Identify the behavior Training Part 1

I was asked to train a horse because of his head throwing problem. The horse was to be used as a trail horse but really had no knowledge of trails as he was used for speed events. I was to get him used to the mountain trails and fix the head tossing. He was only six years old which explains the lack of experience with anything at all. The owner insisted I ride with a tie down and also figure out why he bolts up mountains and then sidesteps down them. First thing, check teeth by a veterinarian to assure it wasn’t sharp edges on teeth hitting the bit. He was also on the thin side which can be from teeth, parasites, and lack of feed. If you want the horse to perform well for you and be at it’s best behavior, then you have to take care of it. Ignoring these duties in the care of the horse is poor management and will not ensure a strong relationship with your horse. Native Americans believed the relationship with their horses was a main priority in their training. They depended completely on the horses skills and partnership.

I do not use mechanical gadgets to train so once the teeth were addressed, it was time to help the horse accept the pressure of the bit. This work starts on the ground, then can be transferred under saddle. Once the horse associates anything with pain, you have to be patient and creative to gain their trust. The tie down would have been a way to mask the pain, creating suffering and resentment. Tie downs should not be a training tool to keep the horses head down. Poor fitting hackamores and bosals  can cause head tossing as well.  They can block nasal passages if set too low, the horse is attempting to say they can’t breathe when you pull on the reins. Dismissing your horses behavior as being rude or a jerk and using submissive training methods will never allow you the experience of learning the true character of your horse. Patience is a practice all horse owners should strive for. If your horse is showing signs of resentment like refusing to go forward, refusing to enter the arena, stop and think about what may be happening. Did you leave him sore last ride? Is he bored with circles? Does his saddle fit or is it pinching? Seek to identify the behavior before dismissing as ” My horse is lazy! ” Dangerous behavior should not be tolerated, but make sure your horse isn’t attempting to communicate the reason why.

This particular horse would bolt uphill for a few reasons:

  1. The tie down did not allow him use of head and neck for balance, blocking longitudinal flexion
  2. If horses are out of shape, rushing up hill is actually easier for them than walking
  3. Weak hind leg, stifle pain

The horse would trot sideways downhill for a few reasons:

  1. Lack of balance due to tie down
  2. The horse needs to have proper use of back muscles to balance himself and rider down hills. The tie down creates a stiffening of back muscles that need to be addressed
  3. The hind legs work as a braking and carrying, sore stifles can come from incorrect back muscles. The horse goes sideways to keep from overloading the hind legs, protecting stifle pain.

How to fix the situation

Re educate the incorrect muscle with schooling exercises along with negotiating smaller hills to gain trust and stamina. Longitudinal flexion is allowing the horse full use of moving head and neck forward and back.

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Teaching them to yield to slight bit pressure, not brace against it.

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All bonds are built on trust, without it, you have nothing. – Unknown

 

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A Man’s worth depends upon the nobility of his aspirations

It always looks so easy to solve problems by taking the path of least resistance. What looks like the easy road turns out to be the hardest and most cruel. Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965

Dressage practiced correctly is used to gymnastisize any horse in any type of riding. Suppling exercises were created as a benefit to self carriage, lightness and obedience. (Yes, I would like a 1200 lb. Animal to respond to what I ask ) Horses that are balanced and light are  not only athletic , but easier to ride. These horses present themselves as noble, and beautiful.

 

 

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Carl Hester-The horse magazine

 

Just as it takes a dancer to slowly develop strength and balance, the same goes for

the horse, in all disciplines.

 

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 “One often demands things that the horses are not capable of doing in a desire to push them too fast and teach them too much. These excessive demands make them hate exercise, strains and tires their sinews and tendons, upon whose elasticity suppleness depends and often these horses end up ruined when it is believed that they have been trained. Thus, no longer having the strength to fight back, they obey, but without grace or any spirit. “

         —– François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688–1751) was a French riding master who had a profound effect on accepted methods for horse training, and one of the most influential writers on the art of Dressage.

