When I see this photo of me the first time I was on a horse, probably at age 2, I am reminded that horses are in my blood, at least as the legend goes.
My father’s father was a horseman; a Cossack. He was highly trained as a soldier on horseback. In 1916 he was in some sort of equestrian accident and broke his leg. His leg healed right when things were gearing up for the Russian Revolution. He saw the writing on the wall and fled to the closest sea port where he got on a freighter to the United States.
I never heard any stories of his continuing any horsecapades after his arrival here. My mother tells me of her horse riding adventures when she was a girl with a barn sour horse that would do all it could to run back to the barn.
The horse in the photo above was put to death because it killed someone. I see hints as to why in the photograph. The bit they used on him is a mechanical hackamore. No doubt he was broke using methods of cruelty. Yes, these and even more severe bits are still used today, but people are coming around with their understanding of the gentle way of horsemanship.
As I train my horses in the round pen I think about how different horsemanship is these days. In the times of my grandfather they would break horses with physical pain, but in these days we take advantage of psychology of the horse and their herd mentality. We have learned to train our horses the way horses train each other in the wild.
What was accomplished in the old days with a whip can now be accomplished with eye contact. Encouraging and discouraging behavior can be done with simple movements and establishing yourself as the leader of the herd. Once you gain the respect of the horse they will look to you as a leader and trust that you will not put them in harms way. This helps in making each training or riding event a safe one for the horse and the rider.
It takes several months to a year before I feel like I know a new horse. I learn what they like and what they don't. I know where they like to be touched and where not to. I do exercises desensitize them to things they don't like, but the whole time I show them respect and never push them past what they are able to do in one session. I know they get it when I see them lick their lips, it's called licking their brains. That's the way they process.
It is so good when you take a horse that didn't trust you and always turned their hind end towards you into a horse that faces you and lowers its head to greet you when you walk into its space.