Ross' Soap Box - February 2011
This will be the last blog for about a week and half. Michele and I are in Echuca this weekend for a clinic and straight after that we are going to NSW for a week.
Treed Saddles vs Treeless Saddles vs Bareback
One question I get a lot is what do I think of treeless saddle? A question that is related to that is what do I think about riding bareback? So I thought today I would briefly talk about my views on this subject. I have much more to say on this subject that I’ll leave for another time, but I’ll give you the bare bones of my opinion now.
I think you can only have a credible opinion of this subject if you have some knowledge of the musculo-skeletal anatomy of the horse. Underlying the skin of a horse’s back are the spinal processes. These are the knobbly bits that you feel when you run your hand along a horse’s back. The processes are vertical protrusion of the spinal column that lies a few centimetres below. Along either side of the spinal processes are sheets of muscles and ligaments – soft tissue if you like.
For a horse to be comfortable carrying a rider, the weight of the rider should be borne by the muscles and should be distributed as evenly as possible over the largest possible area. This minimizes the pressure than any specific muscle must bear. If the weight is carried in a small discreet area, the horse will develop soreness due to too much pressure in one or more areas of the back.
The other factor is that the spine should not be directly carrying the rider’s weight. If it does, over a period of time the horse’s back will become concave (hollow) and pain can develop due to distortion of the shape of the back, as in kissing spine syndrome.
Taking these simple factors into account, it means that weight of the rider should be on the muscle alongside of the horse’s spin processes and should be evenly distributed as much as possible along the length of the muscle that is in contact with the weight of the rider.
When riding bareback, the rider’s weight is distributed through two bones of the pelvis, which act as two pressure points on the horse’s back. So bareback riding fails one of our criteria in that it does not distribute the weight of the rider evenly along the muscle. But furthermore, the rider cannot avoid sitting on the spinal processes as well, since there is no channel or gullet to keep the rider’s pelvis off the centre of the back. So bareback riding fails the second criteria of steering clear of the spinal processes.
In some ways treeless saddles have the same problems as bareback riding. Most saddles don’t have a gullet in the centre to keep the rider’s weight off the spinal processes. And even the saddles that do have padded gullets do not hold their shape and the gullet tends to collapse. This leaves the spine to bear considerable weight, which it should never do. No amount of padding can adequately compensate for the lack of structure in a treeless saddle.
A few serious competitors in endurance racing use treeless saddles, but most use half trees. These give some relief to the horse’s spine.
The tree of a saddle gives a rigid support to carrying the rider’s weight. The integrity of the gullet is always maintained to avoid the spine being impacted by the rider. Furthermore, the weight is more evenly distributed along the length of the panels of the saddle to reduces the risk of pressure points poking into the muscles of the back.
For The Rider
It’s not only the horse that needs to be considered when choosing a type of saddle.
Bareback and treeless saddles offer less support to the rider’s back and pelvis. Many riders slop around when riding bareback or in a treeless saddles and this can lead to back problems for the rider. The rigid shape the seat and the cantle and pommel of a treed saddle all support a rider in maintaining their position. It helps keep the rider’s back straight and reduces the risk of misalignment of the spine, which can cause a prolapsed disc.
Of course, when I refer to a treed saddle I am meaning a well fitting saddle. Saddle fit is always a compromise because a horse’s back is constantly changing shape. The back of a horse is a different shape when it trots, walks, standstill, jumps, in collection, head up or head down etc. There is no such thing as the perfect fitting saddle.
My preference for any rider/horse is a well-fitted treed saddle. However, a treeless saddle is better than a badly fitting treed saddle and bareback is the worst of all.
I know many people reading this probably ride in treeless saddles and feel their horse is happy. In the end we all do what we believe is right for us. But decisions such as choosing a saddle should come from informed views and not emotion. I know people who have treeless saddles because they like the sound of something that conforms to the shape of the horse. But if you look deeper you discover there are problems with treeless saddles. Just make sure you know what they are before making a decision to put one on your horse.
I liked your mention of St Leonard. Nice that animals can have patron saints even if they can't have souls.
The talk on discipline and of what we accept as good enough reminded me of something that was one of my biggest light bulb moments last year when I realised that when my horse goes slowly, he is actually taking over just as much if he was running off, but that because it doesn't feel dangerous I had tended to let it pass more than I should have. Making that connection really helped me to focus on the effectiveness of my cues and getting the exact response I want from them. He'll never be a horse with a particularly forward nature, but it was another step for us into getting him freed up.
After I wrote about St Leonard being the patron saint of horses, I remembered about St Francis of Assisi. He lived from 1182 to 1226 and is the patron saint of all animals, the environment and Italy. So it seems not only can animals have patron saints, but nature and countries too!
Your story reminded me of a horse I worked for a short time for a lady. She complained that her horse was bolting on her quite often. Her instructor didn't believe her because the horses never got faster than a medium paced trot. I rode the horse and sure enough he bolted on me at a trot. Nothing I tried was able to shut him down except to turn him into a fence. He wasn't fast or scary, just weird. I should add that he didn't always bolt at the trot - he could do nice work at the trot too.
Thanks for writing.
Hi Ross - just read your latest blog. I bought Marlis' book and it arrived on Friday. I started reading it last night and I really like the way that she writes. I didn't want to put the book down and am pleased that you have found it a good book and not a waste of money.
I just thought you might like to pass on to others that Amazon does not have the book at the moment (see below) - it is available at www.lulu.com
Thanks for letting me know Michele.
You broke my record; I was supposed to send them to u first:)
Anyway, I feel like crying as I’m writing this (and not a good cry, a bad cry). It’s as if yesterday never happened, I feel like I’m back to square one. I couldn’t get him to lunge again and I know you showed me yesterday but it just didn’t work. When I was trying to get him to do the forehand yields he would do them ok to one side, but then the other side I couldn’t get him to focus his attention in the other direction, I could tell that his thought wasn’t out there.
I tried walking him with me on his bad side and he wouldn’t keep up, I tried making noises and using the rope and pulling and he wouldn’t walk beside me, he was always trying to get me on the side that he wanted me on. I was getting so frustrated with him that I just left him. It didn’t help that it took me half an hour to catch him today.
Any wise words of advice?
I don't know if I have wise words, but I have some thoughts.
I wonder if you are putting too much pressure on yourself to get something done with Indy. Maybe your drive to try to learn the things I have been teaching you is making you afraid of doing something wrong and you then get yourself in a muddle. If you keep this up, you'll eventually stop enjoying your horse and that would be the worst disaster of all.
Why don't you just go out to the paddock and hang out with Indy. Take a cup of tea or a book and sit with him. No pressure on you or him - just hang out. Don't try to catch him or halter him. Just sit nearby and see if he comes to you. If he walks up to you, maybe stroke him a little (only a little) or a scratch on his favourite spot or maybe don't even touch him. The only thing I would say is not to let him cross the boundary of pushing on you or trying to mouth you. Then walk away for a little distance, sit and read your book. See if he comes to you again after awhile.
