Sunday, 14 October 2012

A Herd of Two – Herd Bonding


When we first became involved with horses we knew very little about them.  We did know that horses were herd animals but we had no idea how important this is to them.

By the time we decided to bring Bob home from the boarding stable we knew that we needed a buddy horse for him and so we got Wyatt.  Bobby was a sociable, but dominant horse.  Wyatt on the other hand didn`t much like people but he had little interest in being the herd leader. 

Wyatt was my horse.  I did know that he had run his former owner out of the paddock; that he would bite at the first opportunity; that if you put a saddle on him and rode there was a good chance he would lie down and roll to get you off his back.  There is a saying, that before you can be a horse person you have to be bitten, kicked and thrown.  Wyatt had those things covered for me in the first 6 months.

We also learned very quickly that Bob and Wyatt did not like to be separated even for a short time.  We became familiar with the term herd bound.  We also started to learn a lot about how to deal with this issue.  It took us over 3 years to find the real key.  We had to become a herd of two with our horse.

To do this we had to learn to communicate in a natural way with our horses.  That is using methods that are natural for the horse.  With this fundamental tool we work on the four pillars of trust, confidence, respect and leadership.  It took me 3 years to get what I call a herd bond with my horse.  There is no doubt that an experienced and knowledgeable horseman could have achieved this in a much shorter time.

The herd bond is not the same as “hooking on”.  It is more like the “true unity” that Tom Dorrance talked about.  It is having the horse accept you as a member of their herd.  The horse recognizes you and comes to you in the paddock.  They show respect.  They understand you. They respond willingly to the most subtle cues.  When they see you, and you are not in the paddock, they will knicker or whinny.  It is a vocal invitation  to come to them.  When you are with them they are not looking for the other herd members because you are their herd of two and they see you as the leader.  For both of the horses I have had as partners the vocal response was the last thing that developed.
 
 

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Pillars of Partnership


After watching hundreds of hours of horseman clinicians and being with my horses for hundreds more hours I believe that there are four pillars to building a sound partnership.  This is not intended to be an instant formula to succeeding with horses.It is a quick way to view and support the process of developing a productive, safe partnership.

 

These are the four pillars;

Trust

Confidence

Respect

Leadership

These are listed in order.  First you need to earn trust, then build confidence, establish respect and then practice leadership.  These pillars are built on a foundation of knowledge of everything you can learn about the horse, the sport you are engaging in and the equipment you are using.

Depending on the situation the pillars take on a different level of importance.  When you are just starting a young horse the trust pillar is really important.  As you progress to a horse with more experience the other pillars become more important.  When developing a new skill with a more experienced horse the confidence pillar is a more critical pillar.  The process of building confidence is often referred to by clinicians as desensitizing and others refer to it as preparing. The result is the same really, because we want the horse to be able to handle things and situations without uncontrolled fear.  And so it goes with respect and leadership.  As you work through a program with any clinician I find it useful to see how the methods they use fit with these pillars.  For me it is a way to better understand why the methods they are using work.

Your partnership with your horse is like a building.  It rests on a foundation.  It is made up of pillars that are linked together by smaller pieces.  If everything is put together properly and it is well maintained the partnership will be strong and enduring.

 

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Ethics of Horsemanship


In 1994 the German National Equestrian Federation published a booklet, “Ethical Principles for the True Horseman”.  The following are the nine ethical principles they included:

1.     Anyone involved with a horse takes over responsibility for this living creature entrusted to him.

2.     The horse must be kept in a way that is in keeping with its natural living requirements.

3.     Highest priority must be accorded to the physical as well as psychological health of the horse, irrespective of the purpose for which it is used.

4.     Man must respect every horse alike, regardless of its breed, age and sex and its use for breeding, for recreation or in sporting competition.

5.     Knowledge of the history of the horse, its needs, and how to handle it are part of our historic-cultural heritage.  This information must be cherished and safeguarded in order to be passed on to the next generations.

