Starting with the “my grass” game
Creatively motivating our horse to do what we want them to do, happily and easily under all circumstances – and with no force – is a major key to our success with our horse. It not only makes us good riders, it makes our horses want to be co-operative.
And oh how I’m smiling to myself when I think of how I apply creative motivation to other aspects of my life outside of horses – another gift that horses bring us!
Creative motivation is what Kristina in the photo above used with Dom to get him turning himself inside out to please her.
What you will see in this video is just the first step in changing the leadership around food from the horse to the person, without pulling or pushing and without creating more resistance.
Here in Fast Track, we have scattered many other ways of creatively motivating your horse, in even softer ways. This was a seriously tough horse dragging his owner all over the place constantly. The changes you see here, happened in about an hour on the day that we filmed – we just edited it down to a short video.
This is just the first step to changing your way of thinking.
There is a written version below.
If you ever have trouble playing a video that wants to stop/start all the time, here’s a great tip from Marja – click the start/play button and immediately hit the pause button. Wait for the video to load, then click start/play again and watch your video uninterrupted by downloading speeds!
Written Version of the Video
Using any force to get what we want with our horse causes resistance that causes body tension that gets in the way of us being a good rider.
Oh bugger, I wish I had known THAT 30 years ago!
Learning to motivate our horse without force is another fundamental key to both happiness and being a good rider.
This My Grass Game is just one way of getting creative about motivating our horse differently. And when we can get our horse to do what we want without force around food, we have really nailed it!
Getting dragged around by our horse can be frustrating, scarey and even dangerous sometimes.
What I am looking for in the My Grass Game is that when I say “MY Grass”, I want my horse to pick his head up, say “yes Ma’am – I’m ready to do whatever you want me to do.”
So, here’s how you can fix it if you are getting dragged around – even if it only happens sometimes.
Take your horse out to some grass and let them graze for a moment.
Then say “My Grass!”. Obviously right now this isn’t going to mean anything to them. So the next step is to stroke the rope firmly – but with no pulling.
If we pull on our horse then we teach our horse to pull on us – which is usually part of the reason they are dragging us around.
A technique to use to help us NOT pull on our horse when they’ve got their head down eating grass is to stroke the rope firmly, reaching down and sliding the rope through our hands on purpose and at the same time rotating our body gently from side to side in the same rhythm as our stroking of the rope.
I guess this is why we do video, because this is VERY hard to describe in words!
In the video, the stroking STILL didn’t work and Sirocco kept eating happily. So Simone tapped her stick on the ground beside his head as she said “My Grass!” firmly. THAT brought his head up, so she took him just a few steps away to eat a nice juicy patch of grass over there.
As soon as she stopped walking he pulled his head down (in the end we would like him to stand politely until she tells him it’s OK, but hey it takes small steps of progress to get perfect.)
Simone then demonstrated a number of ways in which to get Sirocco’s head up.
She said “My Grass” firmly again, nothing happened, so she stroked the rope again, nothing happened, so she slapped the rope on her leg. Sirocco brought his head up and off they went to a new patch of grass on purpose to let him eat the new grass. She also could have tried just clapping her leg with her hand.
Then she demonstrated saying “My Grass” firmly again, nothing happened, so she stamped her feet beside Sirocco’s head – THAT brought his head up and off they went walking to a new patch of grass MUCH further away than before.
Then she demonstrated another technique of scuffing her foot close to his nose. Absolutely no kicking here though!
At one point, she added walking to his back end and turning around after he had brought his head up.
At first, Simone could have just asked Sirocco to lift his head up out of the grass before she rewarded him by allowing him to eat again.
But in this case, Simone looked for Sirocco to lift his head and walk to a new patch of grass just a few steps away. Then she told him he could eat there instead. During the hour that she worked on this, each time he picked his head up she walked further and further until she could walk through a sea of rich spring grass without Sirocco trying to eat.
Then she extended what she wanted and asked him to stand beside her politely without eating grass. At first he couldn’t do it. And she had to say “My Grass”, didn’t work, she started to stroke the rope and he lifted his head up beautifully and softly – progress at last! She turned him around a few steps, walked back to where she had been standing and he stood there for quite a while beside her without trying to eat. MUCH more progress.
Then, as a reward, she took him over to a different patch of grass on the other side of the small paddock, waited for a while with Sirocco standing politely beside her and said “here, you can eat THIS grass.” HUGE progress! Excellent job!
So what are the keys to success here?
1. Baby steps – only look for VERY small steps of progress to start off with.
2. Their head lifting up when you ask IS the first baby step.
3. NOT pulling on your horse is a MAJOR key to success. Simone demonstrated several ways of getting your horse’s head up without pulling.
4. If you have a really bad problem with this, then be happy with small steps of progress on the first day – maybe you could stop for the day when you can get them to lift their head up and walk a few steps to a new patch of grass. If you go on and on with teaching something, they can get bored instead of motivated!
5. Bobby is very much a food oriented horse and I taught him the beginning of this Game at liberty in the paddock BEFORE he even had a halter on.
It took a few days with this VERY food motivated horse who used to drag her around, for Simone and Sirocco to get good at this.
There are many other ways to motivate a horse without force too.
If you want to be a good rider, if you want to be a brilliant rider, then getting your horse to be happy to do what you want them to do, so that you can do it together without force is one of the short cuts to brilliant riding.