- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 )
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Having a passion for such an amazing, majestic, beautiful animal as the horse is a gift. There are horse lovers, and then there are those that my Aunt would say, have the “fever.”
My Parents tried to help my obsession. I had horse everything ( still do ) They bought me a horse, I had subscriptions to horse magazines, I had acquired tons of books about horses. One horse was not enough, So they let me buy a naughty little pony. I had actually bought him for my little sister. Amazingly, she lived through that pony always bolting for home! When the movie International Velvet came out, I was hooked. I began jumping my little Morab Mare in hopes of becoming an Eventer. I wrote to the Olympics to inquire how my horse and I could be chosen for the U.S. team. They were kind enough to write back that I needed Show experience, a really nice horse, and money. I wish I still had that letter!
I started begging to be sent to a horse school where I could live and learn everything about horses.
My Dad flew me to New York to spend a short time with my Aunt. I was so excited, my Aunt at that time, was a groom, eventually to be an Assistant trainer at the race track! I was mesmerized by her knowledge, she educated me about everything she was doing. I want to dedicate a blog to her and a short summary of an amazing, hard working, horse lover.
My Aunt Janice always loved horses. Her best friend and neighbor had a horse so she got to ride. She actually hadn’t known that her Dad was a horseman until one day she was galloping the horse around and he began shouting instructions to her on how to
properly ride. My Aunt became a mother at a young age, then unfortunately a single mom. She needed a job to support herself and her son. Her first experience of racehorses was at Green Mountain Racetrack in Vermont. She started as a hot walker, you hand walk the horses after a workout to cool them out. This was a job she could bring her son to, he could hang out with books, crayons, etc. She then relocated to Suffolk Downs in Boston, where she became a groom. It was there that she began to specialize in caring for the difficult horses.
Grooms work very hard at making sure that the horses are comfortable and need knowledge to know if the horses legs need heat or ice. Grooms need to know which therapy to use for any apparent swelling in the horses legs. She then moved to a farm in Ocala, Florida where she worked for the impressive Pancho Martin. He was the hall of fame trainer of thoroughbreds, remembered as the trainer of “Sham”. They taught her everything possible regarding care of the racehorses. She even prepared all the Sham babies for the races.
Then, it was a huge step to the famous Belmont racetrack. When she started she was one of very few women who worked at the racetrack. It was known as a man’s world. It was hard work, dangerous, and an absolute commitment to the horses care. That is where my Aunt excelled, she became a sought out groom. Her ability to nurse the racehorses so that they would perform better was an amazing gift.
She loved that each horse was different and you had to find the key to making that horse thrive. My Aunt says, “They are not a factory number, make them happy and they will run for you”. Her goal was to become an assistant trainer. As an assistant trainer she would assess the needs of each horse as an individual. This meant observing what they need or like. You to have change up their daily workout to keep them interested. She took her career to where she wanted to be. She was the person that holds them together so they can do their job to the best of their ability. Overseeing the horses needs meant becoming very close to them, she was attached to them all. She explains it as heart wrenching when her horses would win and then sell at claims races. This is a race where every runner is for sale.
It turns out it was not a love for racing as I always thought. It was the love of nursing and caring for the horse, keeping them happy and healthy so they could thrive. It wasn’t about the running, she actually admits she barely spent any time observing the races. When I asked her what the highlight of her career was, I thought she would speak of horses winning. Her actual highlight, was the five years she spent at a beautiful breeding farm in upstate New York. At the farm her job was caring for the horses, they were retired runners that were now broodmares, studs, and future prospect.
There are horse lovers everywhere, horses are healing, they offer unconditional love, riding a horse awakens ones soul. My Aunt taught me a lot in the short time I spent with her at the track. I was young, but absorbed all the knowledge like a sponge. One thing always stuck with me, “A true horsemen will quietly learn and observe. You will never know everything about horses because each one is different. A true horsemen will always desire more knowledge”.
“It’s amazing what you can learn after you’ve learned all that you think there is to learn”. -Ray Hunt
Mark Paradies has a great definition of this title; The most basic cause ( causes ) that can reasonably be identified and that management has control to fix and, when fixed, will prevent ( or significantly reduce the likelihood of ) the problem’s recurrence. This can apply to any situation, I am using this in terms of behavioral problems in horses.
These are just a few of the major behavior / riding problems ….and possible root cause problems. Some horses do have undesirable characteristics, (just like people) and we need to find the correct approach to gain their confidence, trust, and willingness to become an ideal horse.
- Spooking = Discomfort, boredom, unconditioned mentally and physically. Improper riding techniques.
- One sided = Pain, inverted rotation, unconditioned physically. Improper training/ riding techniques, including no introduction of ambidextrous use in initial training foundation.
