I am not sure how you got your horse, but Barley did not come along, knocking at my door, saying:
Hey you, can I stay with you? You seem nice!
I was neither the right person to own and train a young horse, nor did I have (or will ever have) the needed knowledge to do so. That’s me being brutally honest with myself!
This post will be dedicated to being honest! My previous posts have shown that my little fella and I work pretty good together and that we can enjoy our time together. This has not always been the case and I just don’t want to project any false images. Owning a horse has little to do with the romantic, cotton candy cloudes, riding bareback and bridleless over the open fields into the sunset. Owning a horse is like a relationship, partnership, having a child and going to a therapist all at the same time.
You need a whole lot of love…BUT you also need dedication, strength, patience, will, agility, faith, muscle, a strong believe and some crazy to be able to go through with it.
When Boyfriend bought Barley for me, I was over the moon and back with some loops around Jupiter, Mars and Pluto and whatelse is up there. The realization, or better shock, came a little later. Barley was as confused as I was. He came from a breeder who is very disciplined, she is No.1, all her horses are No.2, no matter if you are a stud, a mare, a weanling or a fole. Some might think that this sounds harsh, but the reality is that all the horses loved it. Everybody knew the routines, the horses relied on her leadership and felt save with her.
Along came I. The first few days went fine. It took him a little to get accustomed to his new surroundings but after a short while it pretty much went downhill. He started pushing on us, nipping us even and was so not the horse that I got to know at A-K’s place.
Quite fast he had figured out, that I am not the leader his previous owner was, that he could push me around (and also Boyfriend for that matter) and Barley didn’t really like to cope with all that new responsibility (which I understood a long time after). I missunderstood his behaviour completely and misinterpreted his behavior as…Oh look, he is happy to see me.
Couple of months into our adventure I heard a quote by Ray Hunt.
The horse does one of two things.
He does what he thinks he is supposed to do
or he does what he thinks he needs to do to survive!
Ray Hunt was an American horse trainer and was one of the first who believed in working with a horse based on his nature and instinct instead of breaking it by clubbing it with a 2×4 over the head (no, that was not what I was doing!). At that moment my way of thinking went into a whole other direction.
Before finding the right resources our daily life was more frustration on both sides, than joy.
Have a look at this video (oh my gosh, I am really letting down my pants here, anyway), I planned to work with Barley, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that well. U’s mare adopted Barley (and he adopted her!). She is in the pasture behind the barn, screaming after her “baby” which I “foalnapped” right from under her nose.
Quite frankly…it got nasty and I had neither the tools, nor the knowledge to help him. Not that day or any other day,so I seeked help because I wasn’t able to do anything about it. This was in December 2011, at that time I had been around horses for six months and owned Barley two months. Of course I was in no place to help him!
He was not a happy horse and I was afraid of him. Yes, I said it. I was afraid. I would not say that I lost motivation, quite the opposite, I tried even harder to acquire the knowledge I needed to help him. I did not blame him, I understood that this is something that I am causing and admitting that just made me terribly sorry and sad, but at the same time it was the motivator. I loved that horse dearly and I was not prepared to give up.
In January 2012 we put him in a horsetrailer (took us about 30 minutes with a lead rope round his butt) and delivered him to M’s doorstep for a two months training, as agreed. I was so glad to have found somebody willing to help Barley AND me. She worked with him twice a day, groundwork in the mornings and riding in the afternoon. During that time I got to ride Cloudy, an older Paint gelding who taught me a lot and I also had to handle Barley under supervsion. We had this long talks…
Why does he do this? The answers were quite simple. Because YOU do that….! or Because YOU don’t do this…!
The feedback from M was not surprising for me. Afterwards she told me that she didn’t really like Barley in the beginning when she had seen him at my friends place, but during the time she worked with him, she fell in love as well. He loves to work and wants to make it right. These are the best qualities in a horse you can wish for (for me, that is!). The problems weren’t fixed when I got Barley back, because it was I who needed training, not him. So in a way, Barley got two months off from me, which must have been like a vacation for him and I tried to sort out my shit, pardon my french!
…and the other one is a wannebe-horsetrainer!
M tried her best to make me understand, but sometimes I feel like I am like a young dog that needs to be nudged with his nose into the puddle he just made (figurably speaking…not that I support any of that with dogs!). I just didn’t get some things or at least I wasn’t able to connect all the dots. Boyfriend and I surved the internet in order to find something that might help me understand and to develop my horsemanship.
First I stumbled across Parelli and some other trainers, but somehow I didn’t get that either. Their horses were doing other stuff than Barley did and in the ended up with an unhappy horse again, so I moved on to find something else.
Then I found that Australian guy, Clinton Anderson, who was preaching about horses natural behaviour and instinct, why they do or don’t do things and how to work with them. I also found a video on Youtube from Buck Brannaman, where one thing in particular stuck with me.
Be very discriminating about who you pick as a mentor,… if they are insulted by that, then they propably have something to hide.
Sweden is maybe not the country one would associate with western riding but I was determined to find something that will help me. With Buck’s recommendation in mind I watched Clintons shows and videos for weeks, read his articles and tried to digg up anything I could get my hands on until late in the evenings. I tried to find something that I didn’t like about his method, really hard…
When I didn’t find anything I tested some of his stuff on Barley and it was like we finally found the light switch!!! I couldn’t believe the change in his behaviour and overall attitude towards me (and he propably felt the same way about me!). I quit riding him and worked him from the ground for about 1½ months instead. It was so much fun to see him respond to me in a positive way. When I came to pick him up from the pasture, he actually came towards me. Barley got calmer and more attached to me (this time in the most positive way) with every day that passed.
We had found a connection! I ended up purchasing his Fundamental Series for a whole lot of money, but looking back, that was the best money spent in my entire life. There are people out there that say he is fake and overpriced and there are others that say that other trainers are fake and overpriced. I learned one more thing, keep it simple, do what feels right for you and what works for you! It’s not harder than that!
We both are still learning and we work on that connection every single day. We have our ups and downs but they are only minor hiccups that we note down as another lesson learned. I put my heart and soul into this horse and I ended up being the richest person.
In the beginning I mentioned dedication. When I got him I was overweighed and honestly, I felt bad for him, putting all the weight on his young back. I worked so hard with (and for) Barley every day that I found another benefit. Since I own Barley I lost 19kg, I am still no doll and never will be (still need some insulation, winters are tuff here in Sweden), but now I feel more agile and cut out to work with him, both from the ground and in the saddle (and of course it’s much more fun to go shopping now…if I would have money left for that).
Although I get a little upset and frustrated when people nowadays come to me and say:
You are so lucky(!) to have such a calm and and well behaved horse!
Lucky, I don’t know Lucky? Who is that? They have no clue what they are talking about, do they really think that he always was this way without the smallest amount of effort from my side, that my horse is so self-aware and decided for himself that:
I want to be a good pony and never be bad to my Ma, because I love her so much and she is so sweet to me…
But then I remind myself that those are the people that lead their horses with a chain over the nose and a whip in the other hand, because their horse is so special and not like other horses and can not be trained. So I smile and say:
Yes, I am so lucky!
Alright, that was me being honest! Dayum, it takes a lot of words to be honest but it feels good. If you want to be honest with me, let me know! 😀
Have a great day, love what you do and enjoy yourself!
Disclaimer: In the horse world there is not one right or wrong. If you ask thousand people you will get thousand different answers. This article is only about MY truth.