Identify the behavior Part 2

 

I want to share the story of a little paint pony named ” Thunder ”

I received a call from a woman who had purchased a three year old Pony who was not yet trained to ride. She was excited about how calm he was for such a young horse and decided to purchase him. The sellers had agreed to deliver him. She let him settle in his new home but soon found out she could not go near him. He was afraid of everything and everyone. He attempted to kick if you touched him anywhere on his hindquarter or legs. He just wasn’t the same pony she looked at. She had to lock him in a stall so she could attempt to tame him. She did a great job but he still reacted with fear or kicking if she went near his hind end. When I came, he was standing in the stall quivering with fear. He showed major signs of tension like his tail was tucked tight, holding his breath and his eyes were huge. If I tried to approach him over the stall wall, he attempted to jump out of the half door. Hmm..guessing the sellers drugged this pony so he seemed calm when she purchased him. My first thought was he must have been abused. I later realized that he was acting as a horse in the wild would if caught and locked up. Presumably, he must have grown up in a herd and his only human contact memories were traumatic to him. ( haltering, vaccinations, castration, etc. )

The first thing I decided to do is give him treats ( Of course! )

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This would help his mind relax and forget about his fears. Eating ( chewing ) actually has a relaxing effect on the horse, it keeps his mind relaxed and not so focused on ” flight ” While he was loving the treats, I was able to halter, and pet him. Everything I did was very slow, talking to him the whole time. What I was saying didn’t matter, it was the tone of my voice that mattered and remained the same, quiet and comforting.

I used some Ttouch methods with him. These are awareness methods, not massage. These ” touches ” make the horse more aware of their body. In other words, if a horse is nervous or holding emotions, he completely shuts down his mind and body, it is a defense mechanism that humans use as well. Horses become very unpredictable in this state of mind. The Ttouches help the horse become aware of his body mentally and physically. It can also create a bonding and trusting friendship with horses that are tense. I started with a long dressage whip to act as an extension of my arm. This way, I could stand back in a non threatening way but still touch his hindquarter without getting kicked.  If your horse is having odd behavior, I suggest trying Ttouch to see if he is shut down, blocking out emotional stress or pain. Know that there is always a reason for this behavior, based on fear or pain. It doesn’t have to mean the horse was abused, it is almost like a map to areas of tension. If you don’t address the cause, with proper training exercises or tack fitting, you will waste your time with the Ttouch ( after horse has been diagnosed healthy by your vet )  ligament issues, arthritis, etc. can cause pain and rigidity as well.

Signs of tension with eyes and mouth say a lot about the horses emotions but so does the tail! A clamped, rigid tail is a sign of fear or even pain that resulted in shutting down emotionally. You want to address and actually get the horse “aware ” of it’s body. Does your horse unnecessarily spook at things? Does he seem startled when you pet his hindquarter like he didn’t know you were there? This can come from a slight physical pain that can even come from locked back muscles, shoulders, etc. Remember some horses tolerate pain by becoming stoic, emotionally shutting down. It will eventually show up in behavior, lameness or health. The horses self preserved way to stay comfortable, enduring, tolerant. Horses main priority for themselves is comfort, and safety.

” The horse must always feel comfortable in all equestrian activities, this is how we show him our love and respect.” – Miguel Tavora

You will start to know a horse is relaxing by watching his body signs. His eyes will go

from distant or scared to calm and relaxed. ” soft ”

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He will begin to lower his head in a relaxed manner. 20180504_172821.jpg              He will breathe out and begin to gently chew. These relaxed signs can appear but the tail may still be rigid and clamped.

I could now pet him all over but needed to know if he was still going to kick out if I pet his hindquarter. I use a rope or lasso to desensitize that area, just placing slight tension for awareness. Linda Tellington suggests polo wraps  Ttouches as they are gentler. In some cases, the horse is less fearful of approaching with the rope than wrapping him with a polo wrap.  After some hopping and kicking, he settled. He was just scared and kicking out in defense. His ears were not pinned but his tail was clamped. All  “problem ” horses have to be handled differently and that is why no” how to” book can address the situation. I taught the owner the Ttouch so she could work with him 10 to 20 minutes per day. He soon became relaxed and accepting and I was able to start him under saddle. Chasing a horse in a round pen until he ” relaxes ” does not work in cases of pain and emotion, it seems to but is actually creating a stronger mental shutdown.  This is different than acceptance or accustoming to tack and surroundings. I have seen many horses leap right out of a round pen in fear and confusion. Horses like this need routine and consistency of ” awareness “in order to change their defensive nature to a trusting, willing character. This pony was able to change because of his owners willingness to learn, to have faith in what I was doing and allowing the time needed to gain his trust.