There is no need to keep putting pressure on you and him every time you spend time with each other. Just enjoy each others company for awhile. Next time you might halter him and just go for a short walk. When he is going with you a bit better, let him go and walk away and read your book. See what he does. Experiment a bit and see how much the two of you can connect.
Try this for a few days and let me know how you get along.
Try not to get upset because of a bad session or two. There will always be bad sessions in between the good ones. At first it will seem that there are more bad ones than good ones. But as you progress, the bad sessions are fewer and not quite so bad and the good ones are more regular and even better than before. You can't let the bad session stop you from going out to spend time with Indy as much as you can. Good or bad, you need to put in the time - commit to the effort even when you don't feel like doing it. Things can only improve by being committed to working with Indy, learning from the mistakes and rejoicing in the improvements. You can't whine about how bad he was and not make the effort to find out why and what to try next time.
The only thing that will stop you from getting along better with Indy is your determination to learn how to make it work. If you have that, things will change in time.
Confidence and Jumping
I've been readng your blog. Great stuff. The reminder to not accept "ok" is a good one. Guilty as charged, although at least I am aware of it, and am working to rid myself of that irriating habit.
Ok, here s a different issue.
I have a new horse. He is the Dali Lama of horses. He is only five but was used as a lesson horse, and frankly I bought him to teach me to event. He is as sweet as a horse can be, but he is a horse! All things being equal he'd just as soon stand as work. (Often I feel that way too, if I am honest).
I have a couple of fear issues with jumping. Some of them are valid fears, some are simply due to a yellow streak on my belly. So my question. Is there a good way to lie to your horse?
This good little horse is teaching me a lot about energy. He will cheerfully go forward if I WANT to go forward. He will also plug around cheerfully if my energy is low. He is a talented jumper, but he takes his cue from me.
If I am coming up to the jump,... not really wanting to jump because of the stinking gremlins in my brain, he says ok, I'll just stop and walk over it. Very thoughtful of him but...
Have you run into this before? I think the only way to kill my gremlins is to just jump until they die. This good little horse is taking care of me. But I don't know the horse words for "Sometimes I am a dope, just ignore that".
Have your run across this issue? Do you know of a good product to remove yellow paint from one's abdomen?
I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.
Helping a rider who lacks confidence is every teacher's "white whale." Riding is challenging enough, but jumping tests every rider's boldness. I just told another e-mailer who also finds her horse sometimes stops in front of jumps, that success at jumping requires confidence from both horse and rider. If the rider is not exuding confidence, the horse will begin to stop at jumps at some point.
A funny story from my teenage years had me teaching jumping to a girl I was seeing at the time. She came from a lot of money and daddy bought her an expensive A grade jumper from New Zealand. But my friend was happy to just hop over cross rails and small straight fences. The lesson began well enough with trot poles and then small cross rails. But towards the end of the lesson I had her point the horse at a triple bar. It was hardly a challenge for a horse with his scope, but my GF was nervous. She approached the jump, but while telling him to go she was also subconsciously telling him to not go. Four times she approached the jump and 4 times she subconsciously stopped him. On the last try I picked up a clod of dirt and just as he was about to stop the clod of dirt hit him on the rump. My GF screamed "oh shit, he's going to jump!" Of course he did jump and she got left behind and landed with a thud on his back. Everything was fine, except she dumped me before she even had the saddle off. My ex-GF never jumped again.
So I guess I am the last person to be giving advice on teaching somebody to jump with confidence. I think it comes down to whether your need to jump well is great than your fear to jump. if your worry about jumping outweighs your love of jumping, there is no need for you to jump your horse. You don't have to scare yourself to enjoy your horse. There are lots of other fun things a person can do without having to change their underwear after each ride. You need to realize that a horse with concerns about jumping can not be made brave by a nervous rider.
Something that has revealed itself to me as I have done more lessons and clinics over the years is how riders approach riding. It seems that many people don’t have very high expectations of either themselves or their horses.
When I was a teenager I held a working position for about a year with a very famous European showjumping trainer. He was a horrible man and ran his training establishment like a concentration camp. It was not beyond him to humiliate students in front of their peers, competitors or parents. I remember one occasion when I was about 16 I was riding a WB mare that was imported from Holland by one of his clients. The mare was fairly green and I was having trouble keeping her straight in front of the jump. You could always tell when the boss was upset because he would slap his riding crop against his long boot when he spoke to you. Eventually he couldn’t take my incompetence anymore and yelled at me at the top of his voice and in front of about 20 people “what makes you think you have the right to call yourself a rider?” For a teenager that was a horrible experience.
But one of the important lessons I learned from him was the importance of being disciplined in my riding. When I ask something of a horse, it’s not “good enough” until it is “good enough”. That does not mean the result has to be perfect. But the outcome should be close to what the horse is capable of giving at that particular time. On a horse learning something new, good enough might be quite a small improvement. But on a horse where something is more established, good enough has to be better than it would be on a green horse.
I taught a few lessons on the weekend and a good friend of ours was riding her nice mare. When she rode the mare around the arena, she often cut the corners. It seemed to me that the mare wanted to cut the corners and the rider was saying to herself “that’s good enough.” When I instructed her to ride the mare deep into the corners, it wasn’t so easy.
In a different lesson the rider was asking for a walk or a trot and accepting the rhythm of the walk or trot that the horse gave her. The horse is not a particularly forward horse, so just any trot seemed a win to her. But I tried to urge her to not allow the horse to determine the rhythm. It’s not “good enough” to just accept any old walk or trot the horse offers. She found it a lot harder to get a change in the rhythm of the walk or trot because the horse was not use to the rider demanding anything more than it gave. This explains why the horse can become pissy when she does ask for more effort from her horse.
It’s the same with everything we do with a horse. A rider should be quite disciplined with everything that is asked. It is important to know what to expect from your horse and work at getting as close to that as possible. If you don’t become disciplined in your riding, your horse will learn that you’ll accept any half hearted attempt as “good enough.” In the end when you do need more from your horse, it won’t be there because your horse will have lost it’s “try”.
I don’t think enough people realize that letting themselves off lightly is also having a negative effect on their relationship with their horse. It’s hard to be disciplined – especially if you are riding just for pleasure or you are learning something new. But success cannot come from taking short cuts or making half-hearted efforts. It takes work and most times that means working on you.
I have just finished reading a Book called The Team Concept by Marlis E Amato. Kate Dunn who edited the book and has also contributed letters to this page sent it to me.
It is an extremely interesting book. Marlis approaches her explanations of horse training from the perspective of how horses behave in a herd. The book is loaded with examples of horse-horse interactions that occur in a herd and how an understanding of this can be used to develop training approaches. She goes into detail about body language that is natural to the horse and that humans can exploit to aid in communication. There are lots of photos and explanations that make it easy to understand the concepts.
