I always think very carefully before I do a full Join-Up with a horse. Often I can achieve the same results by simply moving the horse around and very often the facilities are just not available or secure enough at a customer's yard. I think it's healthy that there are many views even within the narrower equestrian field of so-called natural horsemanship and I keep an open mind about all techniques. One of my favourite quotes is that a closed mind is like a closed parachute, not much use to anyone! Join-Up had a miraculous effect on Petra all those years ago and changed the course of my entire life. Like many IH students, I would Join-Up with everything while I was training (in fact I think that's how I persuaded David to marry me). I am very grateful to Kelly for giving me permission to publish her most recent advice re: Join-Up
KEY POINTS RE. JOIN UP
Why might we want to do a Join Up with a horse?
Because doing Join Up can help create a bond of trust and respect with your horse by communicating in a way that the horse understands. It can encourage the horse to want to be close to you and see you as his SAFETY ZONE. (Think this through carefully if you have a horse you don’t want to get too close to you).
How does it work?
In the wild, the only way one horse can show ‘leadership’ over another is to move the other horse around. In the herd you have the lead mare who leads from the front and so we can use leading exercises to achieve the movement we desire. There is also the stallion who drives from behind and this is why we also find long lining a really useful tool. Join Up is a way for us to move the horse while he is loose and this gives us a really useful way of assessing and learning more about him and might help us decide the best approach to take as well as making that initial connection that can be so helpful. Join Up can alter a horse’s attitude because by you controlling his actions he looks at you in a new light. By ‘speaking in his language’ it opens up to him the possibility that humans may be showing signs of intelligence and it could be worth listening to them!
Remember if we want a horse to feel fully comfortable with us we need to be in an emotionally ‘good’ place as well. If nothing else make sure you breathing is deep and comfortable and your movements are relaxed when you are with the horse.
Who is it good for?
It can be useful and appropriate with a young horse ready to be started, a horse that has ‘problems with people’; particularly if he is sceptical or has any trust issues. It can be useful to start or cement or assess the relationship the horse has with humans. It should be pointed out here that to the horse Join Up is generalised to all humans, so for instance he won’t only now respond to the person who has just done Join Up with him. Of course, if someone comes in with bad body language and bad intention the horse is not going to respond to them. It is extremely good for THE PERSON to learn how to do Join up as it can improve their body language and the way they can relate to horses immeasurably and start a whole new understanding of horses. The lessons you learn through Join Up will stand you in good stead with all your other work with horses (providing of course you use and remember them!)
Be aware what Join Up does NOT do! It does not mean the horse is now hypnotised and will do everything you say. It does not mean the horse will not be frightened of things any more (although if it goes well he should certainly be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and as said before see the human as his safety zone). If the horse is bucking because he in pain from the saddle or it’s ‘what he’s always done’ it’s not going to be miraculously cured without a great deal of additional work.
Generally a horse doesn’t ‘need’ more than 3 or 4 Join Up’s, and you can over do it. If you haven’t made the connection you would like with the horse in that time it’s very unlikely it’s going to improve by just repeating the process over and over again. It is not something that is achieved by ‘drilling’ a horse. If a Join Up doesn’t seem to be going to plan do not send the horse away for longer than 5 minutes. The way we do Join Up is never about tiring the horse out or ‘forcing him to submit to your will’. If it’s not working within 5 minutes find a comfortable way to finish the session and take time off to re-think the situation.
Assess the horse with each session. The average horse (particularly the younger he is) will, in fact, go away less freely after just a couple of Join Ups and will be asking to come in at quite an early stage which is perfectly reasonable and normal. If a horse runs around very fast this is not appropriate behaviour and usually indicates he’s been frightened from behind at some point. A horse running blindly round the pen is NOT in the process of Join Up! Working on long lines (if possible) with lots of changes of direction may be better for that horse at that point. You and he may be better with halter work and desensitising training.
When it might be best to NOT do Join Up
Some horses are less suitable for Join Up than others
1. Bottle reared/hand reared/over handled foal
2. Aggressive horse
3. Untouched horse
If you have not worked with colts and stallions before – don’t start off doing your Join Up’s with them! They will be much better at body language than you!
It is not compulsory! i.e. you need to make an individual assessment with each horse as to whether or not it is the right thing to do with that horse at that particular time. The point is not the Join Up the point is achieving the relationship with the horse.
Signs that you might look for are:- the inside ear pointing towards you and the horse making the circle smaller to come towards you (particularly as you take the pressure off) another gesture we are looking from the horse is a lowering of the head, as this is, amongst other interpretations, a sign of trust, we must realise it is something that cannot be forced – again it is more likely to come about through a release of pressure. The licking and chewing from the horse can have several interpretations, look out for it but not every horse does it readily (particularly after the first join up) and often a horse will do the sign as you take the pressure off and invite them into you.
If Join Up is not suitable for a horse there is halter work you can do to achieve ‘follow up’.
We are only teaching the basics of Join Up on this course. There are more subtleties to be learned. i.e. when is it right not to send the horse away but just to use advance and retreat? What might you do with an over pair bonded horse? Or a horse that is very overstressed or anxious? When might you use changing direction several times in succession? What do you do with a horse who is over lunged and doesn’t look at you?
REMEMBER EACH HORSE IS AN INDIVIDUAL AND DO BE SURE TO READ PERFECT MANNERS!