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Feel and Release, Part II

Published: 9/2/2015
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

Read Part One

I jumped out of the way, and sat there thinking while Jack went to pacing manically back and forth along the panel.
I watched him for a moment, walking a straight line to the end of the panel where he'd tip his nose right and bring his hips under him to the left, back a step, and bring his shoulders through to the right to walk a straight line over to the next line and repeat the opposite, tipping his nose left to bring his hind to the right.

He'd worked up quite a sweat, but I admired his footwork. It was better than most of what I was getting purposefully with many of my horses when I'd ask them to move their hind ends and then bring the front across.

So, I stepped in behind him, and played around with the movement for a bit. I pretended those movements were at my request and I was working him loose as if in a round pen, and when he took his hips left I held my imaginary lead rope to send him back out on the straight line. I continued just shifting back and forth with him; to the outsider it must have been absolutely dizzying. But I was hoping and praying for a change as he paced the panel.

After a few minutes I stopped weaving with him, and he stopped and tipped his ear to me. Success! I asked him to go back out because I knew he couldn't stay long, and we played a bit more.

This time, when he reached the end of the panel and would typically tip his nose toward the panel, I asked him to tip his nose away from the panel by stepping out away from him to draw him, and travel in a straight line toward the trailer. He followed that feel pretty well for a few strides and circled back to the panel to do his dance. After a few times of doing this, I was able to walk along side him toward the trailer. He followed me for a moment happily, but then changed again.

Instead of following me, he began charging me, and dropped his shoulder toward me as he picked up the pace in his walk. I almost had to laugh – he was driving me into the trailer!

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that was what he was doing, as he walked a straight line toward the trailer with me bumping along in front of him. He actually loaded up this way a few times, and finally after a few attempts at closing the gate, he quit his lightning speed kicks at any noise behind him and settled, loose and relaxed, in the trailer. I shut the trailer door and we drove him to his destination.

During the ride, I thought about the experience. For weeks afterwards, I was still thinking about it. If I'd used pressure and release with Jack, I truly believe things could have been very different, and probably not that pretty in the end.

He might have loaded, but would he have been calm?

What kind of life had Jack experienced to make him so confrontational?

Things were fine with him as long as he was moving me around, but if I tried to move him, he was willing to go as far as he could to make his point clear, even to the point of hurting himself.
This brought me back to my original question of what was the “right” thing to do? In the end, Jack did load in the trailer and he did so without being troubled, scared, or upset. He was willing to stay in there without being tied or restrained in any way. Though he probably didn't carry a desirable frame of mind while crowding me into the trailer, it was a good change from what he'd been before.
And as for me, I got what I wanted as well, which was to load Jack in the trailer without getting him hurt, and more importantly, without getting myself hurt. Was it right? I'm not sure, but it was successful.
Each situation with each horse is different at every moment, and we can't ever realistically follow a “path” or “pattern” without finding some gray areas where we just aren't sure. With a little creativity, a little luck, and hopefully some good feel, maybe we can learn something from these and find success, too.

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9/3/2015 Rob
If you're not trying something different you're not learning ,isn't that what some clinicians say? Well done. Rob
9/22/2015 Larry
Seems you made it the horse's idea to get in the trailer....that is what the horsemen suggest right? The tough part is being herded by a horse may not be the safest approach for most folks, however in this case you trusted him for a reason. Perhaps your judgment to trust him was a calculated risk that hit pay dirt this time.
10/13/2015 Amy
Larry - that was something I toyed with in my mind for sure...Having a horse herd me around is not generally my idea of safety, but the alternative here was having Jack run through a fence and seriously injure himself, or do worse than herd me, putting me in a more unsafe position. It was an interesting thing to consider. I chose to let him herd me because he was already familiar with that type of behavior and understood it more than being moved by a person. I sure wouldn't be herded around by my own horses, but this was an extreme situation. That sure is a fine line to walk sometimes, to move a horse and to let them move you. I'm finding the answers aren't always as black and white as I'd once thought and been taught ("you move the horse's feet, not the other way around.")

"No one can teach riding so well as a horse" - CS Lewis