Well, I never found any treasure under the old shack I have cleaned up. I guess I will just have to keep working and writing blogs.
After my last entry about working the left and right sides of a horse I was asked yesterday what I thought caused one-sidedness in horses.
The truth is that I don’t know. I know there are different theories among horse people, but it seems you can always find a horse that contradicts a theory. I suspect there is more than one reason why horses have a tendency to be better to work on one side rather than the other.
In my experience about 70-80% of horses are more comfortable and softer when working from their left side. The rest are better on their right side. I don’t think I have ever worked a horse in my life where they were completely even on both sides. So I tend to think such horses are extremely rare.
However, I have had experience where a horse might be more resistant and bothered on one side about some things, but better about other things. For example, I remember a horse that was stiff and bracey on the lead rope on his right side during the groundwork and really good on his left side. But once I was on his back he was terrible on the left rein and much better on the right. I don’t know why.
I know some believe that one sidedness stems from the way a foal lies in the uterus. But I don’t understand what this would have to do with the subject. It seems an irrational explanation. But I have no evidence for or against.
I suspect that some on sidedness comes from our tendency to work more on the left side of a horse than the right. In some cases this makes the left side of a horse more comfortable with handling from the left. But in other cases, a horse’s poor experience of being handled on the left can make that the worse side. Also this does not explain one sidedness in wild horses like brumbies and mustangs that have not had any human handling.
One thing that has interested me is watching how foals drink and shadow their mothers. I’ve noticed that some mothers prefer it when a foal nurses from one side and not the other. They sometimes push a foal way from one side to their preferred side. This means the foal presents itself for feeding more often with one particular side closest to its mother. I have also noticed that some foals prefer to shadow their mothers either on the left or right side. I don’t know if this is relevant to how a horse develops with preference to either the left or right sides, but it could be an interesting study for someone with time and money.
Anyway, the short answer to the question why horses are one sided is “I don’t know.” I do know that many species are one sided. Most humans are. So I don’t think it is an evolutionary development that offers a lot of advantage to surviving.
Working In A Frame and Bits
Just wanted to ask you about bits. Most of the horses I’ve ridden were in plain snaffle bits. What worries me though is the nutcracker effect and it troubles me that these bits may cause pain to a horse, particularly if a lot of us are not blessed with a high level of technical riding skill. Another trainer you well know JO’L recommends Myler bits. What kind of bit would you recommend for a green horse.
Also, at my riding lessons I often ride an advanced horse. Sometimes he will go hollow backed with head up from word go. We work on and often I can get him into a frame again flexing at poll and other times it seems so difficult to achieve this. I am sure that if my technique in anyway slips really slightly (eg my elbow/s come slightly forward) or I am not quick enough to counter resistance, the school horse takes advantage. He’s probably sick to death of crappy riders and arena work anyway. Do horses find it tiresome to be in a frame and should it be so difficult to get them there. I have ridden this horse on other occasions on a loose rein and had him in a lovely frame but other occasions he just doesn’t want to respond no matter what I try to do. The instructor has me do exercises whereby I stretch both arms out with reins to keep that even rein contact and he will flex at poll and drop down, then I resume my normal position and he may or may not stay in a frame. I am also told to round my wrists with knuckles touching to stop tensing forearms. The instructor is an excellent rider and I try very hard to heed her words and improve my technique. My instructor thinks I am often too soft with my hands. I keep my hands fairly still but it seems to be achieving that constant rein pressure. Any thoughts on bits or how to develop good hands?
My instructor says if you can dance well you can ride well. I couldn’t dance to save myself!
I'll get to the question of bits in a second.
Your question about a horse holding a frame confuses me because I'm not sure if you are talking about softening the topline the length of the body or about getting a horse to arch his neck from the poll to the wither and no further.
Let me say that it takes muscular effort for a horse to carry any posture that he is not well developed to carry. Asking any horse to hold a posture for more than a few seconds can be hard if their muscle development is not sufficient. That's why you slowly build up to collection and self-carriage over months and years, rather than days or weeks. When a horse is ready (that is, the preparatory work is well established) he will give you collection. To get it earlier is to impose it on a horse - and that will be ugly and incorrect.
I have not seen you ride, so I don't have any specific advice to help you obtain a better posture in the school horse. But let me say that if the horse bounces between correctness and incorrectness, don't try to keep forcing the correctness on him. More circles of varying sizes using your inside rein and not your outside ride, will help a hollow horse become more round. The other thing to consider is that your hands should not be kept still and your reins should rarely have even pressure. You should constantly be adjusting your hands and the pressure in your reins to parallel the feel your horse is offering. I am really adamant that the left and right rein should only rarely be even. This is because it is rare that the horse offers equal resistance on the left and right reins. Horses are constantly changing their level of resistance and where they exert that resistance. Your hands should be constantly matching those changes. If your hands are a communication device, they should be communicating what you want and what you don't want. Static hands contribute nothing to the conversation between a rider and a horse. Dead hands make dead mouths.
It's difficult to advance a horse when it is a school horse because the horse suffers all range of skilled rider. In these horses, instructors use them to advance the training of their pupils rather than the rider advance the training of the horse. So don't be too hard on yourself. The onus is on your instructor to teach you how to ride this particular horse well.
Now about bits.
Yes, John O'Leary does promote Myler bits and I think he has some arrangement with them. That's not to say he genuinely does not like their bits - I'm sure he does. For myself, I'm not so impressed by them. They seem okay, but more of a gimmick than a real advance in bit design. I don't own one, but have ridden in quite a few belonging to clients. I certainly have not experienced any magical transition by using them.
I have attached a photo of the style of bit we use on all our horses and clients horses. It's called a training bit and is just a loose ring snaffle with a central lozenge. The lozenge minimizes the nutcracker effect of the snaffle and helps protect the tongue from being squashed. We have never had any problem with this bit no matter what horse it is used on. But the magic is not in the bit. The magic is in the education of the horse to the bit. That's why we can use the same bit on hundreds of horses without a problem.
However, a few things to think about when considering bits are:
1. Prefer thinner bits and thick bits. Thick bits can make it hard for a horse to comfortably keep their mouth closed.
2. Prefer a double jointed snaffle, like the one in the photo over a single joint which can cause that nut cracker effect that horse's hate
3. The bit should be approximately 1/4 wider on each side that the horse's mouth
4. The placement of the bit should be low enough to cause zero wrinkles, but not so low as to bump the canine teeth. This is not a golden rule because some horses have mouths shaped in a way that wrinkles cannot be avoided.
There is a web site which offers bits for sale and will let you trial them for 30 days before buying. They only sell bits priced on the high end of the market, but nevertheless they have many good quality bits. You can check them out www.bitbankaustralia.com.au
Working Horses In Hot Weather
Ross, Ross, Ross....
My mom has always told me to be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
I hope you do find some buried treasure,, I bet you would actually find better things to do with the cash after jetsetting for a month or so.
I have a question that is a bit off season for you, but it's a big problem for us now. I live in Kentucky, and while I believe I am in the middle of paradise, it does get a tic hot and humid now and then.
We've had a streak of hot weather. Of course it is midsummer. One of the hardest things about it is that it doesn't cool off much at night, sometimes not getting below 80 F. Humidity has been getting over 80% as well. It's been especially hard on my one retired horse, who stops sweating when the nights stay hot.
Tort is slightly built and you would think would tolerate the heat well. However the last several days when I brought him in he has been puffing after just walking in from the pasture.
Bearing in mind I am not headed for an Olympic career, If he is puffing, I pick his feet, scratch his itches, hose him off and put him back out.
When I can I try to go to work late and ride in the morning. But we often have early morning meetings and the unreasonable people I work for expect me to come to work just becasue they are paying me.
Do you have a rule of thumb when to work and when not to work when it's hot?
Good luck with your treasure. The one you might find and the one you have,,,,
I think it is a judgement call. You need to know your horse to decide when they are heat stressed and when it is okay to work them.