6.     Contact and dealings with horses are character-building experiences and of valuable significance to the development of the human being – in particular, the young person.  This aspect must always be respected and promoted.

7.     The human who participates in equestrian sport with his horse must subject himself, as well as his horse to training.  The goal of any training is to bring about the best possible harmony between rider and horse.

8.     The use of the horse in competition as well as in general riding, driving and vaulting must be reared toward the horse`s ability, temperament and willingness to perform.  Manipulating a horse`s capacity to work by means of medication or other “horse-unfriendly” influences should be rejected by all and people engaged in such practices should be prosecuted.

9.     The responsibility a human has for the horse entrusted to him includes the end of the horse`s live.  The human must always assume this responsibility and implement any decisions in the best interest of the horse.

Understanding the nature of the horse and practicing natural horsemanship encompasses these principles.  It is our responsibility as our horse`s partner to live by these principles.




Thursday, 16 August 2012

Nature Connection


During the first year that we started using natural horse training methods, we began noticing that it was having an unexpected effect on wildlife in and around the paddock.  Animals that were very shy like fox, deer and wild turkey were becoming more visible.

In the second year, during the early summer, a litter of fox starting visiting the paddock daily.  When we would take the horses into the round pen for grooming the foxes would appear.  The kits would come into the round pen and lie down about 10 feet from where we were.  They would just watch as we stroked the horse.  Then we noticed that the whitetail deer and the wild turkeys were coming close to the paddock and staying nearby.  Normally they would flee at the sight of humans.

I realized that the habits that I had learned from studying the nature of the horse were having the same effect on wild animals as they did on horses.  When you learn to use body language and the control of your emotional and physical energy to communicate with horses it transfers to other animals.  When you learn to read the body language of horses you can learn to read the body language of other animals and they recognize the understanding.  Just as you build confidence and trust with your horse you can build confidence and trust with other animals.  Learning to be a partner with your horse is a gateway to connecting with a wide range of the creatures of the natural world.




Tuesday, 24 July 2012

If Horses Could Speak


Equine Biomechanics

We know that if we attempt to lift a heavy object and we are not in the correct position and properly balance there is good chance we will injure our back, strain a muscle or a tendon.  We also know that if we perform an activity repeatedly over a period of time we will suffer a repetitive stress injury.  It is the same for horses.  If poor riding techniques, postures and gaits are used when we are on our horse, physical and possibly mental damage can occur.  It is important to know how your horse carries you.

To be a good partner to your horse it is helpful to know something about the construction of the horse.  How does their skeleton, muscles and tendons work together.  How does the head postion and the saddle position affect how the horse can perform.

There is an excellent DVD available.  It is called “If Horses Could Speak” by Dr. Gerd Heushmann (approx. $60.).  The DVD has excellent diagrams and animations which show how the bones, muscles and tendons move inside the horse at different gaits.  It shows the effect of head position and flexure on the performance of the horse.  It deals with classical and modern dressage, but it is applicable to all types of riding.

This is another brick in the foundation of knowledge that will help to make us stronger partners with our horses.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Lameness


If you have a horse there is a very good chance that at some time you will deal with lameness.  I have had three horses and two of them have been lame during the last 8 years.  The lameness was caused by two completely different things.

Not all veterinarians have an in depth knowledge of horses.  In my case the vet who came to deal with my horse could not identify which leg was affected.  As a result the treatment given was not effective and it was necessary to contact another veterinarian with a specialty in horses.  The second vet quickly diagnosed the problem as an abscess and treated it quickly and effectively and the horse was fine in two weeks.  At the time I had very little knowledge about horses in general and knew nothing of lameness, its causes and treatments.  I am sure I am not the only one who has had an experience like this.

Dr. Robert M. Miller has published a DVD, “Lameness: Its Causes and Prevention”.  I would strongly recommend this program to anyone who has horses.  It will provide you with information about what factors can cause lameness so you can take appropriate actions to avoid you and your horse from experiencing the problem.  If and when your horse becomes lame it will give you some very important information about what you may be dealing with and the treatment options that may be available.

