A little while ago I discussed how the idea of correctness when collecting a horse has been largely lost among the various disciplines. Incorrectness has crept into not only sports like reining, but dressage too. It’s become an epidemic even at the highest levels of competition.
So today I want to briefly talk about the opposite of collection; that is extended movements.
If collection is the shortening of a horse’s frame and stride along with the elevation of the forehand and shift of weight carrying towards the hindquarters, extension is just the opposite. In extended movements the horse’s frame is elongated, the stride is lengthened and more weight carried on the forehand than during collection. Probably the most extreme example of this is seen in racehorses.
Training of extensions at walk, trot and canter is as much a part of good education as training the collected movements.
So the question is are we screwing up the extended movements as much as we have screwed up the collected movements.
Surprise, surprise, the answer is YES.
What has gone wrong with the extensions in modern riding is that instead of the horse elongating his body and stride, the extension has become almost only a flicking of the front legs.
If you look at the first 30sec of the video below, it shows Klimke asking Ahlerich for an extended trot (from a passage) at about the 17sec mark. You’ll see the horse stretch forward slightly in his frame and his stride lengthen considerable. Then at about the 26sec mark Klimke brings the horse back to a passage by shortening his frame and his stride.
But if you watch the video of Edward Gal and Totilas below you’ll see the horse actually elevate his forehand at the moment of transition from passage to extended trot with no lengthening of his body. The movement looks amazing because of the exaggerated leg action, but the entire transition happens below the shoulders and nothing actually changes with regard to the length of the horse’s frame. This is not correct.
If you are still not sure, check out these two photos of Totilas. One shows a collected trot (passage) and the other shows an extended trot. Is there a difference in the length of the horse’s frame?
I don’t really understand why this incorrectness has crept into the movement of modern dressage. If you watch other sports like reining you’ll actually see the horse lengthen when they transition to a fast canter. The whole horse stretches out including his frame and stride.
I think one factor is that nowadays breeders are producing horses like Totilas that can have amazing leg action despite a contracted frame. These horses are incredible athletes that can overcome the obstacle of incorrect training and still produce wonderful movement. But wonderful movement is not what dressage is about. Dressage is about the training. Even brilliant leg action cannot hide flaws in the training. I believe that dressage has partly lost its way because it has forgotten that it’s about the training and not about the extravagant movement.
It could be argued that all that we are doing these days is redefining the parameters of what dressage should be. If the powers that be decide to redefine an extended movement or a collected movement then what’s the problem? These are surely arbitrary concepts.
The problem comes about because centuries of training horses has taught us that certain exercises and certain movements actually benefit the physical well being of horses. We know that correctly trained collection is a good thing for thing for developing strength and suppleness in a horse. We know that incorrect collection does not physically benefit the horse. We know that correctly trained extensions are a good thing for building strength and suppleness in a horse. We know that poorly trained extensions are not.
It seems to me that part of the concept behind the movements we train into our horse is to produce the best athlete he can be. With that in mind why would we want to take short cuts with incorrect training that physically wears a horse down?
I am fairly new to your web site, but now I check it every day for the gems that each blog brings.
I read your last blog about a whip being an extension of the rider’s body. It really made me think. I am one of those people that uses a whip every time I ride because if I don’t my horses turns into a slug. My instructor tells me she is a horse that needs reminding with the whip. But the thing is I never have to use it. I only have to carry it. So what does that say about how smart my horse is?
Thinking about your blog has opened my eyes to the fact that my mare does understand my seat and legs because when I carry the whip she listens to them. How could I have been so dumb all this time? But I have been using the whip as a crutch to rely on instead of making my seat and legs the only tools I need. Instead of the whip being an extension of my body, I have made it a substitute for my body.
I’m going to talk to my instructor about this and try to get her to read your blog. I’m so grateful for your insight. I generally find most trainers and teachers regurgitate the same old stuff and it is so rare to find somebody like yourself who makes us think and challenges us every day. Would you be willing to come to Rockhamption for a clinic? I don’t know if I can get enough people, but I am going to ask around. What do you need?
It’s great that my thoughts spark you into thinking about your situation with your mare. I am so glad that you realize the use of the whip is getting in the way of your horse learning to listen to your seat and legs. It doesn’t have to be that way. These tools are only meant as a learning aid and they should be discarded as early as you can get your horse to understand.
I’d be happy to come to Queensland for a clinic. I’ll send you a separate email with information organizing a clinic.
I just wanted to say thank you for your advices, I started starting the two colts a week ago and they are now coming right at the gate when they see me and both are enjoying working (apparently, given that it is now difficult to leave one horse behind with the rest of the pack, they both want to go to work right away). With proper (as well as I can do) groundwork, every problem that we have met is now under control (one of them was rearing and borderline aggressive when put under any kind of pressure). It is a joy to work with them; they are so quiet and attentive! A lady that raises Haflingers came to the ranch yesterday to leave a horse there, when she came I had this baby horse following me around in complete liberty and saddled without moving an ear, she was so impressed she decided to change her methods of handling her horses. There is days like this when I feel it is maybe possible to make a difference.
Keep on the good work, you make people dream,
Thank you very much,
I'm very glad that you have had a break through with your horses. Well done. It is wonderful that your work has given cause for somebody else to rethink their own approach to working with their horses.
Thank you for your kind words. It's great to know that the work that goes into maintaining the web site is helping people like yourself.
I was watching a video of a well-known Aussie trainer a few days ago. He is one of those fellows that is seen regularly at horse expositions showing some fancy trick stuff. At one point in the video he made reference to using a flag as an extension of his arm. I have heard it many times from many trainers, that a flag is an extension of the arm. I remember the first Parelli clinic I watched, Pat said the same thing. But for some reason when I heard it on the video the other day I immediately had visions of the TV cartoon, Inspector Gadget, producing arm extensions.
But it got me thinking about the whole idea of using something that is an extension of something else. It is often said that whips of all types (lunging, stock, dressage, jumping, driving) are an extension of a person’s arm or sometimes an extension of the rider’s leg. Spurs are also said by some to be an extension of the rider’s leg. But what does it mean to be an extension?
I guess the question is what do these devices do that our legs or arms do not?
I haven’t used spurs for very many years, but I often us a flag and sometimes I use a whip. Why do I use these things?
When I think about an answer to the question it occurs to me that sometimes I use them because I am lazy. It’s often easier to pick up a flag than it is to offer the same level of energy using just my body parts. The flag can instil more energy into the system, which from a horse’s point of view means more adrenaline or worry. It’s that adrenaline or worry that makes it easier to motivate a horse to search for a different response than just using body language alone.
But I’m not sure it is really that simple. If I am going to use a flag as part of my training regime I try very hard to get the horse to feel okay about the flag. Just like with a horse that has had little exposure to people, I try very hard to get him to feel okay about having people around. It’s the same for anything like a flag, whip or spur etc. So when a horse gets used to a flag and is seemingly unbothered by it, why does it retain such effectiveness to get a change when the flag is directing the horse?
How come a horse can be lazy to a rider’s leg until somebody hands the rider a whip? The horse often does not seem worried by the whip, but even without using it on the horse the whip has the power to evoke a change in responsiveness to the rider’s leg. Yet, take the whip away and the sensitivity to a rider’s leg pressure disappears.
I have lots of thoughts about these questions. But I’m keeping them to myself for the time being. The questions are worth considering. I’m not just talking about why a horse listens to the whip and not the rider’s leg, but I’m talking about the notion that whips, flags and spurs are extensions of something that are less effective. Why is our body language less effective, as opposed to the extensions devices being more effective?
I’ve been thinking of offering a Webinar service for people interested in discussing particular topics. For those that don’t know about Webinar, it is simply an online conference call. I would allocate a time that I will be online and anyone interested in joining a discussion would ask to join. Once I have accepted you to join the group you are welcome to participate in an exchange of ideas and thoughts relating to whatever topic is being discussed. It could be a discussion about a video or a training issue or equipment or behaviour.
Joining the Webinar would be free and could we would probably just keep it voice link so those with slower internet can participate. If there is enough interest it could develop into a regular monthly event. Timing could be tricky because I know there maybe people from very different time zones, but I’m sure it could be worked out.
Anyway, if you are interested in trying this service let me know and I will do some research about how to set it up.