 

If you persevere long enough, if you do the right things long enough, the right things will happen.
Ian Millar

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If I never thanked you, My sweet Mare

 

I was obsessed with horses. When I was a kid, I would stand by the road and wait for this married couple to ride by on their beautiful horses. I did not have my own horse, but we lived in a mountain neighborhood where most people had a horse in their yard. I knew the couple would be coming by every Saturday morning. “ Can I ride your horses? “ I would beg every time…”No” they would kindly answer. Finally, after a few times asking, they let me know it was VERY rude for me to ask. So I moved on, I decided to befriend a girl that rode my bus, she lived at a beautiful horse property. “ Can I ride your horses? “ She said yes but would set it up with her Mom. I was 9 and I was so excited!! Her Mom would be the one to lay the foundation of important knowledge of Horsemanship. I could not wait to climb on that black Welsh pony. You have to “ learn “ to ride and care for the horse and tack, is what she let me know. “ You don’t just ride my horses, you have to LEARN to ride them.” I took lessons and took care of her horses when she was away. Fast forward to a very rebellious teenager. I studied all I could about horses, I did not focus on education ( regretful now ) I searched for every wild, untrained horse I could find, I was fearless. I still needed knowledge though; people didn’t believe I knew how to train at such a young age. I was so impressed with anyone that said they were a trainer. I believed that the word “ Horse Trainer “ meant they were honestly knowledgeable about the practice of educating horses. I did not understand that any individual could label themselves with this title. I called every horse stable in the area to see if any trainers needed help, I wanted to learn to be a trainer. I was hired as an exercise rider for a trainer. She interviewed me by taking me out on a trail ride and was impressed with how I handled the horse. On the third day on the job, she told me to tack up and longe a horse that I would be riding up the mountain with her. This horse was wild, it was bolting out of control and actually slipped and fell. I wasn’t phased by it’s behavior because I was there to learn from a horse trainer! Off we went, the horse I was on had a bosal, a hard noseband used for pressure on the nose, and no bit.

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When we reached the top of the mountain, I turned around to let the trainer know I felt the horse wasn’t listening, and before I knew it, he was bolting out of control. He took off so quickly that I dropped my left rein ( I only ride and teach with connected reins now ) and was crazily headed straight for a cliff. I could not stop this horse so I did what I was always taught…pull the horse round in a tight circle to slow or stop. When I brought my one rein to my thigh, the horse lost his balance and fell on me. Unfortunately, when it fell on me,I was between a good sized rock and the horse. I was unconscious, i’m not sure for how long but when I awoke, the trainer was praying over me. Turns out I had broken my upper back, crushed my lower and was two inches from being paralyzed by a hairline fracture. One week in the hospital and three months in a back brace. I was devastated, ashamed, and contemplated giving up on being a horse trainer forever. I remember my Sister bought me a get well card with horse magazines and told me to never ever give up my dream. I still have the card. It turned out the horse was in training as a “runaway” The trainer had used my fearless character to test ride the horse never warning me to keep an eye on it running for home. Hopefully she learned a little more about safety and horses from that…

I had to ride again, it was like an addiction that I could not ignore.

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Almost 6 months later, I was able to buy a horse for only $ 500.00. She was a beautiful Thoroughbred cross with Mustang/ Morgan. When I went to try her out, she would not move, they had to lead her to the end of the driveway so she would walk back to the barn. I had to have her. I had a secret that only that mare and I knew- I was scared to death that she might bolt off. What they deemed stubborn, I saw as safe. I kept her at a ranch that had 60 acres of trail riding. Off we went, she would take 5 steps and refuse to go any further. Kicking, swatting with a crop did nothing. She wouldn’t turn for home, spook, back up, just froze up in her tracks. The previous owners said she had started doing that recently, but she used to love galloping everywhere they went. She would climb on and run this mare everywhere. Well that was my answer, this horse was so resentful of being ridden that she figured out a way out of it. She was too kind to try and hurt anyone or become aggressive, she just turned sour.

Bam!!, my eagerness to fix horses was coming back! I would take the mare out, go three steps, turn around and come back. Unknowingly, we were helping each other stay in our comfort zone. We were both taking baby steps toward confidence. Each ride brought us both further and further until the desire to refuse just went away. We rode all over, then when I had to live in the city, we continued to ride all over, picking up milk from the gas station was always the best! This Mare ended up being one of the best teachers not only in my life but instructing so many children as well. 20181202_123859.jpg

 

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I will never know completely if she sensed my fear and that made her unsure of going forward or if she became balky from her previous owners. I believe perhaps a combination. I am so thankful I acquired this mare that I named “ Tasha “ after the Welsh pony I learned to ride on. She brought me back to my dream of becoming a horse trainer and helping horses and owners overcome problems.

