In this final part of this series, Charley Snell uses the fence to get his mare, Belle, used to being with him while he stands on the fence.
Beside the hindquarters, what else are you trying to get to work from the fence?
If I had a horse that was really green, I would do things with ropes, tarps, slicker and flags – all for the purpose of them getting used to all that stuff on and around them while having no reaction. None. You want them alert and paying attention but not afraid.
You want them standing here quietly, no matter what is going on. Even if they are really green, they do not need to be dancing around or leaving the ranch mentally.
For the human, there is a fine line here in watching the horse. Are they making arrangements to move or are they just sorting things out? You need to learn to read what is going on.
What you don’t want is the sleepy eye thing happening. People don’t realize it but if your horse has gone asleep on you, he has retreated mentally somewhere. So, if you were to ask that horse to do something, you would have to really pull on your bridle rein or kick him to get him to do something for you.
With Belle, she is kind-of with me here. What she was looking at is the blue tarp on the saddle. So, what I will do is get her caught up on that blue tarp. Get her real sure -- so that, when I get on her, she will be more confident.
From the fence, you can let them feel your weight. If I had a really touchy horse, I would be putting some weight way up here, doing some things back here or sitting on their hip a little bit. There is a multitude of things. Again, though, if something were to go wrong, I still have a foot on the fence to save myself.
These are just some of the ways to get the horse developing more confidence in you when something new shows up
Like Belle deciding right now to go for a walk by herself…
She was thinking that she needed to step away. So what I do is step her out, get the hindquarters and line her up. However, look at her feet. They are not balanced. One foot is way ahead of the other. I would not get on her or any horse that way. The feet should be somewhat evenly aligned. If the left is a bit ahead and she has her balance, that is ok.
When I am doing all these things, I am always watching the horse’s expression. Is it good? Are their eyes alert? Are they paying attention? Or is she half-asleep? What are her ears doing?
From the fence, I can get a horse used to a lot of things but they still have the freedom to move if they get afraid. If that happens, I still have the opportunity to direct the feet in my hand connecting to the bridle rein down to the feet again, bringing them back to the fence from the vantage point of safety and being above them.
There is another thing to this deal. In working with cattle, it is called the “balance point,” and you actually can start to develop that in a horse right here along the fence. If you had a cow facing you right there, the perfect place of balance for the horse would be right ahead of my saddle here to the back of my cantle. That would be perfect place of balance.
When the horse figures that out, they will really control a cow.
Wouldn’t a horse naturally know how to be balanced?
Not necessarily. We can teach them quite the opposite, in fact, and that is troubling to the horse.
All livestock understands the balance point. Every animal has a place on their bubble that allows them to be controlled comfortably by another animal or a human.
By the balance point, I mean the horse’s mental and anatomical place of balance. It is the ideal place that the horse learns they can go anywhere with a cow that they need to go and control her.
Could you talk a bit about what it means to “operate from a feel?”
“Feel.” What an elusive concept.
It can be direct or indirect. Soft or firm. Harsh or kind. A “feel” in the context of this style of horsemanship is very hard to teach and sometimes not easily learned. I think everyone has it; it is just more rude and crude in some folks. A feel takes some thought and dedication in the development of our approach and what we want to present to the horse.
You can work with a multitude of things in a short order when the horse is in neutral, meaning soft and ready to do anything you ask. When a horse is in that place of being with you, you can expose them to a number of things. When you do, they start taking in and learning right off the bat.
Horses learn patterns real easy. Real easy. If they learn a certain pattern and you present a different pattern it may take a bit to get them on to it. However, if they are soft and have learned to follow a feel, and you know where the feet are at, you can ask one to do about anything and they will come through.
When I pick up my rein or bridle rope, for the horse, it means one of two things. They are either going to bend their body or move a foot. So now, when I pick this rope up, she is thinking, “Something is coming.”
When I send a feel down this rope, what I am saying to her is “Something needs to be happening. Don’t just stand there.” Through this feel down the halter rope, I am setting it up for her to discover what I am asking.
When she does do the right move, meaning what I am asking, I release the rope, just a little release. When I do this, I am communicating, “You did the right thing.”
Again, when she feels the release, she learns, “I did what he asked me to do.”
Although my hand is almost in the same place, my intention is my intention. With a feel, I am asking her to sort some things out here and she knows that she has found what I want when I release the feel. She is beginning to think and not just react.
So often people hold the reins too tight -- which can be really annoying to the horse because there is always tension and they can’t be at peace or at rest. The longer you keep a horse under tension you are filling the dam, so to speak.
Under constant tension, when something goes to hell, the horse will most likely bolt. However, if you don’t put your horse in that kind of tension, if something were to go south, it won’t be as violent because they don’t have so much to release.
All horses when you work with them develop a little bit of tension until in their education they know that things are pretty good. The trick is to not let the dam fill up with tension until it blows.
This is why I am really cognizant of letting my horse stand relaxed on my lead rope or reins. First from a relaxed position when I do pick up the reins, it is a clear signal to the horse that something is coming and, again, it allows them to be at peace.
If I had a green horse, I would get down from the fence and have them take a little walk. Give them a mental break. Then after a little bit. I would start again.
Let’s say they were afraid of the slicker. I would rub them with it, then get down and take a little walk. Then I would get back up on the fence and do it all over again. Pretty quick they see it is okay.
If you can get above them on a fence, do all these things, have them to walk off and then do it all over again, you have a pretty good chance of your horses going on pretty good with you.
In summary, some of the things you seek to get working from the fence are…
Getting the hindquarters to yield; having them come parallel to the fence, teaching them to be still and comfortable with ropes, tarps, weight, etc.; getting them used to me being above them; getting them used to being in the place for me to get on; having them be with me, not walking off or being asleep; getting them to feel the balance point.
How long could this take?
It will take the time it takes. When you start putting a time limit on these things, you will go backwards with the horse.
So forget the clock and your agenda. Work with what shows up.
When do you stop working from the fence with a horse?
Probably never. Depending. I am always looking to check my horse out and keep him caught up on things. I do not want them to lose that assurance that everything is okay around me and I am always looking for different way to accomplish a task. Especially as I get older and slower!
So we have a small picture of how we set things up from our first contact with our horse that will help us end up with a horse that is quiet, confident and ready to proceed with our ride if we choose.
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