Archive - March 2011
We move house in 5 days and this will be the last Soap Box entry until we get the internet sorted out in our new home. It may be 2-3 weeks. I will be back online with news and pictures of our new home as soon as possible. In the meantime, you are welcome to keep sending e-mails and questions. I’ll respond to them as often as I can.
A Quiet Mind
Yesterday I was helping a girl whose horse was anxious about being separated from his paddock companion. My student rode her horse to the back gully of the property and I walked along side, while the companion horse was waiting at the gate to the adjacent paddock.
There were a couple of moments when the gelding didn’t want to ride away from his friend, but Natalie handled it really well and made a good change. The ride was uneventful until we headed back towards the paddock where the companion horse was waiting. Even then Nat did a great job of keep her horse mentally with her. But when the other horse called out and the gate was in sight, Nat’s horse became very excited and threatened to bolt homeward. I grabbed one rein while I stood next to the horse and Nat stayed in the saddle. I told Nat to just sit there and let me take control of the reins. I held the rein firmly and asked Indy to shift his weight and soften. I waited and waited. Every time Indy leaned on my hand, I firmed up even more and waited. It took less than 60 sec for him to melt into my hand. He had hardly moved his feet at all, yet he couldn’t have made a bigger change in his energy level if had just run a 100-mile race. I released my grip on the rein and told Nat she was okay to ride him back home now. He was a perfect gentlemen the rest of the way (even when his friend called out again). When we finished and were talking, Nat asked me what I had done to get the change. She thought I had done hardly anything compared to how busy she was working to keep him together, yet I got a better change.
It was an excellent observation and a good question. And I believe what I did is the basis of everything Michele and I try to get across to folks. It is the difference between whether a horse hates his work or is okay with it. It is the difference between lightness and softness. It is the thing that eludes most horse people and even more horses.
What I did with Indy was wait until he had a quiet mind. I released for the quiet mind.
So what is a quiet mind?
I believe a quiet mind is a restful mind, a settled mind and a mind that is not working on a plan. A quiet mind is not a sleepy mind or a dull mind. It is alert. It is waiting. But it is peaceful.
When a horse is bothered his mind cannot be quiet. An anxious horse has a busy mind because it is constantly working on evasions and resistances. Many people confuse a horse that is light on the aids with one that is soft. But being light on the aids can be an evasion, and evasion is not a characteristic seen in horses with quiet minds. Being “light” is about the outside of the horse. But softness requires a quiet mind in a horse. Softness is about the inside of the horse. A horse can be light, but not soft. However, a horse cannot be soft without being light.
I think when we talk about the “happy” horse; we are really talking about a horse that has a quiet mind. When you see a horse working that has a busy mind, you can be sure he does not feel okay inside. Whether or not a horse has a quiet mind is my personal test of a horse that is comfortable with the training.
The trick becomes to recognize a horse whose mind is quiet. Many people confuse dull or shut down horses with quiet. But I think such horses are quiet only on the outside and have quite a lot of turmoil inside. Their minds are not quiet, just their feet. You can usually tell this by the lack of responsiveness in such horse.
I ask you to take the time to view and compare the two video clips I have included below. They are both of reining horses. One is Stacy Westfall riding her horse bridleless and bareback. This clip went viral and became a huge marketing success for Stacy. The second clip is the one that Warwick Schiller alerted me to a few days ago of Shawn Flarida riding Wimpy’s Little Step. Compare the two rides. In my view one horse has a quiet mind and the other has a busy mind. One feels okay about the work and the other is deeply bothered. See the difference in how they feel about the transitions, about the fast work, the slow work and about the standing still. To me, they are black and white.
While we are comparing video clips, check out the one below and compare it to the clip of the lady hand treating her horse that I put up on 19 March. Cute trick!
Jess and Chops getting ready for their role in the next "Pirates of the Carribean" film.
The Early Bird
A couple of days ago I talked about getting a change of thought and how many of us settle for a change in what a horse is doing rather than insisting on a changing what he is thinking. On the weekend, I gave some lessons, which highlighted the lack of awareness of people; which in my opinion is the root cause of the problem.
Most of us don’t act on a problem until the problem is out of control. We don’t see how things are shaping up in a way that will lead to a problem and fix it at that point. We only see and respond to issues that put us close to the edge of real trouble rather than at the first hint of trouble.
One of the lessons I had yesterday was with Jess and Chops. Chops is my horse and Jess has been leasing her for a couple of years. She is doing a good job riding and looking after Chops and I am very glad Chops has such a wonderful home. But Jess rides out a lot with her mother on Wicket and this has lead to Chops being strongly attached to Wicket. Jess came to the lesson yesterday wanting to work on helping Chops feel better when she and Wicket become separated on a ride.
