Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Soggy Sunday Clinic

I just hung up my rain-soaked windbreaker, took a hot shower, and had chicken noodle soup for dinner. Yes, it sounds like something you'd do in December. That was how the afternoon ended at the Natural Horsemanship clinic I attended (audited) today. The day started partly sunny and warm and I was optimistic in a tank top as I donned my sunglasses and settled into my camp chair with my tumbler of coffee.

The clinician was Chuck Kraft from "Horsehandling." If the name sounds familiar you might have read about him in MiKael's Mania Arabian blogspot. She attended a former clinic of his and posted about it in a series of posts starting here.

Chuck Kraft is a long-time friend of Pat Parelli's. He knew Pat before he became known by the natural horsemanship household name "Parelli." Chuck reminded me a little of Pat, in both appearance and personality, as well as style. I liked him instantly.

This particular clinic was labled as "an introduction to natural horsemanship and the seven Parelli games" and had a limit of five participants, including a 9 year old girl that was leasing a 25 year old Quarter pony mare. The other cast of characters included a Walkaloosa (solid chestnut with flaxen mane and tail), a liver chestnut American Saddlebred, a bay Spanish-bred Arabian, and a flashy chestnut off-the-track teen-aged Thoroughbred.

Since the arena the handlers worked in was grass, one interesting thing that Chuck told us is that you can teach a horse when it is okay to graze. He said grazing is good and important, but your horse should have permission to do so. He showed us the "button", a spot on top of the hindquarters, where if your horse were to graze when you didn't want them to, you'd bump them firmly with the carrot stick. Up the head would go. When you wanted them to graze, you'd wiggle the carrot stick (and eventually your hand) low towards the grass and release their head. After a horse has learned this on the ground, it translates easy to riding- if your horse tries to graze on the trail when you don't want them to, instead of pulling on their reins, you can just turn and bump them with your hand on the hindquarters.

Another important reminder Chuck brought up was that horses have no deductive logic or reasoning like humans do. He really stressed that we want horses to be calmer, braver, smarter, and more athletic. If a horse is not calm and is athletic, well, you can imagine the combination and potential for danger.

The Thoroughbred did not like the plastic grocery bag on the end of the carrot stick. He immediately went into prey animal mode, snorting, jumping back and sideways, head up. Chuck worked with him for almost half an hour on desensitization to that bag. He finally got the gelding fairly calm, but not before he'd worked himself up to a lather. Chuck called this "emotional sweat." It wasn't that warm and the horse wasn't working that hard, but every vein in his Thoroughbred skin was peaked with his anxiety.

One interesting thing about this TB is that he was a left-eyed horse. According to Chuck, that meant he reacted from his right brain, also known as the flightier, spookier side. That seemed logical, from watching him play the games. And lo and behold, that horse did everything in his physical power to turn the left side of his head towards Chuck, always wanting keep that clinician in his left eye of vision. This horse had a gorgeous floaty trot and I could tell that if his spark was harnessed and worked with, he could be an amazing dressage horse.

Here Chuck is helping the young girl with her "grandma" Quarter horse. This mare appeared to be the perfect bombproof kids pony, she didn't blink an eye at the plastic bag flopping around. However, she was also in her mid-twenties and set her in ways. She was a bit resistant to yield and stay out of the young girl's space. Although she was kind of a love bug and wasn't really wasn't going to do anything dangerous while in this girl's space, I made the point to the girl's father that his daughter would not be handling or riding this mare indefinitely. Teaching the mare to yield and have respectful ground manners would benefit his daughter and give her valuable horse handling skills to use in her future interactions with other horses. Other horses that may not be as docile as this cutie was! It is easy to develop bad safety habits around overly docile horses.

At one point, someone asked when you know when to quit a session you are working on. Well, Chuck said it's like a war. You will lose some of the battles, but you can still win the war. Horseman are human and sometimes the horse wins a battle, maybe because you missed a cue or body positioning. But the important thing to remember is that it won't undo what you're working on. He stressed the importance of being fair and firm, and that horses work in situations of discomfort and comfort. Discomfort motivates, and comfort rewards. It has to be the horse's idea and they usually figure out where the most comfortable spot is pretty quickly!