Interesting thoughts about Riley on the blog and ones I can relate to. Re my daughter’s pony. First ride after a month off and not only did he stand quietly to mount, he was very responsive under saddle. Kept it short. The bitey behaviour has subsided a lot and after his chiro appointment he clearly feels better. He is changing in a positive way but there is still work to be done.
However, a couple of days ago, I took him out of the paddock and left his mates behind. The mare that originally drove my big horse crazy with separation anxiety started galloping around madly and stirring up the other horses. She had formed a strong attachment to pony even though my horse is still in charge of the herd. Pony had a significant melt down hearing the galloping hoof beats and calls from the others. He has been away with me many times before and had stopped calling and started relaxing. But when his friends got stirred up, it was too much for him. So I set about trying to remedy the situation. It hadn’t taken long for him to go from quiet to shouting, trying to run around, trying to roll, not listening at all and just over the top. Little daughter was watching on and was upset seeing the commotion. I put him to work and saw signs of calming then he would hear the mad mare galloping and just lost focus. Time for another strategy, I took him over to the other side of my farm and away from his friends to a place he’d never been before. I knew he could not help the way he was feeling but I had to try to change his thoughts and calm him down and prove to him that he would survive. The bush is a wonderful place to detox a horse’s mind. I kept a very loopy feel on lead and after a while, he settled down. There was still some residual anxiety but seeing him drop his head down and start listening was really nice to see. He did really well on the trail and I think I helped him through this situation. I generally lock the mare up in a yard if my daughter or I are riding but it is good to see the pressure points and keep them in mind. I had a chat with little daughter and she kept the incident in perspective and realised why things had gone that way. She still wants me to keep working with pony and she wants to ride him again in the future. When I got back to the other horses, well they were totally exhausted, calm and very sweaty. I think they all slept well after that. I don’t know why they got so anxious when I took pony away.
I went through this behaviour a while ago with my big horse as you know, but now he is able to cope with other horses around him acting up and still listen and respond to my requests so I will get pony there eventually.
I saw the ‘expert’ horse trainer videos. It is not a wonder that people get confused when looking for answers to their problems when such poor training videos are so readily available.
Thankyou as always for the thought provoking articles in your blogs. I store them all in my mind and they have saved me many times when I am dealing with horses. I am sorry not to have been able to attend a clinic and give you that support as yet but maybe in the future. It would be a sad day if you stopped writing or passing on your thoughts about training horses. Your emails, blog and articles have had a profound effect on my abilities as a horseman.
Kind regards Isabel
It seems you handled the pony issue pretty well. But it does highlight the point that nothing is ever solved. No problems are gone forever. The changes we make are a matter of degrees of improvement. The change in the pony can be really great until something bigger comes along and makes it look like nothing has changed. We are always working towards perfection, but something will always pop it's head up from time to time to make us realize that the changes could always be better. We need these challenging moments to ensure we keep working towards perfect and don't become complacent with what we have achieved.
Hi Ross, I am glad your clinics went well, I see that that Riley has replaced Chops as "the wonder horse" I wont tell her. I have encolsed a photo that was on my face book and it crossed my mind at what point does so call training become cruelty? This is just so wrong on so many levels. Say Hi to Michele for me cheers Kerryn
Thanks for the photos, Kerryn. It is puzzling to me how people can turn what is meant to be a thing of beauty and perfect harmony between horse and rider (dressage) into something so horrible.
Are you sure it wasn't a contest to see who can fit the most number of gadgets on a horse's head?
I guess the horses are not being ridden much through the winter. You should move up here for the best riding winters in the land.
I hope the family are well and please give Chops an extra carrot from me.
Ross, you should watch this guy. The first video is basically just a bronc ride on a very scared and mind-blown horse. Most of us would have tried to get her much more relaxed first, but this guy could ride her through it really well.
The second ride is way better, although she's still very scared. He does a nice job of tipping her thoughts every time she tightens up, without troubling her. Near the end she starts tipping her thoughts ever so slightly forward for a second or two at a time.
I'll have to follow this guy for a bit to see the progress on her.
I agree Gail, he did a good job. But I don't know why he was wearing spurs and if he is going to ride a horse that bucks that big why did he not have a saddle with a Cheyenne roll - he came close to hitting the dirt a few times?
On the second video you could tell he started out nervous by the way he was a little grabby with the reins. But he did well to direct but not over direct the horse and stay out of the way.
I hope you are working hard and have lots of clients, but still have time to enjoy your summer.
I’ve been having a ball lately riding my horse, Riley. Riley is a 15.3hh stout ex racehorse that has always been lots of fun to ride. But about 3 years ago he was kicked while I rode him to work a client’s horse. As a result he fractured a splint bone on his left hind and was out of action for about 18 months. But when I tried to bring him back into work he slowed signs of lameness on his right fore. At first I thought it was a persistent hoof abscess. But even when the abscess obviously clear up after several months, he was still not right on the right fore. Eventually I had the vet check him out, but nothing showed up on either examination or radiographs. He has been on again, off again sound for over 18 months. Every time he looks okay he goes uneven again after 2 or 3 days of gentle riding. Finally I put him on a joint supplement and he has so far been sound after 2 weeks of light riding. I guess the real test will come when his workload gets progressively more intense. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
But since he has had almost no work in recent years I was interested in how he would respond to having his buttons pushed a little. When Riley was first given to me he was a quiet horse, but had no confidence in anything. Asking him to go over poles or through water or into a trailer usually brought out a stubborn refusal. He never exploded or threw a tantrum, but the word “no” was always on his lips.
The fun part about Riley is that he was a quick learner. He may have a skeptical mind, but he has a trainable mind. In fact, he is a wonderfully trainable horse. Anyway, bringing him back into work has shown up the same innate tendency to say “no” that I first saw when Riley came to me. I guess it is very much a part of his nature. But what has impressed me so much is how quickly he is to change his thought. Each day I push his comfort zone. Each day we ride somewhere knew. Each day I present him with harder challenges. And each day the challenges of the day before melt away in his mind as if it’s all just old hat to him.
For example, today I rode him to the mailbox. Our mailbox is 900m to our front gate, then another 2km along the road to where the box is located. I few days ago I rode him only as far as the front gate. Riley had not been separated from the other horses ever since we moved here more than a year ago. He became quite agitated about being separated and out of sight of his paddock mate, Guy and the other horses. He wanted to jog home at first and then became settled as I gave him jobs to do on our way back. Today, there was no desperate need to be with the other horses as we rode to the mailbox. He was confronted with a herd of running goats, a Great Pyrenees dog on protection duty, a couple of wallabies and a council grader. He had to open and close gates, stand quietly while I checked the mail and the dog barked at home from across the fence and he had to bash his way through some dense scrub that I chose to ride through on our way home. All the time that was happening he had to be soft on my reins and responsive to my seat and legs. He had to be straight in everything he did whether it was to cross a log or leg yield over running water. He had to give me an extended canter and a walk so slow that a snail would be impatient with it – and everything in between. It was a lot of fun.
I guess there are two points I want to make about this.
The first is the importance of pushing the boundaries. Too many people are complacent in their effort to push the boundaries. Horses and riders only improve because the expectations are forever moving. I’ve talked in the past about how a “try” in a horse is something that should be moving. What is a “try” today should not be the same thing that a “try” is next month or next year. If it is, then nothing is getting better. The same is true for us. We need to keep pushing ourselves to push our horses. Not beyond what is possible or safe, but beyond what is normal and mundane.
Horses feel safe in the predictable. They like routine and knowing what is to come. So when things become unpredictable and the routine is broken the wheels can sometimes fall off. This is what happened when I rode Riley to the front gate a few days ago. He had been living in the paddock with his mates for a long time. He had become complacent in how life under saddle was supposed to work out. When I rode him away from the herd, he became worried because his belief was that safety meant sticking with the herd. I was never going to convince him that leaving the herd with me was okay unless I pushed him to give it a try. I had to take him to that worried spot so he could learn not to worry. In the end he learned something valuable and something that I could use today when we rode to the mailbox. If Riley had not had that experience a few days ago when ridden to the front gate there is a very good chance that today’s ride would not have worked out so well.
My second point is importance of a horse learning a lesson well. Before Riley had his broken splint bone. He had learned to become a reliable and settled horse. The work he had had up to that point had taught him to be okay with the things he had learned. He certainly wasn’t an advanced or finished horse, but the things he knew he had learned well. This is so important because it meant that when it comes to bringing him back to work it is not a monumental task to remind him of those things. Even if Riley had not been ridden for 20 years, getting him to be okay would still be just below the surface and a relatively small matter to reinstate into his thinking.
