Ross' Soap Box - May 2001
We’ve been very busy entertaining and travelling with Michele’s folks. They leave for Chicago on Thursday. Michele is driving them to Sydney tomorrow and will spend a couple of days showing them around the harbour city. Then she’ll spend a couple for days with my aunt and sister and come home next weekend. Meanwhile, I have a millions jobs to do before she gets home.
To continue with my thoughts on various items of tack I received an e-mail asking about using a whip.
I don't use spurs and won't until my legs don't wiggle. Tort is good for me as he finds wiggly legs offensive.
I noted your comment on whips, that they should be used to educate, and then left in the tack room. I've heard and seen many different views on that. They vary from a crop being a standard part of a well turned out rider, to crops being an abusive tool of the devil.
Can you comment on crops being used as a "hearing aid"? We have all seen the lesson horse ambling around ignoring the thumping on his sides, only to perk up and start reponding to aids merely because the rider was given a crop to carry.
Tort will also perk up and stay in front of my leg if I carry a crop and I rarely use it, and if I do, it is just to tap his shoulder to ask him to pay attention. I will also confess I am one of those horrid people that nags with my leg. I am often breathing much harder than the horse. My leg says, please a little more, if you don't mind, a little more please.....excuse me, but a little more? It's a bad habit I haven't had much luck gettiing over. But when I carry a crop on Tort, there is no need to nag. He just goes.
Can you comment on what I need to do to leave it in the barn? Less is always more.
The problem with Tort and the whip is really common - horses that don't go until the whip appears. It comes because Tort has been taught that the whip is a substitute for the leg and not an aid for the rider's leg. Instead of him being more responsive to the leg, he ignores the leg but has been taught to respond to the whip.
Two things need to change. First, stop nagging with your leg. It's not an option if you want things to get better. You have to ask with your leg and if no response ask with leg and whip until you get a response. THEN do nothing more with the leg or whip until Tort slows down or you want more forward again. You can't be using leg to keep him going forward. Only use your leg when you want a change in his forwardness. Even if you know he will slow down if you stop kicking, don't use your leg - let him slow down and then ask again with leg followed by leg and whip. If you don't fix this aspect of your riding you are doomed to always have super strength thighs.
The second part is that when you use the whip, don't tap and then do nothing while you wait to see if Tort is going faster. The best method I have used is to use the whip with a flurry of activity. I don't hit hard, but I tap with rapid-fire speed - maybe 4 taps per second. I keep tapping like this until he is going forward freely. I don't stop tapping to see if he making a change and then start again. Instead I tap, tap, tap, tap rapid fire until I feel him going forward freely. Then I am quiet with both legs and whip until I need another change. Remember; never ask anything of a horse unless you get a change. So keep tapping with the whip until you get a change.
I hope that is clear. Let me know how you get along and do your best to stop nagging with your legs in-between your requests to go forward.
Another common use of the whip is in dressage. Many dressage riders ride with a whip all the time. They use it to supplement their leg. For example, it is really common that a rider will tap the hip of a horse to try to activate the hind legs during highly collected movement. Even though I understand why they do this and appreciate the importance of active engagement of the hindquarters and know that tapping the hip can help. Of course, the whip is not often used in competition, but only in preparation for competition and demonstrations.
Showjumping riders often use a short whip and apply it in front of a jump if they feel a horse is holding back. But I have serious reservations whether at that moment a horse is not already committed to doing what he is going to do and the tap of a whip is not going to make an ounce of difference. However, if the rider was to give the horse a serious whacking with the whip it might motivate him to make more effort in front of a jump that he otherwise is backing away from. But again, mostly these riders use a whip every time and not just a training tool. This is not the proper purpose of a whip in my view. It should be to support the leg and teach a horse to listen to the leg. It’s not meant as a substitute to the rider’s leg in front of a big jump.
I want to mention the use of the whip in racing – all racing – thoroughbred, harness, quarter horse etc. It is really common to see the whip being applied to horses in the last 200m or so of a race. But for the most part these horses are already giving the most they have to give. Whipping has never been proven to evoke an extra effort from horses during the final stages of a race. I believe that until it is shown that applying the whip in a judicious manner can make the difference between winning and losing, I think it should be banned. What is the point of using the whip when it may be totally ineffective?
Riding with a whip is not easy to do well. Many riders cannot apply a whip independently without making some other non-essential adjustment to their bodies. Many people tap their horse with the whip and pull on the reins at the same time or tighten up their lower leg. They don’t even know they are doing it. It takes a lot of concentrated practice to use a whip well. It’s rarely a matter of just picking it up and tapping your horse when it is needed. As soon as most people hold a whip, things change in their own riding. That’s where an instructor with a good eye can help avoid forming bad habits.
Lastly, the whip can also be used teach tricks. Tapping one leg can be used to teach a horse to lift that leg or to lie down or perform some sort of feat. Waving a whip above a horse’s head can be used to teach it to rear on command or get them to raise their head or prick their ears. A whip can be used as a pointer to indicate which leg to move or whip pedestal to stand on. I have no problem with the use of a whip for these purposes if it is done well.
Like all equipment, the whip has it's place in the training process. But it is for training and not as an end result of the training. People seem to forget this sometimes and use the whip as if it is the cure to all their problems and continue to rely on it for the performance of their horse. Instructors need to make it clear on how and when to use the whip and when to throw it away.
Say hello to Michelle for me.
hows the country life treating you both?
I have a few issues with Herbie that I thought you may be able to help with.
I've been riding out on the road with Amanda. I don't want to be stuck just going round the paddock like i did on gypsy.
herbie is more forward when out and about.
Amanda is telling me to loosen the reins until i have loops because she thinks the contact bothers him. it doesnt seem to bother him when i ride around the paddck doing my dressage practice. David quick tells me to shorten my reins,.I realise dressage is different to trail riding.
We had rope tyed around herbies neck so i could pull on that when i wanted to pull on the reins and i was trying to think slow and sit,to slow him up. When we trotted together i tried to make him do a slower trot than what he wanted to do, sometimes it worked. We did lots of trot walk trasitions, with some better than others. Trotting with loops in the reins seemed to mean to herbie lets go faster and faster. we did a fast trot on purpose and he got very excited and had a big shy at somethig , maybe a bird in a tree and then a truck went past and he had a shy at it. He hadn't shyed at the truck when it went past earlier.
when i tried to slow herbie with the reins he either tossed his head up and down and opened his mouth or he put his head in toward his chest. so i would halt him and back him up. Amanda and i wondered should i be turning him if he doesn't listen to the above aids. He seems to be doing his own thing a lot of the time.
On another topic, i went to a darryl crowe clinic on the weeekend and we talked about whether the horses were happy and excepting of us or just tolerating us. I spoke to darryl erlier about how i didn't feel herbie was that happy. how he often won't look at me and he runs and hides behind the shed when I get the horse float out. Darryl send he would put him in the round yard the next morning. Darryl was busy helping a horse with floating issues so his wife Beth took herbie into the yard. I was pleased with how she treated him. He wouldn't look at her and kept his hind quarters toward her when changing direction which she explained to us it wasn't what she wanted. People in the crowd were saying he was rude and arrogant but i think he was afraid to look at her and was doing what he thought would keep him safe. If he turned an ear toward her she backed off as a reward then applied some more pressure, imediately stepping back when he responded. He tried turning his whole head around to her and she took off the pressure. If he left she kept him moving and changed his pace a few times then stopped him so he could have a think about it. After about an hour he turned his hind quarters away and faced her and as she walked around in a arc he followed her like the hand on a clock eventually walking up to her. I went in with her then and she had me walk around him and step back when he tried. He had a lovely soft look in his eye and seemed happy.
That was a one time thing though and it probaby hasn't made much diffrence overall but amanda said i can come and use her round yard and have a try at it.
Tell Michelle i have been practicing the picking up hooves method she showed me and its working. I'm not so sure about the turning his head to the way i want him to go until he gives and steps across to that way. I was to do this when his thought was somewhere else. He seems to use this as an excuse to stop or else he turns around until his head is facing the way he wants to go then steps across.
Any thoughts on that.
I don't get on the computer much so I had a few things to ask. Rachel and Amanda keep asking me if I've talked to you yet.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these matters.
