Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review of Cherry Hill's How to Think Like a Horse

iconAt a bookstore a couple of months ago, I spotted this book and spent the rest of our visit flipping through it. Although I love Cherry Hill's books, I read about half of it during that visit and decided I didn't think it was worth buying. After checking it out from the library, though, I've changed my mind — there was actually a lot of useful stuff in the book, and it wasn't geared toward beginners quite as much as I initially thought. I will probably end up buying it at some point, as it seems like a good one to have on my bookshelf.

I really like many of Hill's thoughts about horses. I have another book of hers, Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac, which I've been reading in bits and pieces for a while now, and I love it. Her ideas about horses seem to be practical and sound, and I like her balance between traditional and natural horsemanship.

One of the things I noticed is that this book supports something I've always said, that I think it's just fine, and even helpful, to use voice commands with your horse. Some people who follow natural horsemanship claim that voice commands are unnecessary and confusing, but I personally find that they are useful and comfortable for both me and Panama. Here are a few things that Hill has to say about it:

"Good horsemen can often be observed communicating with a horse in a type of low-level 'breaking patter,' a term from bygone cowboy days. It describes a type of low-volume mumbling a cowboy might use around a horse that he is training. The soothing tones calm the horse. Hence the term horse whisperer." (page 30)

"Although horses don't verbalize the way we do, they do respond to our voices. It is appropriate and productive to use voice commands when working with horses, especially for ground training, and especially when you are the main person handling a horse.

"The reason clinicians do not advocate voice commands more often is because most of them are talking constantly to the audience, and it would be difficult for a horse to distinguish a voice command out of all that. Voice commands are not customary in most show ring settings but they can be a means to an end such as "Whoa" when a reiner asks his horse for a sliding stop. In most at-home training situations, voice commands are not only appropriate but also very effective." (page 124)

Another thing I've often said that Hill appears to agree with me on is that you need to maintain a position of alpha over your horses. By this I don't mean an aggressive alpha, but I do mean a leader who must also be respected. Hill says:

"Humans occupy a position in the horses' pecking order, as well, so we must convince them not only that we are the top horse, but also that we are wise and fair leaders. For safety and smooth management, a human must be the top horse.

"Pecking order is most evident at feeding time. You can easily tell a human's rank among horses by watching as she feeds them. If the horses come charging into the person's space and she drops the feed and turns tail, one of the horses is definitely on top." (page 59)

There is an awful lot of information in this book, far more than the quotes I remembered to mark so that I could blog about them later. The book covers everything from body language to bad habits to training, and is a great resource for both beginners and people who already own horses. A little something here for everyone!



At March 23, 2010 at 7:20 PM, Blogger Sydney said...

As a carriage driver I know how vitally important voice commands are. I would be lost without them or having to tap my horse constantly with a whip. If I can back Indigo up from 50 feet away just using my voice I think it has a place for sure. Especially when an 8 year old is riding her in a lesson I am teaching and needing the extra oomph in the trot before her leg cueing skills have developed.

At March 23, 2010 at 11:29 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Sydney, those are great examples for when voice commands are not just appropriate, but also necessary! I also find just as a rider that Panama seems to pay a lot of attention to my voice. He listens to me for comfort, praise, etc.


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