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Get To, Got To

“Get to, got to.” That little phrase was shared with me many years ago.  It was pertaining to different ways of dealing with situations that may arise when playing with your horse.  When we get to do things it always sounds and feels better than when we got to do things, however, there are times when things got to be done.

Its that time of year that we are probably going to have a Christmas tree.  Do we say or think we get to get a Christmas tree or do we say or think we got to get a Christmas tree?  If you’re told you have to go get a tree but you really don’t want to, it is more of a got to situation.  If you decide to get a tree or it feels like you want to, it is more of a get to situation.  So let’s say you got to. You really don’t want to and you’re grumbling about it but it just has to be done.  You head out and 3 or 4 people go with you.  You go to a patch of beautiful trees and someone starts a campfire. Someone else pours some hot chocolate. The smokies are pulled out and roasted over the fire. You’re leaning back against tree. The air is crisp and the tree you picked together is beautiful only because you picked it together.  Maybe you share a favorite Christmas story, or relax long enough to remember when. What started as a got to situation is now feeling more like a get to situation.

I still absolutely cherish being able to go hunt for a tree for Christmas with my girls so we can spend time together.  I don’t care what the tree looks like. It’s not about what it looks like; it’s about memories and time with friends and family.  The more people the better!  If we burn the smokies, who cares! What might start out to be a got to situation for some people could be turned into a get to situation.

So, when it comes to horses there are many times that the horse believes that what we want to do is not near as good an idea as the one that they have.  Situations arise where you may need to use a got to technique and other times you can use a get to technique.  Got to is used too often but does need to be used when something needs to happen now because you or the horse will get hurt.  Other time’s it’s used is when it is more of a respect issue.  The horse wants to do something but it’s not what you need at the moment or, again, their idea could be very unsafe.  Get to techniques stick better because you’re allowing the horse to come to it’s own conclusion.  It usually takes longer so you will need more time to allow them to realize their idea wasn’t working and it sticks with them.  This way seems to have a lasting change.

If a horse is very impulsive (meaning they want to run unless you are always holding them), generally the reason for them wanting to run is that they are emotional about something at the moment or in their past.  Sometimes, there is no reason for them to be worried, they just are.  Like people who are scared of a spider. A spider couldn’t possibly do anything but the person just decided one day that “OMG a spider!”  You need to help them overcome or realize there is no reason to be anxious or worried.  There are many ways to help a horse become braver and less emotional.  Let’s say you’ve really done your homework and all is working quite well but they still can’t handle the canter emotionally.  If you tried to canter on a loose rein they would run faster and faster.  Some horses will go so fast without being held that you would be on a complete runaway.  The horse seems to think that running is a dream come true.  They appear to want to run, the prey animal in them comes out, and they think they can outrun some perceived danger.  If you have a horse like that, they obviously need help to learn to relax.  Avoiding the thing that worries them isn’t how you help them.  It will always be there.  You have to prepare them at slower gaits but at some point you need to do the thing that bothers them.  Your goal is to help them realize that a canter is not that big of a deal. In fact, it can be a real relaxed even fun thing to do, like going to get a Christmas tree.

Some horses don’t even think about getting excited at the canter others are looking for any reason to get excited. You want the horse to think about slowing down rather than speeding up.  A perfect balance would be a horse that willingly canters without being held back with the reins or your seat.  An impulsive horse appears to want to run, when they actually don’t, they just haven’t figured out that it isn’t necessary.  So you can use a got to technique and hold them with the reins at a trot or at the canter or you could use a get to technique.  Using a get to technique, you allow them to do the thing that they think they want to do, which is run.  So rather than hold them or make them slow down, you allow them to go find out there is no need to be running and it is actually more fun to slow down.

In this example, you keep them on a smaller circle so they can’t get going too fast and it is makes it more difficult for them the run fast.  Circles shorten a horse, helping them figure out wildly running around isn’t necessary.  You’re allowing them to test their theory and all the while your wanting them to realize there is no need to be impulsive and your idea was always the best one.  Even on a small circle, a very impulsive horse needs to be checked with the rein sometimes— not “held”—to keep trying to suggest a slower speed. 

If we always hold them, they will need us to hold them forever.  They rarely figure out how to monitor or regulate their own speed and emotions.  They can get tired running in a circle and probably will, but you’re waiting for them to want to slow down and walk so it becomes they get to walk rather than got to walk.  The end goal being that they can canter without the emotion.  Get to takes longer as your suggesting they look at something differently and then waiting for them to want to rather than making them.  There are times when we must use got to or the horse or ourselves could get hurt. Other times you have the time to allow them to come to the answer. The hardest part of all of the different got to, get to techniques is trying to figure out ways to help them or prepare them so that the answer isn’t too hard to find.

With impulsive horses, ones with a lot of get up and go, they really want to stick with their being impulsive plan so you have to be willing to hang in there, set it up and wait for them to make a better choice.  Generally people want to grab the reins and stop them because we are getting impatient or uncomfortable with the emotion the horse is having but an emotional horse is a dangerous one.  We need to do the best we know how to help them overcome their worries so they can think rather than react.  We might be saving them from an injury and for sure no horse wants to spend its life as an emotional mess.  If we can help them become more emotionally fit then I believe that’s a good thing.

There are many get to, got to ways of doing things with a horse. Get to takes longer but they really seem to get it.  People are often to quick to use got to because it’s fast and there is a result quickly but often we have to do it again the next day and 5 years later. 

Have fun with your horse. Learn what you can. They are great teachers.

Happy Holidays,

Glenn Stewart

Now accepting bookings for the summer of 2017.  Glenn offering year round educational horsemanship programs at his facility near Fort Saint John, BC and is available to travel and conduct clinics.  Long-term study and professional programs are now available.  For more information visit