I have read other books and articles that have also tried to discuss training in terms of herd interactions, but have usually felt disappointed by the naivety of the authors understanding of a horse’s needs. But I found myself agreeing with most of what Marlis has to say and in no way does she pander to the unicorn theory of horse training that I think many other authors of similar books prescribe [unicorn theory is my term for a training theory that believes horses only need gentleness and love to be fabulously well trained].
I find I agree with about 90% of the book and have a different take on about 10%. One example of seeing things differently comes early in the book where Marlis describes a situation where she is crouching in the grass and her horses become on high alert. She explains the alertness on her taking a predatory posture, which causes alarm in the horses even though they know her well. But I wonder if the sense of danger that the horse’s experience is not just because Marlis is doing something unfamiliar to them. I think horses memorize in pictures. They see everything as a photograph. Some things are highlighted as having particular importance in the picture and other things have less importance. For example, my horses know me and are comfortable with me even if I wear a different shirt. But they may not be so comfortable with me if I walk backwards to them because it presents a different picture to how I normally appear around them – the picture has changed. So I wonder if Marlis’ horses are not so much threatened by the predatory posture of crouching in the grass, but just because Marlis looks different when she is not standing tall. It might be a subtle difference and in the overall scheme of things not very important, but it is interesting.
Anyway, that’s just one example and for the most part I think it is an excellent book and worth having in any horse person’s collection.
Marlis has a web site, which you can find here. She also has several YouTube clips that you can watch. Her book is available from her web site or from Amazon.
A student was telling me they attended St. Leonard’s school. I asked who Saint Leonard was, but she was unable to tell me. So when I got home I checked him out on Wikipedia. He lived in the middle ages and died 559. He was a French nobleman who converted to Christianity in 496.
He was venerated for saving prisoners whom he felt were worthy of saving. This led to him being venerated as the patron saint of prisoners and prisoners of war. But for some unknown reason he has also become the patron saint of horses! It is not stated how he become the patron saint of horses, but there it is. I didn’t know animals had patron saints.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that Michele and I are moving to northern NSW – Delungra to be more exact. We take possession of our new property on April 1. As a result I have finished all my training commitments this week to free up more time to prepare for our relocation. I am still doing lessons for folks, but I am not taking on any more training horses.
The timing of things has forced us to move the Seville clinic to March 26. If you are interested in that clinic, please contact Des Miller – whose contact details on the Schedule page. Also there has been a change of venue for the SA clinic and you can check the Schedule page for details of that too.
There Are No Problems At The Higher Levels
This is a paraphrase of something that Franz Mairinger wrote in his book “Horses Are Made To Be Horses”.
It’s not for me to interpret what Franz meant by that comment, but my own view of it is that all the problems that people encounter with horses as they progress through the ranks stem from problems in the work that came before.
Michele and I were talking about a lesson she gave recently. The subject come up regarding how difficult people make training horses to advanced levels. Just to take dressage as an example. The movements of dressage are all based on a refinement of what the horse learns when being broken in. But books, dvd and coaches shroud the higher levels in such mystery and there is so much awe surrounding those that know the secrets, that achieving advancement seems almost out of reach of most mortals. For your average rider, movements like piaffe and passage appear unattainable.
But I believe that the secret to training at higher levels is no more than refining the basics of the meaning of the reins, legs and seat. The same meaning of the reins, legs and seat that we try to teach a horse when it first begins it’s career as a riding horse is the same meaning we continue to work on when we are performing at the Olympics. The only difference is in the refinement we have given the aids as our horse has progressed.
For example, when I start a horse under saddle I use my seat and legs to evoke energy in my horse – get some life in his body. I teach him that my reins and seat tell him where to direct that life – left, right, forward or back. This all begins with the first ride. It’s that simple. When I want to teach smoother transitions through the gaits, I want the same response to my legs, seat and reins as I did on the first ride, but only better. When I then begin to teach shoulder in, again I want the same response to the aids as the first ride, but even better than when I was teaching smoother transitions. When it comes time to train one time flying changes or canter pirouette or Spanish walk or levade, again my legs, seat and reins mean exactly the same thing, but again even better than what I had trained them to mean before.
The same thing would be true for any discipline. If I was a reiner, teaching a horse to spin is just a refinement of teaching a turn. Teaching the slide is a refinement of the stop command. If I was a show jumper trainer, the only thing I need to train is the meaning of the reins, legs and seat. If I was a trick trainer, teaching a horse to perform circles around me at liberty or to rear on command or pick up objects is just a refinement of the groundwork you have already taught your horse when he was halter broken. Float loading, tying up, catching, standing quietly for the farrier are all just refinements of halter training.
Training may not be easy, but it is simple. When I want to teach my horse to half pass, I might start with teaching him to shoulder in because the shoulder in is an exercise that will teach the refinement to the reins, legs and seat that I will need when it comes to the half pass. But before I teach shoulder in, I will teach leg yield (I know some people don’t, but I do), because it adds the refinement to the aids I need to teach shoulder in. But before the leg yield, I will make sure my horses are pretty good at forehand yields and hindquarter yields because of what they have to teach my horse about reins, legs and seat. I’m sure you get my drift here.
So when you hit a brick wall in your training program, instead of trying to blast your way through the resistance with more force, consider the option of going back a step or two and see if the meaning of your leg, seat and rein aids are solid enough for what you are asking of your horse. You should not move onto the next level of difficulty until you are sure you have the focus, responsiveness and softness to the aids that you are going to need for the next stage of training.
Here are a couple of simple videos that are worth watching if you don’t know how to record a horse’s temperature, heart rate and respiration rate or how to inject a drug into the muscle.
Temperature, Pulse and Respiration
I have only recently discovered your web site and think it’s fantastic. You have so much information in your pages and I am slowly working my way through it.
Last night I read the newsletter about Harry Whitney. I have not heard of him before, but he sounds a fantastic horseman. I really enjoyed your story about training fish. You must have a wild imagination. It was very funny, but also insightful. It has made me want to buy your book, so can you please let me know how to get a copy and the cost?
I hope one day you will come to Canberra for some clinics. I’ll keep a keen eye on your schedule just in case.
Thanks for your very kind words. I am glad you are enjoying the web site, but I don’t envy you trying to read every page. I’m sure I would never had begun it if I knew just how big it was going to get and how much time it was going to commit me to being at the keyboard.
The book, Old Men and Horses is best purchased through Amazon at the moment. I usually have a few copies on hand to sell, but I ran out about 2 months ago and I am still waiting for the publishers to send me more.
Dear Mr Jacobs
I read your story in the latest issue of Between The Reins. Whilst I appreciate your story telling abilities and the fact that you made several good points about training, I feel your style was quite disrespectful towards Harry Whitney.
I have attended clinics by Harry and have come to know him as an excellent horseman and a good person who dedicates many long hours to helping people with their horse problems. I feel your story tries to put him in a negative light, which is both undeserving and disrespectful. Perhaps you did not mean to do that, but nevertheless that is how it appears.
