Our goal is to develop our equine partnerships so that the rewards from the connection are equal to both humans and horses. When we consider the horse’s point of view first, we then know the best way to present our idea. When are able to communicate within their world, we are able to build deeper, more meaningful and trusting relationships. The better our horsemanship is, the deeper our communication becomes, and the more we honour our horses. Our horse development program is grounded in this philosophy, and we work systematically through each stage, building upon each success.
Work in hand (walking beside the horse), allows us to get very picky about the horse’s posture and movement, ensuring that he is using his body correctly so that he is not at risk of injury down the road. We will also guide the horse over and around many different obstacles such as poles on the ground and barrels; weave through cones; walk over tarps and plywood; etc. This helps him to become very aware of where his feet are (they’re a long way from his head, after all!) and become very intentional in where he is stepping, become confident stepping on different surfaces, and further develop his balance and coordination.
Working on the lunge line has the horse on a much longer line, moving in a circle around us. In this way, we are able to practice our voice commands to ensure that the horse understands the verbal cues that we will be using from the carriage. We practice moving between the walk, trot, and halt, looking for good quality of movement in each gait, and clean transitions between gaits. We want the horse to be extremely responsive to our voice, as this is the primary way in which we communicate from the carriage. It is especially important that when we say “WHOA,” the horse comes to an immediate stop, and stays stopped until we ask him otherwise. Brake check!
We also spend a lot of time handling the horse all over, making sure that he is comfortable being touched on all parts of his body, that he holds his feet up nicely for the farrier, and that he accepts things like baths and haircuts as part of his normal routine.
The other major part of our foundation work is desensitizing. We introduce the horse to all kinds of sights, sounds, and sensations, to develop his confidence and trust and ensure that he is not likely to spook at some of the strange things he might encounter downtown. This work includes touching his body with soft ropes, flags, and flapping tarps; exposing him to loud noises and sudden movements; and anything else we can come up with to convince him that humans are indeed strange creatures, who do very odd things on a regular basis, but mean him no harm! This video shows Roy learning to navigate obstacles without Brianna’s assistance (he’s willingly following her).
Once we are satisfied that the horse has a solid foundation, then we begin to work him in harness. We start by simply ground driving, where he is fully harnessed not hooked to anything, we just walk along behind him. We repeat many of the same obstacles and such that we did in his earlier training, and ensure that he is responding to our voice commands correctly and walking confidently without being able to see us. You can see Roy’s progress in this video. Then we progress to hooking to different implements such as harrows or logs to practice our precision. This is also where we start getting the horse more physically fit.
Next, we move to a 2-wheeled cart, and then the 4-wheeled carriage. We start by driving the vehicle in the our working ring, and then we start to tour the neighbourhood. We are fortunate to be situated in an ideal area for horse training, where we have some very quiet country roads around the farm that see very little traffic, but we are also close to a couple different communities where we can practice navigating through stop signs, traffic lights, and increasingly busy traffic. We gradually move onto busier roads, allowing time for the horse to become accustomed to pedestrians, bicycles, buses, trucks, motorcycles, construction zones, and all the different sights and sounds that come with city life. Ultimately, we work up to driving through the industrial park, always busy with big trucks, and make a left hand turn that has us in the centre lane with two lanes of traffic on either side of us. When the horse can navigate this demand confidently, we know that he is ready to come downtown (discussed further in Part 3).