Understanding horses mind and body -Part two

It’s important for your horse to be comfortable in his work. If you are not sure if your saddle fits, ask a professional for help. Always begin by setting saddle on horse without a pad. The pommel should not be touching the wither. Place your hand on inside of bars,, if it feels super tight, it is hampering movement of horses shoulder.. You don’t want the bars ( or gullet ) too loose and wobbly either. Now test the saddle with pad and tightened up, standing in your stirrups, place your fingers between the saddle and wither, when you lean forward, there should be no pinching, that is what your horse would feel, check for pinching in the bar area too. Bit fitting is extremely important, as well. A bit that is too narrow for your horses mouth will pinch the corners. One that is too big will move side to side and cause soreness. If a horse has been ridden with poor fitting tack, just changing does not always solve the problem. Horses can become deeply traumatized by pain. Horses will develop incorrect muscle, causing pain, leading to survival instincts. A horse will shut off their brain, submitting just to survive. This will cause heavy duty baggage.This takes knowledge, time, and creativity to fix. You will need to develop and coordinate correct back muscles with sophisticated body movements. Treat the problem at the level of athletic development. As long as physical pain is still present, no psychology training will work. Fix the muscular pain, then the memory.  ____” A gifted horse will lead a good rider to victory, A great rider will give to the horse the gift of soundness” Jean Luc Cornille, Science of Motion.

Understanding the horse’s mind and body

When I am called to evaluate a horse’s behavior issues, I begin each call with questions of feed, health, and environment. Evaluating a horses diet is a huge part of a trainer’s job. If a horse is poorly fed and in poor condition, then a good quality hay along with added grain or supplements will be necessary. On the other hand, if a horse is acting out with high energy, neurotic behavior, just completely out of control, chances are, it is receiving way too much high protein feed. Horses store energy in their tendons, mind and muscle. This is a protective ability allowing them to run from predators long distance, without tiring. When a domesticated horse is given large amounts of grain or high protein supplements, then contained in small areas without much exercise, this is a recipe for disaster. It can create neurotic behavior that leads to vices such as cribbing, aggressiveness, just plain stress. Health is most important factor, questioning, is the horses teeth correctly floated? Sharp edges make it difficult for the horse to comfortably chew. Is the horse current on vaccinations and deworming? This is just a short overview of a four part series I will be writing. It is to include tack fitting, feet, and how the horses spine along with muscle compensation can create ” hidden ” pain that leads to behavior issues and then finally lameness issues. Listen to what your horse may be trying to show you. Stubborn and lazy is not in his vocabulary, there is always a reason he is misbehaving.

Rehabilitation

I used to refer to horses that were misbehaved as fixing ” problem horses ” I absolutely love to help horses and their owners find a safe, trusting relationship. Now that I have furthered my education with a class named Science of Motion, I refer to this retraining as rehabilitation. Horses have the most amazing defense mechanisms which have helped them to evolve. Most horses will turn their emotions off, ” shutting down ” so they can deal with a circumstance that may be causing discomfort. Even something as simple as poor saddle fitting.This starts with one small problem but then the shutting down of emotions leads to wrong muscle movement which leads to compensation, etc etc. As most horse owners find out, purchasing that new saddle, did not fix the problem. Why? because once the horse begins to use muscles incorrectly causing abnormal movement to protect themselves from pain, they have created a muscle memory that they cannot delete by themselves. Massage and chiropractic are helpful to the horse until he walks away or is ridden again. The horses mind and muscle memory need to be re educated. The popular method’s of forcing the horse into a frame that rider’s believe is a shortcut to a ” supple, obedient ” horse is only a shortcut to lameness. More and more horse owner’s are feeling discouraged by the time they spend riding their horse, always seeming to be a job, not an enjoyment. It’s important to educate yourself as a rider, know the physique of the horse and how he needs to be properly prepared for the demands of Dressage movements, jumping, or even heading down the mountain with a western saddle. Empathy, not submission is the foundation for any relationship.