It's good to hear from you.
At this stage of your training and Herbies education, everytime you shorten your reins it should be because you are going to ask Herbie to do something different. Later on, when Herbie is soft on the reins and you have enough feel to offer him you can shorten the reins so that Herbie will carry himself better. But right now and for some time to come, have the reins as loose as you feel safe if you are not asking him to make a change.
The rushing you feel when he trots needs to be interrupted. But make sure you stay as relaxed as possible. Often when we feel our horses hurry, we tighten our thighs and back and arms and this can worry a horse enough to make him rush more. If you shorten both reins to slow him down, then make sure he really does slow down and then instantly release the rein pressure and give him a loose rein again. Don't hold the reins tight to stop him from rushing. Only hold them to slow him down and then release when he does. Otherwise Herbie will lean on the reins and over time become heavier and heavier.
But if using both reins is not working for you, try turning in a circle using only your inside rein (not both reins). Make the circle small enough that he will need to slow down to maintain his balance. You begin with a large circle and make it smaller in a spiral until you feel a definite slowing of his feet. Then release the rein and allow him to go again of his own accord - don't ask or encourage him to go. Repeat this every time you feel him starting to rush. In time he will maintain the speed you want.
Both methods work best the earlier you detect him starting to rush and both methods require you to be very consistent and patient. Remember, you are always releasing for a change of thought - not just a change of the feet.
With regard to Beth working with Herbie in the round yard, I agree with you that he was not being disrespectful or arrogant and more likely he was unsure and worried. It sounds like Beth did a nice job with him. If you get to practice this technique at Amanda's make sure you don't drive Herbie around and around until he gives up. Accept his little tries to be with you and be patient. You don't have to get him to follow you around the yard and can stop anytime you like without that happening. Rejoice if Herbie just checks in with you at first. The rest will come later.
I don't quite understand your questions regarding Herbie looking the other way. I'll ask Michele if she knows what you mean and maybe she can write to you about this.
This is a video clip that has been doing the rounds of the internet in the past week. The rider has come in for quite a lot of ridicule and people are asking about what goes on in the reining world. What do you think?
We’ve had 3 days of rain and cold, but still no mud!
One of Michele’s biggest problems since we moved to northern NSW is to find a new violin teacher. She loves her violin she has been worried about finding the right replacement for her last teacher in Berwick. She is having her second lesson with a new instructor today and seems very excited about this fellows approach. Michele was so happy with her previous teacher and she is such a hard person to please, that I’m a little relieved she seems to have found a teacher she is happy about.
I thought that over the next few entries I would offer some views on equipment that is often used on our horses. They will be brief discussion giving my opinions on the good and the bad aspects of different tack. There is no right or wrong about using tack, so I’m happy if you want to add in your thoughts on the subject. And if there is some form of equipment you’d like me to write about, please let me know.
I thought today I would begin with spurs.
Spurs are probably one of the most over used and incorrectly used items of tack around. I think I see more abuse with spurs at events and clinics than any other item.
Here are a couple of examples of style of spurs that are really common.
This is a style often used in English riding disciplines
This style of spur is used in Western horsemanship
Because a horse has not learned to listen to the rider’s leg, using spurs can cause a horse to be abused by sharp and harsh jabs with the spur from the rider. If a strong kick from a rider is not going to get the right response, a jab with a spur is not going to fix it. I’ve seen many horses with cuts and scars from being spurred abusively. I recently saw a showjumping horse leave the warm up ring with blood trickling from its side because of being kicked with spurs. It was not disqualified by the judges – which it should have been.
The other unwanted response from a horse that spurs can cause is to fear the rider’s leg. I’ve seen many riders teach horses to go forward by putting a fear response in them. They are no so much forward horses as rushing horses because the fear has heightened their adrenal response. You should never want a horse to rush from your leg. A horse should offer a response, not a reaction.
Spurs were not designed to teach a horse to be forward off a rider’s leg. That’s what whips and crops are designed to do. The whip can be used to back up a rider’s leg and teach them to listen to the leg in a soft response, if it’s needed. Then the whip is abandoned and never taken out of the tack room again once the training is established. But spurs are not a replacement of the whip or for teaching the correct response to the leg aids.
The other role that some people use with spurs is to try to get a horse to raise his back. Some folk rake or scrape the spur along the lower side of the belly to cause a horse to lift his back. It causes the belly muscles to tightened and this in turn causes the back to elevate. It’s a horrible training technique that I’ve seen from time to time – and I wish I didn’t. Only correct training can help a horse raise his back and not a trick with the spurs.
The role of spurs is to add refinement to what the horse already understands about responding to the rider’s leg aid. For example, if a horse requires X amount of leg aid to trot, touching the horse’s sides with the spur to get the same response may require 1/5 of X pressure. So you can do less with the leg aids in order to get more. But for this to work, a horse already needs to understand how to respond correctly to the leg with no spurs. The spurs are not a substitute to correctly teaching a horse the leg aids.
I have no problem with using spurs for the right purpose. They do not need to be harsh or abusive. But it is wrong in my view to use them to make a “lazy” horse go forward or a horse with a tight topline lift his back.
I have a mouth-frothing question for you.
One of Charlotte’s friends has just got her second pony who is as sweet as a button. She is very clever and tries so hard. She does not show her anxiety by bucking or kicking she gets a lama head very high in the air and becomes quite alert but she has come from a 35 acre paddock in the bush to an agistment park where they are building a freeway next door and there is a lot of commotion plus great big yellow horse eating diggers. She seems to get over things quite quickly and does not seem to stay fixated ho ever I have noticed that when she is being ridden she froths at the mouth. The bridle that she is wearing does not have a noseband and the bit is a snaffle. The girl riding does not have an overly firm hand I would probably give a bit more rein but she is not that tight that the horse's head is restricted from moving left or right. However the froth can get a bit much.
Is this anxiety or physical? You hear from some people that frothy mouths are good but it makes no sense to me. I have never seen a happy horse in a paddock frothing at the mouth.
Despite the wide spread view to the contrary, IMO frothing from a horse's mouth is never a good thing. Many dressage folk believe it is good because it indicates a horse with a relaxed jaw. They equate chewing with relaxation. But to get a better understanding of whether or not foam is good or bad you need to understand how it comes to be made.
Foam around the mouth is nothing more than saliva with air mixed in it. You can't make bubbles if you don't mix air in with the solution. For example, if you have dishwashing water and you want it foamy you have to add detergent and you have to agitate the water with your hand to mix air with the water and detergent. The detergent is required to make just the right surface tension in the water and the air is needed to fill the bubbles.
With horses, the secretion of saliva and the mixing of air with the saliva create foam. The horse rolling the saliva over and over again with his tongue does this. The action of the tongue causes the air to mix with the saliva and creates bubbles or foam. And just like dishwashing water, the mixing of the air needs to be at least mildly vigorous otherwise you don't get bubbles forming.
So for foam to form, the tongue needs to be pretty busy otherwise there won't be enough mixing of air with the saliva to create bubbles. But a horse's tongue is only busy when they are either eating or chewing. In the case of a horse being ridden, it is the chewing that causes the tongue to be active. And of course, the chewing comes from tension. So in a nutshell you are right to be suggest that Charlotte's friend has a pony that is expressing it's tension.
You'll hear many people say that foam is a sign of relaxation and acceptance of the bit. But I have never seen a horse that is relaxed and foams from the mouth AND I've never seen a horse that foams and is relaxed. If you watch closely you'll see other signs of anxiety with the pony that will confirm what I've said.
I hope that clears it up for you.
hey ross its hannah!
did my first show on biskit yesterday and came out 4th :) so happy with him. He was chilled the whole day and didnt put a foot wrong. Doing my first horse trails at tooridan this sunday. will send you some cross country photos. His doing aboustly amazing and everyone cant believe just how great his going. He flys over grade 3 jumps like there nothing and his dressage is going brilliant. Hope your new place is going good :) shame you had to move so far away, if i need a holiday ill come and visit you for a week or two :) haha. i thought id keep you updated about how biskit is coming along, his just unbelievable amazing and couldnt ask for a better horse! he still rocking out his purple gear, and i also purchesed some purples jumping boots, back and front. he looks hot. I plaited him up for yesterday`s show ... and he looked like a poof. Everyone just loves and adores him. My instrutor loves him and cant believe just how great his comes from my first lesson. His nice and rounded now and he listens to me. "Most" of the time he will walk to me when i go out to catch him. We have a 2metre dam and on the hot days we go swimming down there. love riding him bareback . hope to hear how you are going! :)
We are going great here and not missing the mud one bit. You are not allowed to come and visit. We only moved away because you lived too close. Say g'day to your mum and if you see Jasmine say hi to her too.
