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


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.