To be Trusted is a Greater Compliment than to be Loved

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.

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My Aunt and I at the racetrack in New York.

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

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My Grandfather on his pony.

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.

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My Aunt with one of her prize racehorses

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”. IMG_1338.jpg

“It’s amazing what you can learn after you’ve learned all that you think there is to learn”. -Ray Hunt

 

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True or False…

The Hanoverian Mare I am re educating is trained to FEI level. This is the highest level you can take a horse in Dressage training. I wish I could say I am impressed. Instead, it completely saddens me and keeps me aware of the harm that comes from shortcut training in hopes of becoming a true Dressage Queen ( or King ) She never did make it to competition.

This mare began to refuse to do anything, even being caught. She reared up at every chance possible. Her eyes were in a trance like state, if you unexpectedly pet her anywhere, she would flip out like you pet her with a taser. She was lame on her left hind and would not canter on a lunge line without exploding. I was excited to fix her, it was going to take some patience, creativity, and consistency.

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Lizzie does very well riding with patience, not force

First step- Ttouch for awareness. You cannot ride a horse that has been shut down mentally and physically, they will only think with their defensive instincts. Fight or flee…This made her aware of the trust she could have with me, allowing me to catch her, sometimes it takes some convincing but now she approaches me and looks forward to what the day brings.

Second- General Decarpentry methods of in hand work. Not so pretty at first but taught her the correct coordination and proper use of back muscles. I did not want her head curled in but rather flexion at the poll and longitudinal flexion when relaxing the rein contact.

 

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Finally – Riding. Started out with rear after rear, she was obviously confused and this defensive reaction tends to scare many riders., I am sure it worked in having a quick dismount from the rider ( Rearing is dangerous and unacceptable but sometimes the loudest shout a horse can use to defend themselves ) Riding her is like steering an airplane…no bend. No knowledge of bend. I use a leg aid and it’s rear, ask for a circle and it’s piaffe, ask for trot circle, must be passage. She is like a robot that is guessing and attempting to impress, let’s not forget halt to walk is definitely a cue for Spanish walk.

 

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The horse is allowed to find self-carriage.

I am making huge progress by going back to square one. Let’s have forward but in rhythm and relaxation ( Cadence ) She was ridden with a gadget that forced her head in a position, but with a curb. She is a big mover, very athletic so I am sure the need to control that energy was enforced.  I am using exercises like shoulder fore and shoulder in to slow her down and get the correct lift and use of back and hind legs. The lameness is gone. When I give the reins at trot and Canter, her head swirls around, barely noticeable but she does not know what to do without that hold. I have been riding her with a loose rein, I can’t carry a whip to educate her to properly bend because whip=piaffe work

 

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So my point is this, please do not rush the horses training by being impressed with false movement. The horse needs to understand what is being asked. They deserve freedom and correctness, they are not machines.  They need to be taught correct use of back muscles, proper engagement of the hind leg. This horse was trained to such a high level because of her Breed, her athleticism, her heart of gold, and desire to please. There was no regard to the damage that was created mentally and physically. She is an example of why I love helping horses with behavior issues. When you can set them free and awaken their mind from defensive instinct, that horse will never forget you, a bond has been created and you will never forget the horse.

I would like to share some things that really stood out to me in some recent articles in The Horse Magazine

The horse is not born as an animal that carries weight, the rider has to educate the horse. Many people do not understand that. Horse breeds have improved, but has Dressage ?  Dressage is a dance, anyone who is balance can dance much better.

– Susanne Miesner

Challenge yourself to become a better person and a better rider

– Debbie Mcdonald

 

 

 

Root cause

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.

  1.     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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Mr. Misunderstood

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 IMG_36351cadence, muscles can work more efficiently.img_36325b15d.jpgIMG_36271Interval 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. IMG_2706%5b1%5d

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.20180106_143722(0)

” Wellness is not soundness ”  – Jean Luc Cornille

Accountability

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,

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Invitation, not force

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Pure joy in developing a partnership

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

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The incredible focus between Steffen and a clinicians horse

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.

 

One’s Trash is Another’s Treasure

It’s amazing that I can still remember the horse that my instructor owned.  I was not allowed to handle her as I was only 9 at the time.  She was a beautiful Hanoverian mare trained in Dressage.  I would just watch in amazement when she would ride “Bellbay”.  It has always been a dream of mine to own a Hanoverian since then.  I have been fortunate enough to ride and train several types of warmbloods over the years, but my love for Hanoverian’s has remained.  However, the breed remained untouchable to me as the demands and prices of them rose.