(name withheld by request)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am sorry that you feel I have done wrong by Harry in the story. It was certainly not my intention. Harry knows that I have great respect for him and consider him one of my best friends. The story was my clumsy attempt to show how even great trainers like Harry are limited by what they can do when they have to help idiots who want to teach fish to walk on land.
Again, thanks for taking the time to write. Now that I have had a negative review to my story, I’m sure Linda will never again ask me to contribute another piece to the newsletter – so thank you for getting me out of that chore!
I’d like to discuss the study outlined in the video below. It’s a study commissioned by the RSPCA to examine the impact of whipping a racehorse horse has on the outcome of a race.
If you are interested in the details the full study was published here.
Let me say from the outset that I feel whipping a horse is a cruelty that should not be tolerated in any discipline – even racing. Personally, I feel that horse racing is an abusive sport and if I had my way it would be banned. Michele and I do not prepare horses for the racetrack because we choose not to be part of any sport that inflicts so much abuse on a horse.
However, from viewing the video and reading the original article I feel this study does more harm than good for the cause. The methodology used in the study does not allow the investigators to make the conclusions they do. In brief, they compared the race times of 600m-800, 800m-1000m and 1000m-1200m. The examined the use of the whip on horses at those sections on whether the times improved or not. They found that times decreased at the later stages of the race whether or not the jockey used the whip. Their conclusion was that the horses were exhausted by the end of the race and that use of the whip had no beneficial effect on the outcome of the race.
Here are just a few of the problems I have with this study.
Their study did not compare the effect of the whip or no whip on the same horse. So it was not possible to say whether the use of the whip effected the times of any horses.
They did no testing of the horses post race to determine the physical fitness of the horses and whether or not fatigue did play a role in the result.
They did not examine any pattern to compare the results of a particular jockeys and how they used the whip. The results of the study may be skewed by the skill or lack of skill by some jockeys.
I feel the researchers draw a very long bow in their conclusion that using the whip has no effect on race outcome. It seems to me that for the conclusions to be definitive a much more rigorous methodology is required. Perhaps a large number of horses could be raced several times, in similar conditions and with the same jockeys; but in random order the races would be run with and without the use of whips. Both results and times could then be compared where the only variables were the days between races and whether or not a whip was used during a race.
If that were done, it would be possible to make a confident conclusion. A scientific experiment should be designed to test a theory, not to confirm one. It can sometimes be easy to forget that principle.
This study makes it too easy for racing bodies to defend the use of the whip. Unfortunately, the flaws in this study a large enough for authorities to not take the results seriously. The idea of testing the use of the whip has a lot of merit, but the execution was poor. In my opinion, the study adds very little weight to the argument for banning whipping.
Dear Mr. Jacobs,
I discovered your site while signing up for a Harry Whitney clinic a few weeks ago.
I read with great interest, your "myths" of horsemanship, and was particularly struck by your myths on collection.
I am a rider with more enthusiasm than talent, and short on education.
I read your blog this morning, and your comment on how many clients would you lose if you expected them to read and discuss chapters from classic books that riders should know and understand.
Well, you would GAIN me.
My instructors have zero interest in discussing anything outside the lesson. Not bad or good, just the way it is.
Would you consider some type of chat room or forum where you could assign chapters to read, and then have us discuss them? I am in Shelbyville KY, but I would cheerfully do late or early morning sessions to accomodate your time zone.
Think about it. Of course I'd pay for the service, and I bet I'd have a good bit of company.
I can't find anyone patient enough or with enough interest to really teach, and not just preach.
Yikes! You want me to practice what I preach! Are you mad?
It has been suggested to me before that I make available a forum for discussion of things I put on the web site or other horsey stuff people want to bring up. But in all honesty I do not have the time to commit to hosting or moderating such a venture. I'm sorry, but my days are more full than I ever wanted them to be and I can't see how I can fit more into the days. If I had even realized how much time the web site and the story writing would take up, I doubt I would ever have started them. It's busy enough just running a training and clinic business without adding the extras into my day.
However, there are already many forums where discussion of dressage and training in general are the business of the day. Ultimate Dressage comes immediately to mind for some robust debating. And for a more scholarly approach to understanding classical training and structure/function issues of the horse to do with training and performance you can check out the forum on Deb Bennett's site. There are plenty of others if you search around the net.
I'm very glad you have discovered Harry. If you are searching for information you can do no better than to pick his brains. Harry enjoys working with people who have a hunger to learn and he has endless patience with people who ask questions. So make a nuisance of yourself with him. In the meantime, I am happy to try to answer your questions or explain things that you are wanting discussed. If there are things that are nagging at the back of your mind, please don't hesitate to ask. I am always looking for subjects to discuss on the web site - and if I don't have an answer, somebody else might.
I think I just need someone to talk to. I thought of you. My husband was thrown from our horse tonight and landed himself in ICU with several broken ribs and fluid in a lung and a wonder in his eye, “dam horse.” We recently had the good fortune of participating in a clinic with Harry Whitney in California. Embedded in my mind, I hear him saying, “the best thing you can do for your horse is to help him let go of a thought.” Well, we are working on this and seems do not always recognize when he is “with” us or not. Furthermore, we do not always recognize if he is just going thought he motions or “willingly” listening. Tonight in the ground work as I watched the two of them, I saw a lot of protest when a thought was interrupted. The horse would at times throw his head, hop into a canter, or pull on the lead preceding a rear. I watched my husband interrupt the horses thoughts without seeing a comfort in the horse regarding that suggestion. In his circle he breathed a few letting go breaths and would pick up transitions not too bad, but I couldn’t see “with-you-ness” clearly. I suggested that I might take him through a bit more ground work as to gain some better transitions, but that “he was probably ok to get on.” Apparently not. He wasn’t riding more than 5 minutes before the horse heard another horse gallop up the hill, plant his own feet, throw his head at the suggestion of looking elsewhere, reared, bucked and off came my poor unsuspecting husband.
By now, our horse has had his beet pulp and salt, his hay and tucked away in his little stall for the night as I continue to dwell on what we are missing in reading him correctly. The signs are presenting, although subtle at times I’m sure. How can I tell if the horse is with me, willingly? What am I looking for that he feels good about us getting on and working through what arises? It’s an awesome feeling to love and care for a horse, to be in their presence and bask in their beauty and power. It’s a very humble feeling to recognize sometimes we don’t know what the hell we are doing here and what just happened. Are they that unpredictable? Thanks for your time in reading this. I am grateful and a little sad tonight.
I am very sorry that your husband has been hurt so badly. It must be very traumatic for both of you.
I think horses are very predictable and very consistent. You can always rely on a horse to be a horse and to react how horses react. But they can appear unpredictable if we miss the signs.
