Thursday, June 18, 2009

John Lyons on Problem Horses

On Saturday afternoon at the 2009 Western States Horse Expo, John Lyons put on a presentation titled, "Problem Horses: Accepting the Bit & Trailer Loading." For me, most of the clinics and presentations are just too long to sit through on bleachers in the hot sun. However, this presentation was in a tent and my daughter and I were able to secure a couple of fold up chairs with backs. This presentation officially became the first Expo event in which I sat through the entire gathering from beginning to end.

A lady brought out a Morab gelding that she recently acquired, while John Lyons read information off her application form. Basically, she got this gelding for free from a woman who was so intimidated by the horse that she left it out to pasture for 10 years without any training. The horse would not accept the bit and was a hassle to trailer.

John Lyons asked her some questions, and she mentioned that she has over 100 head of horses at home. He looked surprised and said, "So, you have a lot of experience with horses. That means this guy must have some serious issues."

Of course, you always assume that the horse owner doesn't know what she's doing due to a lack of experience or knowledge, but in this case everyone was expecting the worst from this horse since the owner was not new to horses. John went on reading more information off his paperwork and read the quote, "This horse has been known to kick, bite and buck, though I don't think he has ever kicked, bitten, or bucked."

Everyone burst out laughing and the owner put her hands over her face in embarrassment. As they got a little deeper into their conversation, the woman listed all the techniques that she has tried to bridle this horse, and talked about a recent dental checkup. John said, "So you've bridled plenty of horses before?"

It was then that the owner said, "Well, my hundred head of horses are all minis. I've never had to reach this high."

The audience burst out into fits of laughter again. The owner was laughing right along with us. She was quite a character. If I didn't know any better, I might have thought she was a paid comedian brought there to keep us entertained.

John began his demonstration by simply touching the horse all over its head. The Morab gelding threw his head around and didn't like the head handling at first, but as John insisted on petting him and rubbing him, the horse settled down and began to enjoy it. He put some pressure on the poll to encourage lowering of the head.

He stuck his thumbs in the sides of the horse's mouth to encourage it to open up.

Then he laid the horse's head over his shoulder and gave it a gentle massage.

He even stuck his fingers inside its ears and rubbed.

He's a man ready for anything, keeping a knife at his side since so much of horsemanship involves ropes.

He gave the horse a kiss on its muzzle and then started blowing raspberries on it. This was the part that had my daughter and I laughing until tears were squirting out of our eyes. The harder we laughed, the harder he blew his raspberries.

This moment was especially endearing for me, as that is what I do with my horses all the time. People always freak out and tell me not to do that, because my horses will bite me or spook or throw their heads up and break my nose. Muzzle kissing is a daily ritual for us, and my horses actually kiss me back. They poke their muzzles onto my lips when they feel like they need some lovin'. The raspberry blowing is a game we play, and I'd swear that my horses laugh when I do it to them. I was pleased to see that one of the world's top horsemanship clinicians does that to horses too.

John said, "Be careful about saying things like, 'Don't let your horse get into your space', because if your horse is your friend it should never matter if he is in your space."

Of course, people teach horses to stay out of their space in order to avoid injuries like broken feet and toes, but John was just trying to get people to view their horses in a different light. He said that all horses want is peace, and we can give them peace by being their friend, being kind to them, and showing them that we will never hurt them.

Now that this Morab understood that John was his friend, he allowed him to show him how to open his mouth to accept the bit.

Throughout the presentation, John kept using the phrase, "Holy buckets." That got my daughter in stitches. I wish I could remember all of his jokes. There were times when my daughter and I were laughing so loud that people were turning in their seats to look at us. We felt like we were in the Twilight Zone, because we found him to be hilarious, but most of the people in the audience were so stone-faced about it all. You have to wonder if they can have a sense of humor about their horses. Hopefully, if they couldn't before, they can now.

John followed up the bitting demonstration with a trailer loading demonstration. The owner of over one-hundred head of minis admitted that when they don't want to go into the trailer, she just picks them up and throws them in. She wasn't sure what to do with this 15-hand horse. John used the usual technique of bending and turning the horse away from the trailer, and then letting it rest at the back of the trailer, gradually putting on more and more pressure, and releasing as soon as the horse showed any sign of thinking about getting in. He didn't mind if the horse got into the trailer, turned around, and came out head first. Once the horse was getting in willingly, he worked on having it take one step at a time to get out slowly.

Once that was successful, he bridled the horse one more time at the owner's request, then let it loose and showed us how to catch a horse that doesn't want to be haltered. That basically includes calmly heading it off at the pass until the horse figures out that wherever it goes, there you are. It eventually stops running, gives in and approaches you. John probably took just as much time to catch that horse as any of us would have. There's no magic bullet beyond patience.

Afterward, my daughter and I checked into our motel room, then went out to dinner, then back to the motel passing people along the way. I looked in the mirror and saw that my mascara and eye liner were smudged all around my eyes. I turned to my daughter horrified and said, "Why didn't you tell my my make-up was messed up?"

She said, "I didn't know. I don't wear make-up, so I don't know how it's supposed to look."

I guess I'll have to blame that embarrassing experience on John Lyons.


RiverBend Farm said...

Great post! Isn't John Lyons good? You had me in stitches just reading your post. I'll have to try some of those techniques.

