Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: BASIC HORSE TRAINING by Michael Hockemeyer

The cover reads, "Kicking Bear Mustangs Presents BASIC HORSE TRAINING" by Michael Hockemeyer. I grabbed this book off my shelf and read it within a couple of hours after struggling with training my 4-year-old Arabian filly under saddle this weekend. Readers may recall that I have spent the past three years preparing Gabbrielle for under saddle training, and started riding her this spring. However, after she had a series of mysterious injuries I had to retire her to the paddock and pasture for the summer to heal. This weekend was the first time I attempted to ride her again after only about 5 days under saddle this past spring.

Though she was calm, this was the day I dreaded. All horse trainers, including Michael Hockemeyer, say that if a horse is going to test you, it won't be on the first ride. It will be one of the rides after that when the horse gets used to your routine.

Gabbrielle lunged really well and held still for the mount, but when it came time to move forward, she just kept taking one step back and swinging her hindquarters around so that she had me positioned over my step stool. I'd give her some rein and urge her forward, and she'd reposition herself right next to that step stool, but pointing in a different direction. I realized that she was either telling me to get off her, or she really thought that I was asking her to line herself up with that stool.

I use a metal utility stool that has two steps. At one point, the handle of the stool was partially under her belly. I could see that this was a recipe for disaster. I wasn't so much worried about her knocking it over and spooking from the noise, because she's knocked it over plenty of times with her nose and is used to the noise. I was worried that she'd get her feet tangled in the metal frame and panic, causing a wreck. Unfortunately, I couldn't dismount, because the stool was in the way. I haven't practiced dismounting off the right side, but I probably should have started that day. After much maneuvering, and her doing the opposite of what I asked, I saw my window and jumped, clearing the stool.

Michael Hockemeyer spends a good amount of time in his book discussing mounting a horse for the first time. He mentions that using a step stool or mounting block is not a good idea for those first few lessons for the reason I mentioned above. You are placing an object in the arena that the horse can collide with. Instead he recommends mounting from the fence. If you can't do that, he prefers mounting from the ground. He does a good job of giving specific details on how to perform each of these actions.

After tying Gabbrielle to a fence post, I went inside the house to request some help. My son came out and led us with the lead rope to assure that Gabbrielle moved away from the step stool. I had planned to let him lead me for a few rotations, and then unhook the lead rope and remove the stool from the arena. However, Gabbrielle chose this day to start testing me.

First she shook her entire body in an effort to dislodge me from the saddle. This was the most violent, long-lasting full-body shake I had ever experienced on the back of a horse. I clenched down with my thighs and knees, and leaned forward to adjust my balance, and waited it out. I was so glad that I didn't fall off, because that would have taught her that she can dislodge a rider by shaking, and shaking would become a habit.

Next she tried balking. She refused to move forward despite being led. I had to toughen up my cues to unlock her. Next she tried trotting right past my son, probably hoping to rip the lead rope out of his hands. Since she was on a lead rope, I had to slow her down to a walk. When I forced her to walk, she humped up her back, got her hind legs underneath her and began lowering her head to buck. I pulled her head up with the reins and gave her a firm NO!

The last straw was when she started moving backwards at a fairly fast rate while my son was trying to lead her forwards. I had trouble keeping my balance, and was worried about her persistence. Gabbrielle was so set on forcing an involuntary dismount that I was sure she'd think of something that would eventually succeed. So, I had my son hold the lead rope under her chin, and the second she came to a halt, I voluntarily dismounted. Gabbrielle turned her head toward me and let out an adorable THANK YOU nicker. It was hard not to forgive her antics after that.

I wrapped up the lesson by lunging her some more and being more persistent than her over getting what I want. I worked her like a drill sergeant until she knew the only way to end the lesson was to not step out of line.

In the introduction of his book, Michael Hockemeyer writes, "I quickly learned that most books and videos were great at showing you both point A and point C, but point B was almost never covered... I found myself buying books that were hundreds of pages long and getting some type of benefit from only five pages."

I can relate to that. Though his book is too small to cover everything about horse training, he does cover point B fairly well, in addition to points A and C, using simple, straight-forward language and diagrams. The main subjects he covers include basic ground training, getting saddled, and riding.

This serves as a perfect handbook for someone who has just adopted a wild mustang, as it starts from instructions on how to approach the horse for that first human touch. If you bought a fully trained horse from a breeder or trainer, the book may not be what you need, unless there are some holes in the horse's training. I fall somewhere in the middle, having bought my filly from an Arabian horse breeder as a yearling, and spending the past three years preparing her to be trained under saddle.

