Friday, January 29, 2010

Ken McNabb

I saw a really good show on RFD TV the other morning. Of course I had to get up long before dawn to see it, but it was worth it. With so many horse training shows, the trainer pushes a horse around a pen saying, "Make your horse do this..." yet neglects to say HOW. It's not obvious just by watching a trainer what it is he is doing to make the horse do what he wants it to do. We all know that moving a horse, whether from the ground or the saddle, happens with very subtle cues that an average observer can't see.

On this show, Ken McNabb was helping out a lady who was afraid to ride, because two years before a dog attacked her horse on the trail. It was quite a nasty incident, as the dog aggressively chased the horse a long ways, biting at its fetlocks. The rider fell and broke many bones in her body, the horses kept running, and the dog kept biting. The horse was brought down by the dog several times during the chase. The rider spent a week in the hospital. She managed to work up the courage to ride the trails three times in two years after her recovery, but still needed professional help.

Ken McNabb's one-day lesson was probably better than six months in a therapy chair. First, he wanted to address the horse's fear. He lunged it in the round pen while a dog ran around the outside trying to herd the horse. Ken noticed that the horse didn't pay attention to the dog at all.

Next he brought a dog into the round pen with the horse and had it chase the horse around. Again, the horse wasn't concerned. (Mikey will love what comes next...) He then mounted the horse and had the dog jump up into the saddle with him. The horse stepped to the side to compensate for the weight of the dog climbing up its wither, but it didn't spook at all. Ken decided that the horse actually did not carry any residual fear from the incident two years before, but was probably still reacting to the rider's fear.

So, he had the rider mount the horse and ride while he stood in the center of the round pen with a dog on a leash. He taught the rider how to do a one-rein stop from a walk, then a trot, pulling the horse's head around and disengaging the hindquarters. He told her to imagine that she's being chased by a dog and she has to get that horse to turn and face the dog. At first her effort resulted in the horse circling. Ken said the dog could still follow the horse's hind end. She had to turn that horse in one quick movement.

Once she mastered that move, he and the dog started chasing her and the horse, and she had to turn the horse quickly to chase them. Ken escalated his aggression by smacking his coiled rope against his thigh and putting more bounce in his step, which caused the horse to break out of the trot into the canter. He told the rider, "You have to get control! Turn and chase me! Don't let me chase you!"

She spun from the canter, slowed to the trot and chased them. He then tried having the dog jump into the rider's lap, and the horse threw its head up and spooked sideways. He said, "The horse couldn't care less when the dog did that while I was riding him. You are transmitting you nervousness to the horse. You need to transmit confidence to the horse."

They broke it down by first picking up the dog and setting it in the woman's lap gently. They then let her get the feel of sitting on a horse with a dog in her lap, and the feel of the dog pushing off to jump down. Then they let the dog jump up on its own. At the point the rider was more comfortable with catching the dog and the horse relaxed.

Then without telling the rider what he was going to do next, he started throwing a big ball at the horse. This totally unhinged the rider and the horse went into a panic. He continued throwing this ball at the horse while horse and rider tried to get away. He said, "Think about it! What should you be doing?"

The previous lesson came back to her, and the rider spun her horse to face the ball. Soon the horse was walking toward the ball and taking head shots without an ounce of fear. Once Ken let go of the ball, the horse began kicking it around the arena. At first, I thought it was cruel of Ken to let the rider lose control of the horse like that, but then I realized that he had to let fear take over the rider in order for her to figure out how to recover. He won't be out there on the trail with her the next time some animal attacks her horse, so she has to rely on her own brain to tell her what to do.

He admitted that just because the horse didn't spook with him riding it in the round pen doesn't mean it won't spook out on the trail, but they have to start re-training the rider in a safe place and let it translate onto the trail. This was one of the clearest horse and rider training sessions I've seen. I'm going to try to catch more of his shows.

17 comments:

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like an interesting program, he must have been very sure of the situation to randomly throw the ball (that shocked me but it seems to have paid off)

jane augenstein said...

Good post, I try to catch most of the trainers on RFDTV but sometimes forget. Since I don't work outside the home I can usually catch them.
I know that some of the problems I have with Gilly are related to me being nervous on his back.
Hum, maybe a glass of wine before I ride would help, or two! LOL
Really this was a great post, thanks!!!
Jane

JeniQ said...

wow that's huge !!!! Great ideas. Bonnie has been known to chase dogs away when on trails but she's only done it with inexperienced riders. I always thought it was her being a pain, but maybe it was instinct?