Horses evolved to live in cold climates. They do much better when the temperature is below 5 deg C than when it is above 15 deg C (you'll have to do the conversion to F). You'll have noticed that on cold days they are much more alert and lively than on warm days - because they are more comfortable with temperatures we feel are cold, but for them are perfectly comfortable. A horse's comfort zone for temperature ranges about -5 to +12 deg C (it varies a bit depending on which study you believe). So when the temperature climbs into the warm zone (for humans) most horses are experiencing heat overload. It's even worse as the humidity rises because the ability lose heat via evaporative cooling methods like respiration and sweating are reduced.
In my work as a trainer that has to work to make a living, I had a rule that I didn't work in temperatures above 35 deg C. But in reality that's pretty hot for most horses. I would keep the work to a minimum physical effort and make sure the session was short. If necessary I would let the horse drink during a session. However, with my own horses I would avoid working them in temperatures above 30 deg C if I could.
I think you will know your horse well enough to know when he is getting stressed. Use your best judgement.
I think this is wonderful and if you haven’t already seen it is worth downloading even if you are on dial-up.
I’ve been cleaning up an old shack that had long ago fallen down in the middle of a stand of tea trees and gum trees. We thought it had just been an old shed, but I realized it had been a dwelling at some point when I saw bits of a front gate still standing, a house yard and lining to insulate the walls.
We have been told that the area was extensively mined for tin, zinc, gold and sapphires in olden days and ruins of an old weir on our creek suggest that our property was once mined. Once I have collected all the roofing and walls, I am going to be looking very carefully for any signs of buried treasure under the floorboards. You just never know what some old miner hid away. Then I will be rich, never have to work again, jetset the world, get myself a young trophy wife and never have to bang my head about what to write on a blog again. Bliss!
Good and Bad Sides
A few days ago I was stepping up into the saddle of horse for the very first time in its life. He was very nervous about having my foot reach up to the stirrup and even more nervous when I deliberately bumped his leg with my toe. The poor fellow was shaking all over.
I was working on his left side because I knew it was his better side. I figure that when you are going to start something that is a little bit challenging for a horse, it is best to begin on the easier side of a horse. You don’t have to. It’s not a golden rule. But if a horse finds one side less worrying than the other side, I think it is good practice to start the side he is more comfortable about. Hopefully a change for the better on the easier side will to some degree transfer the idea that the challenge is not quite as bad on the other side as it might have otherwise been. It’s not always true that getting something okay on the easy side of a horse makes the harder side easier – but it can in enough cases to make it a worthwhile practice for me.
After I got a small change in the horse I was working, the owner saw that I was quitting the session. She asked why I was not going to repeat the process on the right side. I told her that I would, but not today. I think this confused her because like most of us, she had been taught that you must always repeat an exercise on both sides.
I told her that the change the horse had made was only small and I felt it was not good enough for the horse to carry over any benefit to repeating the process on the right side today. It would be just as big a mess as it would if we had not done any work on the left side.
There was no advantage to repeating the exercise on the right side then. And there was no harm in not repeating the exercise on the right side that day. When the horse makes a more significant improvement on his easy side, it would then be time to do it all over again on the harder side.
I’m all for getting both sides of the horse as good as possible. I believe the more even the horse is on each side, the better horse he is. But there is no urgency about working both sides in the same session, same day or same month – except in exceptional circumstances. If it’s easier for a horse to have it put off until something else is cleared up for him first, then postpone it if you can. No harm will be done.
But when the horse is ready to be able to handle the challenge on his hard side, don’t postpone it any longer. There is no advantage in delaying the experience if he is ready.
“Buck” The Movie
I think you and Michelle should go on a date to the movies to see Buck:The Movie
Tell me what you think!
I havent seen it yet but want to out of curiosity! Hope all is well =D
I doubt Buck's movie will be coming our way. I'm not that bothered that we won't see it. I've seen Buck very many times over the past 20 years. He is not one of my favourite horseman. From my experience of him the man in real life is not the same image of the man portrayed in the movie. Nevertheless, in my view there are many better horseman in the world who have not had the promotion of Buck. But that's just my opinion.
A Brag From Hannah
GUESS WHO WON THE LANG WARREN SHOW!!! He was amazing but I thought the dressage was really shit, but came 3rd over all in dressage. Haha! He jumped amazing in showjumping, still so slow and dopey and per usual and in cross-country jumped every jump and went for a bit of a hoon. Only got 1 time penalty in cross-country though, but some girl was in front of my trotting and she wouldn’t move, Haha! Besides that he was just amazing throughout the whole day. I won a rug, though thinking it is going to be a bit small for him which is a bummer D: Also won a 1st place ribbon and garland of flowers! I heard over the speaker "Will number 119 please come with her horse to the clubrooms" I was so excited and I was walking with joy when i walked to the clubrooms. When mum told me I thought it she was lying and I couldn’t believe it! Oh, sorry for the late update, been meaning to message you just keep forgetting!
I now know why Biskit was so fast over the cross country - he didn't want to be seen in purple!
Have you stopped walking on clouds yet? I'm glad you are having so much fun with him and doing well. I know you appreciate how much "try" your horse now has and love him for it. Keep up the great work and I hope you will keep letting me know how you guys are going.
Remember always be kind to your horse and old horse trainers.
Aussie Olympic Promo Video
This is the promotional video that Equestrian Australia put together to help raise interest in funds to send a team to the London Olympics next year.
A lot of people seem to like it, but I can’t seem to separate some of the images of unhappy horses and harsh equipment from the aim of the clip to promote Aussie talent. I would certainly not have chosen some of the footage to showcase our best.
We have been exceedingly busy the last few days, so I’m sorry I have been slack with regard to keeping the blog updated.
Yesterday, Michele and I were driving home and we were having a disagreement. She said something, which was followed with me asking her “So, why did you marry me then?”
Her response was “Because I loved you.”
“Why did you love me,” I asked? Knowing that she could have chosen any among very many superlatives about by character, looks, charm and humour. But what she did say surprised me.
“Because you were interesting. And you are still interesting.”
At first I thought her answer was a fairly bland reason for loving me, but when I thought about it I realized it was an excellent reason.
To be interesting to somebody even after several years together is a huge achievement. We never find each other boring. We spend most of each day together; yet miss each other when we are apart for even a couple of hours. Each of us makes the other’s life interesting. What better reason could you have for loving somebody and wanting to spend your time together?
Then I thought about being interesting to my horses. Do my horses find me interesting? Do I help make their lives more interesting?
When I think about trying to develop a relationship with a horse, maybe I am really talking about working towards our relationship being interesting for each other. I do believe a horse can take an interest in things. I sense that my mare, Six finds my gelding, Riley interesting. She prefers to hang out with him than any other horse even though there appears to be no trouble between her and the other horses. For some reason he is her preferred choice for companionship. I have never known why it is like that, but now I am wondering if Six just finds Riley interesting.
If this is possible, then how do I make myself interesting to my horses? I seem to have inadvertently mastered the art of being interesting to my wife, but how do I translate that to being interesting to my horses? What a question to ponder?
Charlotte and Holly
Just thought I would let you and Michele know that Charlotte went to her first eventing day and competed on Holly. I thought she did very well on her Dressage but maybe the judge thought otherwise and she got 39 penalty points however I thought she had a very soft pony that happily did what was asked except a bit of a worry on the canter transition however I don’t think Charlotte had a forward enough trot and it threw Holly off a bit.
Charlotte then progressed to her cross country which she jumped 10 out of 14 jumps ( I was again rapped because this is a horse that use to cat leap trot poles and jumped everything from blue barrels to fences with ferns hanging out).
Unfortunately a group of girls galloped past Charlotte, which made Holly worried and Charlotte did not feel that she could control her and hoped off. Poor bugger thought she could get back on once her horse was in control. Didn’t realise that she would be disqualified. Which offcourse means instant disqualification for Show Jumping however Charlotte decided to give it ago even though she would not get any points. Holly was very good, she refused to jumps but Charlotte coaxed her through them and Holly persevered. I was a very proud mum. Photo attached, there are also nice action shots on a website but I have to buy them first so will send them next time. I have added some of her jumping at home.
