Posted on Thursday, April 3, 2014 by Heather Dodd
Practical horsemanship is based on the work of the legendary American horse trainer Monty Roberts, perhaps better known as a horse whisperer, with whom both Grant and Dan have worked. It is non-violent and involves exposing horses to situations they find stressful in a calm and progressive manner, always rewarding them by removing the stress as soon as they have shown some acceptance of it.
One of the two horses brought to the demonstration was Wise-Spares Bluecash, or Cash to his friends, a stunning six year old appaloosa stallion bred by NORC membern Nicki Bellenie. Nicki has bred, trained and shown Appaloosas for a number of years but, even with professional help, has been unable to ride Cash as everyone who has tried to sit on him has been bucked off. Cash was acknowledged by Grant to be ‘quite a challenge’.
Using a safe environment, a 20 metre diameter pen in the indoor arena at Babington Dressage owned by George Martin, Grant and Dan took Cash through a series of potentially stressful experiences. Initially Cash was worked around the pen loose and then on the lunge in both directions, and then a saddle was put on, something he has experienced before so that was not particularly stressful.
While Grant held him on a loose lunge line Cash was introduced to the idea of being ridden by Dan moving the end of a long pole from the ground to the saddle, followed by plastic bags tied to the end of the pole. Then a large gym ball was moved against Cash’s sides and onto the saddle. Each time that Cash showed acceptance he was rewarded by the object being removed and Grant giving him a stroke.
Then Wayne arrived. Wayne is a life-size dummy. Gradually Wayne was moved into position on the saddle and tied on firmly. At this point Cash showed his potential, bucking around the pen and doing his best to get Wayne off. But Wayne stayed put and fairly quickly Cash seemed to accept him.
Then it was Dan’s turn – everyone was holding their breath. Very slowly he lent over Cash, then Grant lifted him up and
down alongside Cash and incredibly, just 50 minutes after first coming into the pen, Dan was sitting on a fairly calm Cash who took his first few ridden steps without doing anything to get his rider off. Quite amazing! Owner Nicki described it as
‘absolutely magical’ and I suspect Cash may be seeing more of Grant!
The second horse, Sam, a beautiful black seven year old mare, presented a rather different, but perhaps more common problem. Sam is owned by George Martin and Cas Bear and, unlike Cash, can be ridden and has striking paces. But she experiences anxiety when exposed to different situations. So Grant and Dan set about desensitising her to a variety of objects, including the plastic bags on the long pole, the gym ball (Grant used her legs as goal posts and her back as a tennis net – no problem), a large blue umbrella and a hula hoop put back and forth over her head.
Despite some hesitation, once she had investigated each of these objects, Sam seemed to accept them all. Grant then brought a large sheet of blue crinkly tarpaulin into the pen, the sort that makes a lot of noise when you (or a horse) steps on it. He laid the tarp out and encouraged Sam to walk over it. There was no way she was going to do this, so he folded it into a small strip and she walked over that quite happily if somewhat exuberantly at times. Then the tarp was opened out again and once again she refused to move close. However, by going back to the narrow strip and repeating the exercise over and over again, with an ever increasing size of sheet, and with the help of sections of the pen being brought in behind her to increase the pressure to cross over, the session ended with Sam walking nonchalantly over the spread out tarp on her own, following Grant who was wielding the large blue umbrella and kicking the gym ball.
This demonstration was organised by NORC’s committee. NORC’s next demonstration is on Showing with Jo Bates and will be held on Wednesday 16 April – see NORC’s website for more information on this and other club activities