From your letter I get the sense that you and your husband knew that your horse was not quite right before he was ridden. The head tossing, the leaping into a canter and the rear were all pretty sure signs that things were not right and the horse was not ready to be ridden. Even though the horse showed signs of improvement, the fact that he would "probably be ok" really isn't good enough. I'm not trying to make you feel worse than you probably already do, but I never get on a horse hoping things are going to work out. When I throw a leg over a horse I am absolutely sure that it will be fine. Even if I think the horse will be troubled, I am sure of my ability to work through the trouble - I am not hoping I can work through the trouble - I am certain I can. If I am not certain the horse and I will get along okay, I keep working on the ground until I become certain - even if that takes another week of working on the ground. Groundwork is primarily for getting a horse prepared to ride. If it's not doing that, there is no point to it. I have been riding horses a long time and ridden a lot of horses. I have never been hurt because the chicken in me makes certain I am sure of what I am sitting on.
Having said all that, some of the things that I look for in a horse on the ground before riding are:
How focussed is he on me? Is he looking around at his buddies or things moving behind him? Is he calling out? If I move a little does he follow me with his thought. If he is distracted by something, do I have to explode to draw his attention back to me or can just shift my weight from one foot to the other get him to check in again?
How does he feel when I ask for a hindquarter yield or a forehand yield. Is he heavy in my hand? Are his bend soft with no leaning against the lead rope? When he moves his feet are they light and relaxed or does he rush them across with tension and worry?
Does he look where I direct with my lead rope?
Does he back up with softness and from just a small amount of pressure? Does he throw his head up or step sideways or back straight and even?
Is the amount of energy he puts out doing a job consistent with the amount of pressure I use to request a job?
When I lunge him or work at liberty in the round yard, are his transitions from walk to trot to canter to trot to walk smooth or are they rushed and he flings his head in the air and hollows his back? Does he stayed connected to me when being lunged or at liberty or do I have to keep interrupting him? Are his change of directions smooth or does he run into the changes and rushes out the other way?
Does he seem worried about girthing the saddle. Does he move when you try to saddle him? Do the stirrups swinging and bumping him bother him? Does he go to walk off when you put a foot in the stirrup to mount?
These are some things you might think about before getting on any horse.
Also if you look at the section on the Horse Talk page of my web site, you will find a page called "Safety Checks Before Riding". Click on that title and a page will open giving you some tips of things you can do before mounting to determine if your horse is in an okay spot or and that may minimize your risks once you are in the saddle. It's not foolproof, but it can help and it is something I always do on the first few rides of our breakers. I find I don't need it often, but I use it a lot. About twice a year it alerts me to not getting on a horse just yet.
I hope this helps. I also hope your husband is home soon and recovering quickly. There are some good people in northern California who can help if you are looking for a trainer. Ask Shea Stewart who she would recommend. I know Shea has moved to Texas, but she travels regularly to CA for clinics and will also be happy to recommend a trainer local to you.
Best of luck
Thank you Ross for your kind and thoughtful reply. I do work with Shea when she is in town. She has been a great gift for us. Your reply and suggestions grounded my worry into reflection and gratitude. I will reread the Horsetalk section, as I seem more perceptive to your suggestions the more I practice with the horse. I clearly recall the signs he was presenting to us and appreciate the problem of not listening. “Probably” is not good enough and thank you for pointing that out to me. Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions regarding some things to look for on the ground before riding, I am so grateful!
Sheri, I wish you lots of luck and hope things improve quickly. You are right that Shea is terrific and if it is possible I would urge you to seek help from her or someone she can recommend. If I can help at some point, please let me know. I hope your husband recovers quickly.
A Grumpy Old Trainer
I have been discussing some aspects of dressage on a horse forum. There has been some banter back and forth about biomechanics and training techniques. It’s great to see these things discussed on public forums.
But the disappointing thing is how little knowledge people have about how a horse operates and about the history of their sport.
One of the participants on the discussion has been competing on a Grand Prix horse, yet made a statement something like “I don’t care what the head and neck are doing as long as my horse is using his hindquarters correctly.” I find it astounding that this person can be competing at a high level, yet not understand that what happens at the back end of a horse is connected to what is happening at the front end! How does somebody be riding a GP horse and not know this?
Another person suggested that the demands of modern dressage are so great that horses from bygone days would not be able to perform a GP test today. I pointed out that before the rules of competition dressage were laid out, horses were trained to perform movements like levade, canter to the rear and terra terra, which make modern competition movements look like little athletics.
It seems that many people are not taught about their sport and the athletes that they saddle each day. They take instruction on how to ride or train without any appreciation of the basis for the methods or why they work. I find this sadly disappointing, but I guess it is not unexpected.
At first I thought I was just getting old and intolerant of the younger generation of riders and trainers – a grumpy old trainer so to speak. Every generation thinks the younger generation are lazy and inferior. Young people think they invented drugs, sex and hip-hop, and have never heard of the opium wars, Caligula or Mississippi blues. Talk back radio is constantly reminding us how hard it is to be young today because they have more pressures than any previous generation. But they need reminding that my father’s generation left school at 12 years of age and grew up in the great depression when families lived in 2 rooms and kids went to bed hungry each night.
I remember that I was always interested in how horses think and operate. It has always been a passion of mine to understand the relationship between human and horse and how training affects that relationship. So I am at a loss to understand why somebody who has the passion to put that much work into becoming a GP rider, that they don’t know the fundamentals of how a horse’s body works in order to establish collection or why self carriage is important or what does contact really refer to or why having a horse’s face behind the vertical is incorrect training or what is the purpose of a curb rein. Why have they never read the works of Cavendish, Baucher or Fillis and think that Isabelle Wurth invented rolkur?
To make matters worse, these same folk who have never read a book older than the first Harry Potter novel, log onto forums and sprout forth their version of what it is to ride correctly – a standard that is set by how many ribbons a person has won.
People are smarter than that. There is no reason why horse people much younger than me could not know more than me and achieve much more than me with any horse. Maybe it’s the fault of those of us who teach. Perhaps we don’t pass on enough information without being asked. We offer our training and riding tips, but don’t explain where they came from and why they exist. Or perhaps we should give students homework and study guides – “By next week’s lesson I want you to have read chapters 5 and 6 of Podhjasky’s book for a discussion at the end of the lesson where we will compare his ideas with the thoughts of Wynmalen in his book.”
I wonder how many clients I’d lose?
This is Bent Branderup riding a Knapstrup stallion demonstrating the terre a terre
Thanks for your thoughts again. I agree with your comments about how easy it is to follow one guru then change over. It is definitely a lack of confidence and experience. However, by interacting with my horse, seeing how he felt about what I asked him, how I gave him directions, his posture/expression, how he did things, how he handled stress and how he responded to me in those circumstances, I started to identify communication problems, that I was inconsistent and often confusing him which fed his anxiety. He didn't trust me either. Unfortunately you sometimes have to make mistakes in order to realise what you didn't know or then search for the answers. I made quite a few mistakes. My search on the net then had some direction and in order to fill in the gaps and educate myself. I decided that I really needed to understand and interpret horse body language in a way I never had before and watch my own energy levels and movements around my horse. All my work is done at home alone. Still a way to go but there is already a huge difference to my relationship with my horse. I do not want some endless pursuit of the next training guru who happens to be in fashion but to build up my own skills and training style. My horse is the judge of how successful I am. He is very different to any I've had before. More sensitive, reactive, challenging but a very engaging personality. He demanded more skill than I originally offered him. There were probably 150 reasons why he was initially unsuitable for me and me for him, but over time and with patience we are forming a solid partnership. It's not going to be clinics or trainers that solve our problems, they are just part of the solution and the rest is up to me.