Keep sending me updates from time to time because I love to hear how things are going. If you have any questions or problems, don't hesitate to write.
We had 33mm of rain last night and it has filled our water tank, which is fantastic. Since Michele's folks have been visiting we have been using a lot of water and we were feeling we might have to pump water from our well into the tank. But now we are good for many more weeks.
I'm still getting use to the concept that even after so much rain we can still go out and ride straight away with good ground footing. In Garfield, our paddocks would be mud and the round yard and arena would be unusable.
Some of you might remember our pony May that was leased to some people in Gippsland for their young daughter. By all accounts things are going and young Lana loves May very much. They sent us a photo as proof. How cute a couple are they?
The Bingara Show
On Saturday Michele and I took her folks to the Bingara Annual Show for a bit of Australiana. By almost every measure it is a pretty small show, but the enthusiasm and attendance of the horse people made up for it.
Like all small shows the world over, the quality of horsemanship was a big let down. But because people seemed so enthusiastic about their horse sport and loved their horses that I feel with a little good help things could change dramatically for the better.
Click on the images to enlarge
I think I mentioned it before that Michele’s folks are visiting from Chicago. It’s their first time to Australia and I think they are fascinated by both the difference and the similarities between the US and Australia. Tonight they saw an echidna by the roadside and were excited like kids at Christmas time. Here are a couple of photos of them having a pony ride on Birch. They had a ball.
This morning Michele and I spent some time together working Guy. I hadn’t ridden Guy before and I really enjoyed the experience – he was a lot of fun. Guy is a 20-year-old grey Arab gelding that Michele was given last year by a client. He was broken in at about 14 years of age and gelded at the same time. He had served a few mares in his time and been shown in hand for several years before being started under saddle. Like most Arabs he is sensitive and smart. But he clearly had a bit of bad handling in his time because he has the tendency to mentally disappear when he gets stressed. He is also quite quick to go on the fight rather than problem solve when he doesn’t know what to do.
One problem that appeared early on when he came to live with us is how bad he can be with picking up his back feet. He picks them up okay, but then he leans on the handler until they are forced to let go or go to the ground with the horse. Our farrier complained about it all the time.
Michele has spent some time working on the issue, but she never really committed to addressing it because there was always a work-around. But since we moved here and have to trim our own horses Michele has been working on fixing the problem. She tried various approaches to help him change his mind about leaning on the handler, but nothing seemed to be getting through. He was determined and committed to what he knew. Michele finally resorted to using the lariat to teach him not to lean on his hind leg when it is picked up. At first this totally panicked Guy. He would run for his life when the lariat refused to allow him to drop to the ground. But he had met somebody even more determined to help him through the issue than he was to continue to with the same response. Eventually, Guy stopped running for his life and leaning on the leg. He is still a little reluctant to offer the leg when asked to pick it up, but he is getting better and he is no longer bearing weight on the leg.
Michele and I discussed this issue and others at length today. We figure that part of the problem was that when Guy was young he incurred a couple of serious wire cut injuring on his back legs. It seems logical that being the temperament that Guy is, the owners bullied Guy into submitting to having his legs treated at the time. I’m sure that rather than teach Guy to be okay with his legs being picked up and treated, he was roped and twitched in order to get it done no matter how he felt about the process.
For me, there is a lesson to be learned here. I understand that sometimes a procedure just needs to be done whether or not the horse likes it. But treating something like a wire cut is never urgent enough that time could not be taken to train the horse to be okay during treatment. By forcing a horse to submit in cases like this the person is just setting a situation up for even further trouble down the road. I’m sure that if Guy had been handled better in his earlier years he would be no problem to handle his back legs.
I think a good example of what I’m talking about happened about 7 or 8 years ago. I was starting a horse for a lady. One day Michele noticed the horse seemed not quite right and we suspected mild and early onset colic. The vet also agreed it was a mild colic. However, the owner told the vet the horse did not accept needles. When the vet persisted in trying to needle the horse he was swiftly kicked in the leg and laid sprawled in the ground. It was clear the horse could not be given a needle unless it was roped or twitched or both. But rather than do that I asked the vet to come back in 3 days. The vet agreed. By the time the vet returned I had taught the horse to lie down on command. When the vet was ready with the needle, I asked the horse to lie down and he did. The horse lay quietly while the vet injected him both intravenously and intramuscularly. The horse needed 5 days of injection and each day he became better at accepting the needle. By the 5th day the horse could be injected with the drugs in the paddock and standing quietly with only a halter to hold him.
But I have to emphasize that I had taught the horse to lie down. I did not throw him to the ground. When he went to the ground it was because he was willing and not just because he was obedient. It was the willingness that allowed him to learn to accept the needles while standing in the paddock. When a horse gives willingness to you, he is thinking and has his mind engaged on what is happening. This means he is in a learning mode. But when you forcibly impose a response on a horse, his sense of self-preservation overtakes any ability of think through a problem. There is very little probability of the situation being a good learning experience for a horse.. The horse learned it was okay to be injected because of the teaching process I took. I believe if I had forced the issue on him we would have had to force him to accept the needle every day.
I also believe if Guy had been given the same chance when he was younger he would have learned to be great with his hind legs too. But because it had been forced on him and his behaviour was now so entrenched, Michele needed to resort to firmer methods to get him to change his feelings. The improvement is remarkable. Partly this is because the horse is such a wonderful fellow and partly because Michele has done just enough to motivate him to change but not so much that he fears the worse. She has put the “try” back in him that the previous owner had taken away.
Thanks for the story!!!
How are you guys going? Hope things are starting to sort out for you.
Just wanted to run something past you…..
I did my first ‘gallop’ at rally on Miss P last week. We got about 6-8 strides of very big canter/gallop strides, and then she put her head down and humped 6 times…I stayed on, got her back and we proceeded to go on with normal canter……I didn’t want to ‘gallop’ again.
Not sure what block there was – a going fwd one maybe – even though she felt like she was VERY forward……
I’m not sure ‘enjoyment’ on her part is the answer either!!!
I don't know exactly why Pru humped up except that it would not surprise me if it was simply because of the excitement of being asked to go full throttle. She doesn't do much fast work and in horses speed often equates to adrenaline. So I suspect that it was simply the excitement of being asked to go fast that caused her to hump. It suggests that you need to add more fast work to your program. Open up the throttle from time to time but only for short distances. Bring her back to a more controlled canter and then trot before she gets too carried away. The excitement will cause her to lose focus on you which is something you want to discourage by interrupting her back to a controlled gait before it goes too far. Eventually, you'll be able to transition from canter to gallop and back again as easily as going from trot to canter and back.
Hi Ross, its been a while since I wrote you. No reason really other than life its self
Just had to comment though on the recent videos you posed.
Re Jedi Horsemanship...............Darth Vader was a Jedi. That should about cover it. And wow was that pony attentive..... NOT!! I did snicker a bit.
Re Back to Basics ........just about covers the above video I think. I snickered a lot.
Congrats on your new place. Its a good feeling to have your own little piece of planet. But pffft why do all the horsey people who (vaguely) think the way I do have to be soooooo far away? ...sigh....
Hope the people up there recognise and value the knowledge and experience you have to share.
Since Im writing I may as well ask something
Sometime ago I read somewhere in your blog a comment on horses that dont have confidence are usually at the bottom of the pecking order. I thought 'interesting' at the time and promptly forgot about it. Well guess what........yup I now have a horse that is very much on the outer with the mob, attached to one horse who doesnt like him and drives him away with teeth bared. There is some short term separation anxiety, he stops yelling and pacing after about 20 mins. He only gets this when he is left behind not when he is the one leaving. This is a BIG 13 yr old horse who allows the little 2yr old to bully him and he constantly has hair missing from bites from the other horses.