Though I already had trained my filly beyond what is covered in the first two-thirds of the book, I did find it helpful in the riding section. Hockemeyer discusses riding posture before talking about that first turn, backing, stopping, stepping forward, turning while walking, and going faster. Gabbrielle is at a point where she turns really well, especially while moving backwards, so now I just need to concentrate on getting her to move forward and halt consistently on cue.


Katharine Swan said...

You know, I was just thinking that we really shouldn't be surprised that Gabbrielle is being stubborn. She is and has always been extremely independent, judging by what I read on your blog. I think she just realized that you might actually plan on keeping this riding thing up (gasp!)!

fernvalley01 said...

She sounds a little evasive , If the book helps great ,I think we need to be open to any knowledge that comes our way. Good luck and stay safe!

Shirley said...

I had a mare that didn't like to go forward; it took a while to fix. I trained in the round pen, so when she backed up she'd just hit the rails, which was fairly safe. I'd keep up my go forward cues, and basically just wait her out, and when she did go forward willingly, then I'd get off, so that she learned that doing the right thing got her the reward she wanted- me to get off her!
Good luck with fixing this on Gabrielle; I'm sure you'll get it done, it just takes time. She's a smart girl!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I have always found that newly ridden horses test me around the fourth or fifth ride just like Gabrielle did. She seems to be pulling out every trick on you. You may just want to have your son stand in the middle of the round pen and hold a rope attached to her halter while you ride next time. I did that with a few of my horses and it gave me added confidence as well as reinforcement for the horse.
Maybe your son can take away the stool after you mount up.
I'm sure everything will work out for you. Gabrielle is a smart girl.

Good luck and I hope that your book helps.

photogchic said...

Have you ever tried playing the seven games with Gabbrielle? I really learned a lot about my mare when I taught her those things and riding was the nature progression after she learned those. Let me know if you have any questions about them...friendly, porpcupine, driving, squeeze, circling, and sideways. I think when you play these and get control or her mind and feet you will have less trouble in the saddle. I pass this on just because it was so invalueable to me in my training progression.

Paint Girl said...

Sounds like a great book. I'd love to train a youngster some day. So I'll have to check into this book.
Sorry to hear that Gabrielle was being a butt. But it has to be hard since she had time off due to injuries. It's almost like you have to start over again.

Leah Fry said...

She sounds like the little kid that goes to school so excited on the first day, only to throw a tantrum on the second because she realizes she has to keep on going!

Laura said...

Good for you for getting back on her and staying on! I don't have the nerves to start a young horse!

That book sounds like a good guide for you. Hope you can get a few more days working with her this fall!

Kelly said...

So did you find the book useful? I am on the look out for really good useful books to add to my online store. I find that getting horse owners opinions of the book rather than the publishers write ups the best way to evaluate the books.

baystatebrumby said...

Wow! I admire your tenacity and your bravery. Feeling that back round and seeing the head go down is VERY SCARY and not a good feeling at all. Unless you happen to be Evel Knieval, god forbid. If only Gabrielle could see that that behavior will get her nowhere! But isn't it so heartbreaking when they make it so hard? Hockemeyer sounds great. I am going to check his book out!
Keep it up, Drill Sarge!!

Lulu said...

I'm not sure how you keep your cool! If my filly was trying the same antics I think I would lose my temper! LOL

manker said...

good on ya for persistence... my alle was doing the backing, backing thing when i was riding her away from the barn a couple of weeks back. So i said.. "you wanna back, we'll back" and i did in the direction I wanted to go in... took awhile but she got it.... when she did get real feisty i just sat real deep...

Good that you ended with YOUR choice to dismount... and your rode her thru the antics

happier trails ahead

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Kelly - Yes, I did find the book useful. I think it is intended for a smaller audience, which includes those who buy untrained horses. However, too many books now-a-days assume that your horse has been trained by a professional, so this book fills in a gap.

HorseOfCourse said...

Maybe Gabbrielle is just a bit insecure and anxious about what's happening?
You are usually on the ground, and now you are on her back...scary!

I agree with Fantastyk, if your son can help you out, and place himself in a slightly driving position, maybe that will help?
What about your neighbour that has horses? Can she help out, and longe you perhaps?
Good luck, NuzzMuzz - I am sure you will sort things out with her.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

It must be so frustrating in the beginning when training a horse to accept a rider and learn the cues. I admire what you're doing and I'm glad you're staying safe and are totally focused on what the horse is telling you. Keep up the good work, NM :)


Horse Training said...

The book by Michael was seen to be great so you kind it easy by reading it and got trained your you found it easy with that book,that's great.