I am always looking at horses for sale just out of curiosity.  Last summer, I came upon a very affordable Hanoverian mare!  She was being sold as a broodmare due to a lameness issue.  Her bloodlines were elite.  The price was incredible but I was hesitant as when I chose to look at her, all the red flags were there:

1.) The horse could not be caught easily.

2.) The owner was nervous to ride and only rode for a short time.

3.) The owner did not want me to ride.

I requested a video of the horse being ridden previously.  The video showed a beautiful but very tolerant mare being ridden in a lesson.  I say “tolerant” because she was being ridden in a weymouth (curb) with a standing martingale (tie down) to to keep her head in a flexed position.  Please know that I am not speaking with an ego, just in confidence.  I have re-educated enough horses in my life that I have developed an eye for hidden potential.  I purchased the mare.  I began the re-education that was necessary to reduce her lameness and create the mind and body of the athlete I knew she could be.  Her back and neck were tense from having her head forced into a position.  This caused her to develop an inverted rotation in the spine.  Wrong rotation begins to develop wrong muscle memory, which creates lameness.

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The horse is allowed to find self-carriage.

My daughter loves to compete and is very good at it.  She has begun to develop a relationship with the mare.  Reassuring her with patience, kindness, and no forceful riding.  This has allowed her to successfully catch the mare.  She is helping with the training in excitement of being able to compete on such a beautiful moving athlete.  My daughter Lizzie has been awarded high scores, which led her to win the USDF region 5 training level championships.  She was competing on her Belgian-paint cross, who is now training at second level.  The training begins with in-hand work to develop correct use of muscles without a forceful position.  Longeing strengthens and develops balance in preparation for the rider.  All of this is introduced using the General Decarpentry method.  I have taught Lizzie the skills of re-educating motion and also the skills of Dressage.  Straightness, balance, and freedom of movement are important in changing the physique of a “damaged” horse.

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In-hand, using the Decarpentry Method

Lets look at the definition of Dressage.  It means training in French.  The dictionary defines it as, “The art of riding and training in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance”.  Dressage can come across as a word that defines a certain type of horse and rider.  Let’s always think that Dressage started as bettering the horse.  Mary Twelveponies wrote her book, Everyday Training, Backyard Dressage, in hopes of teaching the everyday rider the fundamentals of using Dressage.

I want to help horses and their riders.  If you are using forceful equipment or

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Lizzie working on straightness and balance.

methods to place your horse in a certain frame, please know that you are taking the path of destruction.  Forget the partnership and the love of working together.  The signs will begin to show soon enough, your horse does not look forward to seeing you, the horse begins unpredictable behavior, and even worse, the horse shows up lame.  This horse I have acquired was given up on when she tried to let her previous owner know she could not take the discomfort any longer.  The tolerance level of certain horses makes them continue to please until they are completely broken, in mind and body.  This is a story of a sincere love for horses.  I did not “rescue” her from an abusive home.  I gave this mare who loves to please, a second chance by rescuing her from an uneducated Dressage rider.

“Looking into the eyes of a horse is seeing the soul and purity of life.”   -Unknown    

-Kristie

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The end result. A happy, relaxed horse, working towards complete self carriage, with no obvious lameness present. 

 

 

Creating an ideal partnership through knowledge

Knowledge is an important part of learning to ride. We can learn about our horses mind’s and how to empower them. We can learn about our horses ” natural ” habitat and believe we are creating a natural environment in our training methods. The best rider’s and trainers are the one’s mastering the horses physique, creating a functional athlete. Studying how they need to be prepared both mentally and physically for the demands of a rider. This goes for any type of riding as it takes a properly functioning horse to create balance. This type of knowledge requires a sincere dedication of learning and understanding how the horse moves bio mechanically and how we can offer the best comfort and ease mentally as well as physically. To rehabilitate a horses mind and muscles that has been allowed to move dysfunctionally takes both skill and patience. We as riders need to understand that it is a slow, concentrated process to get to the finished picture. If we are trying to start with the finished picture of what we think the horse should be, we are missing out on being more than just a passenger on our horses back. Having a knowledge of how we can negatively affect or positively influence the horses movement and balance places us in a unique relationship of unity and intuition. I will dedicate this blog to rider’s in particular refusing to deepen their knowledge and allowing their horses to be forever enslaved to fitting into a system.

“The riders knowledge is the horses ultimate protection”                                                                    
 – Jean Luc Cornille