We have about a dozen horses on our farm that my husband has gathered over the years. Most of them have come here as colts that he bought. A few of them were born on our farm. The one thing they have in common is that my husband, with the help of a farrier a neighbour a few friends and some horse-training videos has trained them all.
To my husband’s disappointment I’m not the horse lover he is. I once had a lovely horse named Blossom. She was part Arab, part something else (told you – not a horse lover). She was my horse and we got along fantastically. I trusted her to take me where I needed to go when we went on our mountain trips. Blossom and I bonded in many different ways. When she had a bad cut on her front lower leg (or cannon if you will though I’ve never heard a horseman or farrier or vet call it that) , I soaked it three times a day in epsom salts until it healed a few weeks later. When she got a horrific gash in her side I washed and rinsed and kept it clean until it healed two months later. I did more doctoring on that horse than riding, come to think of it. But, all the while I was doing it part of my mind was thinking “research”. That’s the upside of being a writer. Then the poor thing foundered and became unrideable. We couldn’t afford to keep her at the time so off to the auction mart she went.
I tried to ride other horses since, but I couldn’t connect with any of them. I’ve ridden off and on since then, but have never ‘bonded’ with any of the horses my husband now has.
However the one thing I still enjoy about horses is watching my husband work with them.
I find the psychology behind horse training fascinating. We’ve watched various videos together on how to communicate with horses and how they read people. We’ve attended horse training clinics to watch professionals in action. Each has their own method and way of working but they all require one main quality. Patience and persistence.
The one mistake I made when I first spent time with horses is thinking that they want to be your friend. That they are good and kind and gentle. Basically, Black Beauty in different colours.
Then I saw the horses fighting. Ears back, hooves out, legs flying. Squeals and thumps that didn’t seem friendly at all. My husband explained that they were establishing their pecking order. That each horse has to find their place. That there is always a boss.
That’s when my husband taught me one of the basic tenets of horse training. A horse will do anything for you as long as it knows that you are in charge. That you are above him.
In previous times establishing this dominance often meant ‘breaking’ a horse. Pushing it and punishing it until it yielded. But this never made for a trusting horse. Nowadays getting a horse to yield means communicating using body language and making it easy for the horse to do what you want and hard for him to do what you don’t want.
One of the first steps when my husband is training a horse is putting it in the round pen. Basically a pen with a high fence that is, well, round. He makes the horse go around and around until the horse is ready to ‘talk’. To communicate. He wants to connect with the horse. If the horse runs away when he approaches it, then he makes the horse go around and around the pen and then he tries again. Slowly the horse seems to ‘get it’ and eventually the horse is willing to connect. To do what my husband wants.
Now there is a whole lot more to horse training than this simple step. One of the things my husband does is start the horses off as pack horses before he puts saddles on them. So he has to get them used to that first. When they prove themselves trustworthy after a few mountain trips, he then graduates them to saddle horses.
At the end of April my husband and I are going to an event where horse trainers will be working with horses in front of a live audience, talking about their technique and what they hope to achieve. Why they are doing what they are doing. Again, this will become part of my research.
One of the books I have already completed had a horse trainer/farrier as the hero. I wanted to have a man who was patient enough to deal with my ‘break the rules’ heroine. And who knew how to deal with her.
This hero and heroine are featured in Wrangling the Cowboy’s Heart though I still think the title should have been Wrangling Jodie’s heart. Finn is a by the book guy which is important because he is also a deputy. Jodie has always flown by the seat of her pants and gone with the flow.
Now my hero doesn’t exactly put her in the round pen until she is ready to talk, but he has to use the same qualities of patience and persistence with her to find out what she is really all about.
I hope you have a chance to read Wrangling the Cowboy’s Heart.