I wanted to share my story for a few lessons…

  1. Respect the horse as an animal and know they can be unpredictable
  2. Anyone can be labeled a trainer. Be enamored with their knowledge, their empathy for the horse as well as the rider, not just their title.
  3. Respect and understand riders that have fear.
  4. Do not use fearless young riders to accomplish what you are afraid of. Hire a professional. Communicate why you are afraid of the horse, be honest and allow the trainer the time it takes to help you and the horse overcome obstacles.
  5. There is power in prayer
  6. There are questions surrounding the use of terms such as leader, submissive, and obedient. One term we can all agree on in horse and rider is confidence.
  7. Admitting and facing your fears of your horse is not shameful, it’s smart!

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.

– Winston Churchill

Identify the behavior Training Part 1

I was asked to train a horse because of his head throwing problem. The horse was to be used as a trail horse but really had no knowledge of trails as he was used for speed events. I was to get him used to the mountain trails and fix the head tossing. He was only six years old which explains the lack of experience with anything at all. The owner insisted I ride with a tie down and also figure out why he bolts up mountains and then sidesteps down them. First thing, check teeth by a veterinarian to assure it wasn’t sharp edges on teeth hitting the bit. He was also on the thin side which can be from teeth, parasites, and lack of feed. If you want the horse to perform well for you and be at it’s best behavior, then you have to take care of it. Ignoring these duties in the care of the horse is poor management and will not ensure a strong relationship with your horse. Native Americans believed the relationship with their horses was a main priority in their training. They depended completely on the horses skills and partnership.

I do not use mechanical gadgets to train so once the teeth were addressed, it was time to help the horse accept the pressure of the bit. This work starts on the ground, then can be transferred under saddle. Once the horse associates anything with pain, you have to be patient and creative to gain their trust. The tie down would have been a way to mask the pain, creating suffering and resentment. Tie downs should not be a training tool to keep the horses head down. Poor fitting hackamores and bosals  can cause head tossing as well.  They can block nasal passages if set too low, the horse is attempting to say they can’t breathe when you pull on the reins. Dismissing your horses behavior as being rude or a jerk and using submissive training methods will never allow you the experience of learning the true character of your horse. Patience is a practice all horse owners should strive for. If your horse is showing signs of resentment like refusing to go forward, refusing to enter the arena, stop and think about what may be happening. Did you leave him sore last ride? Is he bored with circles? Does his saddle fit or is it pinching? Seek to identify the behavior before dismissing as ” My horse is lazy! ” Dangerous behavior should not be tolerated, but make sure your horse isn’t attempting to communicate the reason why.

This particular horse would bolt uphill for a few reasons:

  1. The tie down did not allow him use of head and neck for balance, blocking longitudinal flexion
  2. If horses are out of shape, rushing up hill is actually easier for them than walking
  3. Weak hind leg, stifle pain

The horse would trot sideways downhill for a few reasons:

  1. Lack of balance due to tie down
  2. The horse needs to have proper use of back muscles to balance himself and rider down hills. The tie down creates a stiffening of back muscles that need to be addressed
  3. The hind legs work as a braking and carrying, sore stifles can come from incorrect back muscles. The horse goes sideways to keep from overloading the hind legs, protecting stifle pain.

How to fix the situation

Re educate the incorrect muscle with schooling exercises along with negotiating smaller hills to gain trust and stamina. Longitudinal flexion is allowing the horse full use of moving head and neck forward and back.

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Teaching them to yield to slight bit pressure, not brace against it.

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All bonds are built on trust, without it, you have nothing. – Unknown

 

A Man’s worth depends upon the nobility of his aspirations

It always looks so easy to solve problems by taking the path of least resistance. What looks like the easy road turns out to be the hardest and most cruel. Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965

Dressage practiced correctly is used to gymnastisize any horse in any type of riding. Suppling exercises were created as a benefit to self carriage, lightness and obedience. (Yes, I would like a 1200 lb. Animal to respond to what I ask ) Horses that are balanced and light are  not only athletic , but easier to ride. These horses present themselves as noble, and beautiful.

 

 

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Carl Hester-The horse magazine

 

Just as it takes a dancer to slowly develop strength and balance, the same goes for

the horse, in all disciplines.