Im not sure 'confidence' is the word you used but thats what I 'heard'. Now I cant find the comment you made. pre new site maybe? Which I like by the way. Love the 'pleasure' face on the little bucky
To handle he is obviously anxious, but keeps his feet firmly planted, sometimes too much, (proves your point of 'control of feet doesnt mean you have their mind') head shy and difficult to put gear on his head but is waaaay better than he was using the advance/retreat method. He made me laugh one day as I had his head down (17hh and previously would hold head high and thresh it about to avoid, but never move his feet) and quietly putting the bridle on and he squished his nose into the ground so I couldnt get the bit in and when I got him sorted with that one he wrapped his head/neck around me with his mouth out of reach. How clever they are when trying to avoid. Nearly had me in hysterics. He is still anxious a little getting the gear on but now no longer actively avoids it as long as I give him time to accept each phase and get ok with it, each time its just that little bit quicker and easier so I feel Im on the right track. Once the head gear is on (he is the same getting a headstall on) he tries so hard to please, but in some things on the ground he still overreacts especially the hind legs. To date there have been no issues of note when under saddle, he seems ok with it...but I not as good at reading body language when Im on them as I am when on the ground. We (well I do anyway) enjoy our rides out and one day Im determined I WILL be able to sit his trot. When he is relaxed he is a lovely soft affectionate horse.
He also float loads very well but gets upset when the gate goes up to the point he destroyed a float (and gave himself a nasty head injury) trying to get out before I acquired him ....yes I know Im a sucker Needless to say he hasnt been floated since although he has been on a float without the gate up. I dont want to go there again until he has gotten peaceful about it, Im just not sure how to do that. Any ideas here would be appreciated. Beats me why he would willing walk onto a float if he is afraid of being locked in.
I happy with the way he is progressing (work in progress) around me. He is much more settled to do anything with, but still has his moments. The herd situation has not changed at all though.
I guess my question is ...What can I do about the floating and is the herd abuse ever going to change for him or is the herd behaviour now ingrained?
Thanks for your comments and your questions.
Separation anxiety is always a tricky on to solve because it usually involves diligent effort on our part to do only a little. Initially horses develop a sense of safety in their familiar environment. They get to know their paddock and their arena at home and even the trails they have been on for several ride. But they lack confidence when you take them to places that are unfamiliar. When this happens they usually look to other horses for a sense of safety. You might have a horse that won't go out the front gate for a trail ride by himself, but he is great if another horse is along. Or you may be riding in the arena with a friend and all hell breaks loose when your friend rides her horse out of the arena.
But then there is the confidence that a horse can develop in person. For example, you might tie your horse up away from his friends and by himself he gets very stressed. But once you appear around the corner he settles because he feels safe with you being near.
Finally, there is the confidence a horse develops in himself. You can take him anywhere and he is fine. He is fine no matter who is around or if he is by himself. This is the security I think I woulod like to develop in all my horses.
In my experience, the solution to the problem is best addressed from two different fronts simultaneously.
First, your a horse needs to moved around a lot. They need experience with different locations and different companions, as well as plenty of time on the their own. Being moved from paddock to paddock or having different horses to socialize with needs to become a way of life. Some days you may tie your up for a few hours or for a few minutes and put him back in his paddock. Other days you may move him to a different paddock. You might put him with another horse or put another horse with him. You might leave him on his own for minutes, hours or days and then you might put him in a herd of 300 horses for a few days. But you need to mix it up for him a lot - not just once in awhile. In time you are trying to get him to understand that he is secure wherever you put him.
The second front to attack the issue if to have a horse settled inside himself when you are handling or riding him. You mention he is difficult to bridle or halter. Despite being better than the in the past, he is still bothered by the process. This is an example where I would work hard at getting him feeling okay. All the little things you notice where there is some resistance or worry - even very small instances - need to be fixed. The way he is to lead, saddle, pick up feet, lunge, bridle, hose, mount, halt etc all add up to how he feels in himself about being with people. The better he is feeling around you, the less he will need to be back with his friend. If he felt about you as good as he does about his friend, he'd probably more upset at being separated from you than from his paddock mate. If you are working with him and he starts looking for his friend, interrupt up that thought and get him re-focused back on you and the job at hand.
I'm just throwing some ideas and thoughts at you to consider. Exactly how you might manage the problem might be quite different from day to day, depending on how your horse is presenting at that moment. But even though what you might do may change a lot, the principle should be the same.
The floating problem can also be tricky. Most horses learn to go into a float without a big argument even though they rarely enjoy the experience. They learn it is their lot and it becomes another job. That's why your horse loads okay, despite being worried when the back is closed. He has learned it his job to load. It's the nature of a horse to be submissive even to things they feel is not in the interest. That's why we are able to ride them. The first thing I would do is to check that the float suspension and sturdiness of the floor are adequate. If the float is faulty it can cause a horse to feel unsafe. Also make sure your driving slowly around corners and roundabouts and your accelerations and decelerations is smooth and slow. You also need ventilation that provides a minimum one complete change of air every 15mins for 1 horse and 7mins for 2 horses. Horses hate the heat, humidity and foul air that comes from poor ventilation.
You don't say if you are using a straight load float or not, but I'm guessing you are. Assuming there is nothing wrong with the float or your driving, you are now dealing with a re-training issue. If you are transporting only the one horse, try taking our the centre divider or at least moving it diagonally across so the horse has more room to angle his body. This can help some of the less serious scrambling problems. He will still get anxious at first, but after a few short trips like this he may find the extra room will allay his fears and your problem will dissolve. Alternatively, you may try loading your horse in the float, closing it up and letting him out after a short time (a few seconds or a minute). You could do this a dozen or more times and see if he stops over reacting. You can then follow up, by taking him on a short trip in a paddock of about 50m and then let him out again. Load him up and drive another 50m before letting him out. You don't have to wait for him to stand quietly before letting him out - he will in time get the picture himself because his worry will dissipate. After a few trips like this, drive for further around the paddock and repeat the loading and unloading exercise. Eventually, he will be ready for a short trip down the road and back. Don't push the floating too far too soon. If his behaviour deteriorates at any stage, go back to a point where he was better and begin again from there.
Again, you have to use your best judgment and make decisions on the run depending on how your horse responds at each stage.
I hope I've given you some useful thoughts to experiment with. Good luck.
I just finished washing LJ. He has rain scald for the first time in the14 years I have owned him. Both Riley and Six are prone to rain scald every winter, but never LJ. I always thought it is a bacterium that only thin-skinned chestnuts suffered, but LJ is a brown horse! Luckily, LJ is a super stoic horse that stood so patiently while I picked off 2cm pieces of scabs from his back. I know Six wouldn’t be nearly so polite. She’d have called the RSPCA and had me arrested if I did that to her. In the past, two or three washes with Malaseb have always killed the infection and I’m hoping that’ll be the case with LJ. If anybody has some useful information to share about rain scald I’d appreciate hearing from you.
I got a lot of e-mails regarding the video clip of Jedi Horsemanship from my last entry. Here are just some of them.
Mmmmm – !
He has rebelled – his stick is white!!!! (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself!)
I just read your blog and thought I would comment on Jedi Horsemanship. There's a few things I would like to say, I am sure lots of people would have noticed how well their horse can nibble on their hind leg when it's itchy I don't think that has anything to do with teaching your horse to bend I think they can do this all by themselves. Any hardness that we experience with a horse with bending to the left or right with whatever pound of pressure is based on their resistance to what is going on and not because they are not limber I would say. The next thing I would like to comment on is I would love to know what this guy would have said to my daughter when Holly bolted on her and she brought the rein in real tight and the horse kept running forward with her neck touching her side, could this also make the horse tip? One other thing I noticed was the agitation the horse had every time he touched it on the side, would the yawning be stress related?
I’ve just been watching the clip from Jedi Horsemanship that you posted on your blog page. I thought that the horse was telling him to ****off! Every time he ‘poked’ his horse in the side to ask him to flex, the poor horse looked like he was going to bite him. It certainly didn’t look soft as he tried to describe it. It looked to me like he had trained this with food treats. It looked rushed and forced.