I agree with everything you have said. It's very exciting for you to be discovering new ways to get along better with your horse. I was recently sent a book by Marlis Amato called "The Team Concept: Creating a Partnership With Your Horse." I have not yet finished reading it and when I do I will review it on the web site. I think you will find ideas in there that relate to you search for understanding movement and energy when communicating with a horse. Marlis takes her observations of herd behaviour and extrapolates them into how people can be more effective in their communication with horses. I think her book is self-published, so you can probably only get it from her web site http://www.mea-way.com/ or Amazon.com. But I think you would find it a worthwhile read.
Saturday was a day to remember. We had 160mm of rain on Friday night (that’s about 6.5 inches). Water came up to the house, but didn’t get inside. We had to move horses onto higher ground because the water channel behind broke its banks. The main road out was cut off for most of the day. On Saturday evening we got a phone call requesting help to move some horses from a property in Bayles. We hooked up the trailer and off we went, but found that the Bunyip River was flooded and blocking our way at every point. Even the police sent us through flooded water, which came close to having us stuck with a 6m trailer attached. But the Patrol managed to keep chugging through the water despite the load. In the end we weren’t able to get to Bayles, which was under evacuation orders. However, it all ended well and the people and horses were safe.
Tom Curtin is an American horseman, trainer and clinician along the same philosophy of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. Marie Walters is sponsoring a clinic tour for Tom in April. He has 2 clinics in Victoria and 1 clinic in S.A.
I don’t know a great deal about him and have only seen him ride once many years ago in Texas. You can find out more about Tom from his web site www.tomcurtin.net and there are a few clips of his clinics on YouTube.
If you want to find out more about Tom’s Aussie clinics, contact Marie Walters: email@example.com
Michele and I would normally make sure we attended, but unfortunately the timing clashes with other engagements for us.
A few days ago a regular visitor to this site approached me regarding an app for the iPhone. She said that she has written a few horse related apps and asked if I would like her to write a Good Horsemanship app for me.
I don’t own an iPhone, iPad or Android, so I had to do a little investigating to find out about apps. In theory I think it is a good idea. But I can’t think of anything that I could offer on an app that is not already available on this site. Why would somebody buy an app when they can access the same or similar information and stories on this site for free?
So my dilemma is that I like to idea of an app, but what would the app be? If you have ideas of what sort of app I could offer, I’d appreciate your suggestions. Thanks
I have often herd it said that there is nothing better for a horse than a wet saddle blanket. The inference behind this statement is that a horse improves rapidly with hard work that makes them sweat.
I believe there is an element of truth to the concept. I think if you want a horse to become a better riding horse, you do have to ride it. The more good riding it gets the better the horse becomes. But I emphasize the word G-O-O-D.
While there is nothing better for a horse than a lot of good riding, conversely there is nothing worse for a horse than a lot of bad riding.
A lot of old bushman and stockman use to prescribe to the wet blanket theory of educating a horse. They figured that riding a horse hard all day made him a better horse. But much the improvement that they saw was the result of the horse submitting to the drill of being told what, where and when by the rider. It didn’t necessarily make them any happier in their work or do much towards having a better relationship with their rider. But the horses often learned their job and learned it was their lot in life and who cares what they felt. After all, what most stockman wanted from his horse was to be okay at doing the job and not get upset when he cracked a whip or trotted down a ravine or pushed into a mob of steers. For this, the wet blanket theory worked well for a lot of horses because it relies on obedience and submission.
But this is not necessarily true for many horses that are required for pleasure or competition. Lots of repetitive hard riding tends to cause horses to shut down and become robotic, which is the opposite of what you might want in a competition horse. In this case, the wet blanket school of horsemanship could result in a horse becoming dull and listless and not offer the extra effort required in a competition.
I should add that I think many problems people have with their horses could be addressed by working their horses much more. Most of us don’t work our horses nearly as hard or as much as they are capable of doing and gaining benefit from. I include my own horses in that regard – they probably get less work than most of yours.
But I think that not much is being achieved if your goal is to have a wet saddle blanket. The goal should be work a horse to achieve a change in his feelings in regard to some aspect of training that bothers him. If that means he develops a sweat, that’s okay. But if you ride a horse for the purpose of having him sweat you achieve nothing except maybe some improvement in fitness.
There is a balance between working a horse hard enough and too hard. You know the difference if you are aware of what you are trying to achieve in a session and when your horse has made a change. Don’t lose perspective of the goal by thinking that a horse needs to work hard in order to achieve anything useful.
Good Morning Ross,
When you are teaching a horse to yield his hindquarters with just a feel from the lead rope (not driving) how much flexion or bend do you like to strive for? Also what is your body position in relation to horse, are you facing forward in the same direction as the horse or do you face the horse behind the shoulders?
When teaching the forequarters to yield do you start by standing directly in front of the horse or are you off to the side a bit?
How do you go about teaching the back-up?
When you are ready to go from the hindquarter yield to the forequarter yield and back could you describe your movements and change of hands on the lead rope.
When you first start lunging and then want to change direction do you allow the horse to come a stop and then yield the forequarters in the new direction or do you expect him to do this without stopping?
With teaching the hq yield, the degree of bend is determined by so many factors. On a horse that knows what he is doing, the bend usually varies 45 - 90 deg from straight ahead. I am always striving for less, but I will do more if necessary. A stronger bend usually happens if the horse is filtering the signal from his brain to his feet and the message is not getting through to the feet clear enough. It really is a brain signal problem, but the increase in bend will encourage the horse to not block out the signal. On green horses, sometimes the bend is much tighter. But here I am initially just looking for the horse to commit to looking in the direction of the bend. I'll release for the look to begin with. But as that becomes established I will wait longer until the message travels all the way to his feet. This may mean just waiting longer or tightening up the bend or clucking with my tongue - it depends on how much he is trying to search for a way out of the problem.
When I have a horse that has no experience with hq yields or is extremely braced on the reins (such as ex-racehorses), I'll often stand by their ribs, my body faces forwards (in the same direction as the horse) and ask for flexion. I move with the horse as he moves no matter where he moves and I keep a constant feel on the lead rope until he gives some sort of try. I try to keep my position constant too. It is often helpful to have your free hand (the one closest to the horse) holding some mane or a saddle string or stirrup leather, in order to assist you in maintaining your body position as the horse moves around.
With a horse that understands hq yields, it doesn't matter where I stand. I can ask from any position, as long as the way I use the lead rope is absolutely clear and consistent to the horse.
