Monday, July 21, 2008

The Chuck Kraft Clinic

The Arabian horse that was Chuck Kraft's first project in the morning was an 8 year old gelding named Rocky. The only exposure to anything away from home was his one week stint at a trainer's when he was 3. Since that time the horse had just been hanging out at home in the pasture.

They had Rocky off the trailer and into the arena when they decided maybe they should put up some panels to cordon off an area for the spectators to sit. Chuck Kraft had the Arabian horse in hand with a rope halter and a 12 foot lead when they used to tractor to bring in those panels.

If you ask me Rocky did pretty darn well handling that kind of situation. The Arabian horse snorted a bit but didn't look like he was overly excited. There was no indication that he wanted to escape. He seemed to be paying close attention to Chuck and what he was asking him to do which basically was just be...........

Once the panels were set in place and the tractor had exited the arena, they got the trainer wired for sound. That took the horse back just a bit but he still seemed to be trying to do what he was asked.

From the beginning it didn't seem to me that Chuck Kraft was doing a big push on Parelli. The subject came up from time to time but mostly he just worked with the horse explaining as he went. He pretty much went through all the things I would expect to be normal groundwork getting a horse ready to be started under saddle.

There was the usual information. The horse is prey and we are predators. When a predator looks prey in the eye it is scary for the prey animal. The horse learns from the release. The one is charge is the one in control of the other's feet.

Chuck started off explaining that he never looks a horse in the eye. He also doesn't talk to them or call them by name. If a horse is rattled by what he's doing he touches them to reassure them that everything is ok.

To desensitize the horse Chuck started off with the infamous plastic bag tied to the end of the "carrot stick." I think that's what Parelli calls the thing. It's built like a longe whip with a long lash except the handle part is probably about the length of a riding crop. It allows the handler to safely reach/touch parts of the horse.

Of course, poor Rocky didn't know what to think of that thing with that dreaded plastic bag tied to the end of the lash. Chuck explained he didn't want to overstimulate the horse he just wanted to push the limits of his comfort zone to teach the horse that the object was safe. Rocky was quick to show him his comfort zone was with the plastic bag somewhere else.

Chuck would bring the plastic bag as close to the horse as he could without pushing the horse to the point of totally freaking out. The horse first tried escaping by spinning around the handler. Chuck just reached up and soothed the horse with his touch.

Before long the horse was standing quietly letting the bag rest on his back or sides. When it moved down to his feet the horse kicked out with a back foot a couple of times. Overall Rocky pretty much behaved about like any young horse would when subjected to this kind of exercise for the first time. There was nothing to me that indicated that he was a particularly "crazy" or "wild" as had been indicated by his early trainer.

It was interesting to note how quickly that the horse picked up on the soothing touch of Chuck's hand reassuring him that everything was ok. Seems like it was just a few times and the horse would immediately respond to Chuck's touch. I could see the horse reacting to the stimulus and Chuck would reach out with his hand and the horse would settle.

I haven't gone into a lot of detail about the process because it is pretty much the same thing I've written about many times before. Chuck just kept applying the plastic bag and reassuring the horse until Rocky finally figured out the thing wasn't going to kill him and stood there quietly.

It wasn't long before Chuck had the horse standing ground tied and he was running that plastic bag all over his body. The horse was more defensive about his back legs even when ground tied but quickly got more comfortable with it.

Once he had the horse standing quietly for that he moved on down the list of Parelli's 7 games. I can't tell you the name of all those games or even what they consist of but I can tell you the whole group of them make up what I would consider all the basic steps you would teach a young horse as groundwork before you moved up to work under saddle.

It seems to me that Parelli's method of games is an aid to breaking down the process in a way that the humans involved can understand. By making the steps involved in teaching a horse the principles of groundwork into "games" they are more easily remembered and can be employed in a way that makes sense to both horses and humans.

It is the same process whether it's labelled games by Parelli or groundwork by Harvey Jacobs. What's important is that it be a safe way for both human and horse to learn and build a relationship together. I found the principles to be the same.

In the process of teach those games, Chuck Kraft taught the horse to give to pressure to come forward and go backward on cue. He taught the horse to side pass both directions. He desensitized the horse underneath it's tail by sticking the carrot stick under it until the horse finally learned by lifting its tail whatever "had" it would let go. There was circling to the left and right and teaching the horse to go through "tight" places safely.

Rocky who was supposed to have been too wild for the trainer took all of these things in stride and looked to me like he'd be a fun horse to ride. He learned quickly and seemed to really enjoy the interaction. Watching Chuck Kraft work with him was a nice reminder of what I "should" be doing with all of my young horses if there were enough hours in the day.

I have to say the Arabian horse that really intrigued me was the second horse of the day. I will begin his story tomorrow.


  1. Sounds like the basics are the basics, often just worded differently. Now I'm really curious about the second horse and why it intrigued you so! How is Lindsay getting along? I hope things are getting back to normal there for you.

  2. Hi MiKael, sounds like what I "should" be doing with all of my young horses too and never find the time for. I have started wotking with the three two year old fillies out in the pasture down the road, they havent even been taught to lead properly and have had a halter on twice in their whole lives, so I am starting with them getting used to the rope and draping it all over them, making a make shift halter with it and just getting used to it being around. We will take the next step once we have achieved that, only two of the three are receptive, Dawn (she was the last one who learned to trust me and let me touch her when the babies first came to me) wants nothing to do with it LOL.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

  3. Very interesting. Softly working in the horse's comfort zone. Love it.

  4. I liked reading reminds me of the "Parelli" that I am doing. I agree that it is similar to groundwork that a lot of trainers do, just labeled differently. Being I am near 40 and hadn't ridden much in 17 years, I really needed a simple, step-by-step process to help me build my confidence in working with a horse and riding again. I have found Parelli to really help me with that!