Chuck stressed a lot of backing up and sideways work. He said that backing causes horses to think down to their feet, helping them to do everything else better. One thing I will work on with My Boy is his lateral flexion. This starts on the ground, holding a horse's tail, and turning their nose to touch their tail, then releasing. The Walkaloosa had this down and I envied his flexibility! A few horses would turn their noses then their body would follow in a circle. It took some finesse and slow work to get them to flex without moving their feet. This groundwork exercise is important to eventually do in the saddle, as lateral flexion (in the form of a one-rein stop) is the best way to disengage a horse's hindquarters and get them stopped. A horse has a lot of power but once they are having to move that hind end sideways under themselves, it takes the wind out of their sails.

Watching from under the umbrella of a large tree as the rain began to fall.

Around lunch time, those gray thunder clouds rumbled in and it soon began to rain. It poured for the remaining 3 hours. The clinic participants, both horses and riders, were dripping troopers as they learned how to do the seven Parelli games. This was a helpful refresher course for me. I have been doing many of these games with My Boy and he does them fairly well, but there are a few we could play more (such as the driving game and the squeeze game.)

The American Saddlebred mare did not like the rain trickling down her legs. She kept stomping as if she was being swarmed by flies, and licking the water off her ankles.

I would definitely attend a Chuck Kraft clinic again. I liked his confidence and interactions with both the horses and the humans. He was very conversational and informative and I felt everyone got a lot of one-on-one attention, both training with their horse, and help with how they could implement the techniques. The woman who informed me about this clinic also mentioned a natural horsemanship group that meets to have conversation, watch DVDs, and learn more about the practice of natural horsemanship. I am considering joining their group later this month.

Yesterday, I never made it up to see my horse. I was wiped out from a long day at work that included a lengthy Saturday shopping trip to IKEA for my classroom, which included a co-worker locking his keys in his van in the IKEA loading zone.

After this clinic today, I knew I would be inspired to go and work with My Boy (I mean, play. In natural horsemanship, it is considered play, not work!) Unfortunately, the weather turned and driving home on a nearly flooded freeway was challenging enough. I can't get a break! I miss My Boy and hopefully, knock on wood, the weather will break tomorrow and I'll get to rub his speckled neck.


  1. Awww, it's too bad it had to rain. Those clinicians can't postpone clinics because they are always on the road and have to keep a schedule rain or shine. I'm still doing plastic bag training with two of my horses. Once they let me rub them all over their bodies with the bag, they graduate and I leave them alone. So far, only my 20-year-old mare has graduated. My younger ones will sniff the bag, but won't let it touch them.

  2. Thanks for the informative post. I don't have a horse of my own, however, I do take riding lessons and work around many different personalities at a stable part-time. There were a few tidbits in your post that I can take away with me and use.

    We must live in the same area. We seem to experience the same weather patterns. It rained on me today while I was at the stable. Naturally, it cleared up as soon as I had everyone inside.....

  3. The holding the horse's tail and getting them to touch their nose with it -- is that all there is to it, or an you either describe how it's done or tell me where I can go to learn more about it. And don't say the Parelli $erie$ - no money, honey.

  4. Too bad for the rain! Sounds like a great clinic otherwise!

  5. I was at IKEA on Saturday, too! How funny. Fortunately, I didn't lock my keys in the car. I hope you guys weren't stuck for too long!

    I have never done any natural horsemanship stuff, but maybe I'll check some stuff out. You seem much more easy going about it. Some of the really extreme natural people scare me off. But building a stronger relationship with Jack would always be a good thing. Great post!

  6. There are some people who are so totally Anti-Parelli and Natural Horsemanship. It's a shame, I thin, because even if someone doesn't agree with all the games or techniques there are so many others that are wonderfully useful, and some that have been used years before Natural Horsemanship had a name.

    I hope one day to try out Parelli with my horse. Kind of out of my league monetarily for now, though.

    But I did get a couple great tips from your post:

    "A horse has a lot of power but once they are having to move that hind end sideways under themselves, it takes the wind out of their sails."

    I must remember this and work more doing it with my Baby Doll. We had an 'episode' the other day while on the trail where she lost her mind for a little while. gah!

    Thanks :)

  7. Glad you had a great time at the clinic! I have never seen him before. Sorry about the bad weather!

    Love the pink horses PJ pants!

  8. Now this is the kind of horsemanship clinics I like to hear about. You came away with a lot of good information. Thanks for sharing. I sort of forget to use some of the things I have learned over the years. But it is slowly coming back working with these green horses.

    My step-dad used to laugh at me because before I ever rode anything at my mom's I used to work on ground manners and leading. Mostly showmanship type stuff. It really is amazing how well all that translates when you start riding a horse. My mom loved it when I would ground work all of her horses. She said they moved around a person so much better.