You can get Dr. Miller`s DVD by going to his website, www.robertmmiller.com.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Treats / Rewards


I admit it!  I use treats when communicating with my horses and my dogs.  I have also found that most dogs and horses will accept food treats.

Sometimes it seems like the word only has 4 letters.  I think it gets a bad rep for several reasons.  Many clinicians discourage it, there are myths about the bad effects of using them and there is a lot of misunderstanding

I use treats as a reward for a correct response to a cue.  Rewards are a tool just like anything else used in learning to communicate with horses.  It is a strong signal that you can give, that the horse has responded correctly.  It should not be a substitute for normal feeding.  It should not be a bribe.  It should not be given as a ransom.

So what is the difference between a reward, a bribe and a ransom.  A REWARD is something given AFTER the horse has responded correctly.  A BRIBE is given to coax a horse to respond correctly.  A RANSOM is a treat given to distract a horse from bad behaviour, like pushing you around.  Horses already know the difference and if you don`t use this tool correctly the horse will use them against you.  Because people are so eager to want their horse to like them they misuse treats and it gets them in trouble.

There are just a few simple guidelines to follow:

·       Give treats as a reward when the horse gives a correct response to a cue you have given.

·       Use treats sparingly as a special reward.  There are other ways to reward the horse e.g. stop pressure, let them rest etc.

·       Treats are a small food treat, a slice of carrot, not a whole carrot, a slice of apple, a small horse cookie.  It is a treat not a meal.

When I go in the paddock and my horse comes to me I will cue him to stop and back up several steps.  When he has done this I will go to him extend my right hand for him to touch and when he does this I will reward him.  The horse learns very quickly that it is okay to approach but that they are only rewarded when they have moved away.  Horses learn very quickly and this is true for both good behaviour and bad behaviour.  Be very aware not to reward bad behaviour.

Like any other tool used in communicating with horses, treats must be used correctly to achieve positive productive results.

This is a picture of some of the treats/rewards that my horses like.  Carrot and apple pieces, some commercial treats, a homemade treat, and their favourite, scotch mints(the round white almost invisible ones).

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Be Consistent


When you are with your horse it is important to be consistent.  Just like us, horses are more comfortable when they know what to expect from people.  There are those people whose behaviour is erratic.  You never know if they will greet you like a long lost friend or if they will ignore you completely.  Usually when I encounter one of those people it makes me uncomfortable and apprehensive.  It is the same with horses.

Horses are only comfortable with you when they are confident in whom and what you are and how you are going to behave around them.  When you are with horses your demeanour should be calm, patient and confident.  If you consistently demonstrate this behaviour the trust your horse has in you will grow.

Body language, your expression and actions, is the primary means of communicating with your horse.  Most people won`t respond well if you speak to them in English, then switch to German, French`, Italian and then back to English.  Its the same with horses.  For productive, successful communication with your horse your body language must be consistent.  This is something that nearly all clinicians agree on.  If you expect a horse to respond to a cue you need to make sure you are giving the cue consistently and you must be consistent in your expectations of the horses response.

Clinicians each have their own methods, techniques and tools which they use, but all are ased on the same fundamentals  of horse behaviour.  There is nothing wrong with mixing the methods, techniques and tools as long as you are consistent in the way that you use them.  People and horses are unique individuals.   Build the language that works best for you and your partner and be consistent in using it. When you learn a new word(cue) your horse must learn it as well.  The cue must mean the same thing to both of you every time it is used.

Horses do learn to respond to vocal cues.  It is important that these cues be very consistent.  In my experience they need to be taught together with physical cues.  For example when I teach my horse to back up I will point at my horses chest, I will look at one of his front feet and I will say BACK.  When he moves the foot back I will stop all cues.  With the vocal cue it must be give the same way every time, the same tone volume and exactly the same word.  Remember it is the sound the horse learns not the meaning of the word BACK.  Once learned the horse will respond to any of the cues when they are used separately.  I keep vocal cues to a minimum because it is not the most natural cue for horses.