 

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 “One often demands things that the horses are not capable of doing in a desire to push them too fast and teach them too much. These excessive demands make them hate exercise, strains and tires their sinews and tendons, upon whose elasticity suppleness depends and often these horses end up ruined when it is believed that they have been trained. Thus, no longer having the strength to fight back, they obey, but without grace or any spirit. “

         —– François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688–1751) was a French riding master who had a profound effect on accepted methods for horse training, and one of the most influential writers on the art of Dressage.

 

I am sincerely heartbroken when I see a following of yanking the horses head this way and that to ” soften ” and then adding a tiny yank on the bit to be sure the horse “understood ” softening to pressure. Is this where we have come to in our desire to achieve ” partnership ?” To me the horse seems confused, like yanking someone to go somewhere but not actually communicating where you are taking them. This is a very popular training method, even being taught to young riders. I need to speak up about it, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Focusing on the placement or ” feel ” of the horses neck creates a false sense of softness to the bit. There is a whole spine there surrounded by important muscles that need to be addressed. Horses are so tolerant to what we think is beautiful. Horses as well as young riders are very intelligent and can absorb the education of correctly balancing a horse, learning to prepare the horse for something as simple as halt with body nuances, creates comfort for both horse and rider.

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Moving on to the misuse of the curb now appearing everywhere. If you have a strong contact on the shanks in order to create a softening or placement of the horses head, you are actually inviting the horse to set his head on the bit, bracing his back and causing abnormal gait movement.

 

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Lots of treats after showing example of misuse of  bit with shanks

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self carriage and comfort

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Absolute beautiful picture of elegance. This takes time to develop and create, take the time it takes

 

Your going to need a bigger bit because you are taking shortcuts that appear to work but it is a false feeling of lightness and the horse will lean and push on that bit more and more until he has learned to contract his back every time you place pressure on the bit. Tug of war begins and he will win or submit and eventually have lameness or sacroiliac problems. I am not a beautiful rider that has won awards and trophies but I have studied the bio mechanics of the horse and I can honestly claim to have helped many horses that presented behavior or lameness issues. I have also taught many young riders to learn how to properly coordinate and balance the horse with quiet dialogue, not harsh contact on the bit.

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.If you have a horse, think about your motives and at what point has it become about your goals of glory and attaining them. Have you dismissed the horse as an animal of intelligence and feeling.  François Robichon de La Guérinière wrote about barbaric methods ruining the horses spirit over 100 years ago, take some time to think about what you are asking of your horse and do you anatomically know why you are asking.

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The horse does one of two things. He does what he thinks he’s supposed to do or he does what he thinks he needs to do to survive—Ray Hunt

  • Title quote by Hazrat Ali

 

 

 

Perfect Practice makes Perfect

What exactly are you putting into practice is a question that should be asked. Horses can endure situations that are progressively hindering their mental and physical state of being. A horses presence alone can bring a spiritual awakening to any soul that has become numb to life. We must always remember the beauty of horses, especially in our training and riding methods. We must always remember why We were so drawn to horses to begin with.

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I love Dressage, I love studying it, and practicing it to promote a sound mind and physique. Dressage Definition- The art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance. ( Oxford Dictionaries ) The methods should be used to create a willing, well rounded athlete and partner. Practiced correctly, it contributes to all disciplines of riding.

Dressage as well as other disciplines can also create a demand for perfectionism. This demand can sometimes be good as it builds a demand and thirst to acquire more knowledge. It can also cause us to forget to ride in the moment, forgetting the Joy and happiness horses bring us. In our desire for perfectionism, We tend to become hard on ourselves as well as our horses. Is my position correct? Is my horses head and neck position correct? Is he responsive? These are great questions that show a determination to educate ourselves to become better riders, this should always be a priority. Becoming mechanical in our riding or demanding our horses to be in a frame that we believe fulfills our perfectionism can block that energy of love for the horse.

I had easily fallen into the trap of being driven by perfectionism, acceptance, and acknowledgement. I wanted to be recognized, respected , and believed. This was leading me to a high expectation of myself and my horses. My oldest daughter is a beautiful Dressage rider. She loves to compete and does very well at shows. She had high hopes this year of competing our Hannoverian at Prix St. George level. We were training and working so hard to make this happen. We have a large pasture to train in and a very small sand area. We had successfully trained and competed her Belgian cross on this 42486140_10216294080560004_8582036344711151616_n10609499_10204358431576239_4748111740688027104_n

property and won USDF horse of the year. Suddenly in my high expectations, this was not a good enough place to train at. This was leading me to wish for so much more. All this hoping and wishing for better everything began to cloud my true love and passion for riding and training in the moment. Goals and dreams are awesome, wrong motives for recognition and perfectionism are not.

