Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on horsemanship

I recently got a copy of "True Horsemanship Through Feel" by Bill Dorrance and I am loving it. This new addition to my (sizable) library has made me think that I should expand my "Gems from Alois" posts to include other notable quotations. So here we go, my first entry in "Thoughts on Horsemanship."

Misuse of the Lead Rope

"I disapprove of jerking or snapping that lead rope because the horse doesn't have an opportunity to feel of you if you do that. That valuable connection with the horse is lost between pulls when a person gets to sort of jerking on that rope for one reason or another. And that sort of jerking motion is usually connected to emotion in a person that isn't the best. We could call that frustration. When a person is acting like this, a horse doesn't have a chance to get with them, because the feel being offered isn't there long enough to have any good meaning for him. His guesswork and self-preservation will start to figure into things because that jerking will kind of upset him mentally. It comes so quick and fast. The horse can't be sure what it means when a person's feel is excessive and then gets replaced with a full release, and then comes in there again so sharp and so fast, over and over again. I've seen people do this. Some people might think by doing this they're getting something accomplished, but the horse isn't set up to understand what he's supposed to do in response to a feel like this. He isn't geared for this in his thinking.

We want things to be real clear between a horse and the person handling him. We want to stay away from any mix-up for the horse concerning force or fear, so your feel must be applied in a way that he can understand, without any part of force or fear coming in there. Some people might need some time to think over this subject and I'm in hopes they do, because this is so important to the horse. It's also real important to the person's future with any horse.

...Those releases that are part of any jerking of the horse's mouth or head just encourage more of the thing that person doesn't want. This type of handling is very confusing for the horse. And, of course, a person who does this is confused about things from the horse's point of view. There's a need for concern in this, because too much of this activity can lead to resentment or fear in the horse, which is usually the cause of dangerous and unreliable behavior in those horses. It's unnecessary and avoidable. If people could remember that any jerking on the horse just erodes whatever confidence he might have had in the human before that, I'm in hopes they'll be willing to try something more fitting to him."

"True Horsemanship Through Feel"
-Bill Dorrance


  1. Nice - I work very hard to avoid jerking on the horse, or any abrupt movements - the only time I vary this is for self-preservation in the case of a horse that is acting dangerously on the ground, and then only so long as is needed to get the horse's attention back. That said, I should do it very rarely, or never.

  2. Thinking back the times that I found myself doing it were when a horse scared me. Sometimes it got them to back off but it always put our relationship back. I haven't done it in a long time though and I hope I never find myself doing it again.

    Nowadays I carry the leadrope loosely in one hand with a loop of slack. The quarters (and every other horse I've led this way) seem to really appreciate the lack of pressure on their faces and I don't get any of the "naughtiness" that other people might jerk them for.

  3. Loose and relaxed is what I work with; Gem walks with his head at my shoulder or a little behind. I see the lead rope jerked, coupled with yelling, quite regularly to move over or back up a horse. :-( Not my way of doing things. Something that really bothers me is when they feed the lead rope or chain portion through the halter and over the horse's nose because they believe the horse to be difficult to handle. So when they jerk, it actually pinches the horse's nose. Makes me cringe. Two new stable hands used this method on Gem. I found out about it and put a stop to it immediately. They were intimidated by his size and were nervous of handling him. Grrrrr.

  4. Good for you knocking that out. From all you've written about Gem there is absolutely no call to use a chain on him!

  5. I've read this book and really liked it, he was one of the good guys.

    As for the lead rope, in the past I've done it rarely when I was in a dangerous situation. All our horses either lead by a rope around their necks or walk nicely at our shoulders on a loose lead. I do have to confess that when I first became a horse owner my trainer insisted that I put a chain through my horses halter on the way out to turnout or at shows because he was a baby, very huge and hard to handle. After a few weeks I decided that this wasn't very nice so I stopped it and never had any trouble with him. I think people (even professionals) do what they've been handed down through the years without thinking. I'm only glad that in listening to the professionals, I didn't do any real harm to him. That was a very long time ago and no excuses but I didn't know any better and was following instructions because I was a naive beginner. Good post.

  6. Exactly, monkey-see-monkey-do has a stronger hold on humans than we would like to admit. Also people tend to believe authority figures and don't second guess them, or they fall into "this is just the way it's done."