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.