If on the other hand the worked I had done with Riley before his injury had only been to teach him a series of tricks that left him feeling poorly about the riding, there is a very good chance I would be starting all over again after such a long layoff. The bad feelings that would have been with him previously are the feelings that would have been just below the surface – not the okay feelings that are there.
If you are going to work with a horse, it is only worth doing if you help him feel okay about the work. If you train the feet and the mind stays troubled the worry will not only limit your progress, but it will bite you in the bum on a regular basis. It’s an Everest that you’ll have to overcome every time you want to introduce something new or your horse has a long spell of no work. Do it right at the start and you’ll be amazed how smart you think your horse is.
H i Ross
I am from Canberra and am a follower of Buck, Harry and Tom. I was interested to see your post on your blog re this article. It appeared in our Canberra times. Refer article attached.
I wanted to add to your blog but didn't know how.
There are a couple of things that miff me re this the purpose of this study.
1. What method does this Cath Henshaw use? She never explained what she did as a 'Horse Trainer'.
2. The Horse Whisperer Movie was filmed with Buck not Monty. Didn't she watch Buck the movie?
3. In Tom Dorrances’ book True Unity he says at one point that sometimes horses may need to go through the learning process of negative reinforcement to find that comfort spot that they will accept. What about the herd situation they can kick the hell out of each other to get a point across.
Any way I would really like to attend one of your clinics one day. Unfortunately I can't get to the Wagga one.
There are a bunch of us that are like-minded here in Canberra so maybe I can get a group together.
Click HERE to see a video that summarises the study.
Thanks for the link to the Canberra Times.
I can't answer your questions about Cathy Henshaw or her study. You have to remember that she is a masters student and as such the blame should really be levelled at her supervisor - who I think is Paul McGreevy. Her study was being presented at an international conference in Edinburgh over the weekend, so I guess she will have a got a lot of feedback from others working in the field. I hope it helps her rethink her project.
Paul McGreevy has been behind a lot of the equine behaviour research in Australia and I really have quite a low opinion of his abilities to do good work. It is clear that the study is poorly designed and Ms Henshaw appears to lack the necessary background to understand her field or think critically about it. But as I say, McGreevy must take the blame for this.
Thanks again for your thoughts.
There are many things that appear to be wrong with this study on the surface. But it is impossible to definitive without seeing the full paper.
Nevertheless, Cath Henshaw seems to have an incorrect understand of the technique and claims made by Monty Roberts. Monty was not the basis of character in the book “The Horse Whisperer.” This has been confirmed by the author. Monty never said that negative reinforcement was not used in the training. Every person who trains a horse uses negative reinforcement - even clicker trainers. Ms Henshaw says that fear is the basis of the technique, but she does not define fear. By that I mean that I would define fear as an extreme form of anxiety that leads to a high level of neuro/endocrine response. But does Ms Henshaw define fear as any form of anxiety? The horse in the video appeared to exhibit anxiety, but I would not have called it fear.
But the major aspect of the study that appears to be wrong is that from Henshaw’s description of her technique it does not mimc the Monty Roberts technique. Henshaw says in the video at 1:08, that the car chases the horse until the horse turns and comes into the car. But in Monty’s method he chases the horse and then stops and draws the horse into him. The difference is that in Henshaw’s method she is actually teaching the horse to come to her by only having the car stop when the horse comes to it. But in Monty’s method he stops driving the horse before the horse turns into him in an effort to get the horse to come to him. But again I’d like to see the full study to see the actual experimental protocol. But if this is correct it does show a serious lack of understanding by Henshaw of Monty’s method.
I don’t want to sound like I am defending Monty’s method of join up. I’m not and I don’t like it. I agree that it is a poor excuse for training a horse because it relies on making the wrong thing impossible and not the right thing easy. But I think the study is really poorly designed and the conclusions appear to be poorly based. It seems that there is a lack of understanding of the range of horse training techniques that relate to this having a horse hook onto a person. But keep in mind that it is a masters study in equine behaviour and it seems to me that often the standard of this sort of study is not particularly rigorous.
Here is a series of videos that I recently saw by an expert. To be honest I feel a little sorry for the girl, but who told her to be put these on YouTube? They are all very short clips.
This first one is my favourite
But this one is pretty funny too
And this is a classic
It has been suggested to me by a couple of people lately that I should make some videos that can be used to illustrate some of the things I discuss on this blog. The reasons seem be to largely twofold. The first is to aid as a teaching tool in illustrating points I try to make in my posts. And the second reason is to give my views credibility and add weight to my arguments.
I have always resisted making videos of me working horses. I sometimes allow people at clinics to film the sessions with their horse. But I refuse to give permission for the videos to be widely disseminated. I have never felt it was a good idea for trainers to put training videos on the internet. Just as I have never thought writing a book on how to train horses was a good idea. People see the video and use it as “how to” teaching tool and then get into trouble when they try to employ it on their horses. It’s hard for people to separate the principles from the methods and most people only see the methods.
In addition, there are usually examples of other people’s work that show what I want to show even better than I could myself. Why would I add to the clutter of videos out there? Furthermore, there are just some aspects of training that I either don’t have access to a horse that could adequately illustrate the issue under discussion or that my horses are not far enough along to be suitable. The recent blog on collection is a case in point. None of my horses are far enough along at this point to be good examples of collection to convey the message I want people to have. But the video of Klimke does a perfect job of making the point. I couldn’t improve on it even if my horses were ready for that level of collection.
The second argument relating to my videos giving me credibility irks me a little. From my standpoint, the merit of anybody’s discussions should stand on the merits. I shouldn’t matter if I can train a horse to canter to the rear before I can comment on the quality of someone else’s training of that movement. Just like it should not matter if a film critic can make a good movie in order to qualify as a movie critic. None of the judges at the Olympics could probably do a better dressage test than any of the riders.
The object of my blog is not to convince anybody of anything. I’m not trying to sway people to my views. I just want people to think about their horses and horsemanship. I want them to question everything. I want them to experiment with their horsemanship. I want them to observe their horses. I want them to come their own conclusions and not just take on my conclusions. I don’t really care if I convince anybody to my way of thinking. But I do care about giving people ideas to think about that might differ from their own experience. I don’t believe I need to make videos to do that.
Lastly, I am very available if people want to see my work. I always have been. For years I did monthly demonstrations, held lesson weekends and clinics that people could attend. When I was training for people anybody could come and watch me work – and many did. I don’t feel that I am hiding behind a keyboard. But if people are really interested in my work it does mean they have to put out a little effort to come to me or my clinics. Considering how much effort I put into writing, answering emails and critiquing videos for no remuneration, I think that’s fair.
I’m not saying I’ll never do a video clip. But I am saying that as yet I don’t feel there is a good enough reason to go to the expense (I don’t own a camera, sound equipment and editing software) or effort (I don’t have the time or a camera operator) to make it happen.
I have been told that there are few spots still available for my clinic in Wagga Wagga, NSW on August 11 & 12. If you are interested in attending, please contact Julie Cowell whose contact details are on the Schedule page.
Speaking of clinics. Since retiring from training horses for people and devoting my time to building a business teaching horsemanship, I have been very pleased with the response. Michele and I decided to give it 3 years to build it into enough of a full time business that we could live comfortably. We estimate that it will require about 35 clinics a year to make it a job that will sustain us. By the end of this first year I will have done about 20 clinics, which I am very happy about. I think that is an excellent start and I want to thank all the people that have organized clinics and also those that came along. I really do appreciate it and I hope it has been a good experience for you all and you’ll continue to support me in the future.
But as I said I need to keep working hard to find new clinics in new locations, otherwise in a couple of years I will be forced to give it away and get a job in Inverell at the hardware store or mowing lawns for the council. It’s just a reality of life.
So if you think you’d like to come to a clinic or would like me to visit your area to hold a clinic, please get in touch with me. It’s not hard to organize - the process is straightforward. I can help you and put you in touch with people who have done it. If you think it is something you’d like to do one day, please don’t wait too long because one day may be too late and find me working at the abattoir instead of teaching horsemanship.