Fantastyk Voyager said...

NuzMuz- that sounds like a great show. My theory in riding has always been, In dire situations, you should get mad rather than afraid. It's better to show your horse an aggressive attitude rather than a fearful one. By taking charge you can cover up your fear and still lead your horse, which is what they want from you.

JeniQ, sounds like Bonnie is doing what she should when the rider shows no command of the situation. What a good horse!

Breathe said...

Incredible! Talk about walking through fire! That woman has some incredible resilience to get through all of that and work through to the other side...

I wish we got RDF. But then I'd watch TV and when would I read all these great blogs?

Thanks for the recap!

Shirley said...

That woman shows a lot of intestinal fortitude to continue riding after such a bad wreck; kudos to her! Sounds like Ken McNabb is teaching her some good tools that will help her. This post really shows how much our own feelings can affect our horses; sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
I have always turned my horse to face dogs that come after me, and if they persist in barking,I put the run on them by riding my horse straight at them. I've yet to see a dog that won't back down when the tables are turned. It's a dog's instinct to chase prey, so riding away from them will trigger that instinct.

Katharine Swan said...

What an amazing program! It sounds like he is really, really good at what he does. You'll have to let us know if you like his other shows, too.

Mrs Mom said...

Excellent recap NM. Ken McNabb is a heckuva teacher. Wish we got RFD on the cable, but... oh well.... I'll have to rely on you to put up the highlights of the shows worth watching ;)

Leah Fry said...

Sounds like a great program. I'll have to see if I can catch that particular episode sometime.

Mikey said...

Excellent post! Really made me think. I ride with dogs all the time, and most of my regular riding horses are fine with dogs jumping around and all over them. However, that one new horse wasn't, and the accident that resulted was just that, a freak accident (and I want to say, that horse, I didn't feel up to training it to the dog after that, and it was sold, to a wonderful home nearby that loves him to pieces)
But I think about this lesson, and I think it shows you must be a strong leader for your animals. I try very hard to do that. My neighbor has a pack of dogs that routinely harass me, horseback, on foot and chase my truck. I repeatedly stop the truck and make them go home. While out walking ponies, they've come WAY too close to attacking, nipping heels and causing me to pick up a big stick and go after them. Another time, while I was riding a big green TB in a snaffle, they came out and attacked my dog that was with me. I had to gallop this horse into the dog fight to break it up, and I was so mad that I might actually have to get off my horse and beat them all, but they broke off at my yelling and charging the poor horse over them. It really is an experience to ride down the road here.
Dogs and horses, it's always an adventure. I think he did a wonderful job teaching her to stand and fight your way out of it. Face your fears!! Hard to learn, but a great lesson.
Great post, I enjoyed the heck out of it. I'll probably be thinking about it all day....

Best Horse Gifts said...

I'm so glad I read this post. A dog attacked me and a horse I was riding a few years ago. It was so horrible. I am not afraid of riding, but if a dog comes anywhere near I still get very scared. I know the horse can sense it. I'd like to learn more about this program.

Flying Lily said...

Excellent lesson and you described it so well, I feel like we could all almost 'try this at home'!

I did some plastic bag stuff with John the other day and he quickly went from raised eyebrow mode to desire to eat bag mode. I'd like to see how he does with a dog on his back and a ball in his face.

TCavanaugh said...

That rider must really have trusted Ken...I wonder what would have happened had she lost her seat? I am VERY glad it worked out for all of them.

Vaquerogirl said...

What an excellent post! I wish I had RFD TV so I could get it too, but I'll bet I can find it on the ol internet! Thanks!

Rising Rainbow said...

I wish I had RFD TV as well. It sounds like this was definitely worth watching.

It's actually not been that long ago that I learned the best thing to do with an attacking dog was to turn the horse towards it and chase the dog. Surprising how well it works.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

I'm very happy to see that you put his tactics out there in such a positive light. I can think of a lot of people who might not appreciate his not always suble or gentile tactics. He is a cowboy and believes in doing what it takes to get the job done.

Have you watched any of the dressage clinics? I thought there were a couple of them that were absolutely fabulous.

Laura said...

Sounds like an interesting show... Fear is such a tough thing to deal with as a rider (speaking from personal experience...)... Wouldn't it be awesome if we could all get lessons like that from trainers to help us through our fears?

I wish we got RFD-TV here...

Oh PS - I sent you an email to your gmail address - not sure if you got it or not... it is from littlekeebler@gmail.com