Considering the Horse with Joe Wolter
Central to Joe Wolter’s approach to horsemanship is the belief that by understanding what the horse is feeling and taking the horse’s needs in consideration, riders can develop a bond with the horse that will allow them to accomplish almost any goal. Here he offers the following advice on how to go about developing that bond.
Listen to Your Horse
“The most important part of any conversation I have with a horse is letting him tell me about himself. How does he feel about things? What’s he like at the end of the lead rope? Is there a heaviness or brace in there? Does he respond with respect, or is he just going through the motions?
How the horse answers those sorts of questions can tell you a lot. So I’ll check him out on the lead rope and use a flag to bring out a desire to move, which gives me an opportunity to see how much he respects and understands the lead rope. It lets me direct his feet and see what his understanding is – how he looks and feels – it’s all part of the conversation.
The flag and the lead rope are just tools to help get the discussion started, but to keep it going you have to listen to what the horse tells you and respond to what he needs.”
Focus on the Good
“One thing I’ve found that really means a lot to the horse is focusing on the good things and rewarding them. I’m always looking for ways I can make the right thing easier. I try not to even think about what the horse might be doing wrong. I just work at being ready when the right thing comes along – when the horse is really trying.
If you miss those little tries and aren’t aware of what the horse is offering you, it’s going the cut off his desire. I think horses are trying all the time and we’re just too busy doing our own thing to notice. But it’s just amazing to me how much you can get done when you recognize and reward the horse’s try. We have this physical picture of what effort looks like, but we sometimes miss the mental part of it.”
“I remember working with Tom and feeling like I had done something fairly well. Tom would say, ‘That was pretty good, but what would happen if you did less, if you cut it in half?’
I see a lot of people missing that in their horsemanship – missing the opportunity to get more done by doing less. Ask yourself the same question Tom asked me and then see what happens when you back off a little bit more or use a little less pressure to accomplish what you’re trying to do. I bet it gets even better and you get even more done.”
Give Your Horse Time
“I’ve been riding a lot of young horses lately and one of things that’s really clear to me is just how important the release is when you get the response you’re asking for.
But I’ve found it works even better when you don’t pick up on the reins right away and ask for it again; they need time to absorb it. We humans can get so focused on what we’re trying to accomplish with the horse. We keep working on it and working on it, but really we can get a lot more done if we allow the horse time to soak on it.
I have this filly that really wanted to stick her nose out and didn’t really want to collect herself. But when I accepted the least little change from her and then let it go, well that just made such a difference to that horse. By changing my pattern, I changed her pattern and she was so much more open to suggestion the next time I rode her. There’s so much horses will give you if you can give them the time.”
“Horses are always in the moment and keenly aware of what’s taking place around them. We humans are usually so busy thinking about what already happened or what might happen, we don’t notice what’s happening right here and now. It’s not noticing what’s taking place in the present that can get us in trouble with horses.
But if we can clear our minds and become more in the moment, we can become more aware of the horse and more observant of all the little things that mean so much to the horse.
I really believe that’s what set Ray and Tom and Bill apart. They had this amazing ability to clearly focus on the task at hand. When they were with the horse, they were thinking about the horse. They were right there, right then and nowhere else.
So turn off the cell phone, forget about the past and don’t worry about the future. Go ride your horse with a clear mind. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish together when you’re both in the same moment.”
To Joe Wolter, horsemanship isn’t about ‘this’ method or ‘that’ method, what breed you ride, or what discipline you choose. It’s all about communication and considering the horse’s point of view.