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Murray’s Mustang, part five

Published: 1/12/2012
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Editor's Note:
A few years ago, John Murray of Sebago, Maine, adopted a young Bureau of Land Management mustang. He graciously agreed to write about his horsemanship journey for our pages. What follows is the fifth of several installments.

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Three
Read Part Four

By John Murray


One day I was hanging with Nitro for a while in his corral and I started to walk away.  Outside his fence I noticed some wild daisies that had stems that must have been at a least three feet tall.  I pulled a bunch of them from the ground, roots and all, and threw them into his pen.   I thought he might find them interesting and maybe even tasty. I was just curious what he would do with funny looking plant.
Sure enough he walked over to them, sniffed, snorted and nudged them with his nose.  Then he picked them up in his mouth at the root end.  He was not ready for the half dozen or so daisies that were hovering in mid-air about three feet from his left eye.
In his mind they were attack daisies.  To his surprise as he spun to get away from them, those attack daisies were following him.  Not only that, but they were speeding up just as fast as he was.  Several revolutions later he figured out that if he dropped them, they would stop following him.  
During this whole episode he did the nicest spin you ever did see.  He was smooth, fluid and precise.  It was as nice as any spin I’ve seen done in reining competition.  
I had a revelation at that moment. 
My horse does not need me to train him. 
He already knows what to do.  He knows how to go forward, backward, sideways, and spin.  He already knows how to walk, trot and canter.  So, it’s not so much about training a horse as it is motivating a horse to do what you want, when you want. 
How a person applies that motivation is the key to success or failure.
I had worked with my good friend, Donna West, for two summers in a row but she was not going to be able to come to Maine the next summer.  Her business was taking her elsewhere in the country. 
I went looking for an alternative. 
I had visited Piper Ridge Farm in Limerick  the previous fall and audited a clinic being put on by Libby Lyman.  I had only a few hours to spare that day but I was impressed with what I saw.  So, I signed up for her five-day clinic.  It was the best five days I’ve ever had with my horse and I made some wonderful human friends as well.
I remember one particular lesson where we were taught a technique and all of us were trying to get it just right.  Now, I am a very logical thinker.  I think in terms of; do step A, before step B, then do step C.  I wanted to know how long I should do the first step before moving on to the next.  I was trying to quantify it with a time.  So, I asked Libby how long I should do it and suggested three seconds may be long enough. 

She told me to “follow the feel.” 
Follow the feel???
That’s not a number!  That didn’t answer my question the way I was expecting.  I was expecting a number.  The answer I got blew my mind. I was taking the wrong approach to, not only this lesson, but everything I had ever done.  I needed to unlearn my logical approach to situations and connect with the horse's mind and his emotions.
Midway through the clinic, Nitro was in the round pen with me but his mind was elsewhere.  In his head he was with his new found buddies that he had just met that week and all he wanted was to be with them. 
He could care less about me. Round and round he went trying to find a way out. Libby gave me instruction on how to get his mind back on me. It took a while but on one particular revolution I saw a change.
A better description was that I felt a change because to this day I really can’t tell you what I saw.  All I know is that as he rounded passed the gate for what seemed like the hundredth time, the words, “he’s coming in” came into my mind. 
I almost wanted to shout it out. 
Sure enough, his stride changed, he slowed down to a trot and then stopped by my side.  I petted him and scratched his sweaty body to let him know that I was a better deal than his horse friends for now.  
I had felt connected with him in some way in the past, but this experience was on a whole new level.
I knew I was on to something good with this type of training. Before this clinic, many times while riding, I felt like I was just along for the ride.  And that added a level of fear for me as I did not know what he would do when he spooked. 
But now I was learning to read the horse’s emotion and work with that knowledge. I was learning if his attention was on me and by how much.  I was learning how to get his attention back on me when I needed it to be. 
In my opinion, this is about as natural as it gets.
If you ever have chance to experience this type of training, I urge you to give it a try.  It will change your life.

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1/13/2012 Judy
Oh boy, this sounds like me. I'm new to horses too and am trying to get connected. Often feel that he doesn't know I'm there and he spooks easily. Can't wait to read what comes next
1/13/2012 Jaye Winkel
Great column, John! I have to second your notion that this horsemanship built on awareness of where the horse's thought is will indeed change your life. We're lucky to have Libby Lyman come to Maine in the summers. See you around the round pen!

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