When starting the forehand yields I often begin by standing directly in front of the horse, facing him. But again, as the horse learns what they mean I can stand anywhere and ask for a forehand yield. I can stand at his shoulder or his tail and still get him to step back and bring his forehand across me to the opposite side. If you can't do this, there is more work to do.
I assume from the context of your other questions that you want to know how I teach a horse to back from the ground. There are a million different ways. I often start by standing in front of the horse, facing him. I might have 1.5-2m of lead rope free in my hand. I then send a very small amount of energy down the rope and see what he does.
Let me explain how I send the energy. Many people wiggle the rope like it was something they were trying to shake loose. I detest the rope wiggle because it's energy is completely non-directional. Instead I lift my hand upwards and then rapidly downwards - like a flick. It is my experience that when done correctly, this is a much clearer signal to a horse than the wiggling. At first, the flick is very small - like jiggling a tea bag in a cup.
The test to determine if you need to use a harder flick is to see if the smaller flick registered with the horse that something was happening. It he was oblivious to the flick, do it again and increase it by 20%. If there is still no sign that the horse even noticed the flick, do it again and increase the energy another 20%. Keep doing this until you notice the horse become aware of the flick. This is threshold of discomfort. When you reach this point, don't increase the pressure even if the horse is not moving or going the wrong way. Just keep repeating until you notice a small attempt to shift backwards (even if it was part sideways). Stop the rope immediately and give him a short break before starting again. This is how I get the backup started using the rope flick. It's very helpful when leading a horse.
The other way I use to is to teach a horse to back from a feel of my hand on the leap rope under his chin. It is similar to using the longer length of rope in that I ask politely with just enough feel for the horse to notice it. I keep that pressure on the rope up until he tries to move roughly in the direction of a backup. It is the same principle as the rope flick.
I have also taught horses to back up from a pull on their tail or mane, a squeeze on their nose, a feel of a rope on their front or back leg and lots of other ways.
When moving from a hq yield to a forehand yield, I change my hand position just as my feet have started to go the opposite direction. If you look at photo E on the lunging article, you can see Ngaire is walking towards the horse's hq to ask for a hq yield, but she has already swapped her hands over. To start with Ngaire was lunging Tempest to the right and the lead rope was in her right hand. But as she went to change direction, she reach down the rope with her left hand and used her left hand to direct Tempest's nose across Ngaire's chest and begin the forehand yield to start the circle to the left.
In regard to stopping a horse during the change of direction or not, I'll do both. It depends. When I'm teaching people how to do this, I normally get them to stop at each stage because they need to think about what they are doing. The most common problem is that people often walk in the wrong direction during a change of direction. By stopping them and the horse at several points during the transition, they can gather themselves and re-group to think through the next step. I also often break it down into stages for horses that have done it a million times and are now on auto-pilot. If I interrupt the habit of just doing the exercise I can ask them to side pass, back up, come forward, trot, go a different direction - anything that will help engage the horse's mind rather than doing the exercise the same way he has done it for the last 6 months. But if I am just checking in to see how responsive and soft my horse is listening the lead rope, I will often just do a few continuous change of directions without interrupting the dance. I hope I have cleared up some things for you. If not, please ask for more.
Thankyou so much for your lunging article. Makes far more sense to me than what I have tried. I haven't much to report since we last spoke as my horse did a nasty cut to his leg in the paddock and is off work for a while until it heals. Always the way.
While I am here, I wanted to comment on your recent article 'Trainers are big Fat Liars'. As someone who had a problem with her horse (or rather I was a problem for my horse!), I did a lot of research on the net over a long period to try to understand more and address my own shortcomings in horsemanship. It was a big shock to realise how ignorant I really was after having spent so many years of my life with horses. I read a lot of articles and comments by many different horse trainers. This led to some confusion with different styles of training and equipment used. There is also no shortage of very slick marketing that made the solutions to any horse problem just seem so easy, if you buy the video etc etc. I remember I watched a video on teaching a horse to self load on float. Looked great but I realised how quickly things could go wrong without the timing, correct interpretation of the horse's body language, when to act or stop acting and a some good experience to know what to do when horsey didn't follow the script. There is such a sea of information out there but over time I did distil the things that were of assistance to my own circumstances and sent me off in new directions.
Have I found the information on the net from many horse trainers a waste of time? My answer is a big no, it has been invaluable irrespective of whether I agreed with the training philosophy or not. It showed me the kind of knowledge out there. I eventually began to understand a lot more about horses than I ever had before and it raised many questions and is helping me. I went from feeling troubled about my horse to feeling very positive and doing something constructive. My horse and I are eternally greatful to trainers such as yourself who take the time to write articles and discuss issues. Unfortunately, a lot of us don't have access to people such as yourself but what a great shame, without the net, to miss out on your experience as a horseman. How wonderful to be able to share knowledge and pass it on to others more widely. How wonderful for us to be able to use that knowledge with our horses. You often talk about the importance of a 'try' in a horse, perhaps as horse enthusiasts, we have to give it our best try as well and not give up too easily when there is a problem.
For those of us pondering what to do next with our horses, keep reading and searching for the answers but recognise when to get help on the ground as well.
kind regards Maryanne
I know what you mean with regard to there being a lot of information out there for people to sift through. For people that are unsure of the path they want to follow, it is a nightmare to sort out what is right for them. Many people are in the position of not knowing enough or of not being certain enough of their principles, that they accept or believe the last person they spoke to. They go from one mentor to another and then to another in a very short time. Mostly these are people who are new-ish to horsemanship, but I even know a lady who has considered herself a serious student of horsemanship for 15-20 years and still has a new guru every couple of years (her horses must dread life after she has been a new clinician). So it is a really common phenomena.
I agree with you that if people really stick at wading through the mountains of information and experiment with their horsemanship, that they can come out the other side having a strong principle and approach to how they work with horses. I think asking "why" a lot of any person who has something to offer is an important element in a person's development as a horse man or woman. When you talk about a "try" in a person, I think somebody who asks "why" a lot is a person who has a try. I have had some experience with people who feel that just coming to a clinic or having some lessons is all that is needed to improve. They fail to understand that attendance alone does very little to change things. Clinics and lessons are for giving guidance, clearing up confusion and giving people a direction to follow. But the changes come about from the work that is done at home. If a person does not make the effort at home, nothing changes. Sadly, this happens a lot too.
Anyway, keep up the work and your efforts to wade through the mountain of information.
It’s a very showery day today. Just when I think there is a break in the rain, it comes down again when I step outside the door. We have had to cancel a few lessons. But it could be worse. We could be living in north Queensland doing battle with cyclones. And Michele’s parents report that the snow storms in Chicago are the worst they have seen in years. So I guess we are doing okay.
Amanda has asked me to mention that there are still a couple of spots available for the 2-day clinic in Echuca. If anyone is interested, please contact Amanda for details and bookings – check the Schedule page for her contact.
Last December Maryanne wrote and asked some questions about lunging a horse. I promised I would write a discussion on the subject and I finally have.
