Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Richard Shrake's Horsemanship Clinic

One of Richard Shrake's clinics at the Western States Horse Expo in 2008 was titled, "Where Your Horse's Mind Goes... His Body Will Follow". This clinic was indoors, so my camera couldn't put out any decipherable still shots, but I did retain a couple of videos that helped me remember what was taught. I'm opting out of posting the videos, because I'm sure that these clinicians have some kind of copyright on their own class material, and I don't want to step on any one's toes. Instead I'll sum up what I learned in this clinic.

With every horse there is a bucket of experiences and we as humans help create those experiences. If we do something that triggers a bad feeling or negative reaction in a horse, we drop a black ball in the bucket. If we do something that triggers a good feeling and makes a horse feel confident and safe, we drop a white ball in the bucket. The more black balls there are, the more difficult the horse may be to work with. There are both short term and long term effects of each colored ball. We cannot take back any of those black balls. Once we have dropped them in the bucket, they are there to stay, so we have to make choices that will only add white balls to the bucket. The same can probably be said for humans, as well.

Richard Shrake also talked about the three buttons on the sides of a horse:

1. The shoulder.
2. The ribcage.
3. The hip.

Before we work with a horse from the saddle, we should instill its confidence in us by working with it from the ground using our hands on those buttons to move the horse's feet. First, approach the horse at an angle. Second, rub its shoulder until it points an ear toward you, turns its head toward you, and drops its head. Third, place your hand on the horse's hip to move its hind end away from you, pressing and releasing until done, and then step away for a full release.

Do the same thing at the ribcage to move the horse to the side and at the shoulder to move the front end away. Many of us do this with the end of our lead rope. The problem with that, according to Richard Shrake, is that moving the horse by hitting it with a rope or even just swinging the rope toward it instills fear and drops a black ball in the bucket. We are essentially stealing the movement instead of asking for it.

Once the horse is exhibiting an understanding over how to move off pressure from our hand, we can mount him and do the same thing with our legs on each of the buttons.

Shrake also talks about using very subtle riding cues such as inhaling to go and exhaling to stop. Of course, we are always inhaling and exhaling, so if the horse got to be too sensitive, the ride would be stop and go the whole way. He obviously means to do an audible big breath in or out that the horse can differentiate between our regular breathing. I suspect this technique also helps the rider to be conscious of her breath rate, as well as helps her to breathe to relax, which can only help her improve her balance and increase the horse's comfort and confidence in the security of his environment.

Other tips that I appreciated included the advice to keep your head and eyes forward when leading your horse. He brought up the example of how many of us try to lead a horse into a trailer only to stop at the back and turn to face the horse. The horse immediately stops and wonders what is wrong. He takes our body language to be a warning.

He also had a rider demonstrate backing a horse by picking up the right rein, releasing it, picking up the left rein, releasing it... back and forth one leg at a time until you do a full release of both reins to stop. I don't know where I learned the technique I've been using all these years of pulling straight back on both reins during the entire backing process, but I think I'll try his method and see if I get better results.


Pony Girl said...

Hmmm...I like the sounds of this Richard Shrake guy! I especially like the black/ball/white ball analogy. And his approach to keeping your head up when leading or loading. It is so true, when you stop and look at your horse, it is almost as if you are "asking" for something and changing the momemtum and energy. I know when I do that, my horse perks his ears at me as if to say, okay, what do you want?

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like an informative clinic. Let us know how you make out with your new method of backing up.

Shirley said...

I like Richard Shrake too, he makes things easy to understand. Just a note on backing up- The horse moves his feet in the same way he does at a trot- diagonal pairs. This is helpful to know if you are backing around an L shape, to figure out which rein to use at what time.

Twinville said...

My instructor read one of Shrake's books last year and was always referring to those balls in the bucket. I think that's a very cool analogy.
I also like the tip on using the horse's 'buttons' to communicate during ground work.

I can get Baby Doll to turn in circles and step sideways just by holding my hand flat towards those same 'buttons'. It really does work.

Let me know how the alternate reins work for backing, ok?