Is it following, or chasing? Wrong thing to do?
I want to know if a horse is not "supposed to" follow the owner, while at liberty-- if it's "bad training".
My 9y.o. daughter and I have been spending the summer schooling a project pony for her. I've been trying to train her in the NH way, mostly, using books and DVD's. We have been so pleased and proud of our beautiful smart pony and her progress.
The pony is young and playful, and she and my daughter like to go in to the large arena where we board and play games together totally at liberty. (ex; my daughter walks, trots, and runs, and the pony mimics her and follows her every move and turn and stop)
This is all calm and friendly, and the pony is following the leader. My daughter can even run over small jumps, and her pony will hop over them too, which cracks us up.
Now, I've spent quite a bit of time on schooling this pony in NH and some of it involved following me in the round pen, bonding, lots of body language, etc
A fellow barn boarder yesterday commented "Are you really letting that pony CHASE your daughter? That's really bad training..."
Should I dismiss this comment? Or am I doing something horrible and don't even know it? What do you think? I could get video if you all need to see what I mean...thank you for your opinions
As long as the pony is not stepping out of bounds and becoming aggressive , and as long as your daughter can also move the pony away from her when she chooses to, then I see nothing wrong with that.
I think with a foal it might not be wise to have horseplay that allowed the foal to "chase" the human. But if the pony is responsive when asked to move off or away from pressure when applied, then it's all good.
I think a video would be fun for our entertainment, but that's all.
Is the pony respectful in all other ways?
I think you should dismiss the comment made by the other boarder. It sounds like they don't know the way in which you are training the horse and that what the horse is doing is exactly what you want it to and that it isn't chasing your daughter. If the subject arises again, just explain that it isn't chasing, that it is part of the training process you are using and leave it at that.
I wouldn't consider it as chasing. The horse is following which it should do. When they comment about the horse chasing, just tell them that the horse isn't chasing and that it's following. Those that don't follow are the ones that are hard to catch. When the horse is following, that tells you that the horse wants to be with you.
I also agree it's OK as long as you can send the horse away at anytime that you choose.
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This is a really great question with a very complicated answer, however one that is very close to my heart. I hope you will take the time to consider my response carefully before arriving at your own decision.
I am a HUGE believer in free work. So much so that I begin work with every and any horse from that position. By free work I mean a small square arena. Not a roundpen. Not join-up and not NH carrot stick liberty work. I dont do it because it is pretty. I do it because it enables me to control ANY horse. Horses that otherwise are shut off or cannot be controlled with halters and ropes. Horses that trainers cannot train.
However when I teach others how to do this there is a very important process. Strict boundaries and a specific purpose, even if the work is free flowing and flexible. I encourage the horses to express themselves but it is NOT play. Equally as much work goes into developing the handlers own body awareness, balance and muscualr control as the horses.
Horse body language is exactly that, a language. It is very precise, very complex, very detailed, with many nuances and even 'individual accents' just as individual as personalities. It is no different to our own language just that we cannot rely on sound to confuse it or reinforce it.
Unfortunately none of the big trainers spend any time or have any real understanding it would appear of horses attempts at interaction with them. 'Its all ears back bad, ears forward good'
What concerns me greatly is that due to the NH liberty work displays, along with videos of people like Alexander Nevzorov or Frederic Pignon, many many people think its okay to run out and 'play' with their horses. Yet they have no concept of what either Nevzorov nor Hempfling are actually doing. It is not play.
So the answer is it depends. I see many videos on you tube of girls having their ponies and horses chasing them around the arena, jumping etc. Often following clicker based commands, etc etc. That is bad. It is dangerous. Very dangerous. These horses will often not display any of the signs that we rely on for dominance such as ears back. Yet their body language makes it clear they are being dominant. The moment suits them so its fine, but if that moment changes - accidents happen. A girl on a local yard had a broken cheek bone, and several lost teeth (including some punched through her lower lip) and was lucky to be alive. I know another girl who has a steak sized chunk of flesh missing from her thigh from a horse bite under similar circumstances.
The thing is I NEVER play with horses. They do and can express themselves, but chasing play is not allowed. Anytime they are expressing, bucking, rearing or anything else is fine, but at a set distance, and the second I raise a finger they STOP DEAD.
There is a set purpose behind what I do. It is about physical development, and recognition of the body shifts that will become the weight cues that will transfer to their backs.
When you ask a horse to chase you are instigating a process of physiological changes in the horse that affect how it feels. In other words you are giving them power over you. That is a dangerous thing.
So the question really is (and unkown without seeing it) is the horse chasing or are they being driven? That is the real clux of whether this is relatively harmless or potentially life threatening. If it is the former I would discourage it instantly.
Take care and please take this in the spirit it is intended.
People at board barns that talk the most tend to know the least. I'm amazed at the number of "experts" I run into in the horse world.
I see nothing wrong with it and have done the same with my horses. But as most have stated be sure to know if its following, play, or aggression. It sounds like you and your daughter have control but just make sure it stays that way. Even when I run with my filly I have to watch her body language and make sure she isn't getting aggressive and wants to run me down.
If you have any doubts, make sure you carry a crop or halter to keep the horse at a distance. The crop/halter is not to be mean but a little safety measure. Seriously though if that becomes the case where you feel you need that then I wouldn't be playing follow me. Only if you know you are under complete control. And even then things can get out of hand.
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I play with my yearling. But it starts with me stomping my feet to the beat of a trot. Then Mystic will take off..... she doesn't follow me but will stop if I do. The faster my beat the faster she runs. It is quite comical! I enjoy playing with her but do keep myself safe just in case she gets overexcited.
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I have been working through a fair bit of liberty with princess and the main difference I can think of is who's setting the pace? We mainly do our Liberty as a warm up before riding now. My theory being I have to warm her up and to be honest it's more fun for me to do it without a halter than with.
Since we started our relationship has increased 10fold and onlookers have even caught her falling into step with me.
In my eyes she is following me.
When discussing horses and horse language, sometimes it helps to remember that
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." - (attributed to Sigmund Freud)
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