took a clinic with Frank Bell, I had a grand old time. Because my trainer had recently been studying his methods, and went on to become one of his certified trainers, I had already learned most everything Frank taught in that clinic, and I was proud of my mare when she performed like a superstar. Frank is such a gentle man, who emphasizes safety above all else. But in addition to the crucial addition of hands-on work, he also uses the rope and rope halter in his work. So participants got to see me flailing about again. At least I didn’t hurt myself in public.
For a while I was enamored of Clinton Anderson and Pat Parelli. Both use sticks and rope halters in their training. After seeing Clinton Anderson in a demo in Texas, I left feeling that for him, a horse was a unit to be processed, and nothing more. There was no heart or empathy in his training, no emotional congruence. He only wanted the right behavior at the right time. Once Anderson was done with a horse, he was done with the horse. There’s one bit of equipment of Clinton Anderson’s I do adore, and that is his Aussie Tie Ring. Horses who pull back when tied are a danger to themselves and property. I don’t own tie rings because I’ve never needed them, but if I did, you can be sure I’d have a pair.
I’ve never seen Pat Parelli in person. I certainly know that his television shows and DVDs are inspiring, but it’s a fine bit of merchandising and showmanship. I love watching him walk around an arena moving a horse about with just his body language. Seems like magic. But what are we missing between takes? What’s left after that? I admire anyone who can teach themselves how to use all his tools and skills without attending the dozens of clinics normally required.
The woman who took over my old barn in Afton is Parelli certified, and boyo is she a skilled trainer. Her horses turn out beautifully. She is not a bully, and her horses reflect that. But when I moved on to a barn farther away, where most of the training is done in the saddle, I missed the opportunity of watching ground work. I was the only one who did anything like that, and it was frowned upon. No round pen, a very large arena, full of jumps of all sizes, and suddenly I lost the desire to do the work. It showed in Maira’s behavior. Until I met Linda Tellington-Jones.
I’d love to know what, if any, tools you folks out there use in your ground work, and how you use them.
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