You should be proud. Well done to Charlotte. It's always nerve racking watching your kid or friend or partner competing. I hope Charlotte had fun and was equally proud of Holly.
Committing The Time
Wanted to tell you that after 6 weeks of dedicated work, today when I took my boy for his session, there were no herd bound anxiety issues at all. Hooray. Horse was relaxed on trail walk and responsive. The tendency to try to challenge or overtake me at walk is all but gone. If any anxiety builds when he sees something strange on trails it is easily sorted. No neighing to friends. Bill Dorrance wrote that you really need to put the time into being with the horse and for both to develop a feel for each other. In the past I was too ad hoc, inconsistent and didn’t put horse under much pressure. I have achieved more in 6 weeks of really dedicating work to horse than in 2 years. I know horse is feeling better about the partnership. Dealing with such strong feelings of separation anxiety and the behaviour that flowed from it was a landmark in the relationship between horse and I. I have to now work now on consistency in my requests/signals to horse and ensure my energy and intent don’t back off too much. I know horse will take advantage otherwise. He keeps me on my toes.
It’s nice to pass on good progress, particularly as you have, at a distance, played a role in the positive things that are happening.
Kind regards Maryanne
Thanks for the update. You make a good point about putting in the time to develop a relationship with a horse. I remember several years ago on one of my visits to stay with Harry in Arizona, he said that he thought people that come to his 5 day clinics would probably make pretty good progress if they just committed to spending 5 days with their horse at home. I think there is an element of truth in that. But of course, you can spend 5 days with a horse and mess everything up too. In fact, some horses do better the less time their owners spend with them.
Dog Leads Horse
I’m not sure the dog in this video clip understands why the horse is following him. It looks to me the dog thinks he is just dragging a rope and the horse is stalking him.
Harry Whitney Clinic
Folks wanting to know if I was accepting bookings yet for Harry’s clinic in Macclesfield, Victoria, have contacted me.
The clinic is open for booking
The cost of the 4 days is $720 to participate. If you want to board your horse at the venue there is a $25 a day fee.
To book a place in the clinic you need to send me a deposit of $400 and the remainder will be payable by December 31, 2011. The deposit is non-refundable except in the case of an emergency and where proof can be provided.
Please send me an e-mail and I can let you know how to make the deposit either by direct transfer or cheque/money order.
Spectators are welcome at a cost of $50 a day. There is no need to book. Just show up and pay at the door.
The clinic will be held at Avoca Park in Macclesfield
If you are interested in the other clinics Harry is doing in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, please contact the people listed on the Schedule page.
Harry Whitney Clinics
There have been some changes to Harry’s clinic schedule in the New Year. The new dates for clinics are posted on the Schedule page, along with contacts for bookings and inquiries.
Moving The Goal Posts
The new format is so much easier to find stuff on- good work!
Another topic I'd be interested to get your view on, if you didn't cover it on the blog already, which given how long you've been writing you probably did.
Never having seen you work, I'd be interested to know how you go about progressing from rewarding enough of a try that the horse can understand what you are asking for to asking for them to do it in exactly the way that you are looking for. So for example if you have a horse that doesn't really understand how to back up, you might start by just asking them to release their poll a little on the ground and your goal might be to have a horse that backs up in a balanced and relaxed way under saddle- how do you judge the balance between keeping the horse trying and helping them to refine the movement and relax while they are doing it. Often it seems as though you need to wait on your release a little longer before the horse relaxes, but in my experience on the start you need to be releasing early to give the horse clear direction. How do you manage that process from first steps towards refinement?
You are right to think that a “try” is a moveable goal. It constantly changes. What maybe a good try from a horse today should not be the same try in a week or a month or a year – otherwise , it’s no longer a good try.
But it is always a judgement call and not something that can be set in stone.
Usually, when a horse is being taught something new, I have the patience of Jobe and will wait as long as it takes for a try as long as I know he is trying (and not shutting down). But when a horse knows the job and is offering far less effort than he is capable of giving because his attention is elsewhere, then I increase the pressure enough to bring his mind back to the job at hand. I am no longer waiting until he gets around to paying attention. When I am conversing with my horse it must be worth his while to be attentive.
The goal post must always be moving. Progress can only happen because you ask and expect more from a horse. But this is where the good judgement comes in. Because for me, the measure that a horse is ready to be asked for more is when the effort he is offering becomes relatively easy. When he can yield to the pressure with little trouble, it is time to ask for more effort, more softness and more correctness.
It’s like training for any discipline. If I am training for a marathon, I start with running a distance that causes me some level of exertion. But when that distance becomes much easier and requires less exertion, it’s time to increase the distance to another level of difficulty. This continues in increments until I can do my best times for a marathon.
It’s no different for a horse except sometimes the exertion we are talking about is more mental than physical.
But sometimes the goal posts need to move backwards too. Sometimes, a horse that was finding a particular task easy yesterday will find it much harder today. In this case, we must recognize that even though the horse is not doing as well as he was yesterday he is still trying just as hard or even harder. There is no point in expecting him to do more when we should probably ask for less.
Franz Maringer was an Australian Olympic dressage coach back in the 60’s and he wrote a wonderful book called “Horses Are Made To Be Horses.” In it he said (to paraphrase), “There are no problems at the higher levels…” The meaning I take from that is that Franz believed that problems we encounter at any level stem from problems we have at the lower levels. In other words, the basics are not good enough for the horse to progress to the next level.
I recall a few years ago a long time client wanted help with flying changes. After watching her ride for a time I recommended we work on her horse’s hindquarter yields. She was shocked and told me she didn’t understand why, since we had done a lot of those 3 years ago when I broke the horse into saddle. I said to her that the quality of the hindquarter yields we asked for from her horse at that time were good enough for the work her horse was doing at that time. But now the expectation was much higher and the demand on her horse much harder, so the quality of hindquarter yields needs to be much greater. What was a good try at a hindquarter yield 3 years ago was fine for breaking the horse in, but now that we were asking for flying changes the try was no longer good enough.
It’s a complex issue and I believe a good understanding only comes from experience. But I often see people whose horses are at the same level they were 1 year earlier. People hear the phrase “release for the smallest try” and are still releasing for the same try months and years later. The horse’s never get better and in some case even revert backwards. Trainers, teacher and clinicians need to do a better job at explain the concept of the moving goal .
I hope that answers your question.
Drawing A Line In The Sand
I just read your blog post on the subject that is rarely discussed, especially by trainers with large numbers of lady clients that adore their horses (I can say that as I am a middle aged lady horse client that adores her horse) avoid like the plague. I have no idea what your clientele is composed of, but Bravo for addressing it.
On occasion we ask a question and the answer is NO. In many cases it is a case of not understanding the question. In MANY cases it's because I did such a lousy job of asking the question a squadron of United Nations translators wouldn't understand the request, let alone my poor horse.
BUT, sometimes the answer is, I understand you perfectly, but I choose not to do that. There are folks that say it's never the horse, it is always something you did to get that response. Indirectly maybe that is true, but I think on a certain level that is disrespectful to the horse.
When Pumpkin comes running to us, when he greets us, when it is clear he thinks we are ok to hang out with, that makes us happy. Why? He has evaluated us and chosen to like us. Hurrah!!
If he has the free will to like us, or respond in a way we like, why in the world could he not do the opposite?
This is a difficult area for me. Because my experience is not huge, I am very careful (sometimes overly so..) to look for health issues, physical impairment, and lack of understanding, in that order to make sure my demand is not unreasonable. But if those situations aren't the case, then the answer might just be no.
