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Wrangling on the Range #150

The Beginning



From "Northern Horse Review" - May 2005

Jesse Beckley gives you the tools for making good Beinnings

It was clear that both the young man and the yearling bay
stallion were full of their own tenacity. One, aimed at rejoining
his pasture buddies in a distant field. The other, aimed at
tomorrow, setting framed by the white rails of a large round pen,
blue sky and ranch backdrop. Jesse Beckley, a 22-year-old
professional reining trainer from Cranbrook, BC, took time out to
show us the crucial training elements he believes are important
to instill early in a youngster's life. Life lessons that are
imperative for the horse to have a successful, future career.

Although he was fairly halter broke already, Beckley's pupil,
"Nicky," clearly had some more ground manners to learn.
Throughout his first real training session, this yearling
stallion presented a few challenges to his trainer, but young
Beckley never lost his composure. He ironically, was able to use
the horse's mindset to his own advantage - letting the horse
think that everything in the session had occurred, because it was
the horse's idea. The results were amazing.

Sound too good to be true?

Well, perhaps that's because the notion is simple, yet absolutely
logical. Humans, as we know, have an underlying compulsion to
confuse things and make them more difficult than they should be.
Using the "horse's idea" theory, Beckley and the youngster was
remarkably smooth and near the end, the young stallion had
transformed from a preoccupied, fence crawling individual into a
respectful and compliant animal.

LIFE LESSONS - The Horse Learns Best Through Repetition 

Using a fairly open sided roundpen, Beckley began moving the bay
youngster around the perimeter.
"Everyone knows that a horse has two natural instincts; that of
flight and fight," said Beckley. "My opinion is at first, he's
allowed to have the first instinct and as long as the horse
understands that he is permitted to have it, he should not feel
the need to turn to his second option of fight.
"So now as I step towards my horse, I want him to move away from
me and around the roundpen. This is really simple and basic, but
it's beginning to help me establish dominance over him. Every
time I step towards Nicky, he moves off. I want to continue
pushing him off, until he no longer wants to move away, because
it's too much work. He instead, would rather stand ground, stay
connected to me with his and ears, and lick his lips. I will try
and approach him. But if he's tense and worried about it, I might
just back off and continue moving him around a bit more instead."
Said Beckley, "If he takes off again, I don't stress about it.
This is where the repetition comes in. I'll just keep moving him
off and attempting to approach, until I can finally touch his
neck without him bolting away from me again. I can tell before I
even get within two feet of the horse if he is going to bolt
again. They let you know what they're thinking with their ears;
are they focused on me, or somewhere out in the field? And their
head and neck; is the head held high and cautious - like, or is
it low and looking as though the horse is emotionally calmer
about the situation?"

Beckley began walking towards the animal. By the time he had
almost reached him, the young stallion turned and contemplated
jumping the six-foot high rails of the round pen. Immediately,
Beckley encouraged the horse to move forward - and not upwards -
by fluttering the end of his lead rope towards the horse's rear.
It wasn't entirely a disciplinary action, Beckley was simply
offering Nicky another option and at the same time, taking his
mind off of his 'leap frog' notions.
The trainer explained, "If he looks like he is comfortable with
me approaching him, I will advance and make the next step in the
training process, which is to approach and pet him. But if he
tries to move away as I step closer, I need to move him off
again. My timing and proper recognition of his reaction is
extremely important here. I have to quickly assess what the horse
is about to do and if he wants to leave, make him do so by
letting him think it's his idea to go. I'll just reinforce his
leaving with a wave of my arms, which confirms for the horse that
is what he should do. I cannot have him leave our classroom,
which is the roundpen, so if he gets any of those kinds of ideas
I will quickly ask him to do something else. And I only use the
same amount of assertiveness in my cues, as the horse
demonstrates in his level of resistance."

The stallion threw his head to the outside and nickered at the
horses on the opposite side, but surrendered his idea to climb
the fence.

Essentially, the entire concept was also helping Beckley solidify
another important point in the horse's training.

"Up until a round pen lesson such as this, Mother Nature has
taught the horse to move into pressure," he relayed. "I want to
change that natural instinct at a relatively young age and teach
him how to move away from pressure instead. Ninety per cent of
all western disciplines require the horse to move away from
pressure - it's the concept we use later in the horse's life for
accomplishing everything from a lead change to a turnaround,

It was interesting to note how much the trainer was accomplishing
for the present day and for the future, with such basic
principles. Then, just as he attempted to approach the stallion
again, the youngster wheeled around on his hindquarters and
bolted for the opposite direction.

"The way he chooses to leave tells me a lot about his
personality, as well - if he turns his butt to me, it's a sign of
disrespect. But if he backs up and then quickly rolls back and
away, he is merely unsure of what I'm asking of him."

Man and horse continued with the theory for a few more minutes.
The stud continued around the pen for a couple more laps at a
lope pace and then finally broke down into the jog and walk,
until he actually paused for a brief moment. Quick to notice this
change of events, Beckley fluidly but softly, moved in towards
the horse. This time, the stallion stood still long enough for
the teacher to reach his shoulder. Nicky seemed uncertain and
continued to be preoccupied with his pasture mates tearing around
the field beyond the round pen rails, as he clearly demonstrated
with his ears. Nonetheless, it seemed as though Nicky had
realized that running away from Beckley was not working. And it
took too much effort! He stood still and let the trainer stroke
his neck. Following this break-through moment, one might have
expected Beckley to halter the animal again but instead, he
stepped away.