Chops is pretty well educated, although in no way a finished horse. She is an incredibly sensitive horse and can be highly-strung and reactive when she has an emotional meltdown. But she can also work off a thought and knows a lot about how to be a good riding horse. In fact, she knows stuff that Jess has yet to learn. The result is that Chops can give a rider 10% of her mental commitment and still do most of what they would ask. On most days that is not a problem for Jess and it only becomes a problem when something upsets her like being separated from Wicket.
Yesterday, I pointed out to Jess how much of the little things she was not correcting, while Wicket was standing nearby. There were moments of crookedness, moments where the rhythm changed slightly, moments where her thought left the arena etc. Most times these moments were fleeting and almost imperceptible. They were little things and unless you were looking for them, a person would not know anything was wrong. But they were enough to tell me that Jess was not getting more than 10% of Chops’ focus.
Jess did a great job of addressing each issue as they arose and it was not long before I could stop coaching on her and let her deal with the problem. After a few minutes there was a clear and obvious change in the level of focus and attentiveness Chops offered to Jess. At that point, Wicket was lead away to test the quality of change Jess had achieved in Chops. The horse showed a definite interest in Wicket’s departure, but Jess was earlier enough to intervene with her idea. Chops was hardly bothered to even acknowledge that her best friend and security blanket was no longer nearby. I was very proud of both Jess and Chops.
The exercise clearly showed the importance of having a heightened awareness of a horse’s emotional state in preventing small problems from escalating into unmanageable situation. Seeing from the earliest moment the deterioration in how a horse is feeling is basic to building a good relationship with a horse. If you don’t address the small issue while they are still small you are left with trying to rescue your horse from a bad situation. Sometimes you won’t be able to rescue the horse and are left to bail out of an unsafe situation. Sometimes even if you can recover your horse you may have lost some degree trust in your leadership because you allowed him to enter into trouble. There are only so many times you can do that before a horse loses confidence in a person.
On a sightly different note, Jess’ sister sat on Chops at the end of the lesson. I have said that Chops is a very sensitive horse and some people find she has a hair trigger of a “go” button. Jess’ sister is a not a horse rider and I watched with interest as Ailish asked Chops to walk. There was no response. Ailish pushed and pushed with her legs, but Chops just stood there. Jess got Ailish to turn Chops and kick and Chops made a few steps and stopped. Here was one of the most sensitive and “go-ey” horses I have known being kicked in the sides by a rider and acting like a slug? It was such a good example of the old adage Ray Hunt used to quote “they know when you know and they know when you don’t know.”
I am very interested in your article about knowing if you changed your horse's thoughts or just got submission. I understand the distinction you are making. However, it is the execution that I need clarification on. You said for the back up:
Begin by presenting your request to back up as softly and quietly as you’d like it to be one day. Don’t start with the pressure you know will get a response, but use the smallest request you think you can do. Of course, at first your horse won’t hear your request or if he does it will have no meaning to him. So firm up quite quickly to a pressure you know will get him to move with life. Suddenly your horse will move backwards with purpose and energy.
Could you please describe what you physically do to start your back up request and what you actually do to escalate the pressure to change his thought. I think when I've asked my horse for a back up in a rope halter have received more submission and sometimes sheer reluctance. I want to get away from pulling back on lead with more pressure to make him move and I want to improve his focus.
I deliberately avoided specific methods for teaching a horse to back up because I didn't want methods to get in the way of the message. However, there are many many ways of asking for the back up, ranging from pushing on a horse's nose to pulling on his tail. But most trainers teach either to push back with a feel of the lead rope OR some variation of wiggling the lead rope in front of the horse. What you do is not so important. It's the changing of his thought that counts. If you a getting resistance or a cranky expression, your horse is not thinking "back up". He is thinking something else and the pressure you use is getting in his way of trying to carry out his thought. He may be moving his feet back, but he doesn't agree with you that it is a good idea.
In the example of your horse that knows how to back up when asked, but is not interested in offering softness, you need to present a clear signal. For example, you might hold the lead rope close to the halter knot under his chin and push it back just enough so the horse can clearly register the feel of the noseband. It needs to be a small amount of pressure - like the energy it might take to slide a sheet of paper across a desk. If your horse does not prepare to shift he weight and organize his body to step backwards, you increase the pressure of the lead rope enough to get his attention. You are telling him this is important and he needs to listen. The increase in pressure needs to happen quite quickly in order to wake him up. The moment you get his attention, go back to your polite request again for him to move back. Keep repeating this procedure until you get a response from your soft request. Keep practicing until the life in your horse matches the life in your request.