I helped out at a showjumping day today and have made a couple of interesting observations. Referring to the levels 1 and 2 the majority of horses travelled upside down. They had hollowed backs and stuck their heads in the air. Very often they were looking anywhere but at the jump and only focussed on it when facing it, at which point they accelerated considerably and flung themselves over. In fact, it wasn't until level 3 that I saw any rounds that I felt comfortable with, and most of the grade 5 riders rode their horses more kindly and their horses went more sweetly, despite lack of experience and ability, than the riders of higher levels.
My questions are, What is the best frame for a horse to perform at maximum efficiency whilst jumping? How do you keep your horses attention inside the arena? How do you keep your horse soft and responsive?
I would like to compete in the showjumping arena but only if I can make it a thing of beauty and harmony. I currently am a dressage competitor and would like to combine the two disciplines.
Would appreciate your thoughts.
You'll probably never see a soft and relaxed showjumping horse. And most often the higher the grade the worse it gets. Part of it has to do with the lack of interest and skill of the riders and part by the nature of the sport.
Any horse sport that involves speed has the effect of adrenalizing a horse. It causes tension and worry that results in tightness and resistance. I know some people like to think that horses love to jump, but in my experience I have never seen it. Most horses rush around a course from fear and anxiety and they learn that their job is to jump anything they are pointed towards, irrespective of how they feel.
The other aspect is that there seems little interest in a horse being soft and relaxed if it jumps well. When I was a kid Kevin Bacon riding Chichester was the top of the field in Australia. But that horses was upside down and reefed on the reins constantly (see photo). Yet he won everything. There was no incentive for Kevin to change anything. Ian Miller's horse, Big Ben was one of the best I ever saw and he was hollow and crooked all the way around a course. Yet he was the best in the world at the time (see video below).
There are a few good showjumping riders, but very few. Most of them are not good horse people in my view and I've known quite a few. One of the most successful going around Australia at the moment asked me about 3 years ago how to teach a horse to back up. I witnessed the same rider training a young horse where his response to the horse running out on the turns was to bash it between the ears with his whip. Yet this fellow was recently in consideration for Olympic selection. This is not an isolated case. Many showjumping riders are quite poor horse people in my view. Ever since I was a kid, it has been so.
Ideally, a horse should be soft on the reins and relaxed through it's back. It should be responsive to the legs, but not rushy. These things come through flat work - not jumping. Most of the things a horse needs to have established to be a good jumper are taught in the dressage arena. The jumping part is a relatively small part of the training and is mostly needed to give the horse experience and confidence. But if the flat work is good and solid, the jumping part is a lot easier. Most problems with jumping come from poor flat work. When I discovered this I stopped jumping my horses between events and concentrated on dressage at home. It worked really well for me and I had good success at it with a couple of horses.
Few riders concentrate on their flat work. Mostly it is used to train things like lead changes and counter canter. But most other times it is simply used to warm up a horse for 10 minutes before practicing the jumps. I feel it is an important element missing from most jumper's training. You might have noticed in eventing how much poorer the standard of dressage is compared to the cross country and jumping phases. It's the same problem as the showjumpers. If the flat work is poor, things will get a lot worse when face with a jumping course. The anxiety and adrenaline that jumping can evoke in a horse will overwhelm the flat work training unless it is really solid.
Anyway, that's my 2c worth.
Just like to say thank you, for all the effort you put in to your blog, putting your ideas out there, for people to muse over and learn from. Its an invaluable resource, I refer people to it regularly. Marie Walters and I are having ongoing email discussions about your 'collection' piece. Very good thing to be mulling over. Love it.
Small problem though. Could always be more :)
Glad your home safe from the US, look forward to seeing you in August.
Regards Sandra Whitmarsh SA
Thanks Sandra for the compliment. I'm very glad the piece on collection has stimulated some thoughts. Getting people to think and consider things from different perspectives is the object of the blog. I don't want to talk anyone into anything - just get them to think.
I am surprised how much feedback I've had from the piece on collection. It seems to have hit a real nerve with people. I've even had a very high profile competitor from overseas write to me about it. I guess you just never know who reads this stuff.
Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to let me know you appreciate the blog. If I had known how time consuming it would become I'm not sure I would have begun it.
This may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I love this film. It’s an excerpt from a film made by Will Rogers in 1922. I own the full 20 min version and I watch it at least twice a year. I won’t go into the story of Will Rogers because you can look him up, but he was a fascinating man. He was one of the great all time trick ropers and you can see how amazing he was with the trick of catching a running horse with 3 ropes simultaneously.
The Monty Experiment
Here is a link to a study that was done by a Masters student in animal science at the University of Sydney.
The study tries to debunk the Join-Up method that Monty Roberts promotes as nothing more than scaring a horse into submission.
I’m not one to defend Monty and I have said in the past that Monty’s method of round pen work is about chasing a horse into submission. But the science behind this study is hardly scientific. It’s an amusing demonstration, but the methodology is deeply flawed and the conclusions drawn by the investigator are not what the study shows. In my view it is another example of behaviourial science lacking scientific credibility.
The assumption of the study is that the method is inhumane because it involves pressure and stress on the horses. But the investigator forgets that all training methods use negative reinforcement to some level, including positive reinforcement techniques like clicker training. To categorize negative reinforcement methods as inhumane is to class all horse training as cruel. It is not possible to motivate a horse to change his patterns without evoking a level of anxiety in the animal. It is the stress that causes him to search for a different response.
Here is a video of the same technique on cattle
Since getting back home from my clinic tour of the US and England, I’ve heard a story about a person who attended one of the clinics being bucked off their horse since my visit. It was reported to me that they thought they did everything they saw me do and were confused why their horse bucked.
This is the not the first time I’ve been told about things going awry after I worked with a horse. I use to do demonstration every month for around 10 years. One of the first demos I did was a float loading exercise with a Clydie cross that refused to put a foot on the ramp. There was a good crowd of around 60 or so people. The demonstration went very well and by the end of the session the owner was loading the horse on and off with no trouble.
The following month I did another demonstration on softening a horse to the reins. At the end I was approached by a lady that told me she had watched the previous session with the Clydie cross and went home and tried to load her horse onto the float. She said she did everything she saw me do, but the horse refused to load and she was trampled and ended up with a bruised foot.
I told her that she may have done what she thought she saw me do and she may have even done what I did do with the Clydie cross. But she didn’t do what I would have done with her horse. I feel confident I can say the same thing about the person who was bucked off their horses. They may have done what they thought they saw me do, but I bet they didn’t do what I would have done.
The thing about clinics and demonstration is that they are not designed to teach you a recipe for working your horse. They are not like going to cooking class. Clinics are designed to give you concepts and ideas – not formula. You can’t go home and mimic something that was done at a clinic and expect it will work out just as well. But you can try to absorb an understanding of why things are the way they are and why some things might help and others not. You can try to grasp an understanding from a horse’s point of view. You can try to understand the needs of a horse and whether they are being met. You can try to hone your awareness skills. You can try to get answers to all your questions. But you can’t learn to be the clinician. You can’t repeat what happened at a clinic and expect it will work. It’s a different day and a different time.
People who attend clinics with the notion they will get their problems solved will be very disappointed. It doesn’t happen like that. Problems get solved at home, not at clinics. Clinics just try to stimulate your thinking and give you guidance along a path. That’s why people need to return again and again to their clinician(s). Learning to be good with horses is an evolution in ones thinking. It’s not a shopping list of techniques. It takes time and experience to evolve into a good horse person. Hopefully each clinic will see you prepared for the next stage of evolution where you can gain even more depth of understanding.
I have just finished your book, and I absolutely loved it.
At first I thought ..."this is just like Mark Rashid's stories, oh well.... keep reading".... but it just got better and better......
The lessons within the stories are so good, and just what I need at this stage of my horsemanship journey.
I would read just a chapter each night before going to sleep, and then have all night to process and dwell .... loved it!!!
I wish there was another book to continue on with....
I'm sure my horses are happier and grateful for the understanding and appreciation I am showing to them, and all the horses I come in contact with
I am enjoying my work with the horses even more now,
Thanks Cathy for writing and letting me know you have enjoyed the stories. I am about half way through editing stories for the next Walt and Amos book, which I hope to have available by the end of the year. All the stories were written many years ago and so it is a matter of collating and editing them ready for publication.
