Asking Ben

Ask the horse. Every time, ask the horse.

Ben has been puzzling me. The in-hand work has produced a dramatic and at times aggressive reaction, which has seemed to bounce out to the other mares in the fields. And yet, in those fields, he turns to greet me, ears forward, eyes soft and is happy to put his head into the headcollar and come with me.

How come?

Let me just assume that Ben’s way of saying “no” is on the rather aggressive and ugly side. But it is still his “no”.

Let me give both of us more credit than I have been for the relationship we have developed over the past two years.

Where does that leave us both?

In-hand is too much right now. I am not quite sure why and there is not really much point in speculating, which would only be guessing. Let me just accept Ben’s “no”.

Even leading work seems crude, ugly and not every effective.

So back to the picadero and time spent together at liberty.

At liberty I can let Ben find his own balance. At liberty I can stand back and watch how he moves. At liberty there is space between us which can safely allow for his more aggressive reactions.

This is what I have observed:

  • to my surprise Ben canters easily going right but going left turns his bum to me and kicks and seeks to change direction;
  • he quickly picks up on my own energy, quicker than I do myself, in particular whilst going right. For example, when I asked him, verbally, to walk, he maintained trot and I realised that I had not dropped my energy from my core. Once I did so, he walked;
  • he waits beside me while Sandra is with Cassie in the picadero, watching them intently and also breathing over my hair and into my nostril. He is interested in this.

I have read Ben’s aggressive “no” as dominance or a threat. If I take my own emotional reaction away from it, all I have is Ben saying “no”.  I need also to pay attention to his “yes”.

I am stumbling along. I don’t seem to speak horse very well and yet, we are still here together, figuring this out. Could it be that Ben knows my intention is to help him move with more efficiency, suppleness and strength? Because he is sticking with me in all of this.



Filed under ground work, liberty

10 responses to “Asking Ben

  1. I love your way of analyzing and assessing your relationship with Ben Máire. You’re right, they are puzzling us, but it’s so great (and frustrating at times) to learn to ‘unpuzzle’ them (or should I say ourselves?) step by step :-).
    When reading about Ben I always have to think of my mare Kría somehow, I have the feeling they are alike. Kría needs the feeling of freedom above all other things. I sense that she loves to be with me and work with me, but in doing so she always shows a dilemma between wanting to be led and leading herself. With her it’s always ‘balancing on the edge’ to find the right string to touch, word to say, movement to ask. But still, this puzzle is so intriguing!
    It always helps me to read about other people’s thoughts about these things, so thank you for sharing :-).


    • Marja, it is a puzzle for me and I would agree that Ben needs a feeling of freedom, he hates to feel trapped, it was one of the first things I noticed about him. On the other hand, he can be pushy and quite unsafe if he does not pay attention to me and he always likes to check out just how much ground I will give.

      • That’s exactly my Kría… There was a time when I was really afraid of her. She could rear right next to me if things didn’t go her way. Thank god that’s history, but she still needs clear boundaries. It’s a real challenge for me to find an approach which honours her need of freedom as well as her need of boundaries!


  2. I wonder if in his past someone emphatically ignored his “no” – and as a result he has escalated it to a bigger, more forceful response. I think again of our pony, who on the one hand, can say “no” with ears back, face tense, and a whisper of aggression in his entire demeanor, and yet, if you listen, if you ignore his negativity and simply proceed quietly and with respect, he transforms into an amazing partner.

    The thing with the pony is that (except for my daughter, who he trusts, and I think it’s because she’s the only one who actually rides him due to his small size) you start all over with him every single day. He is just not willing to give you the benefit of yesterday’s respect. He doesn’t push things hard every day but he will do little tests to see where the lines are.

    I know the family who bred and raised him, and I doubt they did anything to scare him. They did lease him out briefly to a family with children and I wonder if something happened during that time. I don’t know. It could be his personality.

    The thing I’m getting at is that with our big horses, if they say no I know something is wrong – that I need to listen. With the pony, his no is more of an automatic initial response. If you stop there, you don’t get further. If you center and ignore his over the top signals, and tune in to something deeper, you always get a maybe, and then a yes.

    It’s tricky, but it’s how he operates. It’s almost like the dynamic of a two-year old child, working through the me/mine issues and learning how to say no. Which was actually one of the childhood stages I enjoyed most with my children – I found it easy to work with them as they went through that – which probably contributes to my fascination with the pony and how he operates.

    Again, just rambling – and thinking – and processing in my own head. Out loud, here, and appreciative of the prompts you’re offering with your Ben stories and work. 🙂

    • Billie, your pony sounds rather like Ben. His automatic response is “no” and he does want me to earn his respect every day. It is quite a while since I have encountered this level of aggression from him however. But, once again, he came up to me today and actually went very well.

      Ben of course is a cob and really quite close to the “pony” nature. Cobs are very popular here as are all sorts of recommendations as to how to work with them: “take no nonsense”, being the mildest. I know some show cobs who are always worked with draw reins or chambons at home.

      I know something of Ben’s past and I think he expects, and certainly respects, the rough approach. My challenge is to show him that there is another way.

  3. june

    I think you’re on to something here, Maire, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of how things progress!

    • Thanks June, it is a learning curve for sure.

      Thinking about the his behaviour with the mares, Sandra has changed the order in which she feeds them all and that could be impacting on Ben also. He is very anxious around feeding time.

  4. I had the experience with Brena that she cantered nicely to the right but resisted, kicked and reared going to the left. The chiropractor found that she was quite out of adjustment, and being adjusted professionally really helped her.

    • I have had a chiropractor out and she felt there was a very old injury that she did not want to disturb. I need to get another opinion I think. I was hoping that she could adjust it. I am sure that Ben is feeling some pain when he canters left. It is interesting to do some work with him on the ground as I can observe him better. He does not buck with me in the saddle and maybe is suppressing the pain. I have been working with him since I wrote that post and he is now walking and trotting to the left far more relaxed than he was but I have not asked him to canter left since.