The Breaker 1
Meet Dionysus, known to his friends as Tilou.
Isn’t he handsome?
He’s Alexandrine’s current breaker, and he’s going to be the subject of a series of blog posts.
You can tell he’s pretty much Friesan just by looking at him, but he has no breed papers to prove it. He was rescued by his owner, N, when she bought him and another horse from a dealer at a fair. Both horses were entire; both were in poor condition; both seemed to be destined for the factory until she stepped in.
Tilou was somewhere between four and five and unbroken (he will be six in June). Apparently he came from Belgium to France and ended up at a Foire in the Alps. He’s quite a sweet horse, and I can’t help wondering why he was bound for the factory. He’s very curious, but was rather pushy. Perhaps no-one was prepared to put the time into handling him? Perhaps he frightened a previous owner? I think it’s best to say that, up to now, he just didn’t know where his boundaries were.
N had him gelded about four months ago in the hopes that his manners would improve. She also booked him in to be broken by Alexandrine. He had been at GAEC de Pimayon for just a week when I started to sit on on his training sessions as an observer – unfortunately, his training started while I was still in Ireland.
From what N described, I could see that Tilou’s pushiness has already improved. She told me that he would literally walk on top of her, and she was becoming quite nervous of him. Now he stands politely while he is groomed and handled. How did Alexandrine achieve this? Um, with a couple of well-timed slaps. Equitation Ethologique/Natural Horsemanship is not all fluffy-wuffy My Little Pony stuff. It’s about boundaries, consistency, timing and reward. The end result of breaking this way should result in a mannerly horse who understands what is being asked of him and who wants to work with his trainer.
Alexandrine spends the first couple of days working her breakers in the rope halter, teaching them how she expects them to respond to pressure. After one week, Tilou has learned to back up. He has learned to move his quarters (quite well) and to move his shoulders (not so well). He understands when he is sent out to work on a circle and he understands even better when he is invited back in for a rest and a reward.
He wore a saddle for the first time on Monday, three or four days into his training. He was not impressed at all, and even tried rolling to dislodge it.
On Tuesday, Alexandrine got up on him. I was practising the Practical Horsemanship test for interdressage in the big arena at the time. I was aware of a kerfuffle – it’s possibly in the background of some of the videos I shot that day! They told me afterwards that he tried pretty hard to get her off. N was holding Tilou, and his newly learned boundaries were forgotten with the panic of having something on his back and someone trying to restrain him at the same time – she said he practically walked all over her.
Wednesday was my first day officially sitting in. Poor Tilou was to be introduced to another new thing – a bridle. First time ever wearing one, and it was quite clear that this was a new experience for him.
Tilou was put to work. Both Alexandrine and N remarked that he was more focussed than the previous day – perhaps the bit in his mouth was distracting him? Or perhaps it was the fact that there wasn’t another horse working in the big arena nearby?
He revised his basic lessons, moving the hind quarters, moving the forehand, working on a circle :
Once she had refreshed the basic lessons, it was time to continue the backing process. Alexandrine had enlisted some help.
This was going to be interesting.