Monday, 10 January 2011

Kelly Marks - Perfect Manners

Kelly Marks heads up an organisation called Intelligent Horsemanship. She studied under Monty Roberts for some years, and they still work together quite often, but her methods have really taken off here in the UK. She is, without a doubt, a very experienced horsewoman.
Now, what bugs me about a lot of these organisations, like Parelli and Enlightened Equitation, is that they tell you they have brilliant methods, but then share absolutely nothing with you unless you're prepared to pay quite a lot of money for it. (The British Dyslexia Association is exactly the same!)
But Kelly Marks has actually written a book to share lots of her methods, and the one I've been reading is Perfect Manners. If you've read it, I'd love to know what you think of it.
I don't know what I thought it would be about (like the title's not a dead giveaway!) but I read it last January, so I could see if it 'worked' on Max. All I was interested in was the section on Join-Up, so I think I must have skipped the first couple of chapters and got straight on with it. You can read about my rather thrilling experience here . But after that I left it for nearly a year, and now I have Barnaby and not Max.
But the thing is, Barnaby is a very arrogant, dominant horse (but not nasty, and not a bully). Mr O has coped with this by... being Mr O. He has used brute strength (being a man) and stubbornness (they don't actually come much more stubborn!) and this has won the day.
But I am a woman, with the average woman's strength, faced with a horse who barges out of his stable, with no way of being able to stop him. And as my strength isn't likely to undergo a massive increase any time soon, I had to find another way of getting Barnaby to improve his manners.
So a couple of months ago, I turned to 'Perfect Manners' once again. I did Join-Up with him back in November. It's a method of getting your horse to want to be with you and respect you as his leader, but more importantly for me, the horse learns to respect your space. I have to say, it worked brilliantly. We were running round the school together, jumping fences side by side. It was fabulous.
Then we went back into the stables and shortly afterwards Barnaby jumped over the stable door. You know all about that. And it left me wondering what the point of Join-Up was, and what it had actually achieved.
This was followed by five or six weeks of snow, so I couldn't do anything with Barnaby at all. But in this time I managed to read the chapters I'd skipped, and it turns out these are the chapters with the key stuff in it.
Then on January 2nd I took Barnaby into the manege to lunge him and he had a fit because he'd got so much energy. I ended up doing Join-Up with him again, and again it was fabulous. He followed me everywhere.
Now then...
I have noticed that he doesn't like me putting his headcollar on from outside the stable door. But I can't go in without him being tied up, because he'll barge past me, so I can't go in unless I've put the headcollar on. I've waited patiently for him to stick his nose in the headcollar, but he actually steps backwards, further into the stable. My first thought, was, 'He's stepping backwards, inviting me in.' Then I realised he's stepping backwards, out of my space. I decided to risk opening the door and the possibility of being flattened. He took two more steps back. I was stunned. I put the headcollar on, changed his rug and turned him out.
The next day, the same thing.
I can't tell you how fabulous this is, not being crushed against a stable wall, while half a tonne of horse cruises past me.
Next thing:
One of the exercises to teach your horse manners, is to get him to stand still without moving. Standing with your arms outstretched means, 'stand still.' Putting your arms down, and looking down (and non-threatening) means 'come to me.'
I rode Barnaby Thursday and afterwards had to open the gate. It opens towards you and you have to make your horse step backwards to get out. I decided to try what Kelly Marks suggests. I stood there with my arms out, meaning 'stand' and walked backwards to the gate. Barnaby stood motionless. This had to be a fluke, so I put my arms down and glanced down and he immediately began to walk towards me. I was so thrilled I was trembling. I caught his reins, gave him a rub, and we left the arena together.
Then on Friday they were in from lunchtime onwards as it was snowing quite heavily. I fed Barnaby at tea time as usual, but afterwards he kept banging his stable door. At first I thought he hadn't realised I'd put his haynet up. I watched him really closely. He realised he had my full attention and looked down at his rug, giving it a little nip. I realised immediately what he wanted. Normally after tea, I would take his turnout rug off and we'd have a big scratching session. This movement meant, 'Hey mum, can't you get this rug off and give me a groom!' I couldn't believe it. I opened the stable door, he stepped back, I took off his rug, and the grooming commenced. I'm not sure who was happiest.
We aren't out of the woods yet, but at the moment, I can't believe how much he's changed in such a short space of time. I've learned a lot about him, but a lot about myself, and the way I am around horses (not very assertive). I would recommend this book to any horse owner. If you read it and read it before putting it into practice, it'll reap rewards. Unless of course, your horse has perfect manners already. There will be more to come on this topic I'm sure.
For now, I thought I'd leave you with a little video snippet of what this grooming/scratching session really involves.
See here. It's well worth it.
Have a great day everyone,
Mrs O.


  1. sounds great! i think horses just sense each human's personality and react accordingly. i noticed that while brushing you never offered to give a good scratch with your fingernails. i scratch blue's neck all over and he loves it. your boy might like a stiffer brush. i cannot believe he jumped over his stall! omg! glad your relationship with him is improving, this stupid snow is awful. cannot stand it! kelly marks is awesome as is monty roberts. got to see him years ago...

  2. I read this book several times. It is quite informative, and useful, however, there is a catch to all this. Join up, is good, but and here I found an issue. When I had two horses or three, say when fetching them in from the field etc. There would be a dominance thing! Between themselves, not me! It has sorted itself out, but not without some injuries to the horses!!! I think to me it looked a more Jealousy thing?
    Any way, out of them all, Kelly doesnt expect you to "cough up" Too much. I liked the book, easy to understand. But I have a "Bible" as it were, by a man called Prof. Robert Millar, its called "Western Horse Training and Behaviour". Some of the stuff looks rough! But here`s the thing!! Modern day exponents of the so called "Horse Whispering" fraternity, use these old methods!!!! Although they are dumbed up for the public!!

  3. Hi Jane, Ive never had a horse, but as you say they are intelligent creatures so Ive no doubt you can use human physcology on him as I know they are herd animals and if you show him your the leader its probably the start of getting to know him better, but like all males they think they are the boss, youve got to show him you are. With love and hugs Shirleyxxxx

  4. I honestly think most horses I've met would actually rather be well behaved in the hands of humans. They want us to be their leaders. Sounds as if it's working great with Barnaby!


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