 Consistency is one of the pillars of your foundation training.  As your knowledge and abilities are developed with practice, your consistency will improve, if you pay careful attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Desensitizing


This is a general definition:

1. to lessen the sensitiveness of.

2. to make indifferent, unaware of.



This is a term that is used a lot in natural horse training.  Personally I believe it is over used and gives a distorted impression of what is really happening.  Another term that is used frequently is “bomb proofing”, which refers to the same process.

I understand what the clinicians mean when they talk about desensitizing a horse. For example, they want a horse to ignore a fluttering plastic bag instead of spooking and running off.  What they are really talking about is modifying the horses’ behaviour.

Horses are naturally very sensitive and perceptive animals.  Their very life depends on it.  Despite all best efforts you can never be absolutely sure that a horse won`t spook.  Given the wrong set of circumstances even the “bomb proof” horse can and will spook.

Chris Cox uses the term “PREPARE” as an alternative to “desensitize” which I believe is more appropriate to what is really desired.  This implies that the horse has been taught to respond instead of react.

There is a picture at the end of this section that shows a horse (my horse Kai) who is truly desensitized.  In this picture he is recovering from a sedative that was administered by a veterinarian in order to remove a bunch of porcupine quills from his nose.  This is not the demeanour anyone wants in their horse.  Again I am aware that this is not what clinicians mean by desensitizing.

Horses put things in two categories, things they should run away from and things they should not run away from.   Using techniques that clinicians teach, you can teach your horse not to fear a tarp, a trailer or a bit.  You can PREPARE them to accept these things as safe.

My horse, Kai, who was 11 years old when I got him, would not trailer load.  It was a fight to get him on a trailer and when he came off he was terrified.  Using methods that I learned from Richard Winters and Chris Cox, I prepared Kai to accept the trailer.  This was accomplished by a procedure of moving closer and staying longer and building his confidence and trust in me.  He now loads exactly the way the Chris and Richard demonstrate and he travels without fear. 


Monday, 18 June 2012

Groundwork


For the most part clinicians who use natural horsemanship techniques employ a program of ground exercises.  There are a few who do little or no ground work preferring to go as quickly as possible training from the back of the horse.

For people, like me, who have limited experience with riding and who don`t possess a high level of natural athleticism, groundwork is the better choice to begin working with a horse.  Working on the ground is safer for you and the horse. 

The exercises employed in the clinician programs are intended to build a system of communication between the human and the horse.  The techniques are designed to take advantage of the natural behaviour of the horse.  Each clinician has different methods, exercises and tools that they use.  As I have said before, it is a real advantage to look at the work of a number of different clinicians and pick the one that suits you the best.

Establishing the communication with the horse is the primary goal of ground exercises.  In the process of building the communication you also build trust, respect and confidence between you and your horse.  My primary goal with the exercises was to build responses that would translate directly to the responses that you want when you are in the saddle.  This again is for safety for both the human and the horse, and it also continues to build the trust and confidence.  But no matter what techniques you use the principals stay the same.

Ground exercises involve imposing some form of pressure on the horse with a view to getting a desired response.  To be successful you have to learn to recognize when the horse is giving or trying to give the correct response and releasing the pressure when it occurs.  It sounds so simple.  It isn`t.  You have to train your eye, your body and your mind to respond correctly to the horse.  The better the timing of your response the quicker the horse will understand. 

Once you understand the fundamentals of horse behaviour and have started using the techniques taught by any of the N H clinicians you should try and watch accomplished horseman use these methods.  One of the best examples of this are the Road to the Horse colt starting competitions.  If you have an opportunity watch the DVD of the 2011 competition featuring  Pat Parelli, Chris  Cox and Clinton Anderson.  It is a good example of the natural horsemanship principles used in three very different ways.

Doing ground exercises well requires a lot of skill developed through practice and repetition.  It is a lot like learning a golf swing.  You have to train you body and your mind to go through a whole series of steps in a very precise manner that can be repeated exactly over and over again.  It requires the development of muscle memory and a strong feel for the horses` responses.  When it is done with this high level of skill, horses learn the correct responses very quickly.