- Bucking=Discomfort anywhere, including mouth. Improper training/ riding techniques, self defense of situation being asked.
- Rearing= Discomfort, ” stuck ” from improper force of head position, making it impossible to move hind legs forward correctly
- Bolting= Discomfort causing flight response, horse learning to lean or push on bit causing contraction (stiffening of back muscles ) making it hard to properly slow horse down.
How can we properly fix these horses?
We cannot look at the big picture of the behavior. We need to look at the possible root cause of the problem.
- Your horse needs to be healthy and thriving. Feeding good quality hay, providing turnout, fresh water and a good deworming program is a priority. An unhealthy horse cannot completely offer themselves mentally or physically. An exercise program that strengthens and conditions is a benefit for horses of all ages. We do not see walking around the store as exercise compared to a workout at the gym. Developing the horse athletically and correctly provides a horse that loves to be ridden. Just as exercise is an important part of overall health in humans.
- Good Veterinarian / Farrier care. Horses need their teeth floated regularly. Even if your horse is at a proper weight and does not drop feed, with all behavior issues, check the teeth first for sharp edges or decay. Healthy, balanced feet is obviously a necessity.
- Tack fitting. A horse can only tolerate so much pinching or rubbing, they are not machines and will eventually speak their mind.
4. Proper Knowledge. Example: Your horse has become one sided, will only take one lead and refuses to bend the direction of unwilling lead. If they have become inverted right, the muscles will become built up on left side of spine causing the muscle to brace against rotation to the left. This improper muscle development makes it physically impossible to take the left lead or properly bend left, etc.
If you rush your horse fast forward with it’s nose at knees, you are causing major dysfunction of the back muscles, not strengthening. Working the horse at his natural cadence, with slight flexion of poll, neck relaxed at level of wither promotes correct muscle development. This eventually develops muscle to carry the poll as highest point.
This is important as it lifts the weight of forehand and allows the front legs to propel the horse upwards, engaging and strengthening hind legs for accelerating and decelerating. Long rein breaks are important at all three gaits to invite self carriage, without any force from riders hands.
Maximum output from horse with minimum effort from rider allows the horse to learn in the “moment” reward. The reward is the rider sitting quietly and providing the horse with the comfort they will always seek. Make your training program benefit the horses physique. A healthy fit horse that thrives with appropriate training methods becomes the art of true Horsemanship.
I met this cute horse around six years ago. He was very well taken care of but had some behavior problems. Would not stand tied for grooming, tacking up, bucked at canter, just all around unhappy horse and owner. When you have spent your entire life learning about and being around horses, you still don’t know everything but you do know how to identify behavior. This horse was not comfortable with anything anyone wanted to do with him. I was asked to evaluate him. I start with observing whole horse, then feet, then movement, etc. ( any evaluation for behavior needs to first have the vet check all health aspects ) I personally felt his shoes were too small for his large hooves, we changed that. Next comes saddle fitting. The bars of her western saddle were too tight and definitely caused pinching. Quarter horses tend to be built with a low wither and wide shoulders. There are special saddles designed for Quarter horses, “Quarter horse bar ” Nice wide fit.
Thankfully, she had a saddle with a wider bar. Next comes bit fitting and then lunging to watch the horses gaits. Then if owner is not fearful, I ask to see them ride. She was a beginner wearing extra large western spurs, she used a curb bit which she held a tight contact like a snaffle. The horse reared and bucked, he looked like a rocking horse. He seemed super confused, most horses are kind and could really harm you if they wanted to. I rode him and oh my goodness, turns out whoever had trained and rode this horse did an amazing job. I was beyond impressed at how I only needed my weight to turn and barely any rein to stop, he was so sensitive, so impressive. She had acquired a wonderful horse but just needed some lessons to correctly communicate with him. Money was a problem for her but we worked out a plan as money was a problem for me as well. She was doing well, I am very particular on creating balance in rider and horse. She was wooed by a trainer that offered free lessons and low priced training. I was so heart broke, especially when I had to watch him being rushed on the lunge line with his head forced into tight side reins. This horse learned to submit, he was not going to fight. When horses are worked with the same daily routine, head forced in, rushed forward, they begin to develop protective muscles to compensate the abnormality of movement. Correct training develops muscles that enhance elasticity, stamina, and strength. When pushing an athlete, they are no longer developing muscle but are actually turning the muscle off, this is called muscle fatigue. At first, the workout seems great but then muscle fiber becomes inefficient. When the horse is flexed correctly and trained at their natural cadence, muscles can work more efficiently.Interval training is important for both mind and body. The horse needs a recovery from the same routine, muscle fiber begins to break down and needs to recover and rebuild.