Thanks again for taking the time to write to me your appreciation for the book
I watched the video of Luna and would like to share a couple of observations. Firstly, the horse is not super quiet as there is constantly tension throughout her body. The buddy at the beach was coping much better and I think that poor Luna really just wanted to be somewhere else. She is a quick moving horse and without the current rider I feel she would step out from under an unsuspecting novice in a heartbeat.
That yard is certainly the product of someones very fertile imagination and Luna has learned to tolerate the whistles and bangs but again it is stretching her to her limits. The only time that I picked up that she relaxed at all was at the end when she surrounded by the girls lifting the tarp over her. The constant reassurances by her rider was interesting - maybe he thought he was looking like he loved the horse but to me there was a certain amount of relief in his actions which said "thank god, we getting through this promo tape"
The choice of gear may be habit rather than neccessity (ok, I'm trying to cut them some slack) but I reckon the gag and martingale were in full use not long ago.
I see tension in her ears, the quick way she drops her head and lifts it again, the uneasy resting of a hind leg, her tail carriage. She looks like a sweet horse who wants to try hard but because of that has been forced and rushed and is only there by her basically good nature.I think she is super sensitive and needs a rider who is very switched on and able to give her confidence.
I hope others respond to your request to comment.
Thanks for your thoughts on the video.
I agree with most of what you say. I think the horse is very shut down and there is a strong element of learned helplessness about his behaviour. I can't be sure about the gear, but I have a feeling that if this horse was ever asked to wake up and mentally participate in the activities that the martingale and gag bit would not be enough to control him. I believe there is an awful lot of trouble inside Luna. He is not a horse I would be recommending somebody to purchase. However, I do admire the work that has gone into creating the playground. It's the sort of facility that I would like if I were to run clinics from my own home. Thanks again.
Hi Again Ross,
On the subject of collection, I have attached a site that has, what I think at least, are nice examples of a horse in self carriage. (the before and after pics are useful to me in seeing the physical differences in the leg position, the back, wither etc).
My dressage knowledge is minimal, but as I understand it, self carriage is just the beginning of where the journey to true collection starts.
In my non-dressage mind, I would say this horse is collected...he looks soft & balanced, his shoulder is raised and his hind end in following in nicely underneath him, even if his nose is poking out a bit.
Could you clarify the difference between self carriage and collection?
I have no desire whatsoever to do dressage (which is probably just as well), but I sure would be over the moon if Saruman and I could ever travel along like the horse and rider in these examples!
What do you think?
I've been getting a lot of emails about this topic.
Self carriage is one part of the training for collection. By itself, self carriage is not collection. You have to keep in mind that collection is a scale - it is not something you have or don't have - there are degrees. Self carriage is part of the lower end of the scale to true collection.
In dressage terms, a horse is considered in self carriage when the reins can be relaxed for a moment and the horse maintains his posture, ie he carries himself without the reins holding him in a frame. But often self carriage is a trick because even though the horse maintains his frame when the reins are relaxed there is a dullness to the reins when you pick them up again. It would be like riding a statue of a horse in a collected frame. You can let go of the contact and the statue still keeps its posture, but when you take up the contact again there is still no response to the reins. So self carriage is not the bees knees when thinking about collection. But a horse should be able to carry itself correctly as part of the road to collection.
It's hard to say much about the photos in the link you sent. I think the closest picture to what I have in my mind is the last one because it is the only one where the horse is not broken at the neck and there is some sign that the base of the neck is elevated. The second photo where the author claims the horse is round in his back at the walk is definitely showing a horse whose neck is jammed downwards - see the muscular below the crest.
I don't know if I have confused you more, but if you still have questions you know where to find me.
I like this clip. It’s not perfect and there are things I’d do differently or not at all. But I like the feel between the fellow and the horse.
I’ve been think a lot lately about the learning process that horses go through. To me it is fascinating to try to understand how they process an idea.
Something that has been occupying my thinking recently is the observation that when I am trying to teach a horse something new, the first time he makes a change is rarely followed by a repeat of the same change.
Let me give you an example. Say I am asking for a horse to learn to stop from a very light touch of the reins. I ask politely first every time, but if the horse is leaning on the reins I increase the pressure until he gives me a soft yielding to the reins. Usually I have to repeat the polite ask followed by a firmness several times before the horse gives me the very first try at yielding from a light touch of the reins. But when I ask the horse to do that again it is almost never a repeat of the yielding from a light touch. In the majority of cases I have to go through several more repetitions of a polite ask followed by a firmness of the reins before I get another try at yielding from a light touch.
With more work and many more repetitions of the exercise the horse gradually offers more tries at yielding to a light touch and less heaviness to the reins. But it is very rare to see a horse have a “light bulb” moment where they finally figure they’ve got it. It’s more like they need to be convinced again and again and again. Each time the work is repeated it takes less to convince them and the change in their response becomes more reliable. But I can’t recall a horse ever figuring it out and forever more has the problem sorted. They are not like us. Once we figure out that the hot plate on the stove will burn us, we don’t need to keep being convinced by trying it again and again just in case it was not real. I have even seen horses experiment repeatedly with electric fences – which seems really strange to me.
I guess some would attribute this behaviour to horses not being very smart. But that seems an over simplistic explanation. I would guess that such an approach to learning must have an evolutionary function. But who knows what that could be. Some trainers refer to horses as being sceptics by nature, and maybe that is the answer. But I wonder if it really relates to how strongly a horse’s sense of survival determines most everything he does.
It would seem that if a horse has certain behaviours and he is still alive, that perhaps he sees his behaviour as related to the fact that he is still alive – a sort of cause and effect relationship. So if he runs through the reins and he lives, then running through the reins is a part of survival – irrespective of how uncomfortable it can be to have somebody pulling on the bit. When we try to change the behaviour to yielding to the reins, we make running through the reins less comfortable. But because he has learned to believe that running through the reins is linked to surviving, he keeps checking to be sure that he should not run through the reins. He doesn’t just yield softly to the reins once or twice and then is convinced it is a whole lot better deal than running through reins. He has to keep trying it periodically in case he might die if he doesn’t.
I guess I am just thinking out loud and don’t really have any answers. But it is interesting to ponder these thoughts.
Have a look at the video below of an advertisement of a horse for sale. See how they promote this horse as being super quiet, but yet he is ridden in a martingale and a gag bit for control. What do you think that tells you about this horse and what he has learned?
I’ve had some correspondence about my last post regarding collection and the way some disciplines refer to collection.
I want to make it clear that in the video clip of Warwick Schiller beginning the education of the filly on collection, I was not really comparing it to the work of Alherich in the Klimke video. But my point is that the way Warwick was going about teaching the horse to learn about collection was the opposite approach to achieving collection. He’ll never achieve collection in the way dressage describes collection. Instead he’ll get a corrupted version that reiners refer to as collection, but which isn’t.
This is what Warwick’s horse will look like if he continues along the same path.
And here is something closer towards collection that even a cowboy can achieve. This is Harry Whitney on a horse owned by Shea Stewart. To me the difference is obvious.
A couple of responses I received …
Ok, despite the fact I can barely ride a swinging gate, I am going to have to weigh in on your blog from yesterday.
I see a lot of horses rolled up in front and people calling it collection. I have had a lot of people try to teach me collection by going around with 30 lbs of pressure on the reins call that collection (I call it a workout with two miserable beings on each end of the reins). No doubt as you actually can ride a swinging gate, you see this much more than I do.
I'm not sure it's fair to look at collection in a two year old with very little experience under saddle and an Olympic level dressage horse. Come on! I can dribble a basketball, but put me beside an NBA player and I am going to look pretty lousy. (Truth be told, you wouldn't actually need the NBA player).
As far as the video with Buck, not sure when it was taken, but it looks like a participant took that while he was schooling during a clinic. He wasn't demonstrating collection, it looked to me like he was working on his horses collection. He had a few good moments and he had some crappy moments. Just like I get.
Just to stir the pot a bit, it's also extremely frustrating for us wannabes who are trying to get to the Nirvana of collection that unless we have Olympic level perfection, we ain't got it. I know when I am working on this, I have brief moments of "through". I also have many moments of wheelbarrow through wet cement. I am clinging to the dream the through moments will at some point be more frequent than the wet cement moments.
Mr.Klimke is the ideal, and a good target to keep my eye on. But be fair and don't compare him on finished horses to someone working on a green bean or someone ironing out some wrinkles on a stiff horse that may have been standing around for hours.