I have often heard the complaint that clinicians are only  trying to sell you a bunch of expensive gimmicks and equipment just to make money.  Well sure, this is their living and they do need to make money.  The equipment is really a side issue.  You can do ground exercises with any halter and lead rope, and nothing else, except stuff you find in the paddock.  The knowledge you get from the clinicians is the vital part.  Used correctly and with an understanding of the horse you can establish the communication, trust, respect and confidence in yourself and your horse with equipment you already have.

For me ground exercises build the foundation of your relationship with your horse.  They make it possible to communicate effectively and safely with them, whether it is under saddle or in harness.  Every time I go in the paddock with my horse I do some ground exercises with him.  It may only be a few minutes where I ask him to back up, give lateral flexion, yield his hind quarters or lower his head.  This few minutes keeps building the foundation with the horse and he looks for me coming and meets me at the gate always with a willing question “What do you want me to do now?”

In my opinion Ground Work is Good.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Knowledge and Safety


A few days ago I was in my doctor’s office waiting for an appointment.  There was another gentleman there and we started a discussion.  The topic of horses came up.  He told me that he used draft horses in his farm operation.  He told me that he had two Percherons last year but that he had sold them after an accident.  Apparently the team had bolted and he had caught between one of the horses and a tree.  The result was a broken collar bone, three broken ribs and a broken arm.  Based on his description of the event I am surprised he survived at all.

As we talked about horses and his experience, it became apparent that he had learned about horses from passed down knowledge that relied almost entirely on the use of force and mechanics to get the horse to do what was wanted.  He had no understanding of the nature of horses, how to communicate with them and how to use that knowledge to modify behaviour.  The solution to a problem with a horse was to get rid of the horse and try the same techniques on another horse.  As the saying goes “If you always do what you`ve always done, you will always get what you always got.”

I told him about a problem with one of my horses and the methods I used to solve it.  His eyes glazed over and told me that would never work with any horse he had.  I have become used to this reaction and as a result I never offer advice unless it is clearly requested.

There is a very prevalent attitude that “We have always done it this way.”  There is almost an unwillingness to learn, even when a person`s life may hang in the balance.

Friday, 25 May 2012

I Don`t Believe in Coincidence


I have worked and played with a lot of different animals and they all fascinate me but none more than the horse.  The big question is how they think about things and how they make decisions about what they are going to do.  When I was young my parents and teachers told me that animals only did things by instinct and that they were incapable of any kind of thought process.  I no longer believe that.  Here a few little stories about my experiences with our horses.

Two years ago we had a load of gravel delivered into our paddock to build up the area in and around our run in barn.  I had to move it using a wheel barrow because of the confined areas.  The horses were in the paddock when I started this.  After moving three wheel barrow loads, my horse Kai came up beside me while I was loading and he started to paw down the gravel from the top of the pile.  I stroked him and told him he was a good boy.  After that he helped me with every load.  Last year we had a load of screenings delivered for our round pen in our lower paddock.  As soon as we let the horses in that paddock he found the pile and started to level it.  The picture is in my last blog. 

Val`s horse, Bob, has a different talent.  One day while grooming him Val dropped her glove.  Bob picked it up and held it in his mouth until Val accepted it from him and rewarded him.  She has turned this into a little game with him by dropping different items which he retrieves and gives them back to her.  One day she took Bob into the round pen to do some liberty exercises.  She dropped the halter and lead rope in the centre of the pen and proceeded with the exercises.  After 15 minutes she asked him to disengage and come to her on the far side of the pen.  Bob came to the centre of the pen and picked up the halter and waited for her to come get it.  It was pretty clear he was letting her know he had had enough and wanted her to put his halter on and take him out to do something else.