Tort might be the kindest horse I have ever met. But recently I realized he was picking up a pretzel shape at a certain area of the arena as a means of intimidation, or as intimidating as Tort gets anyway. Once I understood it wasn't pain or a lack of understanding but his way of saying going back to the barn was a much better idea it was easy to fix. Message received, but no dear, that ain't happening. Poof, pretzel pony went back to work in a straight line.
Hard sometimes to determine that, but I respect my horse enough to think that free will means free will. When he agrees with me and also when he doesn't.
Thanks, Christine. It is a subject that does not get discussed very much and I think that is very understandable. The risk of people misinterpreting the meaning or going home and start laying down the law to their horses could easily undermine the principles of good horsemanship. But I have found equally, the fact that trainers never discuss the why's and wherefore's of firming up with a horse leads to some people believing that it should never happen and that if a trainer does toughen up on a horse he is being abusive. When they do see a good horse person draw a line in the sand with a horse they automatically see the methods as cruel without understanding that when done at the right time and for the right reasons there can be tremendous benefits to the horse that is lost and given up trying.
There is no doubt it is a difficult subject and I don't blame professionals from steering clear of discussing it.
Interested To Learn More
I've just discovered you website and am really excited by what you have to say. I hope you don't mind if I tell you a little bit about what has brought me here, and ask you for some advice on where I find myself now.
I have ridden horses since I was a kid, and spent around 5 years apprenticing as a horse breaker during my teenage years (more effective method than some but not very fair on the horse - i.e. the horse was never allowed to even consider having an idea of his own). After a few years out of horses doing teenage things I took up an offer to break and train/re-train racehorses for an acquaintance of mine. That was a pretty rough experience because I was still young and lacked self-confidence and ended up being talked into getting on horses when they weren't ready or properly prepared (This guy was a real bully). Looking back I put myself in a lot of danger, and the horses through a lot of anguish. The flip side of that experience was that I was given a young horse as part of my payment on leaving that job. She was a rising two year old at the time and unhandled. I vowed the day I agreed to take her that I would do the right thing by her. If only I knew then how little I knew.
I started the filly myself, which I felt confident to do. I had a great time with her as a young horse and everything was going smoothly, we were confidently going out on the trail alone or in company, and she was very soft and responsive. As I went along I started looking into alternative methods and ended up spending a few years studying Parelli. The further I got into Parelli however the more I tried to do with her and the more problems I began to have. She was beginning to become herd bound, and I would often struggle to get her to go out on the trail with me. Then I started having trouble getting her to go in the work area (I didn't have an arena, just a large fenced paddock to ride in). She started rearing on me, and I figured I had a real problem. I took her back to my old trainer for a couple of weeks in a hope that he might have some idea. I felt uncomfortable about it but I went anyway. He told me what I knew he would - "I needed to carry a whip and give her a good hard cut with it before she even thought of acting up". Well I tried it and she was on her best behaviour the whole time, but I felt awful and very confused - she was shut down and nervous, not the same playful character that I knew so well.
I knew that letting her rear was not safe, and I knew that making her fearful of having an idea of her own was not fair and was not going to create the type of horse-human relationship I was really after.
I was stumped. I did the only thing I knew to do and searched for another answer. After some time I came across an article by Harry Whitney, and what he had to say blew my mind. This was what I was looking for. This was the way I was going to be a better horsewoman and help my mare to enjoy working with me, not against me.
So, I now know the type of horseperson I am looking to be (and more importantly that my little mare wants me to be), and what I have read on your website fits with that of course. My dream is to be able to have a lifestyle much like your own, working with young and troubled horses and helping them to find their way in the human world. I would love to be one more source of good horsemanship in Australia, but I know I have a hell of a long way to go. I have a lot of learning, reading, practicing and experimenting to do.
I guess I have two questions for you out of all of this. Firstly, what would you recommend as the best path for improving my horsemanship so that I can one earn a living working with horses in a way that benefits them? What should I be studying? Who should I be spending time with? What should I be practicing? (Particularly considering I am like you in Australia, not the US, and am not blessed with vast amounts of money).
Secondly, regarding my mare. I have stopped riding her altogether for the time-being, and have spent a lot of time just focusing on getting and keeping her attention, and rewarding her attention with stuff she likes. I don't feel like I know enough to confidently progress from there. I feel like I need some basics or principles to work from. She is what I would call a very strong willed horse, and is very calm and brave. I don't seem to be able to get her attention unless I have food. Where do I go from here?
Thanks so much if you have read through this far, I'm sure you get heaps of mail and are very busy with more exciting things, so I appreciate your time.
I hope this all makes sense.
Thanks for your e-mail.
I don't think I really have much sage advice for you regarding your search for a path to good horsemanship. In my experience it is very hard in Australia to work with horses in a way that is not the mainstream approach. You see people working in ways that do not appeal to you, yet hear from others how wonderful it is. You get told that so-and-so broke in a friend's horse in 2 weeks and why are you taking 5 weeks? You hear about a new gadget on the market and everybody using it is winning competitions. After a time you start to doubt yourself because you are the lone voice that see things differently.
I use to tell people to go and watch as many trainers as possible at clinics and at home. I use to believe that there was something to be learned from each person. But nowadays I am not so certain. I think you need a very strong sense of your own philosophy and principle regarding working with horses to avoid being sucked into the vortex of doing things the way everybody else does them. When all the world believes you are an idiot, it's easy to start to doubt yourself.
That's where people like Harry Whitney have been so important to Michele and I. Just when we start to believe we must have got it wrong because everybody tells us so, a visit to Harry re-affirms we are doing okay. I still like to watch as many other trainers as I can, but these days my confidence in how I go about working with horses is strong enough to withstand any self doubt.
So one piece of advice is to be very particular with the trainers you choose to spend time around. Not everybody has something for you worth learning.
Another piece of advice is never believe that something you understand today about horses is the same thing you'll understand tomorrow. It's not that it will necessarily be wrong, but that it may have a different or deeper meaning tomorrow than it does today. Many times I have had moments of deeper clarity about things I thought I knew years ago.
Also, there are no golden rules. Just when you believe something to be true, you'll meet a horse that breaks the rule.
There is no substitute for experience and making mistakes. People that handle more horses have a huge advantage over those that don't - irrespective of how many years they have been around horses.
With regard to your mare, it sounds like there are spots where directing her feet have taken precedent over directing her thought. This has probably left ill feelings in her about being ask to do things. I think you are right to work on her focus, but you need to consider how to direct her focus too. It's one thing for a horse to be attentive to you, but in order to move a horse with minimum resistance you need to be able to direct her focus to where you want her feet to go. Think about start asking her attention to be drawn to a spot in the arena and when that gets reliable, direct to some energy towards her to get her to move her feet where her thought is. It's hard to explain and takes some work and if you know of people in your area that can help, then don't hesitate to pick their brains.
You might consider coming to one of the clinics were have scheduled for Harry Whitney in the new year. If you look at the schedule page of the web site you'll see there are clinics in NSW, Vic and SA in January and February. I think they may clear up some issues for you and at the very least you should find them very inspirational.
If I can help you in some way, I'd be glad to give advice or my thoughts and you would be welcome to visit sometime down the road or come to a clinic if I am ever in your area. Good luck.
Lately, we have seen some pretty bad examples of reining training. But I’m pleased to post this video as an example that bucks the trend. I hope you like it too.
We are looking forward to some friends visiting this weekend. But as Murphy’s Law would dictate things go wrong. The water pump for the house went on the blink and then the toilet cistern was blocked and finally the frost from a couple of days ago caused a water pipe to split. But today we got everything fixed and I hope we’ll have no more problems until our guests leave.
I have a lot of interest in Harry Whitney’s clinic in Macclesfield in February. Things should be finalized by the end of this month and at that time I will be accepting deposits for bookings. I’ll let everyone know the details when I know. There are just a couple of things we have to determine before I can take bookings.
When A Horses Needs The Naughty Corner
Many people are interested in the style of horsemanship that has become known as “natural horsemanship.” I use lower case to distinguish the generic concept of nh from Parelli Natural Horsemanship. In fact, it seems most people who send their horse to a trainer for breaking in want people who use nh principles.