Not one I will look into anymore.
Where do you find this stuff? Unreal. The bit at the end of the film where he is dressed up like Luke Skywalker and is attacking the horse with a plastic light saber is my favorite, what a bizarre schtick--I'm surprised Spielberg hasn't sued him yet. I was just drinking my second cuppa and your blog drew me in to watch that. But I wanted to make a point that this guy gives a great reverse example of what we spoke about the other night regarding the use of language and horsemanship in the new age. This jedi horse slayer always uses the term "pull" in regards to using the reins. It seems he must think of always "pulling" on the reins--this is no mistaken wording on his part, it is simply indicating he truly is speaking about how hard he must "pull" to get the horse to bend, that is actually pull--a.k.a. exert force (rather than use The Force). He doesn't use a language that indicates communicating through the reins because as yet, Yoda hasn't taught him this lesson. He hasn't learned about The Force, clearly, unless it's those treats he used to get that Paint to whip his head around to so snappily touch his side--now there's some refinement for you (not). What a strange world. I can't believe people. Tom
I agree with all the comments – even Di’s regarding the wrong colour of the light sabre. But the thing that stands out to me is to ask the question “what relevance does touching a horse’s sides with your hand to cause him to bend his neck, have to teaching a horse how to respond as a riding horse?”
The way the horse responds is horrible. The horse has a lot of bad feelings about the fellow. The fellow has almost no awareness of the horse. But setting that aside, on what planet does someone feel that the technique of touching a horse’s sides and causing him to bend his neck has an importance in turning him into a riding horse? It’s peculiar in the extreme.
I was reading your blog about the jumpers and the enivronment. I agree, the general living enviorment has a big effect. But I was curious about your comments on the jumpers. They sound pretty messed up. Why is that? I know quite a few jumpers and they aren't any more anxious than other horses. Barrel racers also work at speed, and while both can get a little squirrely under saddle, they seems to know when they need to be on, and when they don't. Curious as to what you think.
Sadly, my friend backed out of going to the HW clinic. I've looked at commercial haulers, and it would double the price of the clinic, which I just can't swing. I am sorry, both me and Tort could really benefit.
We've been working on the canter. I tried not cueing, and trying to take the pressure off. The behavior seemed to be getting worse. More nappy, and the crowhops getting a little bigger. Had a vet check his stifle and back, he didn't see anything. Got Tort a Thin line pad.
This week I had a friend jump on him. He didn't pull any of that with her. Hmm.... She pushed him some and all he did was settle down and work harder.
Last night I let him warm up slowly, asked for the canter transitions, he hopped, and I just ignored them. I got to the point I really didn't care and didn't react to it. Just kept going, doing a canter circle in each corner of the ring, and trotting down the long sides. After a few circles, he gave up the crowhops and I got some nice transitions. And I didn't do much different other than sit up straight and ride him.
This may have been a case of you get what you expect.
Thanks for the blog, I get a lot out of it.
I'm sorry you are not able to go along to Harry's clinic. I hope you get there some day soon.
I'm glad you've made progress with your canter transitions. It sounds like there has been some conflicting signals being sent to your horse about the canter. But the fact that you got good changes makes me think you are working that out yourself. let me know how it goes.
In regard to the jumpers that I mentioned last entry, there were pretty messed up. They are owned by a leading competitor in this country - he has every chance of being selected for the next Olympic team. The problem is that he has no horsemanship skills. He has a very sticky seat and can sit on anything. He has an excellent eye for putting a horse in the right place in front of a jump and he is a very strong forward riding rider. But he knows very little about good horsemanship or training. I often refer to him as riding like a Nazi because that what it reminds me to watch him. I've seen his horses get bashed around the head with a whip. I've seen him draw blood with spurs. I've seen him draw blood from a horse's mouth due to rough handling of the reins. But he is extremely successful in competition. The price paid is that his horses are confused and stressed. Even when he is not around, his horses gallop, pace and cavort several times a day because of the inner trouble. The owner does no groundwork or even flatwork, so the horses education is confined to going over jumps. They are monsters to lead or handle.
I wish I could say that this is a one off example, but I have seen this many times in the jumping and eventing world. I spent a lot of time competing in jumping and saw examples of equally troubled horses everywhere. At times you get to see good horse people on well educated horses in the jumping ring (like Prue Barrett), but there is a lot of bad horsemanship too.
IMO, it's not the jumping that is the problem. It's the education that goes into making them jumpers that happens before they get to the competition that is the problem. I don't have a lot of experience being around barrel racers, but I'm sure there are good and bad examples of horsemanship in all disciplines.
I guess my point is that if a horse carries a lot of stress in his work time after time, eventually that stress lingers well after the work has stopped. In some cases, the stress becomes a way of life for a horse and is carried with them everywhere. The analogy I have used many times is that the kid being bullied at school. If it happens once, it is usually not a big problem. But if happens regularly, the kid can start to show behaviourial problems at home as well at school. The anxiety associated with being bullied each day leads to fighting with his parents, picking on his younger sister, grades at school falling etc.
I hope that explains my thoughts on the topic a bit better.
In the last entry I talked a little about the “wow” factor that trainer’s use as a tool to market their style of horsemanship to the public. The YouTube clip below is one example of the sort of thing I mean.
It’s a clip of Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling with a horse at liberty. If you watch the video you’ll notice lots of beautifully shot scenes and mood music. Slow motion and dramatic angles are used liberally. Also read the blurb below the video window. You’ll see words like “magic”, “unique,” “holistic,” “dance,” “authentic” etc. All words used to convey a picture that Hempfling is above the mill of horse trainers – he is different and special. The message is that other trainers can only dream of being like Hempfling and if you want that same magic in your horsemanship then Hempfling is the only man to learn from.
But if you watch the video and concentrate only on the actions of the horse, you see a horse that is full of fire in his belly. He has presence and pizzazz. His movement is energetic and dramatic. He is on the edge of being in control and being out of control.
To me this is an example of horrible horsemanship. The horse shows no signs softness and contentment. Where is his quiet mind? He does not appear happy and relaxed around Hempfling. When horses hang around the paddock with each other it is only occasionally that one or more of them get a wild idea to cavort and run and play. Most of the time they are quietly going about their thing with minimum effort and energy. That’s because most of the time they are relaxed and stress-free. Yet, in Hempfling’s video he shows a horse that can’t seem to chill out and just be with the human. Why is that?
If you watch other video clips by Hempfling or go to his web site, most of the examples of him working show the horses barely in control. Even the lunging horses have necks arched like they were about to attack. It appears that Hempfling thinks this is how horses should be. The message I get from his video clips is that a horse should be full of fire instead of quiet and relaxed. What sort of message is that? How many of us want to go out to our paddock to catch a horse that is rearing around us and galloping towards us at full speed? Not me.
But I believe there is method in his madness. I think he trains the horse to behave like wild, free spirits because I suspect he wants to convey that he can control such fearsome creatures even without a halter or bridle or round yard. He wants us to be “wowed” by his ability to tame such a wild animal without the equipment that ordinary trainers need to use.
But of course, Hempfling is selling dreams not reality. He is selling something from his imagination and using well-established marketing techniques to make us think it is real. It is because his training is not real that he has to resort to the marketing tricks. If it were real, he would not have to use slow motion photography and emotive language. I think Klaus Hempfling is a master at using advertising tricks to scam people into believing in his particular magic. The result is that he relies on the “wow” factor to make money because he doesn’t know anything about good horsemanship. Good horsemanship is not what he is selling. He is selling ideas of drama, sex and false dreams.
Yesterday I was interviewed via telephone for an article to appear in Eclectic Horseman in coming months. Eclectic Horseman is an American horse magazine that is published every 2 months. It was a very odd experience. The journalist was Tom Moates who is a friend as well as a very experienced writer – so I should have been very comfortable. However, normally I am asked about horses and horsemanship and have become quite comfortable expressing my thoughts on those subjects. But in this case I was being asked lots of questions about me – how did I get in horse training, how did the Walt and Amos stories come about, how did the blog evolve, how did I meet Michele etc? It was more difficult than I expected because I’m not so use to talking about me. But I know Tom well enough to know that no matter how stupid I sounded on the telephone he will “photoshop” it enough to make me sound smarter than I was.
