Human Interest Stories!
With Gaited Horses.
" I am no expert but can share my experiences with my TWH and SSH. I don't show them, so have limited experience in that area, but do train them as well as other young horses.  I have just written an article which was published in several local horse magazines, although its not geared to the gaited horse specifically, it may be of interest. "
 
Horse Play 
by Barb Fenwick  
  
When is the last time you played with your horse?  As kids with horses, my sisters and friends and I would play the usual cowboy games on horseback, and also games like hide and seek. We taught our ponies simple tricks and generally played with them a lot. They were close friends, who at times would let you know when they were fed up with your antics, but most of the time seemed to really get into the fun. 
  
We would play at being in horse shows by jumping bales of straw or logs. We would teach our horses to 
stand very still while we hid during hide and seek. We would practice trick riding, or grab a tree branch as we rode under a tree and could swing off our horses, then climb back down onto their backs & make our getaway. It was great fun. Along the way, we taught ourselves and our horses many things, we challenged them and they challenged us in a non-competitive, non-stressful manner. We understood the personality of our mounts and they knew our every body movement and nuance. We could climb under, over and around our horses, we had a complete relationship of trust. 
  
In the last year or so, we have all heard about the "horse whisperers" and training methods using horse psychology. It's fascinating stuff and really does help you to relate to horses on their level. Trainers like Pat Parelli with his "Natural Horse-man-ship" courses, introduce you to many of these new, yet old concepts as well as methods that call for simple, good old common horse sense.  He tells us to play with our horses. 

Well, it struck me that is what I have always enjoyed doing with horses, playing with them. It's common 
sense that when a human or animal has fun doing something they learn quicker and respond in a relaxed, happy manner.  Sadly, it seems to me, too many riders have forgotten how to have fun with their horses. They train and train, going around that corral or arena like a hamster in a cage. They teach their kids to ride "properly" 
and then drag them around to shows all over the countryside. Their horses do perfect stops, movements 
and gaits. In my opinion, Western pleasure classes are a prime example of an overtrained horse and rider. One head is fixed in rigid position looking straight ahead, expressionless, never a flicker of a smile, and the other head hangs close to the ground.  
  
I think its time to put a little more fun back in riding. Yes, good horsemanship is very important to keep the horse and the rider safe and happy, but lets put some fun and life back into this wonderful union of horse and rider.   I want to see my horsemanship students smile, even laugh while working or playing at being a good horse person. I want to see them use their imagination in handling and riding their horses. I want to see a 
natural, well cared for and loved horse ( without the clipping, polishing and pestering) with a happy, unstressed person holding the lead rope or aboard.  
  
I participated in many horse shows as a young girl, and guess what I remember most? 
  
The  games.  
  
It really didn't matter who won, or who's horse shone the most, it was just great fun to be having fun with your horse and other horses and people. This idea may seem frivolous to the horse show enthusiasts and the endurance riders and others who enjoy competitive riding or driving. It may seem silly, after all what would they 
do with their weekends instead of madly rushing around the countryside, hauling horses to shows or meets. Well, for one, they could join the growing group of riders, who tell me they are fed up with the politics and pressures of competitive riding, they just want to relax and have fun with their horses. 
  
 Many of them have come to my ranch, which has an equestrian campground and do just that, play with their horses. They go for relaxing trail rides, treasure hunts or other games, and often cool down after their rides 
by going swimming with  their horse in the pond.  I want to simply say that I think we have enough 
pressure in our lives today, lets enjoy our horses more, lets put play back into horsemanship. 

Also, remember you don't always have to dominate your horse, or be the "alpha horse" to have a well trained horse. You do have to have patience, persistence and imagination and love of the animal. Most women trainers/riders would be able to tell you that they always "whispered" to their horses! As women have come along way to being thought of as equal to men in this world, the horse still has a long way to being appreciated as an Equus/equal in the relationship.   
  
Give your horse credit for being able to read and understand human nature. Enjoy the animal for what it is, an incredibly intelligent, sensitive and powerful animal that can be a best friend. Think of it this way, do you have any human best friends that like you because you totally dominate them? 

Barb Fenwick 
Four Seasons Ranch 
Sidney, Manitoba 

When Barb is not  playing with her own horses, who are Tennessee Walkers and Spotted Saddle Horses, 
she may be found teaching others how to become happy horse persons, using natural horsemanship 
methods and plain old' common horse sense.