Ok, time to go to work and sit at a desk all day.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I agree that it is not fair to compare say Klimke's performance with Warwick training a 2 year old. But I searched for hours on YouTube to find examples of that would be a better comparison. It's amazing how much bad stuff is out there pretending to be good examples of collection.
Nevertheless in the clip of Warwick and his horse, it is very clear that what Warwick was looking for in his efforts to teach his horse to collect was incorrect. From the clip Warwick is not understanding the concept of collection and what he should be looking for in his horse even at the kindergarten stages of training. Firstly, a 2 year old has no business working in a such an extreme frame. It is well known that for a horse to carry himself in that way at that age is a formula for physical breakdown at later ages. Secondly, Warwick was not looking for his horse to lift himself in front by raising the base of his neck. Instead, Warwick was interpreting an arched neck as a sign as raising the base of his neck. Even in the audio Warwick says the horse is using his hindquarters where in fact he is not. He was in fact pushing himself back by lowering his forehand and pushing of his front legs. So while I agree Warwick's horse was not capable of producing good collection at this stage, the path Warwick was choosing to teach collection will never get the horse to be correct.
I only used Warwick's video because it was the best example I could find where a reining trainer was explaining the process. But this is a widespread problem throughout the reining fraternity. It's problematic enough in the dressage world to find good collection. But things are far worse in the non-dressage disciplines.
In regard to Buck's video, I have to say I have heard firsthand Buck refer to collection in his horses that were performing exactly as the horse in the video. I have not seen Buck for about 3 years and things may have changed, but Buck's understanding of collection is not collection. He talks about a shortened frame and rounded neck as collection, when in fact it is so much more. I've heard the same mistake from Ray Hunt and Bryan Neubert too. I can't help feel that there is a widespread misunderstanding of collection in the horse world.
To me this reinforces my view that every horse should undergo a substantial level of good dressage training before concentrating on their preferred sport. Notice I said "good" dressage training. Dressage teaches balance, straightness and softness as well as build strength in a horse - things that every performance horse needs to achieve full potential. A horse that has been trained to correctly carry himself can only benefit a horse whether in reining, jumping, barrel racing, polo, western pleasure etc. Taking short cuts and producing incorrectness can only make things harder for a horse and limit hi potential.
When people talk about collection in their horses when it is not is like finger nails on a chalk board to me (even though I have learned they don't use chalk boards at schools anymore). I do appreciate your point about how hard true collection is to understand and even harder to achieve. But that does not mean we should be describing horses as being collected when they are not. If people are not interested in correct collection, then they should make up another term that better describes what they are training and don't confuse the terms.
Thanks again for your input.
Glad to see you are home and catching up. I was having Good Horsemanship blog withdrawals!!! The clip of Warwick was a no brainer, same for the dressage clip, but I have a question on Buck's video. I saw what you mentioned as far as what was bad, but I didn't think it was entirely bad. Did you see any good worth mentioning in the clip? I hope Warwick advances in his thinking and lets go of some of his bad ideas. That clip took me by surprise. Do you want this Aussie back?
You are on my bucket list so keep coming back to the states ok?!
Thanks for your input regarding the piece on collection.
I don't want to leave the impression that Warwick is not a good horseman. He has plenty to offer his horses and his students and I feel is a pretty good hand. But he is stuck in that world of reining where there is not a lot of thinking going on outside of their world. I think it is equally true of any discipline including dressage. Dressage has a lot to learn from the world of horsemanship and the other disciplines have a lot to learn from the dressage world. What Warwick has learned about collection seems to come from the reining world where there is a distinct and widespread lack of appreciation of the fundamentals of true collection. I only used that clip because it was the first one to discuss teaching collection from a non-dressage person.
With regard to Buck's video I feel it also suffers from a lack of understanding about collection as derived from dressage where the concept originally evolved. Buck's horse is closer to self carriage than Warwick's horse, but a long way from collection. The horse drags his back legs and pulls himself along from the front. He is often crooked which is sure sign that he is not relaxed all the way through his body - a essential element of true collection.
I think the problem with both Buck and Warwick's perception of collection is that they don't appreciate or understand the difference between when a horse raises the base of his neck and when he arches his neck but jams the base downward. This is fundamental to the process of training collection. When a horse raises the base of his neck he is yielding and softening through his body. But when he jams his neck between his shoulders he is evading the softening and the yielding only goes back as far as the wither. Many dressage horses are just as guilty of this as reiners or other performance horses. The great dressage horse Totilas comes to mind when I think of this type of incorrect training.
The other aspect of the discussion is that I still don't understand why a 2 year old is being asked to collect himself. But then I don't understand why any 2 year old is doing any more than plodding around a paddock somewhere.
I hope we meet sometime at a clinic. There are already discussions about a return visit to the US next year, but they involve clinics in the western and mid western states. So you might have to travel to attend.
Thanks again for your contribution.
We could do with this animal around our house in summer. Although, I think the mule might not do so well against the brown snakes that summer holiday in our yard – one bite could kill the mule.
The Story of Satts
I finally resolved the problem about the Story of Satts and have added a new chapter to the Story page. I hope you enjoy it.
Okay I am going to vent about something that has long been an irritant to my normal cool, calm demeanour.
I’m talking about the non-dressage horse sports understanding of collection.
Look at the video below.
This is not collection!
Warwick maybe a handy horse person, but what he calls collection is not collection. The horse in the video never uses his back and never engages his hindquarters. He never lifts the base of his neck and instead crashes on his forehand. Look at 1:42 and see how the horse lowers his forehand in the back up. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong…
Now compare this video of Klimke riding Alherich
You only have to watch a couple of minutes of the video to appreciate what dressage calls “collection” and what reiners call “collection.”
I appreciate that Alherich is much further along in his education and I appreciate difference in the breed of horses, but you can still tell there is a huge difference in what Klimke tries to achieve in collection and what Warwick is trying to achieve. The understanding of the two men about this important subject is worlds apart.
And it is not just reiners either that don’t get it. What about this clip of Buck Brannaman?
Buck’s horse is not collected either. He is round, but his neck is jammed between his shoulders, his back is hollow, his hindquarters drag along, the horse is crooked and he is heavy on his forehand. Bad, bad, bad.
So why do people call it collection when it is not? Are they just ignorant of what collection really is? Do they want to redefine what collection should be? Or do they not see a difference.
If reiners want to do whatever it is they do, that’s okay by me. I don’t care (the horses might, but I don’t). But they should call it something other than collection – something like “a reining frame.” To call this collection is not only wrong, but it confuses people who don’t know enough to judge for themselves. There should be no confusion about what is collection. People should not be making up their own definitions. Collection is a cascade of postural adjustments that horses make, which are clearly defined. There maybe different degrees of collection, but collection is not one thing and sometimes another thing.
People who do not study dressage and incorrectly use dressage terms like collection are in my view showing their ignorance of their own sport. I have heard reining described as dressage for cowboys. But in reality this is absolute nonsense. There is almost no similarity between what is looked for in a good dressage movement and what is looked for in a good reining movement. If cowboys want to be identified with dressage then go and study dressage. If that is of no interest to them, then don’t try to steal terms that they don’t understand and use them for their own interest. Define their own terms and teach them for what they are and not as some weak impersonation of a dressage term.
This is collection
This is not
I’ll step down from my soap box now and have a cup of tea to calm me down.
Charmayne James is one of the greats of barrel racing and in this interview she tells what happened when her bridle fell of her horse during an event.
My luggage still has not arrived. I got in touch with British Airways yesterday and it seems my bag hadn’t even left Heathrow until yesterday. I can’t say that I am impressed with BA. It’s not just the luggage issue. Their seats in economy were so narrow that the people in my row had to take turns to eat their meals to avoid elbowing each other while eating. The entertainment sound system didn’t work properly, so it was impossible to watch a movie or tv show.
One thing I have noticed since travelling overseas four years ago is the change in people’s entertainment habits. Four years ago it was still common for people to read a book or magazine on an airplane. But this time I was the odd man out by reading a book. Most people had electronic gadgets like e-readers or iPads or smart phones. Some even had a notebook computer loaded with movies for their trip.
I’m still having problems with uploading the most recent chapter for the Satts Stories. I’ve been in touch with the software support people and they are trying to help me sort out the problem. It may be an issue related to upgrading my computer several weeks ago.
In the recent clinics in the US and England, there was a noticeable difference between people who had experience with the style of training that I was trying to teach and those that had no or little previous experience. The folks who had a sound knowledge of the principles had got them mostly from either attending clinics by other clinicians.
