A few weeks ago I had the great good fortune to interview Doc Hammill, a nationally known horsemanship instructor. The time flew by because we share so many interests and had so much to talk about. His specialty is draft animals, and I was fascinated to hear him say the same thing that many of the other horsemanship instructors I’ve studied say. Every moment we are with our equines, we are training them, whether we want to or not. Then he took it one step further, saying that he felt that all the time we spend with our equines outside formal training sessions actually has a bigger impact on the success we have with our hoofed friends than the formal training.
When I was picking up manure in the foaling shed yesterday, Willowtrail Spring Maiden was ‘helping.’ I could have just ignored Madie, but I’ve come to recognize an opportunity when it’s presented to me. So I picked up each of her feet, and asked her to yield her forequarters and hindquarters from each side. I also asked her to back up with a touch on the nose and then a touch on the chest. We also worked a little on boundaries, since I’m down at her level while doing the job and she explores how close she can get and with what part of her body.
Later in the day, I was giving Willowtrail Liberty her evening bucket, and Lunesdale Silver Belle came to see if she could get in on the action. Since Ellie is the dominant mare, it’s my responsibility to keep Ellie away from Libby and her bucket until Libby has finished her snack. Sometimes I just scratch Ellie in all her favorite places, but today I decided to work on Ellie’s yields. I asked her to back up by placing my hand on her nose and then her chest. And I asked her to step under herself both front and hind to disengage the forequarters and hindquarters. We worked on each one of these until we got good quality ones, and her reward was lots of praise and a good scratch on her withers.
The snatches of time I spent with Madie and Ellie can seem small and insignificant. Talking with Doc Hammill, though, reminded me that those sorts of sessions build toward a better working relationship down the road.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011