But it is my experience than many folk have the concept that nh means always gentle and quiet methods. They like the idea of using methods that don’t require their neddy to have his hair ruffled or heart rate raised. It feels better to them if their horse is never upset.
However, in my experience I can’t recall one horse that at some point, over some aspect of the process, cannot make a change without being read the riot act. Every horse has something with which they are unable to let go of their idea without some pretty strong insistence from the human. Fortunately, it is rarely the life and death situations that this occurs such as float loading or being separated from friends. Most often the need to be larger than life with a horse is over areas where the horse has formed strong habits through poor training or handling such as crowding too close to the human or rushing through gates or leaning on the lead rope. It’s usually in areas where the horse has learned an unwanted response so well over time that the possibility of a different response can’t even enter his mind. He becomes convinced he is right and the human is has got it wrong. If he just keeps doing it his way long enough he is sure the person will get the picture and make a change.
Yesterday, I worked with a gelding that was sure he was not going to take a step backwards when I asked. He knew about backing up and had done it a hundred times in the past few days. But at the time I was asking, it wasn’t on his schedule. He got very irate and threatening to me. It was something he knew, but was not prepared to try at that moment and in fact was threatening to burn down my home with all my family in it and kick my dog while he was at it! I firmed up so much he thought he was on a short trip to hell, never to return. He made a bit of change and I stopped. Today, he was fantastic about everything including his first saddling. His attitude and his try were magnitudes improved. All was forgiven.
A couple of days ago I was working a mare that kept insisting on running her shoulder into me when circling to the right. She was quite prepared to collide with me because she was taught that people will get out of the way eventually. When I tried to interrupt her idea of dropping her shoulder into me, she became very aggressive towards the flag and then to me. The little handling she has had had not cleared up the notion that you don’t attack the pressure. There was not effort on her part to try something else, so I read her the riot act, which caused her, the owner and me some distress. But the next day her circle to the right was beautiful. In fact, her softness and focus to the lead rope has grown exponentially each day since. She is a very strong-minded mare and not always willing to concede that my idea is a better one than her idea. But since that day, her willingness to work through a problem rather than rebel against the pressure has shown an impressive improvement.
I don’t want to give the idea that beating up a horse is good training. But I do want people to accept that you are not always doing a horse a favour by avoiding the adrenalin of laying down the law on the occasions when it is best. A horse appreciates leadership and with good leadership comes a crystal clear message to a horse of what is acceptable and what is not. It’s like good parenting. When a horse is learning something he needs time and patience to figure it out. But when a horse just says “no, not interested” you have to do enough to motivate him to become interested in figuring it out. This is what I believe Ray Hunt meant when he said “do as little as you can, but as much as you have to.”
This is a tricky thing to talk about because people easily misinterpret it. Some people will take it to mean I abuse horses and condone horse beating and others will see it as permission to terrorize their horse for any misdemeanour. Neither is true. I think for me the test comes from my belief of (i) has the horse stopped trying to search for an answer, and (ii) will the horse benefit if I firm up? I think that’s where experience gives you’re the wisdom to make those judgements. There’s no substitute for experience.
I knew nothing about this horse, but it is a good story and I thought you guys might like it.
Over the years I have had a lot of people watch me working horses with complete bewilderment. When I am working I try to talk as much as I can about why I do things the way I do and what I hope to achieve and point out when a horse is trying or making a change etc. But I find if people have not spent much time around me, it is hard to convey to intricacies of what I do. This inevitably leads to some people making comparisons with trainers they are more familiar with.
On the surface, some things I do appear very similar to things other trainers may do. I was asked recently if I had studied with Clinton Anderson! Which was a big surprise to me, because in my eyes he and I are poles apart. But the surface comparison is understandable because we both use a round yard, rope halters, flag, lariat and pressure-release techniques etc.
Today Michele visited some folks and was asked what she did for a living. She told them about being a horse trainer. A fellow asked if she did “join-up.” Obviously in his mind, round yard + horse trainer = join-up. Again, you can see why he asked the question.
But this is the problem I see. If people do not see the importance in the details when comparing one trainer to another, how can they choose one trainer over another? Since they seem to be doing the same stuff, what criteria do people use for choosing one trainer over another
I have heard on the grape vine that I studied with Monty Roberts and John Lyons. I have been told I am a western trainer. I have heard I am also a Parelli trainer. None of these are true. But in someone’s mind they must be true to have made it to the grape vine.
I guess people like to latch onto things they know. If it has a tail and hops it must be a kangaroo. But what if it isn’t a kangaroo? What if it is a hopping mouse – it’s like a kangaroos, but smaller and different shaped ears and nose – but almost like a kangaroo.
So is a trainer who uses a western saddle a western trainer? Is a trainer who wears jodhpurs a dressage trainer? Is every trainer who uses a rope halter a Parelli trainer? Is every trainer who uses negative reinforcement a disciple of BF Skinner (the behaviourists who studied reinforcement training)?
When looking for a trainer, I think the best thing you can do is see them work. But look at the details. Watch the small things like what they release for and what they don’t release for. How is the horse feeling when they release the pressure? Are they interested in making the horse move his feet or directing the horse’s thoughts to move the feet? Is the horse responding to pressure or escaping from pressure. Does the trainer attend to issues before they come up or is he always chasing a problem after it has appeared? Is the horse being taught to resign himself to the training or does the training awaken an interest in the human?
I could go on with questions like this, but the thing that I want to convey is to look at the details – the minutiae – and not the big things when making judgements about a trainer or a training approach.
Loved the French dressage video. Was sad to see the curled up necks in the later footage.
I've been thinking about an issue with Tort. Your post on light vs. soft got me thinking on it. And having something being the horse’s idea.
Tort is easy to tack up. I don't use crossties, and he stands while I groom him, and stands while I go pick up his boots, saddle and bridle. But willing? He's says no.
When I lean down to put his splint boots on, he leans away and you don't need to be a psychic to see he'd rather I didn't put them on. They don't sore him, but he knows that means it's time to go to work.
When putting the bridle on, I can put my hand on his neck and tip his head to me, put my hand between his ears and put the bridle on. But he's light, not soft. He'd REALLY rather not have the bridle on.
(hmm.. as I sit in my living room and type this, a very fat little mouse just trotted to the center of my living room floor and seems to be considering his chances of scooting into the kitchen. Where is that darn cat!)
I wish being ridden was something he looked forward to. Is that unreasonable? I don't exactly whistle in the morning as I brush my teeth, apply war paint and wriggle into restrictive business clothes.
But however I rationalize it, in putting the bridle on, he is light, not soft. When I ask if he is willing, he says no.
How do I address this? Do I address this? Or do I quit over-analyzing and go ride the horse?
I'm not certain whether horses ever look forward to being ridden - maybe some do, but I have not yet formed a conclusion. But I do believe that being ridden does not have to cause them any bother - which is different from enjoying being ridden. I don't think it is unreasonable to aim for not causing your horse any bother. In fact, it was I am always working on with my own horses as well as client's horses. For me, it's the ultimate aim of everything I do with a horse.
You ask if you should address his lack of softness. The answer is yes. But you don't approach working with a horse as if you are on a mission to solve it. A few entries ago I answered a question about what do about a "grumpy horse". I wrote that you don't address the flattened ears or the snaky neck or the swishing tail. Instead, you address the focus and responsiveness. It's not so different with regard to your question. If Tort leans away from you when you fit his boots, work at fiddling with the boots until he stops showing his discontentment - but don't make a big deal about. Address the way he accepts the bridle, the rug, being led from the paddock etc. I had a client ask me why does her horse move when she does up the girth of the saddle. I watched her catch, lead, tie up the horse. I watched her put the saddle blanket over it's back. I watched her approach with the saddle, then put it on the horse's back. In everything she did, her horse exhibited worry. But my client missed it. She only saw her horse move when the girth was snugged and missed all the things that told her her horse was going to step away. Once I showed her to take care of all those other things, there was no girthing problem.