You might think that would automatically give them an advantage over the more novice horse people in picking up the concepts I was trying to impart. And that is true for the most part. But what also came across is how people were accepting these principles as hard and fast rules with very little flexibility in how they can be used to help horses.
As an example, a few times I was asked by different people about getting a horse to look at something or in a direction as part of the concept of directing a horse’s focus. I might have been working a horse or instructing an owner in working their horse when I would release the pressure or get the owner to release the pressure. Sometimes I was asked by somebody why I released at that moment when the horse obviously did not look where he was going or at what I was asking of him.
This was a tough one to explain because I know I put a lot of emphasis on where a horse is looking and thinking as being fundamental to good training. But what these people missed was that even though the horse did not give a strong look or thought to what I was asking, he always gave up the thought he had that was causing the resistance I was working to eradicate. At times this is enough as a beginning. Getting a horse to give up the idea he has is for the most part the hardest aspect of directing a horse, so if you can do that you are making progress.
At one clinic I was asked about a horse that was very scattered in his thoughts. He was thinking and moving all over the place. I slapped my chaps really hard and he suddenly turned towards me and stopped moving. I stood still for a second and then petted him even though he was looking over the top of me and not directly at me. I was asked why I petted him if he was not looking at me. I said it was good enough for now because even though he was not looking at me I finally had his attention – he now knew every move I made and every breath I took. When I took one step to the side (after a few seconds of standing quietly) he lowered his head, turned with me and look at me. There were similar examples at other times too. But it was clear to me that the person asking was having trouble understanding why I didn’t initially do more until the horse looked at me.
I’m not blaming people for being confused because clearly the problem lies with people like me who try to teach these concepts. I need to do a better job at being clear.
I am so grateful that people ask these types of questions during the clinics because they illuminate the areas of my teaching where my clarity is not good enough. I’m always talking about clarity with horses and then fail in my clarity with people.
But I want everyone to appreciate that good horsemanship is largely made up of gray areas and not black & white rules. When you think you understand one concept you’ll meet a horse that turns that on it’s head. I know people like structure and rules to make it easier to learn – that’s why schools of horsemanship like Pat Parelli and Clinton Anderson are so popular. They take out the gray areas for people.
Glad to hear you had a great trip.
Now I need your opinion about some thing else. I sold a horse to someone in WA. Unbroken youngster. She broke him in herself (had broken in a horse before). He was quiet and lazy, not surprising being half draft. But he bucked apparently for no reason on more than one occasion. She has also had issues with him panicking in the float. He has gone to a breaker to be restarted. Everything seemed to be going well then yesterday she gets contact from them to say he had his first ride which was all going well and just about to call it a day and get off when suddenly he went into uncontrollable bucking for no reason. Fell over, hit his chin with his legs, ran into a fence, showed no signs of self preservation. Guy gets off, does more ground work, gets back on and again all seems well. Walking and trotting in both directions then bam the bucking again. Rodeo stuff. They have told her they don't think he is worth persevering with. They get a lot if 'remedial' horses and are making the call based on their experience. I guess I'm looking for a clue as to 'why'. His dam is unbroken. I bought her when she was already a broodmare. She has progeny from her previous breeder that are competing under saddle and whilst she can be awkward and is very dominant with the other horses she is usually pretty easy but she does get thingy. Generally by flying backwards. What concerns me is I have bred two other foals by her one of which is just about to be sent to the breakers (by new owner) and she is in foal again. I'm worried that this is something coming from the mare and we are going to have a repeat performance.
I don’t want to put anybody else in danger and I feel responsible in some way for what has happened to this other person / horse. I know a lot has happened to it since it left here but the behavior is so extreme I'm thinking screw loose or brain tumor.
I don't really have any answers - just more questions.
My first thought is that he is not physically quite right. When a horse spontaneously explodes it is most unusual and in my experience can be caused by pain. A few years ago I was starting a horse that was going great until about 3 weeks into the process when he started to buck without me detecting it was coming. After a few days where it seemed to becoming a habit I had the owner contact her vet. After some intense investigation it was determined the horse had kissing spine syndrome from an accident it had as a yearling. There was noting to be done and sadly the owner opted to have the horse put down.
But on the other hand I have also had some "screwy" horses from a line of a well-known dressage stallion. Out of 5 foals I started for the lady with the same line of horses, 4 of them were very odd. She ended up euthanizing 2 of them because they were so dangerously unpredictable.
Of course, I'm not dismissing the possibility that the problem stems from a training issue and the breaker is not picking up the clues before the horse explodes.
Without spending a little time with the horse I really can't give you any useful thoughts. What I would say is not to panic about the siblings and how they will turn out. It's extremely unlikely that problem is purely a genetic one and you probably won't see it in the other progeny. But stay aware and maybe hold off breeding again from the mare until you see how the others progress.
Sorry I can't be more help than that.
Thank you for your answer, I hope you had a good trip!
What you say makes perfect sense. Actually those horses never ran on me because I never let them forget that I am here. The main problem is that they are generally pushy with people. I think I might be the only one pushing them away and not leaving when they become pushy. I don't really like when horses are taking me for a tree-that-looks perfect-for rubbing-against. I also wanted to say that it is reassuring for me to know that I can act as a crazy woman which is my natural state.
Your statement reminded me of the day I showed them how to teach a horse to stop when you stop (ski joring is a lot of fun though). They looked at me like you would look at a dog riding a bike when I throw my arms in the air to push the mare away (I also enjoyed watching the video Warwick Schiller did on that subject, and used this technique quite a lot in the past).
Anyway thank you again. I think the hardest part is to have nobody to just talk about this with. I wish I could always make sure that I am doing the "right" (or less wrong possible) thing.
On a different note, I started to start those two colts. It is challenging but they are really nice. Even though, I do wish I could have thoughts transmissions with you sometimes (they are quite challenging to catch, apparently their owner catches them with food, but I'll admit that I was lost in translation at that point).
Very attentive horses, they learn at an incredible speed. I have to slow myself down quite a lot because I don't want to miss any steps. For now: desensitisation (to every possible thing, I think I'll take an umbrella next time and see what they think about that), lateral flexion (already near perfect), backing up (the one I worked the most with did it with a movment of my finger, she learned it so fast it's mind blowing), coming to me, going with me and a little bit of longing. They don't yet have a round pen so I am working in a field that is quite big. I told the owner to feed them outside of the field, so the halter was not only associated with work. I think a round pend would be useful at that point, just to teach tem to come to us; I want them to feel safe and happy when people are coming, I looked at how the owner catched one of them, and it's true that she is leaving, turning her back etc. before he could catch her, this is an issue I'll have to work on.
If you have any insights (I know how to apply pressure when they leave and release it when they face you, but if there is anything else that you can think about), I am always more than happy to read your ideas first of all because you explain your thought process very well (I did spend quite a lot of time reading your stories on your website, I loved them), and secondly because it looks like you are a highly logical person, and I like people that make sense.
Thank you again,
All the best to you,
Alice from Switzerland
With the catching problem, it's very hard to make a difference without a smaller yard to restrict the horse's ability to leave. It doesn't have to be a round yard, but some sort of small-ish yard is a huge help.
Also, you'll find that as the horses feel better about working with you, they will be less determined to avoid being caught. They will learn that catching does not cause them any stress because the work that you will do them will not cause them any trouble. You might find you can speed up the process by not working the horses every time you catch them. Sometimes you might catch the horses and then rub them and let them go again without a session of work. If you have the time, catch them several times a day, but work them only once a day.
I was surprised how massive a name Clinton Anderson now has in the US. I suspect his business might even surpass Parelli’s. Only four years ago he was gaining a reputation, but now he is among the biggest names. I guess it comes from promotional videos like this one. It certainly isn’t because he is a great horseman. It is my hope that his influence stays in the US and stays away from Australia. We have enough bad horsemanship here without sending him back home to us again.
I got home yesterday after a very long trip. Of course, my baggage didn’t make it on the same trip. It was the only mishap in all the flights I have done in the past month.
The clinic in Montana was lots of fun and I feel it went very well. Alex Mufson did a great job of rounding up an interesting group of people and horses. The only smirch on an otherwise good time was that forest fires broke out the day before I left. They were being blown towards Alex’s place and the evening after I flew out she evacuated her horses and those owned by clients. Luckily the fires were under control before they crossed the river to her property and everything turned out okay. I want to thank Alex and Ty for their hospitality and organization and also thank Tiffany for providing the lunches.