Referring back to when the stud had contemplated jumping the
roundpen, Beckley had to act quickly to achieve a postive outcome
from the situation. The trainer immediately got the horse's
attention back on him by asking Nicky to move out and forward
again. The horse sheer desire to leave clearly demonstrated to
Beckley that the stallion - at that moment - was not concerned
with his trainer's wishes. He had other ideas in mind. Getting
back to the horse herd was more of a priority. Yet, Beckley's
quick reaction reminded Nicky that the trainer was, in fact, the
alpha horse. However, the episode had been a pivotal moment in
the session. Had Nicky not demonstrated this initial lack of
respect, it's possible the trainer may have continued on to the
next lesson without first reinforcing this significant concept.
"They tell you what they're thinking," said the talented Beckley.
"The signals horses display are clear as day, but we have to
learn to read them properly. And if the horse makes an incorrect
decision, we need to correct him and also show him the correct
way. As a trainer, if I were to only discipline the horse without
also giving him an option of where to go - he would become
frustrated. I don't want him to fear me, but I need his respect,
as though I were the alpha horse in his herd.

"So when my horse has finally decided it's too much work to keep
running away when I try to approach - and he'll stand still - I
will reach out to touch him. If at any point during this he tries
to leave again, I will shoo him away one more time. But if he
stands quiet, I will stroke his neck softly and then turn and
walk away from him. I want to prove to the horse that there is no
fear or pain to associate with me and that he can handle my
walking up to him. I'm going to walk up, pet him and walk away
again. What's so hard about that?" Beckley stressed the
importance of communicating properly with the animal throughout
the approach. "You can't speak English to a horse, he doesn't
understand it. You have to speak to him with your own body
language, in appropriate, nonthreatening horse terms. So I avoid
making a straight, direct line towards him. A human is a predator
to a horse and for that reason, I obviously first have to earn
his trust. This is done by moving towards him in the same manner
another horse would, with a zig-zagging advance. My horse can
relate to it better than if I were to move straight towards him
and as a result, he will respond better."


When Nicky was finally comfortable with Beckley walking up to
him, he stood still for longer periods of time. And at last, the
stallion actually turned and began walking towards the trainer.
At this point Beckley secured a halter around his head. With lead
in hand and horse in tow, the young man began walking around the
round pen. Nicky followed carefully. The trainer explained, "This
essentially next step in the training process as I am taking away
his flight capabilities. By wearing a halter, he can only get
away from me so far. I slowly want to take away his natural
defenses and have him look to me for security and guidance

On that note, Beckley stressed the importance of staying
consistent with training sessions and ending each on a positive
note. The intent is to hopefully, have both horse and human can
come back to a positive mind-set the next time around.

"As we continue with the lessons, I have to be diligent in my own
cues to the horse. I want to use the same ones each day and avoid
'mixing it up' too much otherwise, my horse would only become
flustered in the beginning. I don't want to change my approach
too much because I'm trying to prepare him for the future - we
are not solely focused on today's accomplishments. Every day is a
preparation for the next."

He chuckled, "You can ask for a little or a lot - but a lot, very
little with a horse. That's why in a horse's initial foundation
training, when I feel I have achieved even the littlest of
'baby-steps,' it might be time for to quit for the moment and
come back for the next step."

WELL NOW, from this I gather the young horse was out on the
range of this ranch and not just fully wild. The article says the
horse was halter trained to a point.

Now I'll give you the best and easy way of all.

When you have a new born, within about three months, halter break
the foal. You should have aleady been visiting it along with its
mother. Foals are naturally inquisitive, and will come to
investigate you. Doing this you are part of their world, and they
want to see what you are all about. This is NOT the so-called
"imprinting" (I do not believe in that stuff) - it is simply
getting to be a friend with the foal. So after about three months
halter break the foal, and lead it around as you lead the mother
around, then finally lead it without the mother for a distance.
The idea is you are its buddy and friend and you lead it around
with halter and lead rope. You have by then already been stroking
its neck etc. You have become something not to be afraid of - a

Now and again during its first year you do this ex number of
times. The filly or colt and you have become friends - just that
simple. You can by then tie it up in a stall with its mother and
give them some treat, then tie them up in different stalls next
to each other and give them a treat of some kind. 

After it is weaned off the mother, you continue to halter it and
lead it around, give it some oats, stroke it. Putting it in a
stall you give it some sweet-feed or oats and brush it down. By
this time the young one is certainly your friend, and is not at
all scared of you, and you have then already done some very
important ground work with it. 

The rest of its breaking to ride (which I've given you in
previous articles) when old enough is a breeze - did it this way
at the ranch in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, dozens of times, when I
was 18 and into my 20s, with the young ones born on the ranch.
It blows me away why people do not think of doing it this way.
Making the foal your friend (not spoiling it remember, as you
just do this now and again) - so you are just part of its life as
a friendly, then breaking such young horses is a
breeze and a friendly pleasure both for you and the young horse.

Keith Hunt

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