Friday, January 12, 2007

Lesson 1 with Harvey Jacobs and Arabian Horses

Introduction to Harvey Jacobs

In this next series of blogs, I’m going to attempt to explain as clearly as I can what I have learned from Harvey about this natural horsemanship thing. I’m going to try and break it down enough that you can have a clear picture so you can really put it into practice. As I started writing, I’d find myself thinking, oh, I can’t forget _ _ _ _ so many times that I realized this is going to be hard to describe. The subtleties of body language are such an important part of communicating with the horse. I’m going to do my best to paint you a picture complete with all of the hues necessary. If I’m loosing you or something isn’t clear, let me know.

If you walked up to Harvey Jacobs, you wouldn’t have to ask him what he does for a living. He looks like a cowboy. It’s not just the boots, hat, jeans and hurkin’ silver belt buckle, not to mention the handlebar mustache, his skin has the look of years in the sun. His legs have the shape of years in the saddle (although not as much as John Lyons. Harvey owns that cowboy hat, it doesn’t just sit there; you can see it belongs there. The swagger developed over years and years of what cowboys do suits him. Harvey Jacobs definitely looks like the REAL cowboy he is. I don't think Harvey cares if anyone knows he's a cowboy or not, but he does care that those who know him, know him as a horseman. Harvey Jacobs is definitely a horseman.

I don’t think Harvey is really comfortable with the clinic thing. Although he doesn’t seen to struggle with putting into words what he does so instinctively. I think fixing the horse and describing the process in the moment is something he’s not all that familiar with. He has no desire to become know as a clinician. He’s just there for his friend and to help the horses. So he tells you what he knows leaving nothing out.

The basis of his work with horses is the same I’d seen with John Lyons. and Clinton Anderson but Harvey doesn’t spend as much time on moving the horse off and turning it. If the horse isn’t responding with a lap or two, Harvey starts changing things up to find the way to get through to this particular horse.
I’ve learned from Harvey these basics that relate to natural horsemanship . Instinct for the horse tells him he must either be the leader or be led. Horses are instinctually lazy so the horse would rather be led than be the leader BUT in the absence of a leader, the horse will assume it is in charge. My guess is most horses that live with humans believe they, the horse are running the show. Our goal is to become the leader in the horse’s eyes.

When the horse comes into a new situation, he will immediately begin sizing things up to see who’s the leader. The leader will be the one with the control. Control to the horse means who moves whose feet. If the horse moves your feet (and that means ever), he’s in charge. If you are in “total” control of the horse’s feet, you are in charge. So to control the horse’s mind, we must control his feet. We must be able to move him when and where we want him at all times. Stop him, start him, and determine the pace. Once we are master of all of that, we are his leader, his friend, and he wants to be with us. Sounds simple enough.
Once we accomplish this, the horse will turn himself over heart and soul to the person. He no longer needs to be gawking at things and worrying about protecting himself. He has you to do that. He’s hooked up with you, joined your herd and you’re now his protector. That means if something scares him when you’re out on the trail, will he bolt off? Nope, he’s going to let you tell him what to do. Pretty cool, if you can get it.

So how do we get that control over the horse’s feet? Harvey talks a lot about pressure and release. Whatever you want to teach the horse requires pressure and release. Harvey insists the horse learns from the release NOT the pressure. You have to apply pressure so the horse can get a release. The sooner the horse gets the release, the faster the horse will learn. If you can give the horse a release for the ‘thought” of giving to the pressure he will learn much faster and be much softer than if he gets the release for actually giving to the pressure. (Confused about that last statement. An example would be: if you're asking the horse to move a foot and he "thinks" about moving the foot then you give him the release versus you wait for him to actually MOVE the foot before you release him. Giving the release for the thought will teach the horse faster and make it softer.)

It sounds pretty simple, control the horse’s feet, pressure and release. OK, I can make my horse do anything I want just by utilizing pressure and release. The hard part comes with trying to apply it. What is pressure? When have you gotten the "give" to pressure that warrants a release?
For the answers to both of these questions you have to look to the horse. You're going to have to read your horse. If you haven't yet learned how to read your horse, you need to start studying your him. Watch his body language closely to see how he responds in different circumstances - Happy, Scared, Tired, Bored, Attentive and so on. Pay particular attent to what his face and his eye look like. These things will help you know how your horse is responding to pressure.

The number one rule about applying pressure will always be the horse decides how much pressure to be used. It’s important to note normally the pressure should not cause stress in the horse. If the horse is responding from the pressure with a wild eye or jumping away, running into the round pen bars etc., there is TOO much pressure on the horse.(The exception to this would be if the horse has committed an act of aggression, stress for the horse is appropriate in that situation.)

One horse I saw Harvey work was so pressured with him inside the round pen, he left the round pen. When that didn’t settle the horse, we all moved back a considerable distance and let the horse deal with her fear of the round pen first. Once she was settled Harvey applied the pressure from outside the round pen. He did not enter the round pen until the filly was comfortable with him being that close to her. (I will tell this filly’s story another day but it’s important to know here how to recognize what is too much pressure.)

So now we have some basic tools to start with. Tomorrow we will look at how to use them. Let me know if you have questions. Oh, yes, the horse in the picture is multi-tasking. She has one ear on the handler and is trying to do what is asked of her, while she's thinking about her buddies back in the barn.

To be continued....
Lesson 2

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