Saturday, 31 March 2012

Repeat, Refresh, Refine

Horses learn very quickly.   According to Dr. Robert Miller they learn faster than any other domestic animal.  They are also the most perceptive of all domestic animals.  Communicating with horses should respect these qualities.

Most training programs utilize the principle of repetition as a method to be followed to elicit the desired response from our equine partners.  Depending on the clinician the number and cycle of repetitions varies widely.  I have often heard the that exercises should be repeated 7 times for 7 days in order to attain the required level of performance.  Dr. Miller says that horses require 3 repetitions in order to retain a response.  He also tells us that we need to repeat the exercise in different places to make the lesson general to the horses environment.  As I have said before there are no right or wrong answers only different answers.

In my opinion repetition is easily overdone.  For we humans we call this NAGGING.  Believe me horses feel the same way when we ask them to do the same thing over and over again.

The best advice I have had from a clinician is that we should always leave something for tomorrow.  We should not try to do everything today.  The most important thing is that we stop an activity on a positive note for us and for the horse.  The key principle here is that release teaches.

One important thing to ask your horse for is lateral flexion.  There are various methods for doing this depending on the clinician you follow.  My experience is that the initial progress is slow until the horse understands the pressure and the required response.  Because it puts the horse in a vulnerable position there is natural resistance.  Take time to  allow the horse to understand this and yield to the pressure, and don`t try to get it all in one session. When you see the horse needs to stop do it at a point where the horse has given even a small amount and reward the effort.

Once you have the horse giving the flexion easily and consistently don`t keep doing it just because you can.  It will bore the horse and can even make them resent the act. The refresh part comes at any time you are with the horse. Just ask for the flexion on each side.  If it is given readily go on to something else.  Normally this begins with the horse in a halter and lead. 

Refinement may come with the introduction of a bridle and bit if you choose that.  Whatever you choose you begin to ask for quicker and softer response.  Ultimately the horse will give lateral flexion at liberty with complete softness.

I have found that this process is effective and maintains the horses spirit, dignity and interest.  In my early stages of being with horses the over use of repetition resulted in boredom, bad attitude and resistance.  Knowing when to stop is critical.  You can follow this pattern with any response you ask your horse to give.  The better you get with it the softer and more willing your partner will be.

Bob had been asked three times to put his back feet on the pedestal.  If you look at him you will see he is bracing, his ears are down and back and he is swishing his tail.  It is time to stop, but only after he makes even a slight effort.  In this case when he let the rope go slack we moved on to somehting different.  Fifteen minutes later he went back and put his feet on with no resistance.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Opinions and Open Minds

In the horse world there is no shortage of opinions.  This is normal. People have opinions on just about every topic.  There seems, however, to be a fairly strong tendency to have nearly fixed opinions which virtually discourage discussion of the opinions of others in the field of natural horsemanship.

I have noticed that almost all natural horsemanship clinicians state very clearly that their methods are one way to work with horses and are not the only methods.  They also state that there is no RIGHT or WRONG  method, there are only DIFFERENT methods.  There is so much to be gained  from this view of horsemanship and any other topic for the matter.  It seems there is an advantage to having an open mind, a respect for the opinions of others and a willingness to explore the differences.

This applies to a whole range of issues related to horses including training equipment, tack, tools, riding disciplines, hoof care, etc.  I try to take advantage of all of the information that is available and choose to use the things that may help me and my horse.  For me it is important to keep an open mind to all ideas.  I do not reject an idea just because it is different from mine and what I am doing now.

Everyone has a right to their opinion but they also have a responsibility to respect the opinions of others.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Define Horseman

Please note that by the term horseman, I include men and women.  I hope this does not offend anyone.

The terms HORSEMAN and HORSEMANSHIP are widely used in the equine world.  What do those terms really mean?  I thought it would be interesting to do a quick look at the writings and comments made by various authorities and experts in the field.  This is not intended to confuse anyone, but rather to show the definition is not straight forward and has many dimensions.

The following definition was copied from the internet dictionary.



1. a person who is skilled in riding a horse.

2. a person on horseback.

3. a person who owns, breeds, trains, or tends horses.

The following is a quotation from Ray Hunt`s book “Think Harmony with Horses”.

“My goal with the horse is not to beat someone; it`s to win within myself.  To do the best job I can do and tomorrow try to do better.  You will be working on yourself to accomplish this, not on your horse.  You will work to recognize how you feel toward your horse and how your horse answers you back; how he understands you, and how he takes it. There shouldn`t be any hassle; there shouldn`t be a big flareup.  Mentally, your horse should not weigh anything.  When you ask your horse to do something it should be his idea.  This is the goal.  In the end, when you ask your horse to do something, he wants to do it, he likes to do it, he understands how to do it, and he does it.

You`ll find out when you get this accomplished that you`re going to be a horseman.”

In the 2011 Road to the Horse event Pat Parelli said;

“Horsemanship is the habits and skills that both horses and humans need to become partners.”

The following is a quotation for Chris Cox book Ride the Journey;

“To me, natural horsemanship means understanding how the horse`s mind works and using this knowledge to work with – not against – his natural instincts.”

In his book True Horsemanship Through Feel, Bill Dorrance says:

“When you can direct a horse`s movements through feel, then there`s understanding taking place between the person and the horse.  That is the sign of true horsemanship.”

I am sure that there are many other definitions of the term horseman/horsemanship that one could find.  All of them have merit and useful information.

  For me horsemanship means being able to have an effective and constructive partnership with a horse through understanding and communication. It is as simple and as complex as any relationship can be.  In the end horsemanship is our unique relationship between us and our horse.