After Montana I arrived in England. It was a little touch and go about the English clinic because there had been some late cancellations. But we went ahead and I did some lessons in Devon and Sussex. It was great to catch up with my friend Anna Bonnage in Devon. Ben had arranged for me to stay with Ann and Simon on their very grand estate. It was a magnificent home on 20 acres and they made me feel very welcome. The group of horses that Ben had got together was quite diverse which I think gave folks lots to think about. I believe everybody made some good changes in themselves and were able to see the improvement in their horses. There are already discussions about returning next year. Thanks to Ben for organizing the sessions and driving me around and to Ann and Simon for their brilliant hospitality and kindness.
I think overall the tour went very well. At the end of every clinic I was being asked to return next year and even expand my trip to add other venues. So it bodes well for more work in the US and UK next year.
Again, thanks to everybody who made it possible (Sheri Rath, Ben Lomond; Kris Wilson, Clovis; Alex Mufson, Three Forks; and Ben Moxon, Sussex) and to all those that attended to ride or just watch and ask questions.
I’m having trouble with posting the new chapter for the Story of Satts. There is a problem with the system that I have been using to produce the expanding files that might take a few days to work out. I’m very pleased by the number of requests I have had for new chapters and I’m sorry for the delay. Please be patient while I try to sort out the problem.
Something that I heard several times from people during my trip was about the importance of the Prey/Predator relationship between humans and horses. It seems when the subject of horse behaviour comes up one of the first things that comes to a lot of minds is the notion that the relationship between humans and horses is dominated by the relationship between a prey animal (horse) and a predator (human).
I can’t recall ever hearing or reading Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Harry Whitney etc talk about the relationship between people and horses in terms of a prey/predator relationship. I don’t think these really good horse people ever thought of it in those terms and never gave it any importance. But since the early days of Parelli Natural Horsemanship the idea that a horse’s concern about humans comes from a natural fear of predator species has gained popularity. I guess it is a testament to Pat’s influence in the popular horse world – whether good or bad. After Pat starting espousing this idea people like Robert Miller got on the bandwagon and added his weight to the topic. Of course, there is no scientific evidence for this. It is just a theory and little more.
I certainly don’t believe that the reason horses and people don’t always get along has anything to do with the idea that the human is a predator type species and the horse is a prey type species. Horses are scared of kangaroos, wombats, sheep, and deer yet these are not predatory species. They are herbivores. They do not hunt. They have eyes set at the side of their heads. They are just like horses, yet many horses are naturally fearful of them.
Likewise, many horses are not afraid of predators. I have never owned a horse that showed fear of my dogs. Even horses that are worried by people can be okay with dogs. Zebra (another prey equine species) can be grazing very relaxed even when lions are roaming around the herd and only become afraid when the lions go into hunting mode. They are not afraid of lions, they are afraid of lions hunting.
The behaviour of a horse towards a human is not shaped by the fact they we eat meat. It’s shaped by the fact that sometimes we present ourselves to horses in a way that makes them feel fearful for their safety. A horse can feel the same way about a sheep even though the sheep does not eat meat and is not a natural predator (hunter). But a sheep can act aggressively towards a horse and make the horse fearful. I had a ram that would attack the horses and they became very wary of it. At feeding time that ram could move any of the horses away from their food with out fuss.
I want to get across the idea that just because we have the physical characteristics of a predatory does not explain why our horses may be wary of us. Mark Rashid use to tell people not to look at a horse in the eye because it would be interpreted as threatening. Monty Roberts would turn away from a horse to encourage him to “join-up” with him because he said to face your horse was to challenge him. This is all nonsense in my opinion.
It’s not what you do; it’s the way you do it. If you want to look at your horse or face up to him to get him to come to you, it’s okay as long as you do it with softness and relaxation. A lion can walk among the zebras as long as he is soft and relaxed. The next time somebody talks to you about prey/predator species not getting along, ask them for the evidence.
I’ve had a stack of emails from people who attended the clinics in the US and England offering their thanks and telling me about their progress. I want to thank all those people for taking the time to write. I really appreciate that you have done that and feel very glad that I was able to offer you something to help you in your horsemanship. But I won’t post them on the blog because I am sure people already think I have an inflated ego. Nevertheless, I want to make sure that you know I really do appreciate that people bother to write let me know how they are going with their horses.
Thank you for your quick answer! It is really nice of you to accept to give me some advices, I will for sure come with questions soon given that someone asked me to start two colts during this summer (hopefully I'll have some time in between exams).
On the four horses I am training now, there is at least three that never heard of the concept: "do not run on me, you are 10 times heavier than me". They are those big heavy horses and I think that the owners just had no clue that you could teach a horse not to be a danger to you... They seem to think that the arabian is scared of everything beacause it is an arabian, that the big mare is pushy because she is big and so on and so forth. I told them that their horses where like that because nobody taught them to be another way, they are just horses being horses and if ten times in a row they run on you and you leave, they learn that this is the way to make you leave them alone.
But I admit that I am sometimes wondering about this concept of personnal space that a lot of people are talking about. I always hear "the horse should know that it should not go into your personal space", some people are even quite agressive with horses that come too close to them (cf. Clinton Anderson). What I like to do is working on that with the horse in a round pen, just because I think it is easier for the horse to not run on you if he has another place to go. This is mainly what I use the round pen for, I put pressure on the horse when it is turning its back at me and not paying any attention to where I am. Most of the time, and specially now that it is really hot outside, I just make them walk or trot quietly and change direction as much as needed for the horse to notice me. When I see that its ear points at me, or that its head is lowering, or it is looking at me I stop and go back. But I tend to let the horse come closer than the textbook join up technique. I like taking some time to chase the flies that are bugging the horse and to scratch them before I am asking anything else from them. Generally I just want them to be able to back up, follow me and disengage their hindquarters when they are free. But what about this personnal space talk then? For me, working with horses that have this kind if bad habbits is a new thing. I am more used to the crazy, bucking, running everywhere, overexited and anxious kind of problem (for some reason most people that were coming to my coach with "problem horses" had this type of horse). I guess I am wondering how not to get too mad, but how to stay strict enough so those horses are not dangerous anymore. I mean, they have never been dangerous to me, none ever jumped on me... but the first time I went there one of the mares litterally ran over someone (no injuries but still...).
Thank you very much, I know it is probably going to be difficult to answer given that it is just a brief description and that the question is not really precise. I just wanted to hear your opinion on that "personnal space" question. I always thought that as long as the horse is able to move his hinquarters, back up, stop when I stop, it has enough awareness of my presence not to step on me but I am looking foreward to read what you think about that. I know there is not one way that works all the time and I wish I could adapt better depending on the type of horse. But that takes experience right, so hopefully I'll get there one day.
PS: sorry, I couldn't stop writing...
I'm finally home and have a few moments to answer your question.
Basically a horse finds it most comfortable when they know what is expected of them. They need the security of understanding their role in any relationship whether with a human or a horse or a goat. Problems with personal space come from a horse not knowing what is expected. Horses need boundaries or rules that they understand and when those rules break down or are not consistent then trouble comes into the relationship. If you want a horse to understand where the boundaries are, you need to be very consistent while he is learning these boundaries. It has to be always the same until he understands. It doesn't matter if you set the boundary at 5m or 100cm, as long as your horse knows where the line is drawn.
But when you have a horse that is confused and learned to be pushy, I'd encourage you to keep him at a distance. If a horse doesn't know how to not push on you, don't let him be close enough that he could push on you. Make a rule in your mind that you won't let him come any closer than a safe distance (maybe 2 or 3m) and every time he crosses the line and comes closer than that act like a crazy woman and do jumping jacks or stomp your feet in a tantrum or something that would make your horse think you are too crazy to be safe to be close to. Let it be his decision not to come closer because life gets too uncomfortable when he gets too close. Being close to you sets off your crazy button and he doesn't want to do that. Later, when he is more polite and understands not to push on you, you can allow him to be as close as you like.
In the end it is up to you to establish the boundaries and make sure you horse knows them and can rely on them to be the same always.
I hope that answers your question.
The enemy saved on a fortune on guns and weapons when they discovered they could devastate the British cavalry with snow making machines!