I came into contact with this horse again as the owner was selling him. He had become slightly lame on his left hind and still showed signs of unhappy behavior. I took him and began his motion therapy. The incorrect muscling he had developed in his daily routines of improper methods had created an inverted rotation of the vertebrae. You could feel him throw your weight left and could not bend right. Simple gymnastic exercises were necessary to create proper function. Re educating a horse requires knowledge. The muscle memory likes to stay dysfunctional but is continually developed with proper workouts. He is a wonderful trail horse and enjoys his work.
” Wellness is not soundness ” – Jean Luc Cornille
I felt compelled to write regarding the latest incident in the Dressage world. Several weeks ago at the Adequan Westcoast Dressage Festival a rider was allowed to compete at the Intermediare I level, who clearly was not prepared to compete at this level, or really any level! However, I think enough has been said regarding this particular rider. What a horrifying experience to witness, I am surprised someone wasn’t screaming ” please, please stop! ” It is the reality of the world we live in. Greed, wealth, and desire for fame and ribbons has taken over. It seems that some changes have occurred since this incident. One is, no more live streaming. Does that protect the horse? No, it protects the abusive rider from getting insulted. This incident showed all forms of evil in a mad world. People were insulting the rider physically while others were defending her with ” maybe she was having a bad day.” There is no excuse, ever. We need to ensure our safety with such large animals but this horse was not placing anyone in danger.
I was giving a lesson recently to a new client. The rider was all out kicking her horse bluntly with a spur. I stood there for a moment as I had not had to witness spur jabbing during a lesson before. I spoke up, ” can you please not do that with your spur, your horse is going to get upset, he doesn’t understand. ” Then I asked her to remove the spurs and not wear them again, especially in my lesson. I was not asked to come back. I think of the horse often, and how some horse owners do not see these actions as abusive. I have also witnessed a trainer tying a horses head to a truck hitch to teach it to yield to pressure. I stopped working at that barn, I did not want to be associated with those methods. In hindsight, I should have held the trainer accountable. Not starting a confrontation but simply, ” Isn’t there a better way, why are you submitting the horse to this method?” Horses need to be taught what is acceptable or not acceptable with their behavior, the same goes for trainers using barbaric methods or worse, telling a rider they are” awesome”, basically closing their eyes and taking the clients money. Horses shut down mentally in order to endure situations. It is an amazing defense mechanism that humans have as well. Victims of domestic violence have to be re trained to ” free their thoughts and become aware of feelings, it is a scary process to begin to feel.” The eye of a shut down horse is like a shark, unemotional. Once the horse is being re conditioned, their eye becomes softer. This takes time, patience, and consistency. I have found the Ttouch to be most effective for awareness. Shutting down mind also results in shutting down body. Muscle tenseness is also a defense mechanism. Over time, these will have a result on the horses overall health and well being. I love helping horses, it is my passion.
There is a lack of riding schools teaching a good foundation for strength and balance in the saddle as well as understanding how the horse physique works. Everyone wants to be a master these days. You can you tube anyone teaching or training ,even if it’s completely inappropriate training methods. Be careful what you choose to study. Preserve always the beauty of the horse. Speak up about what concerns you ,but do not join in on bashing. Hold yourself accountable to how you are riding, what you are pursuing and if you have any doubt about your trainers methods, ask why they believe that will help the horses potential.
I once attended a ride a test clinic, the educator is a well known trainer and Judge. One rider entered the arena performing her third level Dressage test. The clinician immediately stopped the rider and asked who told her she was ready for that level, or why did she feel she should be competing at that level. That was so awesome, humbling for the rider and her trainer I am sure, but the instructor spoke for the horse. This trainer held them accountable by standing up for the horse, not closing her eyes and taking their money. I am part of the continued education of Science of Motion. We have a private discussion forum, the rule of the forum is we do not discuss or Judge the methods of others. If anything is posted to comment on the work of others ,it is taken down. This is not turning your back on disaster, it is arming riders with education to better themselves and hopefully others through example or instruction. The more riders are willing to provide themselves with bio mechanic knowledge of the horse , choosing empathetic trainers,
and avoiding barbaric methods, the more we can do for the horse world. Are you actually impressed when someone makes their horse lie down and then stands on it’s neck or rib cage? Please go with your intuition of sadness and hold yourself accountable for desiring that. “The riders knowledge is the horses ultimate protection ” – Jean Luc Cornille
Not everyone is a champion rider, or born a beautiful rider, you cannot buy your way with Grand Prix horses. Everyone must endure the path of knowledge, commitment and the work it takes to strive for perfect partnership with our horse. One more quote from Jean Luc Cornille which I think is beautiful and absolutely fitting for the where the horse world is headed.
