I am here to tell you that even just 15 minutes MATTER! Here are some ideas of things you can do with your horse when you only have a short while.
The important thing to remember is that each of these things take time! Don't rush it! Use your 15 minutes wisely by looking for small improvements and finding a good stopping place. Don't expect perfection or get into a battle with your horse that you can't win, especially with limited daylight to burn. Know that each of your short sessions are investments in your horse's future as the partner you've always dreamed of!
I highly recommend reading this second post about how you should be spending your time with your horse. It's a short and sweet post- and will help put into perspective
- Observe your horse in his pasture or stall, see what kinds of things he does when he's with other horses or alone. Is he busy? Is he quiet? Did he notice your arrival? Did he greet you? The power of observation should not be underestimated. Ask any great horseman how many hours they have spent watching horses in herds, in the wild, in their own in their backyard...
- Take some time to sit quietly in your horse's personal space, this is undemanding time. Be there for him if he'd like to come up for scratches or pets, and if he doesn't don't worry! He values this time with you whether it is interactive or you are simply respecting his desire to maintain a larger personal space. Horses hang out together A LOT, if we're trying to integrate ourselves into their "inner circle" of trusted herd mates then we should take some time to hang out with them too!
- Groom them! Check them over for bumps, scrapes, burs, ticks, dirt - whatever! Gently detangle manes and tails, use soft, real horse-hair brushes to stimulate circulation and bring the oils up out of the skin and into the coat for a nice shine.
- Halter with savvy! Does your horse put his head in the halter or does he stand perfectly still or even look away? This is an area you can develop your horse's confidence as well as yielding to a feel (Friendly & Porcupine Games). Teach your horse to put his head down and toward you, to seek the noseband of the halter. Got kids? Teach your horse to halter at their height (from your knees).
- Develop your horse's hoof skills. How responsive is your horse when you ask him to pick up his feet? Teach him to do it from the snap of your fingers, a tap to the leg, a light squeeze of the chestnut, a tug to the fetlock - however you want to do it practice refining it! Horses that have issues with their feet usually have some trust and/or respect issues with the human. Take this time to see how your horse feels about yielding his only system of defense to you. Giving one of your feet, your method of fight or flight, over to a predator is a BIG DEAL! Don't take it lightly and respect how your horse feels. Practice getting them holding their own feet up, simulate hammering on shoes (with you hand or rubber mallet), or putting them on a hoof-stand.
- Get creative with teaching your horse to yield to a feel, the Porcupine Game. Can you lead by the ear, lip, tongue, mane, tail, nostril, leg, hoof, from a neck or flank rope, or...? Develop this over time so your horse maintains his confidence while you teach him new and interesting things.
- Use simulations to get your horse thinking! How can you simulate clippers, horse trailers, saddling, mounting, birds flying out of the bushes, etc. by yourself in 15 minutes? Get a pedestal or object (even a paper plate) for your horse to put his feet on - something he has to do to get in a trailer, get an electric toothbrush for your clippers, get a plastic bag on a stick for your bird, get creative and use approach and retreat with rhythm and relaxation to help teach your horse to be a confident puzzle solver.
- Heard of the Parelli Patterns? In 15 minutes you can play one or even two of the patterns with huge success! Aim to improve it each session with SADDLE. A little more Speed, Accuracy, Distance (from your horse), Distance (you can go), Lightness, or Expression. Read more about Lillan Roquet's SADDLE concept in the February 2014 issue of the Savvy Times!
- On that note heard of the Parelli 7 Games? Same as with the Patterns - pick any Game, get creative, and improve it with one of the SADDLE choices at a time.
- Get savvy with Saddling. What does your horse think about the saddle, let alone what he thinks about you putting it on him? Go on, drag it out, put it down on the ground and send your horse to it. Does he shy from it? Hold his breath? Try to attack it? Ignore it? Read his feedback and go from there. Get him comfortable with your saddle on the ground before you offer to put it on his back. Practice your technique and form, can you put it on your horse without the stirrup or billets smacking him on the side as you swing it over? Does he move his feet? Is he relaxed? Practice saddling with quality in mind - quality of your horse's physical, mental, and emotional responses.
- Get your horse and mosey! Go for a walk! Take him somewhere to graze. Explore his thresholds and confidence around your property. If it's hot, take him to shade. If it's raining, bring him in the barn and let him dry out for a bit while you feed him some treats. Herds travel together - even if you can only travel for 15 minutes, teach your horse that just because you catch him (and maybe even saddle him if you're ambitious) it doesn't mean you're going to get on! It may mean a grazing extravaganza.... at least for a few minutes!
- Practice your Mounting and Dismounting. You don't even have to saddle! Teach your horse to pick up up from fences, stumps, mounting blocks, etc. Once you get on have him hurry up and do nothing! Dismount smoothly, safely. Do you know where your reins, hands, eyes, feet, and hips should be while you get on and off? Is there a brace in your horse anywhere when you are getting up and down? Assess him for pain, tightness, fear, relaxation, confidence, and willingness. Does he want you to get on? If he doesn't, practicing your skills and reward him for his efforts to be your partner. This will help him realize you are doing this for and with him, not to him!
- So now you're on - saddled or not - do you know your rein positions and techniques? You can do this in your rope halter or bridled - lateral flexion, direct rein, indirect rein, jingle bell rein, suspension rein, casual to concentrated, California roll... the list goes on! Get handy with these with your eyes open and closed, feel for a quality and positive reflex in your horse. Another great benefit of this is that your horse will realize just because you get on doesn't mean it's going to be work, work, work. This can be fun and relaxing for both of you!
- Find your horse's itchy spots - and scratch them! If your horse doesn't have any it may be that he just hasn't revealed them to you yet. Earn his trust and confidence and all of a sudden some itchy spots will magically appear!
All of these ideas will help you build your foundation and your relationship. The next time you do have a full hour or two to ride and play with your horse you will reap the benefits of all the extra moments you spent with your horse.
Teaching something new with a few extra minutes!
Going for a mosey on a day I didn't have time to ride.
Hanging out builds Rapport. Rapport, Respect, Impulsion, Flexion...
Investing my time wisely has created a relationship with Aspen where she will leave her friends and grass and meet me in a 100 acre pasture on her own!