Basic Training of the rider

It makes me sad to see how rare it has become to teach a beginner rider or one that needs to overcome bad habits using the longe line. This is a method that can be used in all disciplines of riding. The purpose of teaching with longe line is so the rider can develop correct position in the saddle without having to control the horse or get in the way of correct use of his physique for the demand of the movements. Depending on the rider’s position or tenseness, different exercises are used to establish correct position and develop feel for the horses movement. Keeping our spinal alignment in coordination with our horses, allows them to use proper rotation for turns, lateral bending and longitudinal flexion. For instance, a rider who’s weight is being thrown to the outside, interrupts the correct muscle energy needed for the proper rotation of the spine. When an instructor is able to teach the student correct balance as a foundation, this in turn helps the rider to learn what a balanced horse feels like.

Horses are very sensitive but because of their amazing defense mechanisms, they are able to turn off pain or circumstances that interfere with their comfort. Allowing riders to learn without developing the proper seat, coordination, and balance, it becomes unfair to both horse and rider. It takes knowledge to prepare these horses for correct movement with the weight of a rider, no matter how large or small, it can be harmony or interference.

Horsemanship is a skill as well as an art. Both skill and art become faded when less and less riders are taught the coordination and preparation to correctly maneuver the horses body.

____A horse is a thing of such beauty……none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor.

-Zenophon, on horsemanship

Kristie Cotton

Hi my name is Kristie Cotton. I would like to write a short introduction about myself before posting what I hope to be educational blogs. My mission is to promote knowledge of the horses mind and body, encouraging positive riding and handling experiences.

I was obsessed with horses for as long as I can remember. I was able to take my first riding lessons at the age of 9. I learned from a fabulous teacher that believed in keeping me on a longe line until I had complete balance at all three gaits. There was no paying for lessons, they were in trade for keeping the barn, tack and the Welsh pony I learned on absolutely immaculate. After begging every second of every day for a few years, I was given the gift of my own horse. She was a Morgan Arabian cross that was to become my greatest teacher at that time.

We explored every area of the forest in the Shadow/Black mountain areas of Conifer, Colorado. Back then, it was rare to find too many houses blocking trails and the roads were dirt. Almost everyone had a horse in their yard so it was great to ride with friends galloping and jumping over whatever we could find. Soon enough, my one horse wasn’t enough to fuel my passion. I began knocking on doors of horse owners in the neighborhood to inquire about riding their horses. I had noticed they were not being ridden and I dreamed of riding every horse that I saw. Of course this was a time when people were not in fear of liabilities due to injury. The few people that let me know their horses were too dangerous to ride, I begged to fix them. That was it, by the age of 14, I was enamored by each horses difficulty and how I could help them. In reality, I was learning from the best educators possible, the horses themselves.

At the age of 15, I began working with colts and yearlings. Teaching them to lead, pick up feet and stand tied. Arabian breeding farms were very popular in the 80’s. I was able to participate with very experienced ranch hands. Around this time, I also spent a short time at Aqueduct race track in New York with my Aunt. She was a groom at the time, soon to become a trainer. Time with her, I learned the importance of keeping an athlete healthy and fit. Establishing confidence in the overall care and handling of horses.

I started my own teaching and training business at the age of 24, I enjoyed teaching children from a local daycare using my own personal horse. She was a Thoroughbred Morgan cross. I also began focusing on what I loved to study, Dressage Principles. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from great instructors such as Kathryn Meistrell, Kelly Boyd, and Dolly Hannon.  Re- locating back to the Evergreen, Conifer area, I spent most of my career working at a private ranch teaching adults and children horsemanship skills. I was also responsible for keeping up to 14 horses trained and safe on the mountain trails.

I am currently furthering my education with the In hand therapy course offered by Jean Luc Cornille. It is an advanced knowledge of the horses physiology and biomechanics used to correct lameness and behavioral issues. I am now seeking to feed my passion of teaching and training by travelling to those in need of change in the relationship with their horse. I believe that solid foundations in horsemanship skills as well as educated training for the horse needs to be an important part of any horse lover’s journey. I now have two adult children as well as a pre-teen. Horses have been a huge part of their lives and I am thankful that they have experienced relation with such a powerful yet loving creature as the horse.