I have downloaded it to the HorseTalk page and called it Lunging – Principles and Practices. It can be found as the last entry in the Training section. It mainly deals with the reasons why lunging is useful and why I do it the way that I do. The explanation for the techniques mainly pertains to green horses, but most of the principles are relevant to horses at all stages of education.
It has taken a lot of work to do this, so I hope a few people find it useful. If you have any questions, please e-mail me and I’ll do my best to clear up and confusion.
I have just about finished breaking in a horse for a lady in Queensland that has proven to be an excellent example of teaching a horse about handling pressure.
When the filly first arrived, she appeared to be really sensitive and easily upset if the pressure was more than a whisper. Her flight instinct was secondary to her instinct to fight. When you get big with the pressure, most horse’s fear response is to run away. But this horse would immediately go into battle and become almost non-responsive.
Luckily I picked up on this very early on and tried to present every new thing to her in tiny steps and patience. She was quick to learn as long as the pressure never got too big. But if something happened to cause her to get a fright, I found it impossible to calm her again and would just put her away for the day. I remember I was working in the round yard with her and everything was going well. But somebody was jumping their horse in the paddock next to the round yard, which was not a problem until the horse crashed through a jump and sent poles scattering everywhere. The filly lost the plot and could not recover. She was even more tense than normal when I brought her to the round yard the next day. She held onto her worries like a miser does to his money.
But in time, her confidence grew. Bit by bit she could handle more pressure and became more capable of calming down after a fright. Now, the filly sees pressure quite differently than she did a few weeks ago. Even with a huge amount of pressure she looks to me to see what is the problem.
Yesterday, I was leading her from the paddock and a kangaroo bounded down the hill straight towards us. The filly got a fright and tried to pull away. I told her to stay with me, but her fear blocked out anything I had to say. I then had an explosion big enough to cause a tsunami. Instead of scaring her further, my explosion calmed her. She remembered I was still there and that felt okay to her. The sudden appearance of the ‘roo was not nearly as important as she first thought. I was proud of her.
I can never protect a horse from stress and worry. It is part of everyday life. But what I hope is that as a horse’s training moves further along, the pressure from the human becomes more of a comfort than a worry. If I firm up with a horse I want him to look at me and think “okay, what did I do wrong and how do I fix it?” Firming up with a horse is aimed at bringing clarity to him, not frightening him. As he understands that more and more, he won’t worry about pressure, but view it as something to take away his confusion. It can be a comfort to him in his moments of confusion.
Of course, as a horse progresses in his education you hope that applying more pressure is something that will happen less and less. But there will always be times when a horse loses focus and is unsure of the proper response. It is the humans job to block the wrong response with as little pressure as possible, but as much as necessary. Sometimes this might entail being really firm with a horse. But if the relationship and the training are right, this should not cause the horse to go into survival mode with inappropriate behaviours of flight, fight or freeze.
The appropriate training of any horse should never be to avoid the pressure that can cause a horse to flip out. It should be to help a horse feel right inside, so that pressure does not cause negative responses. So many folks go out of their way to creep around a horse because they know the horse will get upset if the pressure is increased. This does not mean that we should go out of way to find ways of bothering our horses with pressure, but it does mean that we should help them to find clarity and comfort with pressure.
Do You Remember This Commercial?
Now See How They Trained The Clydesdales
There is a lot going on in our lives right now and this is why I have not been quite as up to date with the Soap Box as normally. But I’m trying, so please be patient.
There is a new story on the Story page and January’s Soap Box has been archived.
Des Miller is organizing the clinic in Seville and has asked that I put up the application sheet she has prepared. If you are interested in the clinic, please go here OR you can contact Des directly – the details are on the link or go to the Schedule page.
Michele and I did a 2-day clinic at Leongatha ARC on the weekend. Despite the 40 C degree heat people still showed up and we are very grateful for their commitment. We want to thank Lisa Archer for organizing the clinic and for all her helpers for making us feel welcome.
It’s always hard when we go to a new place where most people are not familiar with our work. Most people come along out of curiosity because they may have heard about us, but not seen us working. In these cases, we often feel that we have to sell ourselves to people. When you go to a place where you are known and people come because they like what you have to offer, it’s easy. But when a clinic is full of new people wondering if you know what you are talking about, it’s really difficult. You just know some people are not going to like what we do. It was a big help having a folks like Lisa, Emily and Eileen there who know us and are very supportive of our work.
Most people wanted to do groundwork, which I found interesting. The club is made up mostly of people who don’t do groundwork and are not sure of the purpose behind the groundwork. So it’s curious that they chose to ask for help with the groundwork. Perhaps it’s because they think it is important, but don’t have access to instructors who can guide them in their groundwork. Nevertheless, Michele and I did get to ride a couple of horses each and that was fun too.
Thanks to everyone who came along and I hope we were able to give you some thoughts about future directions to go with your horses.
I have just finishing reading Tom Moates latest book, Between The Reins. Tom has written two earlier books about horses and training, Discovering Natural Horsemanship and A Horses Thought. Tom also wrote the forward to my book, Old Men and Horses. So I declare from the outset that he is a friend and colleague.
Between the Reins is a follow up of his previous book; A Horse’s Thought in that Tom describes his evolution as a horseman under the guidance of Harry Whitney. Each chapter is filled with Tom’s experiences – both successes and failures – with horses. Harry appears both as a mentor and as a little voice in Tom’s head that clarifies the puzzle of getting along better with a horse.
In the book, Tom is much further along in his understanding than he appears in his earlier work. Between the Reins is not a book on how to train horses. But in each chapter Tom skilfully weaves Harry’s teachings into real life examples that most people can relate to in their own life with horses. Tom is able to take the theoretical ideas that Harry tries to get across to people and show how they apply to Tom’s own experiences as well as other participants at Harry’s clinics.
Tom puts himself out there for the entire world to judge. He is incredibly honest about himself and his horsemanship. But he has a wonderful style and ability to make the reader feel they are on the journey with him.
The book is very easy to read and Tom has made some difficult to grasp concepts really easy for the reader to follow. I think he did an excellent job of making Harry’s ideas accessible to the ordinary horse person. Sometimes, when you watch a horseman as incredibly talented as Harry Whitney, it’s easy to have the thought that what Harry can do with a horse is beyond the rest of us. But Tom takes the “awe” out of “awesome” and shows us that we are all capable of offering our horses a better deal.
I recommend this book without hesitation and hope that it will introduce Harry Whitney to a much greater audience. Everybody and their horse should be lucky enough to have had the benefit of what Harry has to teach. Thanks Harry and thanks very much Tom.
You can buy Between The Reins from Tom’s web site www.tommoates.com
Speaking of Harry and Between The Reins. I was e-mailed the latest newsletter called “Between The Reins” from Linda Bertani. It contains a Q&A with Harry and a story that I wrote (page 2). Linda asked me to contribute something, so in an hour and half of craziness I jotted down a silly little story. Despite the ridiculousness of the story, I feel there are some important principles interlaced within the narrative and I hope when Harry reads it he will quietly nod to himself in agreement.
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