Keep in mind this is just an example and not necessarily something I would do with your horse or with a horse that didn't understand the idea of back his feet from a feel on the lead rope. It's just to illustrate a concept.
If you examine the clip below you’ll see the fellow demonstrate several different approaches to back a horse from the ground between 2:20 to 3:30 minutes. The fellow is a student of Clinton Anderson (an Aussie who works in the USA). I don’t like the way he asks the horse and I don’t like the quality of the back up the horse offers, but it at least shows some different methods of asking. The really big thing I would change about what the fellow in the video clip does is that I would use about 1/10 of the pressure he uses in my first initial request to the horse. The bloke in the clip is like a bull in a China shop. His polite ask should be no more than as if he was jiggling a tea bag in a cup. I hope that helps.
Hello Ross and Michele
I keep meaning to send an email but it seems time has got away with me. I bet time is running very fast for you both with the new adventure that you have embarked on.
After all the heavy rain I was going to try and get some lessons with Prince in but had abit of an accident with him which was no fault of his own and I fell into one of the railings on the round yard fracturing my coccyx bone which has been a great delight to get over. This put a huge damper on continuing with his training which is a real bummer (pardon the pun) considering we had progressed so nicely.
I have now taken him home because having him at the agistment park was costly when I couldn't do much. I really wanted to get a few more lessons in before you left but this seems like it is not the course of my journey at the moment. I don’t know how long before you come back for a clinic but when your settled and ready to maybe venture this way again please let me know and I will be the first of I am sure very many who will put there hands up for a clinic spot.
The real reason I am writing is to wish you both the very best on this new adventure. I hope the move is not to tedious and that it runs smoothly and quickly so that you can get to really enjoy your new home.
I want to let you both know what a huge impact you have both had on my life with my horses. I know I started very slowly and drove home after each lesson day not knowing much more than when I arrived. This is no reflection on either of you just my confused mind that could not see past my clumsy hands and feet. BUT once the little light bulb went off it made the world of difference to me and my horses who I believe are also extremely grateful that I had met you both.
I am going to miss you both tremendously and not being able to do monthly lessons is going to have to be something I will learn to get use to but I bet I'll have heaps to ask on those clinics.
I hope the people of NSW really appreciate what they have coming to their state.
ALL THE BEST!!! Travel safe and please return soon for a visit.
Thanks Irena for your very kind words and for your support over the last few years. We have seen you come a long way in that time and you are hardly the same horsewoman that we first met that day we arrived to pick up your horse. I know you have a strong sense of your philosophy and purpose in how you want to interact with horses and this will carry you through to be even better the next time we see you.
We are already making plans for clinics in Victoria later in the year, so I know we will be seeing you (and many others) again. I intend on keeping the web site alive once we get set up, so you can keep tabs on us and scheduled clinics through that. In the meantime, I hope you will continue to e-mail me your questions and thoughts, and keep us abreast of how you are getting along with Nicky, Prince and Holly. Tell Charlotte that every time she handles a horse, I'll be watching.
A Change of Thought – How Do You Know If You Got It?
I was discussing with a student about what a change of thought for a horse really is. I think at an intellectual level many people understand the concept that a change of thought means a horse has given up the idea he had before you got the change. It seems really simple when you put it like “he has given up his idea and substituted it with your idea.” And in principle a change of thought is a simple and easy concept. But when it comes to folk putting it into practice, the understanding seems to be far more elusive.
Take a look at the video clip.
In this video, the lady tries to teach the horse to stop pushing on her and grabbing the treat out of her. She bumps him with her hand when he tries to grab the treat. But if you watch closely you’ll see that the horse still pushes on her and never stopped thinking about a way he could get another treat. The lady managed to do enough to avoid losing her fingers, but not enough to teach the horse to stand quietly and wait until a treat is offered rather than pushing on her to demand another treat. The handler never got a change of thought from the horse – she only moderated his behaviour, but did not do enough to ensure he won’t keep trying to grab for a treat.
If a person is aware of these things, it’s not hard to see whether or not you get a change of thought. Just because a horse does what you ask, does not mean he changed his thought. The test comes if you can repeat the response again and with less pressure.
For example, let’s look at asking a horse to back up on the lead rope. Let’s assume the horse knows about backing up, but he has been trained to be slow and resistant to the idea. His idea is to wait until the pressure builds to the point where the discomfort level is so high he just has to move back to get out of the way.
