I have been doing FT with my gelding for the last couple of years, we seem to be taking the slow route through the program but on the other hand our relationship has improved tremendously.
I was nearly 49 when I started learning to ride, and a couple of months later met him – 8 yo and green. He didn’t seem to like other people but liked me, and I fell completely in love and bought him.
I knew ‘green on green’ wasn’t all that good an idea but thought things would be OK if I went slowly and I also had the help of experienced people. Initially I used a very gentle friend/taming approach with him, making sure I had his permission for everything I did, and we got on very well.
The experienced people were concerned that I was too soft with him, and explained I needed to learn to be more of a leader to keep us both safe – ‘you can be a friendly boss but you have to be the boss’. Unfortunately I was too green to see that I was already doing better with him than they were – he was more relaxed with me, didn’t resist as strongly, etc. I also had my riding instructor training him for me.
Our relationship started to go downhill from when I started to be the boss – some of that might be because I was never comfortable in that role and I probably didn’t do it well. After about 18 months I was getting scared of him, he was threatening to bite and had become very difficult under saddle, and after giving my instructor a particularly torrid ride he said he didn’t want me riding him off the property any more, wasn’t comfortable with me riding him on it, wasn’t trustworthy and too strong for me to handle, would end up killing me, needed complete retraining and being much firmer with, etc – it was his tone of voice as much as his words that got to me. I wasn’t willing to ride him if that’s what it took, and that night went searching the internet trying to find info on why he was like he was, and stumbled across FT.
I had never heard anything like it, variations of pressure-release were all I had seen people use. It struck a chord with me because it fitted with some of my experiences with my gelding that we had gotten on so well initially when I wasn’t using pressure, and he tended to return pressure for pressure and I’d accidentally discovered that the way to ‘win’ an argument under saddle was to stop arguing, wait a while and then ask softer, and wait more and ask even softer if necessary. On the other hand it sounded so different from anything else I had heard of I was more than a bit sceptical – the promises seemed so big. So I explored the website, talked with Chuck and with others via the FT Yahoo group and spoke with a woman in Perth (Australia) who did it, and those stories were encouraging. Also talked it through with my riding instructor who was … sceptical and concerned for my safety. I finally decided I was desperate enough to take the plunge.
I am so glad I did, our relationship has improved enormously. One of the things I used to have trouble with was getting him to back away from a gate – he would stand like a stone and threaten to bite if I insisted. Now he will move away with a slight request, even if he really wants to come through – it’s like a conversation, we understand each other instead of winding each other up. He is noticeably more relaxed and confident, his head and tail carriage have changed, his energy has softened. People who knew him a few years ago say he is a different horse. ?? Apparently he had a reputation of being difficult to handle and wanting his own way. He is much more aware of my safety.
About 18 months ago he accidentally bumped me over when he got a fright and ran between me and the fence and there wasn’t quite enough room; no damage to me but a few pulled muscles and I didn’t chastise him, just reacted as you would to a child who caused an accident -asked why he did it, assured him I knew he didn’t mean to bump me but he has to be careful because I am so much smaller and easily hurt.
Next morning I was very stiff and he seemed diffident with me so I assured him I would be ok but he did have to be careful not to bump me.
I was astounded when I took the hay through on the barrow that instead of rushing to eat off it as usual he calmly put himself between me and the other three horses and kept them back until I had put the hay out.
That evening I was even more surprised when the mare came up and started eating off the barrow – instead of rushing and pushing her off, often nearly over me, he left her there and calmly kept the other two back. He continues to calmly ensure food times are peaceful and feeding out is much safer than it used to be.
I used to think stuff like that only happened in the movies.
I’m glad the Internet made it possible for me to discover FT because without it I don’t know where Jerry and I would be today. I don’t blame the experienced people for giving me advice that turned out to be so wrong for us, it was based on their own experience and they were very concerned for my and his safety. I’d encourage everyone to explore FT. I’d be very happy to talk to anyone in private about my experience with it if that is helpful;
I am Frances Boreland on Facebook.