March 17, 2012
Another Point of View
Copyright © 2012 Robin Brueckmann
Last weekend, I took my two competition horses, Sasha and Whoopee, to a police horse training clinic. It was labeled as a de-spooking clinic, but the presenter, Bill Richey, said that it was actually more to help riders learn to deal with their horses’ reactions, and to help the horses learn to trust their riders even more.
This idea falls right into my philosophy of horse training. I never protect my horses from scary things (see earlier article on Trick Training for Your Horse), but rather I expose them to lots and lots of scary things so that they learn to look to me for direction rather than simply following their instincts to spin and bolt away from whatever it is that seems out of place in a horsey viewpoint.
Bill began with a Powerpoint lecture, teaching us all how the world looks from the horse’s eyes. Horses don’t see the same way we do. Their eyes are set far on the sides of their heads, and they primarily see in a monocular way. They have very limited depth perception. This became important when we faced our horses with smoke bombs; horses perceive the smoke as a solid, and they don’t think they can move through solid objects.
Bill also led us through some basic drill maneuvers. These were designed to get the horses used to moving in close proximity to each other, to help them deal with other horses ahead, behind, and to each side of them, all at the same time.
Mounted, we practiced these drill maneuvers. Bill was not trying to make us into a drill team, but just to get our horses listening to our aids and dealing with the other horses. Several horses were kickers initially, but they soon gave it up as they became more comfortable passing close by other horses.
Bill began to set up questions for our horses. He started with a simple piece of plywood on the ground. Soon, we were traipsing our horses over bridges, tarps, and other obstacles that the horses had to look down to see. Bill then set up things that the horses had to look up to see: hanging tarps. Later, he added mid-range obstacles, pool noodles set up so that the fingers pointed out at the horses and touched them as they passed through. These obstacles were all in a row, so that the horses had to look up and down and sideways, and generally become more aware of the environment.
Bill added smoke bombs. Many of the horses objected to these. When I had done the clinic with Sasha three years ago, he never got over the smoke bombs, but this time he passed through them much more easily. When the horses were dealing with the smoke bombs on their own, he added them to other obstacles. Soon, we were riding over a teeter-totter bridge with smoke bombs underneath it, after passing under the tarp and through the pool-noodle fingers. Bill got his squad car going with the sirens blaring, and his police dog, PD, added volume by barking on command.
Bill got out flares. These burned hot for about a minute at 800 degrees, and poured out black, acrid-smelling smoke. When the horses were OK with these, he put them on either side of the teeter-totter bridge with smoke bombs. He poured gasoline on the sand and set it on fire, and we had to walk through the fire. That was less of a challenge for the horses than it was for the riders; the horses merely perceived something moving underfoot but did not understand that it was hot and could burn them. None of the horses got burned, incidentally.
We ended up our time by pushing around a six-foot ball, sending it through the tarps and around the arena. The horses liked pushing it; it made them feel powerful and in control.
We spent two full days riding our horses and getting them to trust our guidance. My own two horses were stars, if I do say so myself. Sasha overcame his dislike of smoke bombs and gunshots. Whoopee, not yet four years old, dealt with everything playfully. We each received certificates testifying that we had spent twenty hours of training our horses as police mounts.
Now, Bill did mention that he rarely accepts clinic bookings at dressage barns. He has found that dressage riders tend to produce lots of excuses why their horses can’t do these activities. I find it very helpful to my competition horses; they become better citizens, and whatever they see on a show grounds has no terror any more. I recommend attending such a clinic if it becomes available to you!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TK9AMl4nVXw&feature=youtu.be over fire and see-saw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQmA-H4ziHM&feature=youtu.be over fire again
http://youtu.be/Xte0fTUlxn o smoke bomb
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z7X52cMDyE&feature=youtu.be walk under tarps with siren and smoke bomb
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe3QyNw5SUo&feature=youtu.be obstacle course with fire and flare
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMBg8kMqYHU&feature=youtu.be Sasha and Whoopee walk toward a cop car with sirens
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OtKmG0zKdk&feature=youtu.be whoopee walks over fire
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv7PMHpi0lQ&feature=youtu.be smoke bomb and flare
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9QdtDL0Hfs&feature=youtu.be whoopee and sasha hog the ball
To find more similar videos, go to youtube.com and do a search for chiri302 to bring up more videos I’ve uploaded there