I’ve just descended from the back of my lofty, three-and-a-half-year-old Clydesdale gelding. I can’t seem to wipe the smile from my face. This was our very first trail ride, his very first time leaving the safety and security of his pasture under saddle, and my very first time riding a horse of this magnitude on the road.
To prepare for our maiden voyage I did a bit of long-lining with him around the neighborhood. This was always fun due to the height of Raleigh’s hindquarters and my lack of height. I was not visible from the front. I can’t tell you how many times people stopped me with their hands on their hearts saying, “I thought he was loose! I couldn’t see you!”
Our long-lining lessons began completely pressure-free. I taught him to target his feet to a stationary concrete paver where he learned to stand completely still without being tied. He learned to lower his head for the bit by targeting my hand. He even learned to walk-off in the long lines by targeting a ball that I had thrown. I later paired a tap of the driving whip with the verbal cue walk and the toss of the ball so he’d understand that both the verbal and the touch cue mean walk.
It felt really good to teach him to walk away from me without pressure. I think in his mind he wasn’t walking away from me, he was walking towards his beloved ball. Later when I started him under saddle I used the ball for the same purpose. (See the category “Videos”)
Raleigh is the first horse I’ve started. I’ve owned him since he was 15-months-old. His very first lesson off the trailer was click means treat. During this time I kept wondering if starting a horse using pure attraction-based methods would make a difference.
I starting seeing signs early on that it was. For instance, Raleigh has never shown any signs of being buddy or barn sour. In fact, just the opposite. If he hears my back door open, he’s the first to gallop to the gate in hopes it’s his turn to do something.
I just spoke to my close friend, Candee Niss,who is a phenomenal rider, eventer and instructor, who is starting a young Friesian cross with attraction-based clicker work. She echoed the same sentiments.
We concluded that when we train this way we become more attractive to the horse than its buddies or the barn. The horse doesn’t suffer any separation anxiety because the source of all good things (us) is with them. They feel secure with us because their main needs are met — first, the ability to eat small bits of food often, and second, the safety and security we have to offer.
Candee also added that the yearling she’s working keeps this focus regardless of the location. He can be in a familiar arena or a completely foreign location and still maintain his connection to her without becoming “lookey” or spooky at the change in scenery.
This realization was exactly what I felt within ten strides of leaving my property on Raleigh. At first I was a wee bit nervous, especially when passersby kept asking me, How’s the weather up there? Do you need cotton for your nose? But all that nervousness washed away with his calm, purposeful walk. To my surprise he was steady, forward, and straight, even with the changing scenery.
Accompanying me on this outing riding Juliet, our Paso Fino mare, was my wonderful husband. (He’s actually extra wonderful because he prefers to ride things with two wheels over things with hooves. So for him to join me in the hooved arena seriously increased his wonderfulness.) Juliet was slow poking it along because Romeo, my other Paso Fino, was expressing his discontent that we had taken his mare. Even though Juliet was lagging behind, Raleigh acted as if she wasn’t there. He kept right on with a steady clip, clop of his pie-plate hooves along the road.
If I saw that Raleigh was getting a bit lookey at the herd of goats we were passing or the decorative flags on the mail box, I just said, Head down, or tuck your nose, and like magic, he answered. I felt a unique connection with him that felt so different compared to my other three horses.
It was as if I was a radio station and he was tuned to my channel, loud and clear. My other horses, mainly Romeo and Juliet, have a tendency to change stations now and then and I have to work to play really good songs for them to listen to. I think by starting Raleigh with attraction from day one, I created a place where it feels better to listen to me than to outside distractions.
My other horses weren’t started this way. I have a feeling they were made to listen to music that didn’t feel good. This may have caused them to develop associations with humans that made them want to change the station and look for other ways (besides listening to humans) that would make them feel better.
After our official first ride off the property, I’m thrilled to report on what I felt as I was 16+ hands off the ground on a young, large horse. I felt a strange and wonderful sense of grounding that I haven’t felt before. It felt as if Raleigh was sending out feelers directly to me for guidance rather than looking around at his surroundings for direction.
The only downside to this amazing ride on Raleigh is that he’s making my other horses look bad. So now, I’m off to find new ways, or should I say music, for the rest of my herd so they’ll enjoy tuning in just like Raleigh.
Sounds great Cheryl! I bet you had a blast up there. I really love reading all of your posts about Raleigh.
Thanks also for the short description of your long lining lessons. I have a few young ones who I’m going to do this with soon, once they get a bit more comfortable with some of the other ground work exercises I’m doing.
Thanks for sharing my enthusiasm about Raleigh. He’s making me quite a fan of heavy horses. Not that I needed a horse his size, it’s his temperament and the way he perceives the world that I’m really enjoying.
I had never long lined a horse before him. It proved to have a huge payoff especially under saddle. It was so effective with Raleigh and our communication that now I’m going to start long lining the rest of my herd. I started Raleigh off with a Dr. Cooks Bitless Bridle experimenting with using it as side pull and also as it’s intended use as a cross under. The BB made it really easy for Raleigh to fetch while in long lines. Later after he was fluent with vocal cues for left, right and whoa I introduced an oval mouth snaffle.
I never had an interest in driving, but after the fun of long lining, Raleigh’s big body might be seen actually pulling something with wheels. The process of long lining seemed to also enhance other desirable behaviors like standing still, getting used to lines or ropes around their body, and to me the biggie, of understanding and responding to vocal cues.
I can’t wait to hear what happens next with your young ones!
I recently started riding my first homebred, who is now three. I have done long lining with him, as well as some trick training and just hanging out having fun together. He’s been a joy to start riding with extremely little resistance. I also use some clicker type training, along with just lots of praise and enjoying what I’m doing with him. I think that the attitude we hold has so much to do with how the horse feels about any activity.
I just found your blog and like that there are others out there training with enjoyment and fun.
Thank you for your dangerous comment. To start a homebred would be such a wonderful experience. I see such a difference having started with Raleigh at 15 months old. I can only imagine starting them from birth.
I love what you say about the attitude we hold has so much to with how the horse feels. This is why I like attraction-based work so much. It makes you focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. I’ve heard so many clicker trainers say that they’re always laughing and smiling when they are training. No doubt the horses feel this and probably find it a wonderful place to be.
Three cheers to enjoyment and fun!
I end up laughing with my horses a lot. I have to say that it is certainly good for me too! Especially after a long work day. We play and they learn too. It’s be best deal for both of us. The horses certainly know. 😉
It will be interesting to see how Raleigh changes over the next three years! All three of the clydes I have seen “grow up” didn’t finish growing until 5 and then took that last year to fill out their rangey frames. They are great horses and it sure sounds like he’s having a good time.
I really value your comment on this one. It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries for me to ponder the finished height of my growing Clyde. I’ve never had the privilege to work with drafts so I’m in a completely foreign land. The bulk of my experiences has been with pint-sized Paso Finos.
For the longest time Raleigh hovered around 15.3. The folks who rescued him felt that he might be stunted because when the got him he looked malnourished. I just measured him a few days ago and it looks like he’s around 16.1 making his withers finally level with his hindquarters.
Thanks for sharing your Clyde experience. It’s seems I’ve got a bit more waiting to solve his final height mystery….yikes.