- 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
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.
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—
There is so much controversy on which training methods are correct or which actually have a damaging effect on the horses physical and mental well being. Some methods effect the horse progressively while some take time to show up in the way of soreness, lameness, behavior and even health. Being a trainer that re educates horses physical and mental state means keeping my own mind educated and sharp. All training should have one thing in common and that is empathy for the horse. The next common ground all trainers should have is knowledge of how horses function biomechanically.
There are many riders in the world today but few that can create a balanced, straight, cadenced athlete. Less and less riders are investing in educating themselves to know how to correctly prepare a horse for the demands of tasks they are being directed to. We just buy better horses or believe that if we have been taught to ride and are fearless, we can become a trainer. Horses are incredible teachers but you must think about knowing the theory of why you are doing what you are. It bothers me to watch a rider so ignorantly working a bit so strongly in the horses mouth. Do you have a theory behind why you are pulling your horses head side to side or to it’s chest? There is scientific proof that this has damaging effects on the horse.
If a horse is taught correctly to flex at the poll with gentle contact, he will seek that comfort and not resist. This takes time, education, and patience. On the other hand, a rider that is allowing the horse to move ” naturally ” is also creating physical abnormalities. A horse isn’t born to naturally understand and know how to carry a rider in a correct balanced way of going. If the horse has not been trained to ” self carriage ” under a rider, it will develop it’s own compensation of balance. You can observe so many horses that do not bend in direction of travel ( not just nose ) , do not have a steady rhythm, fight the bit and all contact. I am not just referring to arena work. All disciplines of riding, including trail riding, need and require the physical preparations for the horse to be and stay comfortable. The unbalanced, incorrect horse will eventually develop a physical and then behavioral dysfunction.
I have several horses that I maintain on trails and I always need to check in with them on schoolwork. By schoolwork I am not just referring to tarps, swim noodles, etc. I am referring to their physical well-being. I will school them in all three gaits as well as sophisticated gymnastic exercises. These horses have been exposed to bear, moose, elk, coyotes. I must admit I have panicked more than the horse when faced by the bear and moose. I would like to say without insulting any methods that there are no ” games ” to play with the horse to prepare for what you may be faced with. It is a matter of true connection knowing how to steady your horses mind and body with the least amount of effort. I personally think the ” games ” can give a false connection of confidence. I use Sacking out methods with timid horses but then build their confidence by making them comfortably balanced under a rider. Confident trust means making the horse first physically comfortable, then mentally.
If you are a rider, you are a trainer. You are either going to make the horse correct or incorrect. If you have a horse that needs help, find a knowledgeable trainer that wants to take the time and patience to create a better athlete. These trainers may not have awards and trophy’s but they have an education of correctness.
Trainers taking shortcuts to keep owners happy are detrimental to the horse. I am not referring to trainers that actually spend too much time with groundwork, etc. with no results. Horse owners need to educate themselves so they know what is considered progress and what can actually hinder the horse. Studying biomechanics of the horse is the best training you can provide. Just as horses are not born with a knowledge of how to naturally carry us, we are not born to know how to correctly prepare them for what we ask. If you are reading any blog regarding horses, you obviously were born with a passion for them. Do not allow yourself to become “dumbed down” to the methods that seem to be working to the naked eye.
” Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down and beat you with experience”
– Mark Twain
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