Last week Val was doing some clean up in the paddock.  She was going around and picking up small rocks that had surfaced since the spring.  We try to clean these up to avoid having the horses bruise their feet.  She had picked up several stones when she noticed Bob was about 50 feet away with his nose to the ground and snuffling around something.  She went over to see what he was doing and found he had uncovered a base ball size rock that had been partially covered with ground.  Val picked it up, thanked him, and he went back to the hay feeder.

These are just a couple of little things that we have noticed our horses do, that seem to show a thought process that goes beyond instinct or simple rote learning.  I certainly don`t believe it is just coincidence.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Little Things Mean a Lot


I believe it was Ray Hunt who said the “Little things mean a lot to a horse.”

Indeed the same can be said of people and most other species.  Because they are small things, they are easy to skip over, DON`T

I have mentioned some of these things in earlier blogs but here are a few ideas to remember;

·         Learn your horses body language

·         Get an invitation before going in the paddock

·         When you approach your horse let them touch you first

·         If you touch first do it at the withers

·         Stroke, don`t pat

·         If they ask, scratch

·         Be gentle as possible and firm when necessary (never be mean)

·         Inspect your horse often, for cuts, bruises, stones in feet, etc.

·         Check equipment, ensure it is safe and comfortable.

·         If you use a bit be careful with the lip, gums and teeth

·         Monitor your horses feed and water, it can be the first sign of a health problem.

·         Don`t ignore things like a cough

·         Touch your horse often, feel for lumps, swellings and ticks

·         Check your horses paddock, stall and barn for anything that could hurt them.  Anticipation is easier to deal with than regret.

·         Spend undemanding time with your horse

·         Groom your horse yourself and do it often

·         When your horse does something helpful reward them

These are some of the little things that take moments of time and relatively little effort.  They are very BIG deals for your horse.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


It is often said that horses live in the present.  This is true.  However horses also have the best memory of all domestic animals.

The way your horse responds to something today won`t necessarily be the way he/she responded yesterday.

Our horse, Bob, has always been very easy to trailer load.  Yesterday he did not want to get on the trailer.  We have learned that everything means something and nothing means nothing.  We found that the door to the upper storage area at the front of the trailer had been left open.  So Bob could see this nice big cave that was a perfect hiding place for a cougar or even the notorious and deadly sabre toothed butterfly.  There was no way he was going near that scary place.  We closed the door and led him on the trailer.  The lead on was important because he trusts us and as long as we were leading he was okay with following.  We let him stay on the trailer and we stayed with him while he carefully checked everything out.  We took him off and did some ground  exercises and then repeated the lead on and rest.  We did this several times over the next hour.  By the end of it he was okay with getting on the trailer.

What happens tomorrow?  I don`t know.  I hope all will be okay, but, if he has an issue we will respect it and help him through it.  There is no doubt that he will remember the scary moment yesterday but he will also remember that nothing bad happened.  No matter what keep the horse`s trust and maintain your leadership.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Be Safe

Horses are inspiring and beautiful animals that are loved by millions of people.  They are also very big and powerful and fast.  These characteristics make it important for people to ensure their safety when they are with horses.



People and horses get hurt for a number of reasons including;

·         Lack of knowledge by the human of the nature of the horse

·         Lack of knowledge of methods used in communicating with and teaching horses.

·         Poor/inappropriate equipment

·         Poor maintenance of equipment.

·         Going too far beyond the abilities of the human and the horse.

·         Bad advice and bad information.



Working and playing with horses is one of the most pleasant and satisfying experiences you can have, but like anything else, there are risks.  Do your homework and protect yourself and your horse. Here are a few basic pieces of information:



The Nature of the horse

Horses are big, powerful and fast.  They are prey animals and their primary defence is flight.  If something scares a horse they are likely to panic and run.  If you are in the way (too close to the horse) they may knock you down and step on you.  If you are on their back when this happens you need some skill to stay on and gain control. I strongly recommend Dr. Robert Miller`s DVD on the nature of the horse to get an in depth view of the behaviour of the horse.