Begin by presenting your request to back up as softly and quietly as you’d like it to be one day. Don’t start with the pressure you know will get a response, but use the smallest request you think you can do. Of course, at first your horse won’t hear your request or if he does it will have no meaning to him. So firm up quite quickly to a pressure you know will get him to move with life. Suddenly your horse will move backwards with purpose and energy. But did you get a change of thought? How can you know? Well, you test it by asking for another step back by just using your smallest pressure again. Did he back up nicely from your soft ask or not? If the answer is “yes”, you got a change of thought. If the answer is “no”, there was no change of thought and you need to ask stronger again.
I want to make the point here that firming up with a stronger pressure is not meant to make your horse back up. Rather it is to teach him to be aware of your small request. It’s a “hey you, I’m talking to you, wake up” call. It is meant to get in the way of his ability to tune out to what you are asking when you use the initial lowest amount of pressure. It is not designed to force him to back up.
If you have to keep asking stronger than your first small request to get him to move, you have not through to your horse’s brain to change his mind. You repeat the exercise until he can back up from a soft feel on the lead rope. Don’t stop repeating the exercise until that happens; otherwise you are always going to have to do more than you’d like to overcome his thoughts to stand his ground. But once you get a change in his thoughts, you can move onto the next exercise. However, don’t be surprised if your horse’s habit of resisting the back up returns in a matter of moments – it’s part of the training process. Just keep working on getting to his mind to change again.
A horse cannot offer something with softness (which is different from lightness) without letting go of his ideas to resist. You know you get a change of thought by the softness of mind and body that he offers. There is very little that is beautiful about working with a horse when there is an absence of softness. Being able to direct a horse’s movement without directing his thoughts has little value. To do otherwise is nothing more than teaching submission.
Here is an e-mail from Warwick Schiller who is one of the top reining trainers in the world. So I am very grateful that he was able to point out a good example of neck reining. BTW, Shawn Flarida is one of the most successful trainers and competitors in the world.
I liked your blog on neckreining. You said you couldn't find a good example of neck reining, well reining is all about neck reining. Here's a good example if you need one.
Thanks Warwick. I hoped you might contribute a video or thought on the subject. The horse Shawn is riding is a super little girl with lots of try - and speedy! He obviously is a pretty handy trainer.
We arrived back from a 3 day clinic in Adelaide on Tuesday night. Many thanks to the folks in SA for their support and enthusiasm – especially, Debbie, Di and Jane.
There was quite a diversity of horses and people. For many of those attending it was their first experience of our style of horsemanship and Michele and I were very pleased with the enthusiasm with which they embraced it. The clinic was composed of a good mixture of groundwork and riding and I think most people could see the relevance and relationship that these aspects of horsemanship had to each other.
Again, thanks to everybody and I hope we get invited back sometime.
Click on the images to enlarge
I want to teach my horse to neck rein, but don’t know how to start. Is it easy and what pitfalls should I look out for?
Teaching a horse to neck rein is quite simple. But to do it well a horse should be soft and correct with two reins first. You can’t expect a horse to be correct with neck reining if he is heavy and resistant to working with two reins. So the first thing to do is to be sure your horse follows the feel of the inside rein with minimum resistance and a correct flexion with his feet following the line of the bend. When that is established, teaching neck reining is pretty easy.
Again, start with a rein in each hand. Bring the outside rein against your horse’s neck, then a moment later use the inside rein to direct your horse through the turn. Let me just clarify what is happening here. You want your horse to turn when he feels the outside rein against his neck (thus the name, neck rein). So you offer the feel of the outside rein against his neck. At first nothing will happen because he only knows how to turn from the feel of the inside rein at this stage. When nothing happens, support your outside rein by using your inside rein to turn your horse. You repeat this over and over. Always use your outside rein against his neck first, wait for a moment, then if there is no try use the inside rein to get the turn. In time and with enough repetition, your horse will learn that the outside rein against his neck is a message to turn to the inside.
Make sure your outside rein does not pull on the horse’s mouth. It should just lay against his neck and not put pressure on the mouth. When you use the inside rein to turn your horse I find it easier for the horse to bring the inside rein out wide towards your knee, rather than back towards your hip.
Secondly, if your horse resists the outside rein, don’t use it stronger. If you try to push the horse across he will probably counter bend and tip his nose to the outside of the turn rather than follow the line of the turn with his face. The outside rein should just be a feel against the horse’s neck and if he resists, use the inside rein to clear up his confusion. Never get firm with the outside rein like they do in those western movies – it will just cause incorrectness and resistance (like it does in those movie horses).
Only when turning a horse with the outside rein against his neck is well established should you go to one-handed neck reining. Don’t be too quick to riding with the reins in one hand because in the early stages you need to be there with your inside rein to the occasional correction.