Kate said...

Thank you for your wonderful post - I really respect John Lyons and his methods - and his magazine Perfect Horse is pretty good too. His patient, but persistent, approach, always giving releases for the slightest move towards what we are asking for, and his kindness, are really models for me.

Lulu said...

That sounds like a clinic I really would have enjoyed.... I'm reading a John Lyons series right now, and really appreciate some of his suggestions.

Reddunappy said...

Sounds like you had a great time! I love it when clinitions can entertain too! I have seen John at the Albany Or, horse expo, it was on a weekend that a problem horse broke Johns ankle! So he probaly wasnt as funny as usual, he came back after going to the hosptal and finished his clinics the next day, with a stand in rider LOL

Katharine Swan said...

John said, "Be careful about saying things like, 'Don't let your horse get into your space', because if your horse is your friend it should never matter if he is in your space."

I agree with this -- to a point. I think there are times when it's appropriate and times when it's not. When you're being affectionate with your horse you shouldn't worry about it. But if you are leading a horse you don't want them stepping on you, and if you are working around the barn you don't want them in your back pocket the entire time.

Believe it or not, horses are indeed smart enough to tell the difference. (Yes, that was a little sarcastic, because there are SO many people who seem to think horses are nothing but dumb animals.)

Callie said...

Oh Awesome! I would have loved that! I like what he teaches! Awesome! Too cool! So wish you could have gotten video of the rasberries!

Sydney said...

Another one that doesn't wear makeup. I'm in that category.

Does your daughter ride any of your horses?

Farm Girl said...

I love your clinic reports! John Lyons is so good at making a lesson 'every day' easy to understand. Love his methods and your photos of the event are super!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sydney - Years ago, like when she was 12, my daughter took lessons on Bombay and on a couple of the trainer's horses. She never really liked riding. She loves animals, but has no desire to ride them. My son also rode, but only when I begged him. He didn't show much of an interest either, so I dropped the subject. As long as they tried it, and still didn't want to ride, I let it go. You can bet that if they grew up in the suburbs without horses, they'd probably want to ride. My father forced me into racing cars when I was a kid. I hated it at first, but it kept me out of trouble on the weekends. Then I made friends through racing, and they started getting me into trouble. Or maybe it was me who got them into trouble. I don't really remember.

Paint Girl said...

I was laughing the whole time I read this! I love when trainers are so funny. Clinton Anderson was the same way, we laughed nearly the whole time!
That owner of the Morab, how funny! I love how when she has to load the mini's and one won't go in, she just picks them up and throws them in! Cute!
That is embarrassing about the makeup! I would have been horrified to know I was walking around public like that! Silly daughter!

Laura said...

I'm totally jealous that you got to watch a John Lyons clinic. I have a horse trainer crush on him! He seems so calm and nice (and now I know he is funny too!)

Sounds like an interesting time - thanks for sharing with us!

lytha said...

what a great experience to see him train. i saw him once, it was unforgettable. i swear his horse zip understood english as he was speaking to him. he wasn't using body language that i could see, just saying things like "go play over there zip" and "come over here zip" and the horse just understood somehow.

looking forward to your next clinic post!


HorseOfCourse said...

I have just heard the name John Lyons, but don't know anything about him.
Thanks for sharing, it sounds like a wonderful clinic!
I love people with humour, and I love it in our animals too.
I agree with Katherine S, the horses do understand the difference between respecting your space when leading etc. and nuzzling and being close when grooming.

Shirley said...

John Lyons is one of my heroes. I love the way he teaches things in a way that the average person can follow, step by step, and acheive as good a result as the professional trainers can (and even better than some!) I've taught his trailer loading method to quite a few people who have had problems loading their horses.I also love that he is unashamed of being a Christian.

KD said...

You sure got some nice close up shots. I liked hearing your take on his clinic.

AareneX said...

Great report, and it's good to hear that John Lyons is up to his usual high standards and good horsemanship.


Breathe said...

THanks for giving us such a detailed report - what fun!!! I would love to go to one of his clinics someday...

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

I love what he said about never letting a horse in your space. Of course we should let horses into our space. Isn't that the reason we spend so much time "gentling" them. It can't be a one way street-that WE are constantly the ones to be able to invade a horse's space at any given time, but the second a horse steps into ours, we are supposed to "get after" them so they "respect" us. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of spending so much time getting them gentle.

I like all of my horses to feel comfortable enough with me to want to be close. It's not rocket science that we don't want them to walk on us, bite us or run us over-IT'S COMMON SENSE. And there is a HUGE difference between a horse that lacks respect when being handled and one who likes and wants to be close to his/her people. Too bad so many people have to make it out like it is some big mystery to figure that one out.;)

monstersmama said...

Thats terrible about your job, I dont have deadlines...but I get irritated when my GM doesnt do his job and I get the butt end of it! as far as your neighbors are concernd...thats a bit creepy!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

This was an really great post, NM. Your photos were awesome...all the close-ups and details. And I love the part about the raspberries, too. And I think it's great that you give your horses raspberries and play that game with them.
What a great bond you share with your trio of equine.

Thanks for sharing these clinic 'notes' and photos. I almost felt like I was there...oh! And I would have been laughing right along with you....but I would have told you about your mascara. lol!