Communicating with and teaching horses

In natural horsemanship the methods used work with the nature of the horse.  The basic principles of these methods are discussed in earlier blogs.  There are many excellent clinicians who have developed programs to help people communicate with horses using these principals. It is worth every dollar and every minute you spend learning from these great horse men and horse women, both for you and for your horse.  They will instruct you on safe methods for doing ground work and riding.  Dr. Miller`s DVD will give you information about methods for giving needles, worming, treating eyes, handling feet etc.  If you avoid just one accident for you or your horse you will save the cost of this information.



Poor / Inappropriate equipment

When working with horses there is a wide assortment of equipment that can be used.  The first thing one normally uses is a halter and lead rope.  They are the most basic and vital pieces of equipment you will use.  It is important to know the different types of halters and ropes and how to use them.  If you use a flat halter with bad hardware you can quickly run into problems. Under stress buckles and snaps made of cheap, brittle metal can break.  Many clinicians use horsemans halter (rope halters).  This is for two reasons.  First there is no hardware.  Second the rope is thinner and gives more feel to the horse. Bridles and bits are one of the most misunderstood and misused pieces of equipment. It is really important to get a  good program that clearly explains how to bridle a horse, how to set up the bridle so it fits properly in the horse`s mouth and most important the proper use of reins to communicate effectively and gently with the horse.  It is really important to understand all of the pieces of equipment which you use in horse activities from ropes, to trailers to saddles.



Poor maintenance of equipment

Every time you use equipment from rope and halter to saddles and everything you need to carefully inspect it for damage and wear that could affect its strength and how it will work for you.  Check latigoes for deterioration of the leather.  Make sure that your cinch is in good condition.  Any break in a piece of equipment can lead to big trouble.



Going too far beyond the abilities of the human and the horse

Of course as you work with your horse you will be asking more of yourself and your horse to do new things and to improve performance of tasks already learned.  It is important to ensure that you do this in a carefully thought through progression that enables both you and the horse to build the skills needed to reach your goal.  You can`t go directly from a 6 inch step over to a 5 foot jump. It is also important for the rider to ensure that horse has been  properly prepared for the planned tasks.  Don`t take someone else`s word for it.  Always check for yourself.



Bad advice and bad information

It is not unusual for people to just accept the advice of someone they assume knows about horses and horsemanship.  This may happen because they know the person and they know they have been involved in the horse world for years.  I got a lot of advice this way.  Almost all of it was at best flawed and at its worst it was completely wrong.  There is so much information that is now available and it is relatively easy to verify its validity that there really is no excuse for accepting bad advice.  In earlier sections of this blog I have given references to a number of clinicians and experts in horses and horsemanship.  Take the time and spend some money to learn what these people can tell you.  We spend thousands of dollars on our horses, equipment, tack and veterinary services and ultimately we put our lives on the line with our horses, so spend a few hundred dollars and some hours to expand your knowledge. 



In the end knowledge is best road to safety.  Take the time to learn about horses from real experts who have the background and credentials to support the programs they present.  There is a program out that will satisfy your needs, improve the quality of your experiences and will help to keep you and your horse safe.



If your horse is doing this, stay out of the pen.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Getting to Soft

I often hear clinicians use the term “softness”.  It has taken some time watching clinicians working with horses in all kinds of different situations to understand what they mean.  So here is my attempt to explain it.



A horse is SOFT when;

·         It is relaxed mentally, physically and emotionally

·         Its body shows flexibility

·         It is mentally engaged with the human

·         It willingly responds to the cues of the human.



To attain this, the horse must have confidence and trust in the human and respect for the human.



As the level of softness increases the horses ability to learn new skills and to improve their performance of known skills also increases.



To attain softness in the horse the human must learn to demonstrate a consistently calm physical and emotional state when they are with the horse.  If the human is feeling anxious, angry or frustrated the horse will know.  You may kid yourself but you can not lie to a horse.



Kai is showing some of the outward signs of softness.  His head is down, his eyes and ears show he is mentally engaged with his human and his body is relaxed.  The next thing would be to check for responsiveness and flexibility.