Friday, February 06, 2009

Learning to be the alpha

Being the alpha doesn't just mean being dominant, it means being patient and teaching your herd what behavior you expect from them. I'm not particularly patient, and much more inclined towards compromise than imposing my will on other beings, so I'm having to reconfigure my behavior so I can train Bar and Lena to be the horses I know they can be.

Both my horses have taught me a lot about patience, but Bar in particular has been the taskmaster when it comes to the art of taking a deep breath and figuring out another way to teach him to do something. And while I have been known to be bossy, it was a hard thing for me to get really tough when it was needed. And it was definitely needed. They are actually happier and calmer with you in charge, but there is a very important balance to achieve.

You can't bully Bar. Well you can, it just won't work. You have to be firm and dominant with him--even thwack him when he gets out of line (no, biting is NOT allowed)--but you can't bully him. (Not that I'd want that relationship with him anyway, but that's another post for another time.) It just sets up a conflict that shuts him down, freaks him out, and prevents the lesson from reaching him. You really have to slow down and set him up to succeed, even more than Lena, really. He is not as dominant as she is, so when we've gotten to a place where he doesn't understand what I'm asking, sometimes he acts out in frustration, though not nearly as bad as he used to. (Okay, here's one of the places patience comes in because I have to remember how far we've come rather than how far I still want to go.)

Now, his favorite response when he's confused is to back up and yield his hindquarters. Since he used to charge forward and try to shoulder me out of the way, I'll take that as a vast improvement. The reason we've gotten here is that I've learned to be more of the Alpha, more aggressive, and not let him run roughshod over me. (And now that term makes so much more sense!) It wasn't easy for me, but it was absolutely crucial in order for us to make any training progress at all.

My newest exercise in patience came this week because of the lost shoe. Mike came out Monday and tacked a new shoe on, but there is not a lot of foot left to work with, and already--after a few round-pen workouts and one pretty easy ride in the arena and down the driveway--I've got two loose nails in the front of the foot. And now, of course, we have rain, mud, and moisture in the equation, too. Argh.

I was grumbling at Steve, who reminded me that I have time. I don't need to have a perfectly trained arena horse in a day, a week, or even a month. Well, truthfully, I don't ever expect a perfectly trained arena horse ever, and Bar has already reminded me we could do a whole lot of this darn training on the trail without all the running in circles, thankyouverymuch.

But you know what I mean.

I have to stop and remember that I am learning a whole lot I never would have with a push-button horse. The mental and physical challenges are, well, challenging, but I figure using my mind and body this way is good for me in ways I don't even recognize, yet. I am certainly never bored with him, and I'm definitely learning to ride better than I ever would have expected back when this whole horse thing started.

Nobody better call me Grasshopper, either.

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