I searched hard on YouTube to find a video clip of neck reining done well, but I only found poor examples. The clip below is an example of poor neck reining, but I include it because it demonstrates some very common mistakes such as pull a horse across and tightening the outside rein.
Dear Mr. Jacobs
Congratulations on the new abode, looks wonderful from what you have shown.
While I would like to approve your choice of a name, I am afraid I am going to have to side with the Missus.
I was wondering if you could expound on keeping horses sound, and when to baby a horse and when not to.
My new horse is sore behind, almost certainly from some rumbles in the pasture which are thick and gummy with mud, and more rain on the way. He is low guy on the totem pole and gets chased around. But I don't think it is more than the average horseplay, and am concerned if I move him to another group, he will just have to go through the settling in phase again.
He was qutie sore behind in soft footing and barely off on harder footing, and I just gave him four days off. He's still stiff and reluctant to move out in the soft footing.
My gut is to give him a few more days off. I have two horse retired, one with navicular and one with a torn suspensory, and am mildly freaked out the new horse is a bit off.
I am searching for the middle ground between placing him in bubble wrap and ignoring a problem that is real. How much time do you give off for mild soreness?
P.S. Making good progress with the jumping. Or at least I was...(do not thnk that contributed to soreness, am jumping teeny tiny jumps)
I'm not surprised you agree with Michele about the naming of our new home. I find most women just don't have my flare for bestowing names!
The issue with your horse's muscle soreness is tricky. I have found even many experienced therapists and vets are only guessing when it comes to diagnosis.
The most common causes of muscle soreness are (i) damaged connective tissue, (iii) damage to the insertion points of the tendon or (ii) torn muscle fibres.
The first two are the least serious and the last one only serious in that healing can take a long time. But all 3 causes are normally repaired with rest.
Connective tissue damage is usually tearing of the collagen strands that join the muscle fibres in a muscle bed. This is the type of soreness you experience the first few times you exercise. It is over and done within a few days.
Damage at the level of the tendon is usually accompanied by inflammation and soreness. Again, time is the only cure that I know. If the damage has caused serious lameness or tenderness of the tissue, then rest is the best treatment. If the damage is minor, usually mild exercise is okay.
A muscle tear is the most debilitating injury of all three causes. It is pretty painful and recovery can take weeks and many months. Michele's horse, Birch has recently recovered from a muscle tear in her chest. It took about 6 months before she was sound.
People have their own preferred treatments for muscle soreness. I have experience with therapists of all persuasions treating client's horses - vets with drugs, physiotherapists, chiropractors, Bowen's therapists, acupuncture therapists, massage therapists. But not one horse was ever improved 24hr after treatment. Some horses were better immediately after treatment, but never after 24hrs. So in my experience I have found only time is a reliable treatment for muscle soreness.
I tend to keep the question of whether to work or not a horse that suffers soreness quite simple. If the work makes the horse worse, stop working or adjust the work. If not, keep working. It's not a particularly scientific approach, but I have found the horses tend to let me know if they need rest or not. In the case of your horse that appears to do poorly on a soft surface, but is okay on a harder surface, I would avoid the soft surfaces. It is probably making him work his hind end too hard. I would probably try to work him lightly with lots of stretching on a firmer surface. Don't ask for any work that causes him to power too much from behind. If that makes him sore, stop doing it. I wish I had more to offer, but these are insights based on my experience.
Well I would like to defend the naming ability of my gender, but I have a dog named freckles (she's spotted) and my new horse was named Tortellini when I bought him, and I thought that was a fine name.
Perhaps I shouldn't render judgement.
Your very lucid response to my question is greatly appreciated. I too have experience with multiple vets, physical therapists, digital x-rays,ultrasound... I still don't really know why Fergus is so broken, and after you made the comment that there is lttle effect of massage etc 24 hours later, I realized, hey... he's right.
Fortunately, Tortellini (or Tort for short) feels much better, the flat tire and stiffness behind seems to have disappeared.
This leads to another question (I gotta million of them), what do you think of stall rest? We tried that several times with Fergus, and it is the primary treatment for soft tissue injuries around here. Ferg was on stall rest for three month periods on three different occasions. Towards the end of the third, I just reitred him, as he made it very clear he was going to hurt the stable owner, and this is a horse that doesn't bluff. He is also a horse that you can normally set a baby on his back with complete confidence. After several months of stall rest he had to be hand walked with two people and two chains like a rouge stallion.