I don't think it is wrong to analyze these issues. I think it is important that you note them and file them away. Be aware if they are getting better or worse with time. But don't let it paralyze you from getting on an doing a job with your horse. No horse I have ever seen is without worry. Just be aware and keep scratching away at the small resistances and signs of trouble in everything you present to your horse.
It's in the little things, that most of us miss, that the answers to the big things hide.
I am very interested in doing the Harry Witney clinic in Victoria, but wanted to know prices before I commit.
I am pretty sure I sent you an email about your clinic in October, but just in case – I’m down for that one for sure if there are still places as I know I am free. Thanks!
Not sure if Kate has told you but Rompy hurt his leg, put it through a fence and cut right down to the bone severing a tendon, he is ok though, stitched up and happy with his pile of carrots. BUT I have a story - when dad and I went to get him from the vet to take him home, he was very distressed, shaking/sweating, so he didn’t get on the float straight away, took a few attempts... though it hadn’t even been 5 minutes yet before some dude who was dropping his horse at the vets came up and said do you want me to get the bum rope out? I was like no way, thanks, then a few nurses came out with dressage whips and some people were trying to stand behind him to get him in I had to end up saying ok everyone thankyou, but please go away - his eyes were popping out of his head as it was, all these people were making it so much worse, once they all left, 2 more tries and he was on! I was just amazed how quickly people go for 'equipment' to do things with horses rather than working on it.... 5 minutes was all it took for that guy to want to get out a rope to drag him in!! My gosh!!
People are sooooo ..... 'silly' Hope all is well with you guys! I love your new dog! =) Aliy
I have not yet finalized prices for Harry's clinic, but I expect to be able to do that by the end of this month. I will let you know. I also let you know soon about the October clinic with me.
I'm glad Rompy will be okay. There is nothing like a floating problem to bring every expert out of the woodwork. I know people have good intentions, but I find it interesting that they are often so quick to offer advice and not wait to be asked for help. I never offer unless I am asked.
A few years ago I was working at an agistment property and a lady and her friend were having trouble loading a horse. I was working in the round yard and could easily see them on the driveway. After about 2hrs I had already finished working a couple of horses and they were still trying to get the horse to put one foot on the ramp. They had been to a well-known trainer's clinic and were pretty sure they knew how to load the horse. Another hour passed and still they were no further along. The owner of the horse was no fan of mine and she would not ask for my help on principle. But I knew the friend and I quietly called her over to say that the owner would like help, I'd be happy to try. But my offer was politely rejected. Another hour passed and everyone - horse included - was exhausted. Finally the owner couldn't take it anymore and sent her friend to ask for my help. I took the horse, asked him to be straight in front of the ramp and then the horse loaded like it was something it had done every day of its life. The owner was so mad. I closed up the ramp and secured the horse. The owner got in the car and drove off with her friend without a word of thank you. But that night the friend called me to thank me. I still laugh when I think of the situation.
Since the topic of being careful of what you are looking at when judging and comparing trainers and training methods, here is a timely video. It promotes a book on horse training using horse whispering techniques. But they don’t tell you what those techniques are or even the general outline of the methods. Even their extensive web site contains no information except on how to buy the book. Let me know if you have learned anything from it after you’ve watched the clip, because I haven’t.
Harry Whitney Coming To Australia in 2012
Harry Whitney is coming back to Australia early next year. We have tentative dates for clinics in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Check the Schedule page for details and contacts for booking and inquiries.
For those that are not familiar with Harry, he is a long time friend and mentor to Michele and I. Harry grew up in Kansas on his parent’s ranch where he took an interest in training horses and other farm animals. He graduated from university with a degree is animal science. Over the years he has made a living on the rodeo circuit as a clown, trick roper, pickup rider and trained a team of horses for a Roman riding act. He then went onto touring local schools with a menagerie of trick animals. Later he started training and breaking in horses for the locals in his hometown. He soon developed a reputation of being good with horses and a friend arranged his first clinic.
During one of the clinics, Dr Deb Bennett from California saw Harry teaching and invited him to California for some clinics. It took no time at all for Harry’s reputation to spread far and wide and he was in demand for horsemanship clinics all over the states. He eventually settled in Arizona where he now resides and hold 5-day clinics for people to come from all over the country and even Australia, Germany, UK and Canada.
Harry has been to Australia 3 times before, but his schedule is so jam-packed that it is always very hard to get him out here.
In my opinion, Harry is probably the best horseman and teacher I have ever seen. He combines those two skills better than anybody else I know. His sense of humour and easygoing attitude makes it a very relaxing and informal experience.
This is a rare opportunity to ride with Harry and I would urge everybody that can, to make the most his time here. We don’t see horsemen of the calibre of Harry Whitney very often, so it is an opportunity not to be missed.
A few days ago I went to a lady’s place to work an 8-month-old foal that had not been weaned and had almost no handling. The lady had broken her leg in a freak accident and had not been able to spend time with the horse.
The colt was a very nice type and came around really quickly to be touched all over and giving to the lead rope. It would only be a few days to have the little fellow leading really well, picking up its feet, catching and going on a float.
While I was rubbing him all over his body, I noticed he had some rain scald on his back. It was not serious, but had the potential to be serious if not treated soon. It occurred to me that by the time I finished the session, the colt would still not be good enough to catch and handle for a lady on a walking frame to approach and treat the rain scald the next day.
Late last year I witnessed a 3-week foal that had no previous handling being treated for a crooked legs by a farrier using Equilox. It involved 2 blokes wrestling the foal around the neck and throwing it to the ground, tying up its legs and having the farrier treat the hoof.
I bet there are young horses all over the country that are in a similar predicament. I know some people – including a vet I know – who believes horses should be left untouched until they are ready to be broken in. But I can’t agree with this view.
Young horses need hoof care, regular worming – like any other horse. How do you get this done without traumatizing the horse if you don’t get him quiet to catch and handle? But forget about routine care. What about life-threatening situations such as needing urgent vet care for colic or peritonitis? How do you treat an animal that won’t let people need him, let alone accept a stomach tube?
I believe every newborn should learn to be caught, haltered, led, pick up feet and load onto a trailer. I think these things should be done in the first 2 weeks of a foal’s life, if possible. I know some people think that because they can pat their foal in the paddock that they can catch them. But no matter how much rubbing or hand feeding a person has done with a foal, I’ve never seen one stand quietly the first time somebody tried to fit a halter over it’s nose.
Every owner’s circumstances are different and some people are not able to handle their horses from an early age. But for those that are able to, but choose not to, I think they do a disservice to their horses.
I have often talked about the demise of dressage in modern competition. Have a look at this clip. It’s a series from the Cadre Noir in France from 1896, 1929 and today. Notice the difference in style. I spent some time at the Cadre Noir some time back and it always struck me how strongly they held to their centuries old traditions. But from this film it seems that their training has sadly become more modern. Even in my time there I didn’t see much evidence of the hyperflexion shown in the latter portion of the film. So things seemed to have change quickly.
This is a clip that has become very popular on YouTube. It made Michele and I laugh. It’s very short, but I hope you like it too.
There is a fresh outbreak of Hendra virus in southern Queensland and northern NSW. So far 6 horses have contracted the virus and been destroyed. The first recorded outbreak occurred in 1994 when 14 horses were destroyed and a racehorse trainer died. More recently there was another spike in the disease in 2008/2009 when 3 vets died and 14 horses were destroyed. Overall, 7 people have died from the disease in 14 separate outbreaks.
The virus is highly contagious in fruit bats, which act as hosts for the disease. However, it does no harm to the bats. Nevertheless, the virus can be transmitted to horses and then to humans. Because the virus is not carried in aerosols such as breath, coughs or sneezes; it is thought that bats pass it to horses by urinating on pasture that the horses eventually eat. It is not know for certain how the virus is transmitted to humans, but it is assumed that coming into contact with fluids from infected horses contracts it.