Speaking of Tom Moates, he has a new book about to be published and he is taking orders for it now. You can find it at his web site www.tommoates.com
The “Wow” Factor
One thing that Tom asked me about was had our principles on training horses hindered our popular acceptance? I had to think about this a bit. I think in some ways we have been our own worse enemies for success and have not either the acceptance or the financial returns that would make our life easier. I told Tom that every trainer at every horse event has a horse doing “wow” things. They put on a performance to “wow” the crowd with liberty riding or tricks. They do this to impress and make a name for them that people won’t forget. I have done hundreds of demonstrations over the years and I have never succumbed to putting on a “wow” performance. This is because the “wow” performance has nothing to do with good horsemanship. I would rather show a horse doing a good job of walking a straight line than a crappy job of spinning circles with no bridle. I realize that most people are not impressed with a horse walking a straight line, but that’s because they don’t know the difference between doing it well and doing it poorly. So the “wow” factor is needed to amaze and impress the general public. Pat Parelli, John Lyons, Monty Roberts, Alexander Nevzorov, Clinton Anderson etc all put on “wow” performances to make a name and reputation in the memory of the general horse public. You rarely see a trainer at a public event that doesn’t try to impress people with amazing tricks and feats of horsemanship.
It does not sit well with me to see these trainers. I am rarely impressed because I know most of them can’t train a horse to be soft and content with a quiet mind as it walks a straight line. I want to see a trainer take a troubled horse and help him feel better. I’m not impressed in watching somebody teach a horse to be broken in in the time it takes to boil an egg or to jump through hoops of fire. But most people are drawn to such display of horsemanship. The result is that for most people, Michele and I are not nearly as good at training horses as those that stand on a horse’s back cracking stock whips while the horse drags a tarp and does the crossword while playing the tuba. I’d be thrilled if they could teach a horse those things while the horse walked a straight line with softness and a quiet mind – then they would have me standing and applauding the loudest.
Even Pressure On The Reins
It was really great to hear from you yesterday, thank you.
I have a question about rein evenness for you. If you have addressed this before, just please re-direct me to the answer!!
Since the lesson I had on Saturday, I have been giving a lot of thought to many aspects of my riding and drawing on as much of past lessons that I can remember. One thing that I wanted to discuss is, it is often said that you must have even rein pressure, always keep the reins even. Now, my interpretation of this is that we are always working towards an equal or even feel or contact but more often than not we aren’t able to achieve this for whatever reason the horse will offer us a resistance that we then have to adjust to. So am I on the right track with this? In an ideal situation the horse would be straight and even in themselves and the rider would be able to present the contact with an equal amount of pressure on each rein. The reality, especially with my Sally, she is pushing out or falling in and I am having to constantly adjust my reins to correct her position. But then I’m thinking that because the reins are constantly adjusting, is this keeping an evenness to them?
Your thoughts thanks Ross?
I believe you are on the right track with regard to using the reins evenly. Horses are rarely equally resistant on one side or the other, so it is a mistake to have equal pressure on the reins. Always have a little more feel in the rein on the side where there is more resistance. But horses change from moment to moment with every step and you can find you need to adjust the feel in the reins constantly to keep up with their changing resistances.
As a horse improves you find you can do less with the reins and the adjustments are smaller and not frequent because the horse is getting softer and straighter. When people talk about having their reins even, I believe they are really talking about the ideal situation. It's something we are striving towards. But the reality is that few of us will have a horse that is equally soft and straight on both sides and therefore we need to be correcting in our effort to have them even on the reins one day. I hope that helps.
But you are definitely thinking in the right direction.
Assuming the mare's mouth is okay and there is nothing wrong with her back etc, the issue must be a training one relating to her tension. Changing bits or nosebands is not going to fix how she feels and it is how she feels that is causing her to chew. My guess (and I'm only guessing based on experience of horses with similar behaviour) is that the problem is based around her feelings about rein pressure. She doesn't mentally like to yield to the reins. She may change how she moves when you use the reins, but she doesn't change her thought about what she would like to do when you use the reins. I suspect the reins are a nuisance that get in her way, rather than a guiding hand to show her the way. I'm thinking she can get a bit heavy on the reins at times. I don't mean "plough horse" heavy. I mean "falls on the inside rein and leans on the reins in a backup" kind of heavy.
If this is true then the solution is to train her to be really giving to the reins. Not just change what she is doing, but change what she is thinking and feeling in response to the reins. If you pick up a rein to go left you need to keep using the rein until her thought goes to the left. Don't release the rein just because her body turned left while she was looking out of the corner of her right eye. Because of her experience with a snaffle the chewing may be habitual by now. She may chew no matter what bit or how the training is progressing because it has become a habit. For this reason I would try re-educating her to the reins without a bit. Ride her in a web halter, lungeing cavesson or side pull for awhile - anything where the reins are attached to the side of a noseband. I would not use a cross-under NoBit or Dr Cook type of bitless because they encourage the poll to twist. Riding without a bit will offer her a different feel. The feel may different enough to cause her not to automatically start chewing in a habitual manner. It might cause her to think more about what is going on. If you can break the habit, it can give you a crack in the door of her mind to present a new idea rather than her automatically being stressed and expressing her stress through a busy mouth. I have found this can help with some horses.
Don't go back to using the snaffle until she is going really well with a bit. Then use a simple double jointed snaffle that is on the thin side. Don't use a "mouth closing" noseband of any kind on her because it will rekindle the chewing again.
It will take time to overcome her bad habit. It can be done, but it can take weeks or months and you don't say how long you have her in training.
Let me know how you get along. Good luck.
Michele has gone to Sydney to meet her folks on Wednesday. She is very excited because they have never been to Australia. It’s funny that we are both worried about it being too cold for them when they come from Chicago where it can get -20 degC.
Where They Live And It’s Effects
Since moving here a little over 5 weeks ago I have noticed a change in our horses. They have always been reasonably mellow types and easy to handle. But lately they have become even more laid back and I have noticed that even their skirmishes with each other have only a fraction of the seriousness behind them that they had a few weeks ago.
I’ve been thinking about this lately and it has me wondering whether the change is due to a change in their living situation.
In comparison, our horses seemed to be tranquilized and I took it as a credit to our handling that they were so mellow. But since coming to NSW, I have noticed an even greater calm come over our herd of six horses. The six horses now share a 25-acre paddock. The make up of the herd is very stable with each horse being absolutely sure of its place in it. There are no new horses coming or going that cause the dynamics to change. There is a routine to their lives because Michele and I check them at the same time in the morning and evening. They each get some attention regularly both as a group and individually.
I believe the new routine to their lives has given them a stronger sense of certainty of how life will be. But what I find really interesting is how wrong I was when I thought our horses were really settled before. They were settled compared to the horses around them. But I was missing how much better they could feel about their lives. I didn’t see the little signs or at least didn’t give them enough importance. It makes me wonder if I am stilling not seeing things as they really are. Am I missing something else? I reckon I must be. But it will probably take something else to change before I recognize it.
Dear Ross and Michelle,
How are you going? Hopefully you're a bit settled in now and having some fun.
We are looking at buying a titan trailer and had a few questions for you - does yours have a slide out ramp? Do you use it ? - might be hard for you to answer if you haven't been picking up breakers much.... Also, how many dividers are in it, is there one to protect the saddle rack from the horses, and if that is in can you still fit three horses in the trailer? Do the windows open - does yours have windows!?
Anyway, we're all well - Just went to Steve Brady for the weekend - was good - I like to go just so that I get motivated to work my horse! Peter took Elizas pony - was good for him to get out (both of them!) Take care and best wishes with all Julie
It's good to hear from you and I hope everyone is well.
The Titan has no ramp - it's a step up trailer. This is generally not a problem and horses find it just as hard or just as easy as they would a ramp. But I would add an rubber bumper to the rear as a precaution against horses slipping on the edge and skinning their leg. The rubber bumper comes as an optional extra and is a must for horses - although not for cattle or sheep..
The rear door comes as a fully swing out door, but you can also have a half slide door as an option if you wish. We added the half slide and found it handy.