” You might never reach the experience, knowledge, and fame that will make you a Master for the next generations, but you will be at your own level, a Master in your horses heart and that is all that matters.
” Jean Luc Cornille – Fundamental differences.
When hiring a trainer be sure you are clear about what you are trying to achieve. I base all of my training on the foundations of Dressage Principles. This mean it is important to me that the horse is mentally and physically prepared to do exactly what is asked of him. There are many misconceptions in training but especially Dressage.
I am also educated in the biomechanics of the horse. This means when you hire me to help with the horse that won’t soften or yield to bit pressure, we are going to find the root cause. Once a vet has cleared that the mouth that the mouth is ok, we are going to assess if the back is contracted, inverted, or if it’s more about lack of balance or gait abnormality. Then we begin the appropriate exercises to correct abnormality. I am not going to tell you to work your horse with mechanisms that will force its head into a position. We are going to go through the process of inviting, not forcing.
If you follow Natural Horsemanship, be sure to hire a trainer that aligns with your beliefs. Natural Horsemanship is not a method that I agree with or incorporate into my training. Any groundwork that I do is based on the methods of Linda Tellington-Jones. The use of her methods create a relaxed and calm mind.
These methods have helped me train horses to be successful on the trail in the mountains. I have also acquired the knowledge of General Decarpentry’s in-hand technique. If your horse bucks or bolts, I am not going to chase it in a small circle until it stops. We need to be sure tack is fitting correctly, and assess the physique of the horse and how he moves and carries himself.
Hiring the right trainer for you and your horse is important. Take part in the journey so you know if you like the methods used on your horse. There are many trainers out there today and there are many gadgets to mask the root problem. Take the time to find the right fit. Dressage was meant to be an art. Any masterpiece takes time and patience. Especially when corrupted by misguidance.
“There is no better proof of the riders method and program than that his horse becomes more beautiful in the course of training.” -Charles De Kunffy
Horses…I have loved them since I sat on one when I was four years old at the pony rides. Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love them. Not only because I always smell like one but also because of my desire and love for educating horses and riders. As long as I can remember, I have only wanted to read and study everything possible about horses. I also wanted to learn all I could and will always have a thirst for knowledge regarding horses. Teaching a horse to be balanced, supple, and straight is so rewarding. It’s about creating an athlete and also a happier, healthier and safer partnership. A well balanced, supple horse is a comfortable horse. Horses will seek comfort in everything they do, or they will seek to protect themselves from pain. Most behavior problems are created from a source of pain. I love using principles of Dressage as well as Ttouch combined with Science of motion methods. Applying these methods to any discipline is a sure path to re educating horses that have been deemed dangerous, lame, unrideable.
Some horses do have deep rooted emotional issues they sometimes just can’t let go of and will never feel completely trusting of their surroundings. I compare it to abusive relationships humans endured and can never truly let go and trust completely, always hanging on to that defense mechanism in one way or another.
It is important to have a mentor or role model that you can look up to or desire to follow in their footsteps. My daughter and I had the privilege of auditing a RMDS symposium with Steffen Peters. Watching him teach and then getting to see him ride so many horses so brilliantly really brought my passion for the art of Dressage back. Although I was still using Dressage methods in all my training, I had honestly lost my passion when I attended clinics and shows where the riders only cared about forcing the horses head in a position. It was such a turn off to the sport I had admired my entire life. Steffen is so quiet and humble but can instruct as well as ride. ” See everything as a training opportunity ” is what he suggests when the horse misbehaves or makes a mistake. That one really stuck for me as I sometimes tend to view faults as a huge disaster.
Hearing him say that in my mind really helps to develop patience if horses are acting out. Schooling horses in gymnastic movements is one of my favorite things to do. Each training session is rewarding as the horse becomes lighter, balanced, stronger and therefore when done correctly, happier.
Of course then there is my idol, I wish I was as gifted as you…Carl Hester. I am beyond obsessed with studying everything I can get my hands on about Carl. Charlotte too as I read Valegros story ( written by Carl ) 🙂 in one day. I sometimes feel like a kid again as I pretend to be Charlotte when I am riding. It really makes me want to try harder when I think of any of my role models when I am schooling my horses. It is so important as it keeps us sharp to what we are trying to attain.
Dressage is all about preparing and creating an athlete. Whether it is for competition, trail riding, or just backyard fun it is a complex form of creating a quiet but special bond between horse and rider. When you have to school a horse with such focus from horse and rider, it can’t become anything but a beautiful relationship. The horse is such a magnificent creature and I thank God for the profound love I have for them.
” Life’s most urgent question is : what are you doing for others?
—-Martin Luther King
Title quote from Jeannette Baldwin—