Stall rest sentences (I guess you know how I feel about them) of six months or even a year are not uncommon. This is an eventing barn, and a fox hunting barn, and it seems to have it's fair share of injured horses.
Just curious what you thought.
Personally, I am not a fan of stall rest. But I am also not a vet and would be advised by my vet as to whether or not to lock up my horse. I have confined horses in the past in stables for various reasons, but I always try to move the horse to a large yard or paddock as soon as possible. Our horses don't live in stables and confinement to a stable is particularly stressful to them on the odd occasion that it is necessary - such as when Riley broke a leg. I believe that to lock up a horse for 6 or 12 months is okay if absolutely necessary. But locking them up for that long when it is not necessary is incredibly cruel and abusive. A horse does not have the mentality ability to cope with long term stabling without suffering.
Hello, I am writing from the US! I found your website online during my daily search for answers about horsemanship. I did not grow up around horses and so feel at a disadvantage being around them now that I am 28. I started working for a barn as a stable hand and groom three years ago and I love horses, but I still do not feel as though I know much about them. I would like to learn to ride, and have attempted lessons with several different instructors, English, Western, some claiming to be "NH" but none of them seemed to really "fit" with me. Most instructors seem to be in a huge hurry and have no desire to answer the questions I have. They seem to have no interest in the horse itself. They want to tell me how to ride, like you would tell someone how to drive a car. My problem is, that I do not think of a horse as a machine, I think of it as a living creature. Because of this, I want to feel comfortable, and to feel comfortable, I want to understand my horse, I want to be friends with my horse and I want to communicate well with my horse.
I have not met tons of instructors by any means, but have seen many as a stable hand and can tell right away if a trainer or instructor would be a good fit for me. I have yet to find one I think would have ever asked himself or herself those questions that I ask. Am I being too picky? Am I romanticizing by hoping I will find some calm and laid back cowboy that isn't in a rush to earn points or titles? I just want to find someone who generally cares about horses and loves to learn and teach others about them. Is this possible? One of my other problems is, I would like to learn to ride bareback and bridless. If you are going to start out teaching a horse, and you teach it when it is young and start at the lightest pressure, why wouldn't you teach it to respond to commands without equipment? Or at least less equipment. None of the folks I have ever met understand that at all. They say you have to break a horse and teach it with bits and reins and all, and then when it is good and responsive enough, you can got to bareback, or bitless. Why not start out that way from the beginning? It seems like you'd be skipping over a lot of unnecessary stuff if you did. I am not an expert by any means, as I said, I have only been around horses for three years as an adult. But I would love to hear your advice and opinions on what I have written here.
Lost and Lonely in the Horse World...and still not Riding!
It is hard finding an instructor to suit a person. We all have different ideas and requirements of what we want from an instructor that it can become a nightmare finding the right one for you. It is no different than finding the right medical doctor or violin teacher. I think you just have to take the time to try various people until you click with somebody. But give each instructor you find a fair go. As you say you are new to horses and have a lot to learn. That may mean that you don't yet have enough knowledge to be able to make definitive judgments about what is the best. You may need more experience and information about how horses operate before setting your principles in concrete. It's like trying to decide which is the best horse feed in the world after attending a seminar by only one feed manufacturer.
With regard to your question about starting out with a horse riding bareback and bitless. Firstly, I think bareback riding over a long period of time is bad for horses. It causes back problems for horses (and people) and leads to poor riding habits. I recently wrote on my blog about this here.
Secondly, while there is nothing wrong with riding bitless, there is also nothing wrong with riding with a bit. I usually start horses without a bit using a side pull (you can find out about side pull here by clicking on the 3rd bar under in the Training Tips header). But when the horse understands the meaning of the reins, they graduate to being ridden in a snaffle bit. Bits allow refinement of the reins. Gear like sidepull pull, halters, bitless bridles etc can be quite crude in their action on a green horse. Bitless gear is good on a green horse because they allow a rider to be quite firm on the reins without causing any pain if a horse shows strong resistance during the learning phase. So a horse can learn to give to pressure without the fear of pain. But bits add refinement and allow quite small movement of the reins to have clear meaning to the horse - something that can be a harder with bitless head gear. As a horse progresses and become more educated it is always good to graduate to a bit. It may not be necessary to use a bit, but I believe every horse should be educated to be comfortable with a bit.
I hope that helps and good luck in your search.
Having lived in Canada and tried my hand at social ice hockey, I have great empathy for this little fellow.
Michele has decided that the new name for our farm will Rusty Gum Farm. The reason why is shown in the photo on the right. The trees shed their bark in late summer to reveal a rich rust coloured, smooth trunk. The whole property is littered with hundreds of these trees and they make such an impressive sight that Michele feels compelled to give their name to our new home.