The trailer does not come with windows - it is open at the sides - which is normal for stock trailers. We had a glazier put in 6mm acrylic (perspex) for about $350 on the sides (but not the rear door) for when we moved our furniture etc. But if it was just for horses I don't think I would bother. The windows make it difficult to use the tie ups for the horses as the tie up points form the supports for the windows. But we had the glazier cut holes in the acrylic for both tie-ups and for points where we could use padlocks for locking the trailer.
The trailer comes with 1 gate with an option for a second gate. We had the saddle rack thrown in for free, but normally they are an optional extra. If you close the gate on the saddle rack compartment there is enough room for 3 horses under 16hh. If they are over 16hh then you'll probably only get 2 horses in comfortably. The second gate is set at the middle of the trailer if you buy it. It divides the trailer in 2 halves. If you are moving 2 horses the second gate can be useful to separate them. But if you were moving 3 decent sized horses, then you would not use the second gate and let them stand there without any divider between them.
The trailer is brilliant to tow. With the electrics it comes with a standard Aussie wiring with a round plug. But your vehicle needs a pin for an auxilliary current because the interior and outside lights and the breakaway brake unit all run from being charged by the car.
The trailer weighs 1200kg is about 16ft long and the interior height is 7'4" at the highest and 7'2" at the lowest point. There is a side door access on the right side towards the front of the trailer. We found the floor rubber can be slippery when wet if the horses have shoes, but not so much without shoes. We will consider changing the floor rubber to something with more traction in the future.
I have wanted to purchase a sidepull and emailed Champion Turf Company twice and have had no reply. Do you know of anyone that has ordered through them in Australia and how they contacted them?
Champion Turf do not sell the side pulls retail. However, you can order them from General Feeds in Santa Cruz, California. We have bought them from there on our trips to the US and clients have ordered them via the internet without trouble. They sell 2 sizes – full and Arab. You need a full size for Nicky and an Arab size for the ponies. I suggest you remove the brow bands when you get them because they tend to be too small across the brow and can cut into a horse behind the ears. Other than that, they are excellent.
We went to the Warialda Show today to see the horse events. We wanted to get an idea of the local horsemanship. I’m only sorry I forgot to take the camera. I can sadly report that things are not much different in country NSW as they are in Victoria. We watched some campdraftng, showjumping and hacking events. There were a lot of old style bush riders on display in both the campdrafting and showjumping rings. There were lots of needless spurring, tie downs and head checks, shank bits and upside down horses running on adrenalin. The hacking events were a little more sedate, but almost every horse was counter bent and carried a false collection. For most it was a lottery to see which canter lead a horse would choose. There was one teenage girl in the showjumping who actually had her horse listening and correct in front of the jumps. For most of the riders it was a battle to maintain control and very many horses approached the jumps half sideways. But the girl I saw had it together with her horse. It was the only horse that was straight and balanced around the course. It gave us some hope that all was not lost.
Reins and Control
Watching the horses today reminded me that so many people use the reins to slow or stop a horse like they use the brake pedal on a car. They pull on the reins harder and harder until the horse stops.
In my view, when a horse understands the reins there should be no pulling to stop a horse. The stop should come from the horse being aware that there is a slight change in the reins. But for many people, the reins are used like you might use facing a horse into a brick wall to stop. People apply the reins as if they were a barrier that the horse can’t possibly push past. When in fact you are working towards the day that they act as a gentle signal to the brain of the horse to slowdown or stop.
Those of you who have had lessons from Michele and I will remember that sometimes we have coached you to use the reins as a barrier. We have often used the image of pretending the reins were tied to a fence post and didn’t give until the horse yielded to the pressure. This might appear to be a contradiction to the idea that the reins should not act like a barrier. But you have to remember that when you are training a horse to understand the reins, you need to be clear as to their meaning. You can’t leave it up to the horse to second-guess what a shorter rein means. However, when this is established there should be no need to keep using the reins like they were a pedal brake.
Today I saw many horses that would be considered advanced in their field. We saw open class campdraft horses that constantly pushed through the reins and riders standing in their stirrups to stop them. We saw jumping horses whose riders had to see-saw the reins to slow them down before a jump. We saw horses spinning by leaping their forehand in the air either to their let or right because they pushed forward into the reins rather than engaged their hindquarters. Overall, we saw horses that were being manhandled or bullied by the reins to move or stop or turn because there was no understanding of the proper use of the reins. Rather than the reins being an instrument used to give the horse an idea of what the rider was trying to signal, they were used to force things to happen. Control was being imposed on the horse rather than given by the horse – even in advanced level horses.
I have seen this in all disciplines and at all levels. Modern competition dressage is possibly the worst example only because of all the disciplines it takes pride in espousing the virtue of lightness and softness but doesn’t deliver. I know I have covered this subject before, but watching all those “barely in control” horses today reminded me that it is a subject we all need to be reminded about from time to time.
This was sent to me today and I’m happy to endorse it. I have written before about the banning of jumps racing in Australia. It is long overdue and it is about time that the authorities stepped up and stopped being bullied by the racing lobby whose prime concern is financial.
Here is a web site with further information and an action plan.
I’ve noticed when working Sally she is quite resistant to the reins at times, more often than not and I know she has been better than this before. Michele made much comment of it the last lesson I had with her too. So I’ve been trying to work on this, every time I ride. What my question is, do I offer Sally a feel on the rein and then wait for her to give to the pressure, and keep waiting maintaining the same feel, before releasing or, do I firm up given that she should know what I’m asking given her experience?
I have played around with both and I’m finding that sometimes she just plants herself and doesn’t move, this has happened in the hindquarter yield, something we have done over and over again. Perhaps my timing is terrible and I’m not releasing at the correct moment, of course I’m just speculating here! Don’t expect an answer to that comment.
This resistance makes the softening to the reins very difficult to get when working on any lateral work, so I’m going back to the basics of reins again to get it better.
Appreciate your advice
I think you can afford to be a little less tolerant of Sally's resistance to the reins. Having ridden her a few times, I know she can be very responsive when her focus is on the job. The fact that she is getting heavy to the reins suggests you are not following up with insisting on her attention to the reins when she resists. If Sally was just learning the meaning of the reins, I would say to take your time and let her explore her options. But Sally has had too much riding and had enough good riding to know what the reins mean. Don't let her think on if for long. Always ask politely, but if you don't get the right response don't wait any further before firming up. She is a smart enough horse that she will teach you to wait and wait if you let her. If she locks up with her hind end, use one rein and disengage her back end and then use both reins again. Repeat it if she locks up again.
I've been riding Riley a bit lately. He is a lot heavier on the reins than Six. I have made all sorts of excuses for him because of his intermittent work due to his broken leg and his 4 month long abscess and his months of rain scald etc. But in the past week I have made the decision to treat him like a horse I was training for somebody else. That has meant that every time I pick up the reins and he lets the slack out of them before he responds, I firm up a lot until I get the answer I was looking for. I'm using the side pull so that when I firm up I don't hurt his mouth. But I have sat him on his bum once or twice when he was too busy checking out where Six was hiding. In three days I can say he is a different horse. The level of focus and his feel on the reins is magnitudes better. He is still not as good as Six, but he is on his way. Sally should be too.
The same is true if Sally locks up during the hq yields. Ask politely and then firm up if no response. She knows hq yields, so if she plants her feet, lift your inside rein upwards firmly and smoothly until she loses her balance and unlocks. She will soon learn that locking her feet will only cause more discomfort than disengaging them.
Yup me again =s hehe
2 quick questions:
Clipping - whats your opinion on it, Prince gets pretty swetty after just a few minutes of moderate work... To keep the fluff... Or not to keep the fluff, I ask you because I have had many different opinions on it, and many different opinions on what type of clips to do... So I was thinking... Hmm.. Ill ask Ross =p
Cold fresh evenings - cannot get Dannys attention, he literally looks like he thinks something is just about to jump up from behind him and smack him one! Iv tried doing some hind quarter yields etc, but it doesnt quite seem to be clicking... He's too big to get a fright and squish people haha. So was wondering if there some things more specific for that situation that I could try - read the letter from that lady about her pony on your website, helped a bit =D
Thankyou, Hope you guys arent too cold up there - its freeeezing here!
