Friday, February 19, 2010

Walking 101

Green rider. Green horse. That was me in 1985 when I bought my first baby horse--a beautiful sorrel weanling from Quincy Dan lines.



I still remember the day I brought my last payment to Harold, the man who was selling Tanner--and who also owned the boarding stable, Lucky Acres, in Lewiston, Idaho. I have fond memories of wild and crazy times there, learning the lessons the hard way--run-away horses, horses with saddles under their bellies, those were the days!

I stood in the pasture, rope in hand, colt in halter, getting ready to take him to his new stable home I'd rented for $45.00/month (hay not included). I said to Harold, What do I do with him until he's able to be rode? (Yeah, I wasn't very bright back then).

His answer. Walk him. A lot. Come here as much as you can and walk him up those hills--he pointed up to the steep, rocky ledges--over that creek--he pointed toward Tammany Creek--and around the arena--everywhere. (He may have also told me to groom him and pick up his feet, but I don't remember that part if he did--that's something I might say to a greenby).

Well, let me tell you, I did it--exactly like he said. I'd come out, groom him, and walk him all over hill, dell and water. What else could I do with a weanling? I owned an Appaloosa gelding I'd ride, but all my hopes were set on raising that colt--he was my pride and joy. (Poor thing got moved around a lot, though, because I was in college, didn't have much money, and was always looking for the best deal on pasture boarding. Oh well--such is the life of the young--and usually the horses survive).

Looking back, I think it was the BEST advice I ever received. When it came to saddle training him, he was a breeze. When we ventured out on his first trail rides, the early lessons in trust we'd learned on our walks translated on horseback. He was the most willing horse I'd ever rode. It made me a big believer in raising them from the ground up, and the power of a simple walk to develop a horse/human relationship.

Let's dissect it for fun. What's going on when you go for the simple walk? First, that's how a herd moves all day, every day, with the leader out in front--so you're taking that role of leader and you're doing something that they do naturally and enjoy. Second, the horse's brain is fully engaged and awake as he/she takes in all the new sights and sounds. They're more apt to get frightened, and it's in those moments you teach them about respecting your space, stopping, thinking things through, moving forward. Also, you're not asking them to do anything unnatural or difficult--you're basically just "being" together--and a relationship is formed from spending time together. Oh, and you're getting in shape (hear that Dr. Phil??)

Am I leaving something out? That's just off the top of my head. So, you see, the simple walk isn't so simple after all. It may be the most powerful, cheap, and easy training tool available to us. Ponying them behind another horse is also a lot of fun, but I don't think it, alone, develops the relationship between horse/human in the same way. You may disagree with that, but from my experience, when you're ponying, you have a lot more going on with the horse you're riding and the horse you're ponying alongside.

Do you walk your horses?

Have your neighbors looked out their windows and, instead of seeing you walk your dog...



You're walking your, My Little Pony?



She's kind of getting chubby isn't she--the pony that is!?!



Bye for now, hope you have a great weekend walking your horses!! (or dogs)



Happy walking, everyone!

13 comments:

  1. I'm a big believer in walking, ground driving and just plain standing around together, for all the reasons you mention - and it's fun for all!

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  2. I want to do that with ALL my horses, if it EVER stops raining and/or snowing up in the mountains! Scout especially needs to learn to respect our space, so she probably needs walking the most. Cali just naturally follows me and is very mellow. Sunni? Oh, gosh! He will SPOOK at everything, so he needs LOTS of walking and desensitizing. Gigondas...HA! She'd probably run off! And Quad...why, he's so mellow...but I bet he's never seen a covey of quail fly off from beneath a bush! Oh, boy! I got my work cut out!

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  3. Boy, does this bring back memories. I got my Mustang/draft cross when she was brought in from the wild at 5 months. Her mother promptly weaned her when she realized someone else would "babysit". We started the walks, just like you, up hills, down gullies, she pushed me into a creek once for fun (Mustangs are huge jokesters!). But the best was when the neighbors would bring their dogs out to walk with us. There would be 3 or 4 of us walking along, which created a minor problem. My horse viewed herself as a dog for some time. Whenever a dog would walk by, she would charge out to walk with them, and then have a temper tantrum when I told her no. What a bond we developed! Everyone should walk.

    IMO, your baby is not chubby; she's hairy. It must be cold out.

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  4. Your little pony reminded me of a guy I saw walking down the sidewalk in Clarkston - with his billy goat! Cutest little fat goat with horns and a beard. Strange sight... I guess he's a subject for lots of local conversation.

    I love to walk my horses too. I've been thinking about taking Scout for a hike out in the wilderness sometime soon.

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  5. I agree!!! I walked all of my horses when I was saddle training them and before that even. It gets them used to the trails and it also gets them used to trusting you and you alone. That's a big deal. It's hard for a horse to leave the herd if they don't trust who they are with. I walked Chico a LOT and he is also the most willing horse on the trails that I've got.

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  6. I loved your story. I had never been around horses and had been put into a situation were I had to learn quick and help a sick friend take care of his. My friend ended up passing away and here I was taking care of 3 mares and their foals and a filly. I read everyday. There was one foal and he was about 5 months old, he was my boy and I loved him. I started walking him in the pasture to get use to the lead. It was a site...like a parade because the other horses would all follow. The horses ended up being sold and moved. I miss them everyday!

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  7. I love to walk, anywhere, anytime, but have never walked a horse! I never would've thought that so much more goes on than meets the eye, regarding the herd, and being the alpha horse. It looks really peaceful, too, and hope to one day try walking a horse.

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  8. Walking is a great way to spend time with your horse. I think you received great advice!

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  9. Love this post, I totally agree with you! In fact, I handwalk my horse A LOT! Especially now that he is lame, I do it to warm him up. I need to hand walk him off the property more often and through the neighborhood. Paint Girl wants to follow along with her filly once she is better halter broke. My Boy is steady and he'll be a good leader when we see scary things.
    Whatever happened to your little filly? Can't remember if you've written about her before.

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  10. I've enjoyed reading all of your experiences walking. I think it's unanimous--our horses are better because of it. If there ever comes a day I can't ride, I think I'll be perfectly happy with a ground relationship.

    Pony Girl--I don't think I've ever written a lot about Tanner--he was a gelding--those years of my life were chaotic and I eventually ran out of money and had to sell him--and the appy. That's about the same time I started my family. It was just a time in my life where my priorities shifted. I think I've said before though, that I regretted it. With horses, you've got to go with your heart--nothing about owning one is really "practical".

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  11. Linda -- I'm a firm believer of walking! I got my quarter horse Danny when he was a weanling, and I did the same thing. I walked him down busy roads, gravel roads, up hills, everywhere I could take him. A lot of people comment on what a good mind he has for a young horse (he's 5 this year). He was probably born with a good set of genes, but I like to think that the walking helped too.

    Just yesterday I was out walking our Shetland pony, Calla Lily, along the road. I'm working on getting her exposed to different things so my grandkids can ride her. I also walk Indy (the Arabian with the maybe pain, maybe behavioral rearing problem) a lot. He's such a sweet, kind, never-in-your space horse that I enjoy our walks a lot. And I agree, I could be perfectly happy just doing this with him or any of my equines if I were ever not able to ride.

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  12. Excellent post. Walking with a animal bonds you with them...dogs, cows, horses..maybe not cats so much. I'm looking forward to walking Echo because I think I could handle him. Maybe Wildairo would be too much of a handful for me. First Echo needs to trust me to lead him through gateways, lol.

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  13. Linda,
    Come over to my blog on Wednesday, I've got an award waiting for you!

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.