Personally I wanted to call it The Love Shack. But as I discovered today, having one vote each means Michele wins.
There is another myth that is pretty common among horse owners that I want to debunk and add to the Myths and Misconceptions page of Horse Talk.
I have often heard people say that when a horse chews on something or licks something that it is a sign they are lacking a mineral in their diet or are mineral deficient. Usually this refers to salt, iron or calcium. People seem to think that horses have the ability to sense their mineral requirements and to regulate them. While this has been shown to be true of some species, there is no evidence that it exist in horses. The most well known example of appetite regulating animals is the rabbit. It was discovered decades ago that rabbits have a “salt appetite” and will seek out salt-rich foods when they are deficient. They will also avoid salt-rich foods when they are not deficient in salt. But horses don’t seem to be able to do this. Humans can’t do it either.
When a horse licks your hand or a rock or a fence post, it is probably because he likes the taste. Horses are able to discern subtle flavours and can detect tastes in foods that would seem tasteless to us. Sometimes you can see horses put strange things in their mouth like manure or thistles or after birth. I’ve seen all these things and somebody has always put it down to proof that the horse was deficient in one or more minerals. But the simple fact is that they like the taste. So if you ever go to dinner with a horse, don’t let them order for you!
While we are on the subject of scientific evidence and research into horses, look at the video below. Last month I put up a YouTube clip of some second rate research looking into the use of whips during a horse race. Well, I came across this clip as another example of crappy research done in the name of science. The study attempts to identify the importance of a rider’s visual focus on success at showjumping.
The subject in the video is a showjumping rider with proven national and international success both in competition and as a trainer. I’m sure they used many other riders in the study, but any mention of them was neglected. In any case, the rider was fitted with a camera that showed the point of focus of the rider’s eyes as he approached each jump. Quite unsurprisingly the rider’s attention was directed at the top rail on the approach to each jump and did not stray from that point until the point of take off. This is very much an expected result, as many trainer emphasis this in their teaching of riders.
But it is hardly proof that a large part of successfully negotiating a jump is to concentrate on the top rail. Would the horse have crashed through the jump if the rider had focused on the ground rail or the jump wing or the back wall of the arena? Would focussing on the top rail be just as affective on a green horse as an experienced horse (like the one in the video clip)? Does it make a difference if the rider is experienced or novice as to where they need to focus? Does a rider’s focus even play a part in the process?
Before any conclusions about the importance of a rider’s focus in success at showjumping can be made, these types of question need to be answered. But they don’t seem to be even asked by the researchers.
It’s not enough that research from somebody with a PhD or from a tertiary institution or with grant funding or accepted for publication in a science journal, be accepted as truth. There is some excellent research being done in the world by first-rate scientists. But labelling something as scientifically proved is not proof in itself. As an ex-scientists with 15 years in medical research, I’m really tired of people playing at being scientists and attempting to fool the general horse public with crappy work.
I have archived the entries for February and there is a new chapter on the adventures of Satts on the Story page – check it out.
Our Trip and New Home
We arrived home yesterday afternoon from out trip to our new property in NSW. We took a load of furniture in the stock trailer and put it in storage nearby until the settlement date of April 1. It was our first long haul (18 hr drive each way) with the trailer carrying a big load and I am so impressed with its performance. I have never towed a trailer that was so easy to pull and so balanced. I can honestly recommend Titan stock trailers to anyone.
We had also arranged to meet the present owners for a run down on “things to know” about the property before moving in. This included wanting to know where all the water pipes ran and the taps for controlling the flow, running the solar system and generator, how the electric fence was set up and maintenance of the pool. But unfortunately the bloke had an accident with his lawn mower 2 days before we arrived. He had lost one finger and another was resewn on. So when we arrived he had only just arrived home from hospital an hour beforehand. Naturally, we didn’t want to impose and we cut our visit short. This fellow needed his rest, despite his insistence that he would show me all I wanted to know. I let him show me the windmill taps and the solar power switches and we left.
I wanted to get lots of photos to show you guys what a beautiful property and home it is, but because of the circumstances we didn’t feel comfortable pulling out the camera and snapping away at the home and garden. I did get a few photos of the entrance and driveway, a couple of which you can see below.
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Last weekend we did a 2-day clinic in Wyuna (near Echuca). We want to thank Amanda Souter for inviting us and for organizing the event. There were several people attending that were not familiar with Michele and I, so we appreciate that they made the effort to come along. The first day was hot and humid and we were all looking for any shade we could find. But the second day was cold and wet and Michele and I got thoroughly soaked in the morning. But people kept arriving with their horses, so we kept working.