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Everything came to a stop for my daughters ambitions. She unexpectedly had to undergo a third spine surgery.  This was a serious surgery in attempts to stabilize her deformed spine. There were some complications that had her fighting for her life. As I stayed by her side in the hospital, I learned some wise knowledge that I will never forget and that has brought me further in my Horsemanship skills. I love horses, they bring a child like joy and happiness to my life.   603131_108046236042223_1720392541_n I have endured some tough situations where my love for horses kept me sane. The presence of the horse, their dependence on our love and care for them can bring an empowerment to lost souls. My daughter has had to put a temporary hold on all her dreams. Thank God it is a temporary hold but her perseverance has taught me how important enjoying the moment is.

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We cannot forget why we became Horseman/ Women. The controlled power and energy a harmonious horse and rider can present is a beautiful sight to behold. Seek knowledge from an honest professional and listen to their advice. Our relationship with our horses should create a beautiful picture of unity, not fear and force. Your horse is depending on you to provide a healthy atmosphere of consistent care. The horse needs forage, fresh water, regular vet care, a knowledgeable farrier and training methods that improve his mental and physical well being. Perfect practice starts with right motives. You love horses, they should love and trust you. Seek to bring out the best in each one.

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“learn from each and every horse you ride. Every horse has something to teach you, and sometimes you don’t realise what that lesson is until years later!’

– Carl Hester

10 tips that help partnership

  1. Health- Horse needs to be thriving to have an interest in his work. Consistent vet care, a knowledgeable farrier, De worming schedule ( preventing ticks as well as parasites) turn out and quality hay are obviously beneficial.  Do not over grain your horse as this leads to stored energy making it impossible for your horse to focus, this  is dangerous.
  2. Tack -I see so many saddles that are placed too far forward. This can hinder the horses shoulders causing discomfort and stumbling. Quite often in an evaluation of horses behavior, it is due to a poor fitting saddle. It becomes easy to believe that a saddle is a saddle and the horse can wear it…Horses have to be comfortable if we expect them to perform well.
  3. Goals- Setting long term goals are great but placing a high expectation on our horses can cause frustration and disappointment. It’s a good idea to not only set your big picture goal but a daily goal as well. This leads to reassurance for both you and your horse and keeps things in an achievable perspective.
  4. Focus- Your horse needs to have obedience. Some people do not accept that word with partnership but working with a 1200 lb animal, you need to know there is an understanding of respect and safety between horse and rider.
  5. Purpose- What is the honest purpose for what you are trying to achieve. Make sure you are seeking help from a knowledgeable instructor that can explain the reason for what you are asking from your horse. ( example: placement of the horses head )
  6. Consistency- This means stay consistent in your communication with your horse. Consistency in aids leads to a great partnership. Consistent repetitive exercises actually raise tolerance level producing weaker response from boredom.
  7. Subtleness- subtle aids ( not jabbing with spurs, yanking reins, etc. ) The most effective riders are the ones that can control horse with slight body nuances.
  8. Influence- The horse lives in the moment, he does not know what your future goals are. His main desire is survival and will protect himself from pain or seek absolute comfort. We want to tap into that comfort, not create heightened  defense mechanisms.
  9. Balance-Horses are not born understanding how to carry a rider. Imagine giving someone a shoulder ride or piggy back ride that was flopping all over the place. You would try to accommodate the balance the best you could. Horses attempt to carry unbalanced riders but this usually leads to muscle imbalance, and resentment. Riders should have an understanding of how to properly balance the horse as well. A balanced light horse is a horse that is easy to sit upon and control in perfect harmony.
  10. Safety- Do not take your horse or yourself out of comfort zone if you are insecure. This type of desensitizing training only re assures the horses insecurities if he has not been properly prepared mentally and physically. Get to genuinely know your horse and how he reacts to situations at his comfort. I have endured quite a bit of alarming situations with horses. I develop trust and confidence with them in a less distracting area before expecting a horse to protect me in an unexpected situation.                      Some before and after pics with these training methods                                              20170414_171010.jpg  27023826_192694558133701_1391369166651538872_o                                              gabe-pic.jpg20161003_141148IMG_2191 (2)Screenshot_2017-03-31-17-56-16-1Screenshot_2017-03-31-17-54-13-1