Raise your hand if you are confident enough to throw a rope while riding your horse, catch the hind leg of another horse, dally that rope, and stop the horse from running away! That's one masterful, challenging technique, that can go wrong very quickly.
If you're not that confident and skilled, which most people aren't, then why do trainers show off these types of techniques? Do they somehow expect you to be able to do that too?
Have you ever watched a horse training video where the trainer gets on a young horse and bucks the horse out until the horse stops bucking? Can you do that? Should you do that? If you cant, then why do trainers insist on showing these extreme training methods? Are they showing off? Are there real applications for these methods? Are these extreme methods even humane? With your permission, I want to share my thoughts on the matter.
First of all, these extreme techniques may not be as inhumane as they seem, more on that in a second, but these methods, such as roping a hind leg, are extraordinarily tricky to do right and can end in disaster. So if you're considering using extreme tricks to get through to a tough horse or mule, think twice before trying to be a cowboy. I've seen horses react so poorly that they permanently damage muscle, or spirit, or worse. One time I saw a horse flip over backward and die instantly when his head hit the nearby fence post. In short, you must exercise caution and there are probably other methods, less extreme methods, that will get the same job done.
Now because these methods, like holding a horse's leg by a rope or bucking a horse out for the first time are so dangerous for obvious reasons, that does not mean they are inhumane if done correctly. Here's why...
If a domestic horse or mule is unwilling to participate in our human activities, that horse has two options left in life. One... if she's lucky, she'll be left to a home that only feeds and watches from a distance (which can only last so long before feet have to be trimmed or health has to be managed in some way) or two... she'll be sent to slaughter. The most humane thing to do is to help that horse adapt to human life and participate with a sense of peace. Extreme strategies can be very effective with extreme horses, in part because it can make almost instant changes if done right, rather than dragging out a slower process. This benefits the animal immediately. Think about it like this... Is one really hard day better than one hundred less hard days? Extreme fixes, if done right, shorten the amount of time to bring the horse to peace about human activities. If done wrong, however, it may injure or destroy the animal's body or spirit (and maybe you too) in the process. What I'm trying to say is, if the horse has limited options and if you have limited time, extreme strategies can work, but there are still other methods.
That means you don't have to rely on extreme strategies if you have an extreme horse or mule. You don't have to buck out a horse or rope a hind leg. You can do it the slow way. You can influence that animal to love and trust you, and over time, enjoy participating in human activities. If you've been taught to push a bucking horse forward, I apologize on behalf of smart horse trainers that are dumb people trainers. Not everyone can do that and not everyone should. There are other methods. If you've been taught to tie a horse to a rail and flag out the horse, again, I apologize on behalf of creative horse trainers that are dumb people trainers. If you've been taught that to start a colt you have to buck them out in a round pen, which most people can't do, I apologize on behalf of great bronc riders who think other people should also be that good before they break a colt.
Mastery horsemanship doesn't ignore the value of extreme strategies but it doesn't lead you directly to them. Mastery is about finding out how to get through to your animal without extreme measures, which requires less technical expertise, which means anyone can do it. That's right, anyone can start a young horse and live to do it again. It doesn't matter how old you are or how skilled you are. If you think you can't work with a young or challenging horse because you can't do those extreme methods, you've been misled by old traditions. If you know other methods, you can safely navigate the most challenging horse experiences. Mastery horsemanship can help you do that. In fact, within the Horse Mastery Group, we guide individuals to start their own horses, gain their full confidence, maintain integrity through training, and follow their dreams. Check it out, try it for a month. Follow your dream.
I won't leave you high and dry here. I spoke of other methods and here is one of many. Consider the roping of the hind leg technique... what's the main goal there? The principle is to prove to the horse that if he remains calm he can have his legs, but if he reacts poorly, one leg is taken away. This causes the horse to make a quick mental shift in our favor because life is good when he's calm related to our activities like saddling and mounting, and life is really not good when he's not calm. That extreme polarized experience can be effective. But we can follow the same principle of "good if you do, bad if you don't" by taking away something else he values besides his own legs. We could reserve his food or water, only giving it to him when he allows us to stand next to him, grooming him with a halter on. For the first few days, he wouldn't like the idea, but pretty quickly he'd realize that he doesn't eat unless he allows us into his life and space. "Good if you do, bad if you don't." Rest assured there are even more techniques. Use your imagination, what do horses value. Can you trade that value for something you value?
And back to the question of humane treatment... is it okay to take something from the horse in trade for what you want? If you own a horse and you answered no, you're not seeing clearly, because you're already trading. You've placed a fence around him to hold him in view. You've traded his freedom for your pleasure. I know that's extreme but it's true. The only safe bet is that you truly love and honor your horse's experience in our world. Which lends to the truth that you are humane about his experience. So the answer to the question is yes, it is okay to trade something he values for something you want. Just do it in an elegant fashion. Give him what he needs when he gives you something in return.
If you have a horse that's hard to catch, you can stand over his daily food pile until he allows you to touch him with your hand or a rope, then walk away and let him eat in peace. Within a few days, he will let you catch him easily. Don't just toss the food over the fence and hope one day he'll let you put a halter on.
If you have a horse that bucks with the saddle, don't just get on and ride it out. Ask him not to buck every time, then ask for forward again. Play the don't buck game until he can go forward without bucking. You don't have to push him through it. There are other methods.
Consider the principle one last time. Is there something my horse values, food, water, oxygen, movement, herd mates, freedom, etc. that I can give to him after he or she gives something simple to me? If you can answer that, you are one step closer to leadership. If you can do it elegantly, you are one step closer to mastery!
As always, I love to hear your comments. Please comment and share this with your friends.
"May the horse be with you." :)