 

I am sincerely heartbroken when I see a following of yanking the horses head this way and that to ” soften ” and then adding a tiny yank on the bit to be sure the horse “understood ” softening to pressure. Is this where we have come to in our desire to achieve ” partnership ?” To me the horse seems confused, like yanking someone to go somewhere but not actually communicating where you are taking them. This is a very popular training method, even being taught to young riders. I need to speak up about it, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Focusing on the placement or ” feel ” of the horses neck creates a false sense of softness to the bit. There is a whole spine there surrounded by important muscles that need to be addressed. Horses are so tolerant to what we think is beautiful. Horses as well as young riders are very intelligent and can absorb the education of correctly balancing a horse, learning to prepare the horse for something as simple as halt with body nuances, creates comfort for both horse and rider.

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Moving on to the misuse of the curb now appearing everywhere. If you have a strong contact on the shanks in order to create a softening or placement of the horses head, you are actually inviting the horse to set his head on the bit, bracing his back and causing abnormal gait movement.

 

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Lots of treats after showing example of misuse of  bit with shanks

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self carriage and comfort

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Absolute beautiful picture of elegance. This takes time to develop and create, take the time it takes

 

Your going to need a bigger bit because you are taking shortcuts that appear to work but it is a false feeling of lightness and the horse will lean and push on that bit more and more until he has learned to contract his back every time you place pressure on the bit. Tug of war begins and he will win or submit and eventually have lameness or sacroiliac problems. I am not a beautiful rider that has won awards and trophies but I have studied the bio mechanics of the horse and I can honestly claim to have helped many horses that presented behavior or lameness issues. I have also taught many young riders to learn how to properly coordinate and balance the horse with quiet dialogue, not harsh contact on the bit.

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.If you have a horse, think about your motives and at what point has it become about your goals of glory and attaining them. Have you dismissed the horse as an animal of intelligence and feeling.  François Robichon de La Guérinière wrote about barbaric methods ruining the horses spirit over 100 years ago, take some time to think about what you are asking of your horse and do you anatomically know why you are asking.

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The horse does one of two things. He does what he thinks he’s supposed to do or he does what he thinks he needs to do to survive—Ray Hunt

  • Title quote by Hazrat Ali

 

 

 

10 tips that help partnership

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 )
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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                                              20170414_171010.jpg  27023826_192694558133701_1391369166651538872_o                                              gabe-pic.jpg20161003_141148IMG_2191 (2)Screenshot_2017-03-31-17-56-16-1Screenshot_2017-03-31-17-54-13-1

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 ) 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.  She was doing well, I am very particular on creating balance in rider and horse. I am also particular about teaching the rider, not just the horse. Sometimes this can take time and commitment. Just when things were turning positive, She was wooed by a trainer that offered free lessons. You can’t force people to believe in you but in time,  the horse will always show truth in the training methods used. 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.

 

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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. 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.

 

 

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” 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.

 

The Methods Behind Integrity Training

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. A confused, tense horse is not going to absorb much education.  There are many misconceptions in training but especially in Dressage.

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I am also educated in the biomechanics of the horse.  The Science of motion is an intense study that has allowed me to become more proficient in educating horse and rider. 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, not introduce gadgets to place the horse in a ” frame.      Once a vet has cleared 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 gait abnormality or muscle imbalance.  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 of this type of training.  Natural Horsemanship is not a method that I 100% 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.

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Kristie helping a student achieve a relaxed, calm horse

These methods have helped me train horses to be successful on the trails in the mountains. The Ttouch has also been a successful method of helping horses that were mistreated or submitted to harsh training methods.  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.image1(1)

Hiring the right trainer for you and your horse is so important. Be particular about who is working with your horse. Empathy should always be first and foremost in educating horses. Take part in the journey so you know if you like the methods used on your horse. Capture+_2018-11-03-11-05-34~2

 

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 to create,  especially when re educating a horse corrupted by misguidance.

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Attaining balance and lightness without force.

 

“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