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I went for a ride today on my totally awesome PALOMINO pony (mum rode Peza - the little white pony), and we went for a walk down the back, I did a bit of backing up after a while I only had to lightly pull back and he went back. Mum watched me do the hq and forehand yields and she said he did them!!! So hopefully they'll be good on Wednesday. Whenever he lost sight of Peza he got really distracted and started walking a lot faster and I wasn’t really sure what to do. I tried backing him up but then he'd walk even faster to try to catch up with him, so I wasn’t really sure what to do, I knew that he had lost his focus, all he could focus on was catching up to Peza. I did a little trot and that went ok:)
With regard to Indy wanting to catch up with Peza, backing him up is one option when he begins to trot. But you need to keep backing him until he stops trying to go forward. You can tell when this happens by the lightness on the reins and the freedom in his backing up steps - it's a change in his thought from needing to be with Peza to being with you. If you quit backing before you get the change in thought, he will only want to charge forward to get back to his friends. The backing up may have to be done over and over again - every 2 or 3 steps forward - for a awhile, until Indy can hold the "being with you" for longer and longer. But the moment you feel him get a small surge of energy, you need to interrupt is again with backing him until he softens and then left him drift forward, until the next surge in energy.
But some horses can get so bothered by having you back them up when they feel they need to be with their mates that they may rear. If Indy gets really bothered or even plants his feet with the back up, don't try backing him. Instead, when you feel his energy increase just a fraction, take your rein to one side (only 1 rein and this is your direct rein effect) and turn him. Keep turning him until his feet slow down and then release the reins no matter which direction he is facing. He will wander back towards Peza very soon. Just allow him to drift, don't ask him to go with Peza. You should start with wide turns and if they don't get him to slow his feet, make your turns smaller and smaller until you feel his energy level diminish - then release the rein. You are using the turn to slow his energy and get him with you. At first you may have to make many circles before you feel him slow down, but persevere and he will change. Try to catch him as early as possible. If you wait until he is almost cantering to be with Peza you make the change of thought much harder. But if you can feel his walk just quicken a little bit and then use your direct rein, the changes will come much sooner.
Problem With Forehand Yields
Remember me? You came out to Catani to give Cooper and me a groundwork lesson at the start of Feb - it feels as if it were months ago rather than weeks, and I'm sure you are very busy and it's a distant memory. I just have one question for you...
I have been using the methods you showed me regularly since then, doing groundwork three times a week and also riding him for short periods, trying to translate the groundwork into ridden work. It is all going superbly and I'm thrilled with the outcome of the lesson. Cooper is more attentive, calmer, has more confidence in me, and actually appears to be thinking about things a lot more. I'm still stumbling through some of it, trying to connect thought to feet for both of us, but I am also far more confident in what I am doing.
The only problem I am having is with asking him to turn on his hindquarters (from the ground). Keeping the lead rope slack, I encourage him to weight his hindquarters and then I step towards him and to the side, and then it all goes wrong. Rather than describe an arc around his hindquarters, he moves front and rear end at the same time and turns on an axis through the middle of his body. What am I doing wrong? How do I rectify this?
Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Again, thanks for the lesson, those two hours have made immeasurable difference to Cooper and I. I am very irritated that you are moving north so soon, but having lived up that way I can understand the impulse. I recently visited friends in Boonah, SE Qld, and told them about you and you may well get a call from them to organise a clinic. If so, do go, as Boonah is beautiful.
I'm very glad you are having success with Cooper and enjoying the work.
With regard to the forehand yield problem of Copper wanting to move both his front and back ends together, you may need to move more diagonally into him. For example, if you want Copper to move his forehand to his left (your right) you could try walking forward and to his left (diagonally about 45deg), but from being slightly on his right side. In this way you are pushing on his right shoulder to move to his left. If he tries to move his hindquarters at the same time, keep walking towards his front, pushing to his left. Persevere until he steps his forehand to his left without moving his hq as much. Stop and pet on him after one good step. I suspect he is not getting enough weight onto his hq when you direct his forehand across, so he moves both ends. when he correctly balances more weight onto his hind end, he will yield the front end more easily.
It's very hard to be sure why Cooper is struggling with the forehand yields without seeing it firsthand. But I strongly suspect it is a balance issue and you need to find a way of helping him set up his balance to make it easy to step across with his forehand while leaving his hq quiet. Try out my suggestion and let me know how you get on.
Thanks for the recommendation to your friends in Qld. I would very much like to continue to do clinics and lessons after we move, so any help in that matter is greatly appreciated.