The horses mind is a place of very protective instincts. They learn at a young age what is good and relaxing and what creates pain. This is why many trainers believe in a “response ” type stimulation. This is where the horse responds and the trainer relaxes all aids as a reward. This is an awesome portion of training a horse. I say portion because it only trains the mind to respond. To truly bring out a horses full potential, we must also train them the proper coordination of the muscles. This means balance, lightness, self carriage, etc. all come from proper muscle coordination. When riders accept their horse without proper flexion, bending, cadence, etc. because they are too focused on a ” response ” they miss out on creating an ideal partnership as well as creating a functional athlete.
Response is what we need at the beginning but we eventually have to paint a bigger picture. Horses, like humans, have very strong central pattern generators. This means that they can become very set in their ways of movement, believing they are protecting themselves from pain. Their minds become very set in believing they need to protect themselves from danger. A well educated trainer will work with the horses mind and body to create an ideal trusting partnership. I love re- educating horses. The only way to successfully “fix” lameness or behavioral problems is to focus on changing the horses muscle memory which creates a more relaxed mind. The horses use muscle compensation to protect an area causing pain. Some horses are tolerant of pain created by saddle fitting issues, forced positions, unbalanced riders…other horses are not. The tolerant ones are the ones that will ignore and obey until their physical pain begins to corrupt the sanity of their mind.
I had never quite understood or maybe had never quite studied central pattern generators until I came across one horse in particular. The owners of this Quarter horse had tried everything to fix their bucking horse. He bucked when saddled ,longed or ridden. They sought help from several vets, trainers, as well as farriers. One vet said his wither was broken, another opinion revealed navicular and ulcers from tight fitting shoes. A final opinion was done at the University where they performed a full body nuclear scan. They determined none of the previous diagnosis were correct. They found three areas of concern in his sacroiliac joint and neck areas. These areas were injected with silicon. As time passed, the horse was losing hair, developing rashes, and showing worse signs of stressful and violent behavior.
I came to see the gelding, it was perfect timing to use my science of motion therapy I had begun studying. He was thin but had tons of free choice hay. He pinned his ears at me when I tried to approached him, he would not let me touch him and then started to bite at his hind legs in anger. It was very odd behavior from the start. His owner loved him and wanted to do whatever possible. No one could explain why the horse behaved so aggressively. His spine was inverted so badly from muscle compensation ( one side built up higher ) that you felt as though the saddle was slipping left. The owners agreed to let me take him to a facility where I could put him on a strict exercise program of six days per week. I addressed the muscle memory by using sophisticated movements of Dressage at the walk, then trot, followed by canter work. Focusing on straightness, balance, cadence, correct bending of the spine, and eventually a slight flexion of the poll. The neck cannot be forced in a position, this is how the SI joint became dysfunctional.
The owner would come to ride and no one could believe it was the same horse. He had been in consistent training for two months and the owner was ready to get him home. I was to come once or twice per week to check in, the owner was able to continue the exercises on a consistent schedule. This was when the old behavior quickly returned. Emotionally the horse could not change what he thought was a place that created pain. The owners could not take any more time, money or risk to help this horse overcome and change his mind. They did not realize the training methods they were using on this particular horse was creating physical abnormality. He ended up at a great home where he does not have the pain association with his surroundings. Horses become very set in their minds. We need to carefully train them both mentally and physically. Understand that whatever we may put on their mind, they may not be willing to let go. ” Only a partnership offering ease and comfort to the horse can encourage their brain to further coordinate their body” – Jean Luc Cornilles words. Please pay careful attention to what is being taught to your horse. Training horses without a sound understanding of how their bodies function is ignorant.
” You don’t make him learn. You set it up to allow him to learn. You have to give him that with dignity. Once you start giving, you won’t believe how much you get back ” -Ray Hunt