Hempfling Discusses Backing a Horse

Thanks for the comments on yesterday’s post. Today is my first day of classes. I’ll make it a goal this semester to write more about what I’m learning at school. I enjoy writing about what I’m learning (whether it’s in the classroom or the barn). I think writing helps me think back through things, organize my thoughts and, often, reveals what I still need to learn.

The horses are muddy pigs right now. The contest between the pastures seems to be who can get the muddiest. The picture is of Miss Kitty, one of our old timers at the rescue. She’s at least 30 and seemed determined to win the mud award. Mud I don’t mind too much, but it’s hard to do too much riding when there’s standing water in the round pen.

Rainy or wet days don’t have to be a waste. With a bit of thinking, there’s actually a lot of training that can be done in a small space. The best places to play yesterday were definitely the run in sheds in the pasture. One gelding tends to brace while being haltered, so we worked on head lowering and relaxation at each step in the haltering process. Connor got to work on head lowering, flexions and giving softly to the lead, no matter which way it went. Tex the pony and I practiced backing up from just a finger pointing at his chest.

I’ve been reading Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling’s Dancing with Horses. Although I disagree with KFH on a lot of things, overall (so far) I really like his philosophy and message, which centers on the horse’s well being. He is very concerned with developing a horse so that the horse will be both mentally and physically sound.

One of the sections I read yesterday discussed teaching a horse to back up. He writes:

“It is good to learn how to back a horse from the ground, that is, how to direct him backwards, not push him backwards, bump him backwards, or cause him to back away from pain…..if I begin with gross methods, with yanking, jerking, tugging or dragging, then the standard of communication has been set and subtle work is no longer possible.”

Very sound advice, I think. The method he describes involves leading the horse into a channel, so that the only direction possible is backwards. Backward movement is rewarded with praise and a treat. Later a verbal cue is added and the channel is gradually dissembled.

Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling understands the importance of setting up the environment so that the horse can be successful from the start, as well as rewarding small efforts or try. Criteria are gradually increased, so that the horse continues to be successful. I promise a full review of the book when I finish it, but so far I’m really enjoying Dancing with Horses.

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