CSIRO has developed a monoclonal antibody as a vaccine for horses, but it is not fully tested and probably won’t be widespread available for a year or so. A human vaccine is even further away. But the vaccine for horses has been shown to break the cycle of the disease and prevents transmission of the virus from horses to humans.
So far the disease has been isolated to southern Queensland and the north coast of NSW. The authorities are saying that the likelihood of the disease spreading to other areas like Victoria or South Australia (which also have large populations of fruit bats) is poor. But who really knows?
There is a call by veterinary bodies to require compulsory vaccination of horses once it is available. So far 2 vets have died from treating infecting horses and there is a growing concern by vets about being called out to examine sick horses without proper biohazard protection. I think this is perfectly understandable and I’m sure if more people die there will be some vets refusing to attend sick horses. I can see the day will soon come when every horse will be required to be vaccinated and a vet will not call out to a horse without a certificate of vaccination. Even further, you may not be able to transport horses outside your local area or attend a show or register a horse or sell a horse without proof of vaccination. Other countries have these types of restrictions for all sorts of diseases Australia has been spared. I guess it is now time to join the rest of the world.
Hello Ross, A question for you, as I know a few people will wonder the same thing. Regarding your article about hard feeding. What should people do to ensure they are choosing the correct feed for their horses? Are people best to have blood tests done, hair sample tests, or get their pastures tested to find out what each horse is lacking and then feed accordingly or is it ok just to go on behaviour and or the way your horse looks? Love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for the question, but I am in as much in the dark as anybody else. I guess I am skeptical of anybody who claims to know a lot about horse nutrition because there just does not appear to be a lot of good research in the area.
My own weather vane for feeding relies on a horse's condition. I believe in a lot of fibre intake whether that is pasture, hay, chaff or something like Speedibeet. Horses are hind gut fermenters, so they are very efficient at digesting fibre and getting the most nutrition from it. I also like to cover my basis with a pelleted form of minerals, trace elements and vitamines. At the moment I am using Mitavite Breeder, but that's because it's easy to get here. In the past I have used a variety of processed feeds. The quality of soil here is pretty poor, so I particularly think having access to supplementation of minerals and trace elements is important for us. We even have a mineral block in the paddock for that reason - since not all our horses are being hard fed.
With regard to blood samples etc I think they are a good idea if you are suspicious that your horse is not well. But I think as a routine matter, they are not very helpful because the nutritional needs of your horses change all the time. For me, I believe the horse's condition is the best lab test. Look for the weight condition; health of the coat and gums; healthy smelling breath (no smell of ketones); overall behaviour (signs of lethargy; uncharacteristic exuberance and distraction etc). If you know your horse well enough, most people are quick to pick up when things are not right. But there is nothing wrong with researching as much as you can about nutrition and inform yourself as much as possible. It can only help you make better informed decisions.
I know it is not a very scientific or authoritative answer; and no more expert than any other horse owner. But it is how we operate with our horses and it seems to work just fine.
Hello Ross I have a bit of a dilemma with Holly. From the day we got her she has always had issues with being bridled. I have tried to make sure that she brings her head down as she use to fling it up in the air and then she would poke her nose forward so I would ask her again to bring her head down and would place the bit a her lips. I would encourage her to open her mouth by tickling her tongue at the side then gently put the bridal on once she accepted the bit. It has been this way for a year now. Sometimes better than other times however in the last couple of weeks she has become more difficult and sometimes puts her head right down so you have to tell her to bring it up. I will also let you know that when we take the bridal off we have to take it off her ears and hold it loose over her forehead till she releases the bit otherwise she will clamp her teeth over the bit and put her head up in the air so we have to let go of the bridal so she can work it out and drop the bit herself. When the bridal is on she is not busy with the bit and her teeth were done early this year.
Don't know how to make this better.
You've struck an issue that's pretty common with young horses, but by the time a hose gets to Holly's age it should have been over and done with a long time ago.
I think you need to look at the issue the same way as most problems we strike with our horses. I have some thoughts for why you are having problems with the bridling, but instead of offering them I want to ask you some questions that may help.
Let's pretend I called you up and told you I was having trouble with Riley wearing a horse rug. He seems to be worried when I put it on his back and then gets really worried by the leg straps. He scoots away to avoid me when I try to get near him with the rug. How would you suggest I go about fixing the problem?
Hint: it's not about getting him to accept the rug or in Holly's case, the bridle.
Have a think about it and get back to if you are unsure what to do. I'm happy to offer more advice, but I just want to encourage you to think more deeply about the problem and come up with your own solution.
I guess I was hoping for another answer, a bit of magic wand work. I think I now what the response. I use to get Holly from the paddock for Charlotte and work with her as I was coming down to the tack area. This is a fair walk and I probably worked a few issues out on the way down however Charlotte has now been promoted to bringing Holly down and even though she would pay attention to a few things like lagging in her lead etc she would not effectively fix the situation by the time she gets down. This has now slowly overtime crept into a bigger situation. The bridle episode. I knew that there would be some issues with Charlotte bringing Holly down but I thought I could work that out with the situation that presented. I guess I need to pull back the layers and work on the sourness of being caught or whatever it is first and not the outcome, which is the bridling. I guess I need to go back to getting Holly better before the tack up.
The secret is in getting a change of thought in every aspect of putting the bridle on and off. So when you lower Holly's head don't stop asking for it to stay low until you feel she will hold there herself for a little while. When you get the bit in her mouth, don't accept that the job is done until she takes the bit as opposed to you inserting the bit in her mouth. You need to break the steps down and work on each step until she is soft and focused. It's not enough to have imposed it on her so that she submits to being bridled. The fact that things have deteriorated since Charlotte has been doing the handling suggests that you have been settling for submission, rather than willingness. But submission goes out the window when the person asking for the submission is not up to the task of demanding it. So don't stop with Holly submitting to taking the bit, keep working until her thoughts and feelings about the bridle change.
This video demonstrates some amazing puppetry. It is from a London play and the puppets were designed to mimic the movement of a real horse using 3 people to control the legs, head and neck, ears and tail. It is really very clever.
We had a new arrival today. Michele and I found one of the world’s ugliest dogs at the local shelter to bring home. He is an 18 month old something. He looks like a terrier, but it’s hard to say for sure. Michele thinks he is a cross between a Cairn Terrier and a Hyena. His name is Suds.
Our Jack Russell, Snazzy thinks he is a great toy and they are getting along really well. But I think it will be awhile before we can trust him with the chooks. He already managed a mouth full of feathers today.
I have just about finalized clinics for October. There are 4 clinics planned and you can see the details on the Schedule page. I am still working on a venue for the 5-day clinic, but the others are all set.
If you are interested in the 5-day clinic, please contact me directly. But for inquires regarding the others clinics please contact the organizers shown on the Schedule page.
You should be aware that Michele will not be teaching at the clinics because of commitments at home. If you were hoping to get help specifically from Michele, I’m sorry that you’ll be disappointed.
I wanted to ask a question about grumpy horses following on from your blog entry.
My horse is one of those that meets me at the gate and comes up to me when I walk through her paddock. But I didn’t understand from your blog what I should do about it. She never bites or kicks and I don’t feel she is really threatening me, but I don’t like her ears to be so flat. How do I fix it?
I really enjoy your site and have read nearly all of it. I have also ordered a copy of your book and I can’t wait to open the pages.
Thanks in advance.
I’m very glad you are enjoying the web site and I hope you equally enjoy the book. It’s been awhile since I was last in Alberta, but when I lived in Canada it was one of my favourite places to visit.
With regard to your mare pinning her ears back, I wouldn’t do anything about that. I tell people not to train your horse how to hold his ears. The ear thing comes from bad feelings deep inside the horse and not from tension in the muscles that control the ears.
