Do What Has To Be Done

Glenn Stewart Natural Horsemanship

Do what has to be done.  Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes doing what has to be done can be uncomfortable.  We might want to do something else because of our attitude or mood at the moment, but we should only do what needs to be done - nothing more, nothing less.  We need to be careful that we don’t avoid or make excuses or tell ourselves a story that keeps us from what needs to be done.  A horse very soon will recognize those who do and those who don’t.  Those who do what needs to be done have a much more enjoyable, safe time with their horses and the horses are much happier.

This is true as well when we are playing with horses and they appreciate it if we can do what has to be done – nothing more, nothing less.  One way I use to make it easier for myself and for other people to do what has to be done is by using phases.  Phases come in different forms for different exercises.  A description of phases is to use a form of pressure that starts at phase 1 (very soft and light - usually lighter and softer than one would think) and gradually increase the pressure at 2/3 second intervals to phase 2, then phase 3 and, if necessary, to phase 4 until you get the required result or a try from the horse.

There really are two forms of pressure that should be used with horses.  One is steady pressure which means you are physically touching the horse with your hand, your leg, a rein or the horseman’s stick.  The other is rhythmic pressure that has movement to it and is more of a suggestion from phase 1 to 3.  You would not touch the horse until phase 4 using rhythmic pressure.  Shaking hands would be similar to steady pressure, and waving to someone would be similar to rhythmic pressure.

Using phases is what horses do everyday with each other.  If we follow their patterns as much as we humanly can, our using phases will make sense to them which will speed up the training process and get us better results.  Using phases also helps people with a plan, gives them some guidelines to follow, and gives us a “what to do next” in our program or plan.  Guidelines of using phases gives us the necessary next step even if we don’t feel like it or are not comfortable with it.  The consistency of phases supports the horse in its ability to understand and count on us to do what we need to do.  This absolutely builds a horse’s confidence in us as their leader.  Sometimes we need to be firmer than we want, sometimes we need to be softer than we want or are.  If I’m using steady pressure, I think of pushing first on the hair then the skin then the muscle and finally bone.  That would be 4 phases staying at each phase for 2 or 3 seconds before moving to a firmer phase.  This gives the horse time to feel each phase and a chance to move without us taking so long between each phase that it puts them to sleep.  The appropriate phase and its timing helps keep us fair in our requests and follow a similar pattern that horses use on each other.  People like to push and pull, neither of which work well with horses.

If I’m using rhythmic pressure, the phase or movement is small to start then phase 2 is bigger (not faster) and so on until phase 4 which is when you would be rhythmically touching the horse if he had not responded to how you wanted him to move.  Both steady and rhythmic pressures are used with horses equally often.  One is not more important than the other.  The phases are only as good as the person using them.  We must be effective with our phases.  Effectiveness may be a lot of things like softer, firmer, slower, faster, or sooner. If we are effective it means we got the message to the horse.  Think about being as light as possible but as firm as necessary.  We need to be clear enough and stick with it long enough to get done what needs doing.  

The most effective we can be is when we are assertive, not passive and not aggressive.  Being assertive can mean bringing a lot to the table in certain situations. We might have to get our life up and move quickly.  It depends what the horse is doing and how they have been handled in the past.  Whatever we need to do we need to be ok with it.  Bringing our life up and bringing a lot of energy to a situation can be uncomfortable for some.  That’s where the phases can help.  The idea is to bring whatever is needed to the situation without our emotions getting in the way.  There really is no room for getting emotional, mean, mad or sad.  All of which are not helpful.  Relax, enjoy, and smile.  It takes time for us to learn and time for the horse to learn.  Horsemanship is a journey that I’ve been on for years so I might as well have fun while I learn.  We can always ask ourselves when we used our phases, were we fair and did we give time in each phase?  We all make mistakes, and we don’t always get it right, but I believe this helps us get closer to being a better horseman.  The only way to not make mistakes is to do nothing.  If we are learning and trying to improve ourselves and our horses, we are going to make mistakes.  Learn from them and move on.  Well, it’s time to go play with some horses and see if I can do most things right.  

Have a great day,

Glenn Stewart

Glenn is now offering year round educational horsemanship programs at his facility near Fort Saint John, BC and is available to travel and conduct clinics.  For more information on Glenn and The Horse Ranch visit www.thehorseranch.com.  If you are looking for quality Natural Horsemanship Equipment go to www.naturalhorsemanshipequipment.com

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