In December there was a ‘Can You’ in the Horseman’s Jingle called ‘Can You Move the Feet with the Snap?’ Before I looked at the instructional video for this one, I thought ‘This is going to be a piece of cake!’ All of my ponies are taught to lead with feel rather than being tugged on. I use rope halters with heavy snaps on the leads, and when the snaps move, it puts pressure on the halters that the ponies learn to associate with moving their feet. When I got to the instructional video, though, I smiled. There was more to this than the words implied!
A few months ago when I ran across information on the senses of the horse, it was the sense of touch that most caught my attention. It was first about using touch as a way to offer reassurance. But then I started pondering the idea of contact they can feel versus I can feel. I have read often the reminder that horses can feel a single fly alight on their flank; they are very sensitive. Pat Parelli makes the distinction between touching the air, the hair, the skin, and the muscles. This ‘Can You’ was about seeing just how light you can be with movement of the snap before you get a reaction. When do they feel you making contact? Is it before you feel the contact?
What an incredibly humbling experience. As one of my Jingle friends said after she tried it, “I’m such a brute!” The ponies can feel the slightest movement, yet so often I use way more than that to communicate with them. I’m essentially shouting at them through their sense of touch. With my two work ponies who are the most responsive to me, it took hardly any deflection of the snap at all before they moved their feet, and that was using web halters (what I had handy) versus rope halters.
Today I decided to see how much shouting my Fell Pony stallion Guards Apollo was accustomed to. When we first started, I had the snap way above horizontal and was tugging to get him to back up. Part of the problem was poor footing, part of it was having a mare standing in the way, and the rest was that we hadn’t done anything like this in awhile. So the answer was that he needed me to shout before his feet moved. Within five minutes, though, you can see in the picture that the snap got just to horizontal. If I hadn’t been focused on taking the picture, I’m sure we could have gotten at least to a 45 degree deflection as Apollo is usually pretty responsive. (I would have had my other arm free to keep the mare out of the way!)
This is the sort of exercise that I can play with no matter the weather. It’s definitely given me a lot to think about. Just how much contact do I really need to use, whether through the snap or via a bit even? It’s amazing to think what our relationship could be and what we could do if I could just ‘whisper’ at them all the time.
© Jenifer Morrissey