  9. LEAH~ So the nose to tail flexion thing....okay, MUCH harder to do than the clinic particpants made it look. I tried it briefly with My Boy today and it did not go well...we will try again next time! Once I have more details worked out I will try to do a post about it.

    LISA~ A lot of people poo-poo NH and that is their choice, it's not for everybody. But it works for me because it is so stinkin' logical! :) Even during the clinic, it was like I was reading Chuck's mind and I knew why he was doing everything he did. It just all makes such perfect sense. And it works! And just because it's "natural" doesn't mean it's unsafe or that it babies horses. Just the opposite! I think it demands more respect from the horse, first on the ground. If someone doesn't have it on the ground, why on earth would they ever climb aboard that 1200 lb. animal's back?? For me, I just need to build more confidence and try not to let my nervous energy or anxiety transfer to my horse. I think that is what makes a really great horseman- confidence. Horses know when you have it, and when you don't!

    BEC~ it's so true. Groundwork is so important. For example, seeing that TB that was SO terrified of that plastic bag....the last place her owner would have wanted to discover that about her horse was while she was on his back, on a trail! Can you imagine?

  10. Good thing they did the plastic bag training first because those rain ponchos could have been scary!! :)

    Looks like it was fun despite the rain.

    I love IKEA! It's a wonderful store!!

  11. I agree that alot of people rag on "natural" horsemanship, and I remain somewhere in the middle, but some of those guys really are amazing. I have heard of Chuck Kraft before, and it is good to see that he is not one of the defense of natural horsemanship, there are lots of quacks on the "other" side of horse training as well :)

    Glad that you had a good time at the clinic, and I hope that you learned some valuable training tools. Too bad it was raining !

  12. Left eyed? Hmmm? I will have to pay better attention to my mare on that! She is a great horse, sweet, gentle,follows me around like a big dog.Untill...we are in the arena, then she is watching everything! She does pay attention to me, but her head ears and eyes are constantly moving. I think sometimes she has multi personalaties she acts fine one minute then is spooked the next? She is 7 so old enough to be getting over it?

  13. Hi there, first time commenter here. I ride an Appaloosa as well - we have 4 altogether and 1 rarely used thoroughbred - yeah Appys! Anyway, moving along - I am and have been an avid natural horsemanship enthusiast for about 23 years now. I have been to many clinics both as a participant and an auditer. Ray Hunt is my hands down all-time favorite along with the late-great Tom Dorrance. If you ever get the chance to ride or study with Ray - go for it!! Another fantastic teacher and much kinder to people is Brad Cameron - technically a mule trainer, but will do horsemanship clinics if requested. Awesome and very humble - he doesn't need to brag (like some clinicians I won't name!). Brian Neubert and Joe Wolter are good too. I know of a very good local guy too - Dave Williams, lives in Hillsboro, Oregon (Portland area). He trained under Ray Hunt. Good luck and have fun in your learning adventures. And as far as building more confidence, most of us are in that boat! Remember the famous one-liner of Ray's; "The only way to get past it, is to go thru it". So true...
    May I be so bold as to inquire how much those cool chinks of yours cost??? I gotta get me some of those!

  14. Hi Anonymous~ thanks for commenting and the recommendations!I want to get the Tom Dorrance (or Bill, I can't recall) book I saw recently. It looks really basic and valuable. Even Parelli's first book, the Western Horseman "Natural Horse.Man.Ship" one (before Linda came into the picture. Nothing against Linda, it's just a different style) is really informative, too.
    I got my chinks off of the Parelli collection website, they are K Bar J Leather brand though, they have a website you can similar ones directly. I posted about it earlier this month with a link. Mine ran around $450. Not cheap, that put a dent in my horse fund. It was a bit extravagant but I will have them for years!

  15. A bump spot, wow, I have never heard of that. This looks like it was fun to audit!
    I am one to forget the safety thing, not all horses are docile like my own are. Thank you for this reminder.
    Funny how each horseman has their own language for pressure and reward, discomfort and comfort, etc and they all mean the same thing. The one-rein stop can work, but the teacher we had recently for our horse riding class says it can also do some pretty good harm. If a rider is not experienced in the one-rein stop more than likely you pull on one rein, the horse turns abruptly and the rider ends up on the ground. He has said he has seen too many riders do this. (just an opinion based on heresay).
    Happy horsin’ around


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

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