The answer to solving the problem lies in always helping your horse be softer in her thoughts. There are hard thoughts and soft thoughts. Hard thoughts are based in stress and worry and soft thoughts come from relaxation, alertness and a quiet mind. You know when your horse has soft thoughts because her response to pressure will weigh nothing, she’ll have an alert attentiveness to you and she’ll be ready for anything without concern. But with hard thoughts comes resistance, distraction or lack of focus and a poor attitude.
So every time your horse is heavy on the lead rope or reins, spend some time right then to make it less so. Every time you horse pushes into you or pulls away from you, take the time to change her thought. Every time your horse mentally disconnects from you, take a moment to get her thought back with you. Building softness and good feelings is in every thing you do. It’s not a series of exercises you do to fix the problem. It’s a way of life around a horse. At first it will seem like you are correcting her every second, but you are nevertheless going to miss a lot of opportunities to help her. You just keep chipping away at the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. One day you will suddenly realize you don’t remember when your horse flattened her ears last.
I know I haven’t given you a ”how to fix it” answer. But that’s for you to explore and experiment with, because I don’t know you or your mare and haven’t got a clue how I might handle the situation with her.
What advice do you have with a horse that pulls back? I sent him to a trainer who used a pull back collar (ed. see the photo of a pull back collar) and said he fixed the problem, but he still does it. He’s okay if I stand near him, but when I walk away he will pull back 4 out of 5 times. I’ve tried using as strong halter and rope, but when he pulls he just leans with all his weight until it either breaks or I let him off.
I would appreciate any tips.
It’s very dangerous to tie a horse solid if they are a confirmed puller. Some horses will pull so hard they will hurt themselves and some may even break their neck. I never do it and have needed to do it – even with chronic pullers.
I suggest you check out section on Training Tips in the Horse Talk page of this site. On the 4th bar down there is a description of a technique that Michele and I have used with a lot of success for horses that have been really serious pullers. It’s pretty safe, but you still need to use good sense when applying the method. After you have read that, get back to me if you have any questions.
Then after you’ve had a play with the method and you think your horse is doing well, I suggest you use a Blocker Tie for tying your horse up. They are brilliant with horses that are less than perfect and until your horse proves that he has become reliable with being tied up, a Blocker Tie will keep him safe and even improve his ability to stand quietly when left tied.
You can find a description and a method for making your own version of a Blocker Tie also on the Horse Talk page in the section under the description of teaching your horse not to pull back. Again, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get back to me.
For people who don’t already know about the movie about Buck Brannaman, here is the trailer.
It’s already screening in the US and I guess it will arrive on shores soon.
At the request of Ben from the UK, I have changed the Soap Box to a more conventional “blog” style page. For the most part you probably won’t notice much difference. But the big difference and really the main reason for making the change is that now each entry will have categories and tags. What this means is that it will make it easier for a reader to search for a particular topic. So if you want to find out about side pulls, you’ll be able to click on the tag and it will find every blog entry where side pulls get a mention.
It will take awhile for the search engines to accumulate enough tags from this site before that becomes useful. But in time it will make finding a topic of interest really easy. This site has grown so much now contains so much information (more than I ever envisaged it would), that finding discussion on a specific topic has become very cumbersome.
I am still in the process of learning the ins and outs of the blogging software, so be patient with me if pictures or videos come out a little funny or formatting is not quite right.
You can still read and search past Soap Box entries by clicking on the archive boxes in the side bar. And you can use the search facility in the left hand side bar of the Home page to find topics from the archived entries.
Let me know if you like or don’t like the new format. Lastly, I have not yet decided whether or not to add a “comments” option to the blog. It would allow people to make a comment on each entry at the bottom of the entry. However, I have some concern about people who might troll the site and make themselves a nuisance with inappropriate comments. Let me know if you would like a comments section added.
I have also added a new chapter to the Story page. Satts’ training has come to a crossroad and I’m forced to get really inventive to overcome a major hurdle. I hope you enjoy it.
Speaking of Ben from the UK…
A question that might be interesting for you to talk about on the blog:
I quite often see horses that seem quite content in their work by and large but sometimes will tend to show a bit of emotion by lashing their tail or flattening their ears when working. It doesn't seem to affect what they are actually doing or how well they are doing it (in fact you see it quite often with very high-level dressage horses, though they are of course far from exemplars of relaxed work) but it does look like a sign that the horse doesn't feel that that their rider is working with them as much as they could be. But then it seems like a detail point as well- sometimes it seems as much a function of the horse's personality as anything else - and if the horse is otherwise relaxed and accurate in what they are doing does it really matter? I'd be very interested to get your thoughts on these types of expression, what we can learn from them and whether they are something we should be looking to change? Or to, more accurately, to set things up so the horse can change them?
This is quite a common issue and can take many forms. You correctly point out that some horses will be very obedient, but often have their ears flattened. But an even more common scenario, which stems from the same cause, is the horse that seems happy to see you and as you go to pat his forehead or stroke his neck, he looks away at the moment of contact.
In my view, these behaviours are telling you how a horse feels. Horses are by nature very submissive and are easy to train into submission. Because of that I don’t believe that the appearance of a horse to do things willingly is a good indicator of how they feel. For example, I don’t think that when a horse that comes up to you in the paddock you can use that as a sign that he wants to be with you. Horses can learn that walking up to the idiot with the lead rope and halter is their lot in life and they do it without too much argument. But I believe more can be learned by the small expressions of interest a horse shows you. For example, things that would bother me are flattened ears, busy tail, not looking at me, an interest in what might be my pockets, crowding me, not coming to me in a straight line, not coming close enough to touch – you get the picture. Any one of those things or combination of things tells me that there is more work to do on our relationship.
BUT, people often make the mistake of trying to correct these signs. I’ve seen many people growl at their horse or slap their horse for pinning its ears when asked to do something. This won’t help at all. If anything, it will confirm in the horse’s mind that he has a good reason to be grumpy.
When we first got Michele’s horse, Birch, she was an incredibly grumpy horse. Another trainer had just broken her in for a rescue organization. Almost every interaction with Birch was greeted with flattened ears and a tight mouth. She never did anything wrong and she always tried to work out what was being asked, but inside she was plotting how to burn down our house while we slept at night.
Michele never did anything about the sourness. She simply worked through the training process like she would with any other horse. She focused on softness, attentiveness and responsiveness. Michele didn’t care if Birch got a grumpy expression; she only cared when Birch’s attention wandered or her she lost her softness to the aids. It took maybe a couple of years before we hardly ever saw Birch’s sourpuss again. It still shows up sometimes when she feels Michele has overstepped the mark. But it’s rare and even when it does surface; it’s a good thing because it alerts Michele to how her horse is feeling. In the photo you can see Birch helping Michele to train a young Clydie X to lead.
Thanks for your question and I hope I have answered it sufficiently.
Have a look at the video below.
I looked at this and couldn’t believe the assessment of most of the photos by the author of the clip, was real. They are so blind to the stress and worry of the horses that I believe they have never really thought about how a horse feels.
On the other hand, the argument by the original person for whom this clip was meant as a response, is just as spurious in my opinion. She argues that bits and spurs are evil and the root cause of all the suffering of the horses in her video. Does she really believe that the those horses would be happy horses if the people had not used bits and spurs? That seems pretty illogical to me.
I think both of them are arguing from an extreme position and are not really looking at the problem - which is education. Neither the original poster nor the person responding are seeing the issue from the horse’s perspective. They see it only from their own ideological standpoint - which does nothing to help the horses.
Here is a clip by a couple of 14-year-old girls who have been advertising themselves as horse trainer in Victoria. The video I was wanting to show you has been blocked, so this is one of the tamer ones the girls posted.
There have been a lot very abusive posts about these two girls on a horse forum. But I can’t get worried about them. They are so young and so silly. But they have a huge advantage over most of us in that at 14 years old the still have room to grow out of their stupidity. Whereas, being in my middle fifties, I’m not going to get any smarter – I’m as smart as I’ll ever be.