You are asking the wrong person about clipping. I don't do it and never have. I don't see the point. Do you rug Danny? Rugging usually controls the wooliness within reason for most people. If you are going to clip you will probably need to rug him. In my view, let him sweat and let him dry out. He is not going to be working so hard that he needs cooling down. A little sweat will not kill him. He is in a big enough paddock that he can wander around as he dries out.
The cool evenings make him feel good. Horses are cold climate animals. They evolved in cooler regions. If the temperature rises over 12deg C most horses start to get droopy due to the heat. when Danny appears more distracted on colder days it is because he feels better and has more energy. It's the same level of alertness as if he was taken somewhere new and wanted to check out everything. Or when a horse is more difficult to manage when the grass grows in spring - the horses just feel better. You simply need to do more of what you have been doing and keep doing it until you get a change. Remember the exercises are there to help you get a change in his mental state. So be more picky about what you will accept in terms of his mental state. Don't release just because he is doing what you asked, but release for when he makes a change of thought. Sometimes this might mean you have to really get in his face to make yourself more important to him than everything else. But once he checks in you make yourself the best place to be in the whole country. There are no magic new exercises to do that will change everything for you. You just have to up the level of quality of what you are doing. You can introduce new exercises if you like (see the Bill Dorrance book "True Horsemanship Through Feel), but you'll still have to be just as picky with how Danny does them.
Not such a busy day today because we had rain in the afternoon. I keep driving over sharp objects left lying on the ground by the previous owner of the property. It’s impossible to see them in the long grass. I had to repair the second puncture in 3 weeks. I also found a sledgehammer in the grass when I was pulling down a fence today. Each day is like a treasure hunt.
Conformation and Dressage
I received an e-mail from a friend regarding comments made by another trainer on his web site. The trainer makes the argument that the majority of horses in Australia are not suitable for dressage due to poor conformation and it leads to soundness issues in horses.
I find this to be a very strange viewpoint. By it’s very nature, dressage is meant to improve the athletic ability and movement of every horse. The exercises that have been developed as part of dressage are designed to improve musculature and soundness in all horses. Dressage was never designed only for those horses that are born with good conformation – but for every horse.
There is no doubt that some horses will be able to attain greater heights in dressage than others due to better conformation and temperament. There is no doubt that not every horse will be able to be brilliant at the higher levels. But equally there is no doubt that every horse is capable of most of what dressage demands within each horse’s natural abilities. I have seen a Haflinger pony perform canter to the rear. My Percheron/Arab gelding had a very impressive extended trot and canter pirouette. My friend had lessons on a Quarter Horse performing a levade. These are examples of horses that did not have ideal conformation for dressage. But every one of them was a better horse for having had correct dressage training. Their movements may not have had the pizzazz of a naturally brilliant Warmblood or Lusitano, but they achieved close to what was their physical potential. Isn’t that what we are all striving for with our horses? To achieve close to what a horse is capable of giving.
Each horse was physically better for having been trained correctly in dressage. But the key phrase here is “trained correctly.” If a horse is trained poorly and with force, even the best conformed horse can be turned into a physical wreck. I have seen many horses with strong top lines and well-developed rear ends become hollow backed with weak hindquarters after a few months of bad dressage training.
If you have a horse with a physical weakness, dressage can help reduce the weakness and give long-term soundness. I have seen it many times. Dressage can be used as a physical therapy for some conformational problems because it builds correct muscle development that can support a weak frame.
I believe it is wrong to suggest that a horse is not capable of being trained for dressage based on his conformation. If these horses do develop soundness issues it is most likely due to incorrect dressage training rather than dressage training per se. Every horse can physically benefit from correct riding and dressage.
Just wanted to let you know that I have been working attentively with Nicky the last couple of weeks and had an amazing ride today. I finally had a lovely extended trot from her instead of the crazy choppy rushed trots that I have been having and we even got to canter a bit which was great because the weather was amazing. I have really concentrated on her transitions from the things I ask of her on the ground and make sure that there is no rush in anything that I ask. Once this is going well I then ride her. I have found that she can still be rush sometimes while I am riding but her attention to what I am asking is definitely different from the time before because she was not responsive at all before and would spin me around to face Princes paddock.
I think you and Michele would be really proud of Charlotte as a lot of what you have taught me is rubbing off on her. Charlotte and I had some battles of her riding with Holly for awhile and I felt like I was always nagging her so I decided to let her be so that the results of her interaction with Holly would show and she could work it out for herself. Holly and Charlotte have attended pony club twice now. The first time Holly was quite good. There were moments that were overwhelming but all in all both Holly and Charlotte kept it together really well. Charlotte let all the instructors know what Holly was and was not capable of doing and didn't allow them to push her into it so there was no Holly meltdown moment. I was very pleased because I watched a lot of children and teenagers push there horses into full meltdown and even saw a girl come flying off her horse with the horse then landing on her thigh and crushing it. That was very scary and both Charlotte and I agreed that her and Holly were going to pony club for the experience of being out and around other horses in different environments, if things were not going well there was no need to continue and she was to work on getting Holly better, not progressing onto the next level till that was done. Don’t know how the instructors feel about that but tough luck. The second time we attended pony club it was a real disaster. I told Charlotte when we had saddled Holly up that she was not paying attention, that we need to work with her near her carrel but Charlotte insisted everything was ok and that she would be fine. I tried to discuss the matter for a while but found that it was turning into an argument and felt that Charlotte needed to experience the consequence. Maybe I should have thought that through abit more but I was furious and was tired of continually discussing Holly's distractions. While getting breakfast for Mitchell and myself at the canteen I heard a blood curdling "MUM!!" I turned to see a bolting pony with my daughter on it. I froze for a moment then proceeded to yell instructions at her which were half working and half not because Charlotte's fear took over and she started to pull on the reins to which I yelled even more. While yelling I was running diagonally hoping I would intersect the horse and rip Charlotte off which I somehow did. This excitement was all before gear check. Well you can image how the day progressed. In the end Charlotte stormed off to the corral telling me she had a stupid horse, untacked her and we went home.
As much as the experience was scary I believe it taught Charlotte a very important lesson about her horse and where she was at. She realised that she needed to be really picky with Holly and that sometimes her rides with Holly would not always be fun but would be a great deal of work.
On the Easter weekend we brought Holly upto our property for the first time and Charlotte worked with her there. She was great, she worked with her softness to the rein, didn’t allow her to canter whenever she felt like (Holly likes to pre-empt situations to get the job over and done with) and got two days of great riding in an environment that Holly didn't know. I was really proud.
Teaching kids the importance of their horses attention and real softness is really hard because they really just want to go out and have fun and with an animal that is really hard. They have to learn to understand the importance of where their horse is at, at any particular moment and that riding may not always follow. It is hard enough for an adult to realise that they may not ride let alone a child. Ugh another thing to test my patience. I don’t have a lot of that but somehow these horses are forcing me to get a grip and learn to be PATIENT.
Hope your weather is just as beautiful as ours has been for the last week. I have really soaked it in as I don’t know how much more we will get.
Thanks for your great e-mail. It's good to know you are working through some basic issues with Nicky. I guess your place has dried out enough to get some work done.
I empathize with your dilemma with Charlotte and Holly. I think it is similar to teaching a horse - you have to let them make a mistake to learn that it didn't work. The trouble is we are so afraid that the mistake will get our kid hurt - which is a perfectly reasonable fear. I made lots of mistakes when I was a kid because I just wanted to jump and compete and horsemanship to me was learning how to use a hoof pick or wash a horse. But I was lucky because with all the trouble I got into I never once was badly hurt. I still make mistakes and still have never been badly hurt.
When a person has a pre-occupation with something, everything else doesn't really matter. Charlotte's need to get on Holly was a thought she couldn't shake. Anything you said or try to get her to do, was only a brief distraction from her thought. She knew that maybe she could have done more with Holly before mounting. She knew she should have probably waited until you had returned from feeding Mitchell before getting on Holly. But her thought to ride overwhelmed her good sense and caution lost the battle in her head. It wasn't until she got into trouble and had a scare was she prepared to change her thought. It's a lesson learned for Charlotte. Following it up with some good rides over Easter was probably the best thing for Charlotte's attitude too.
I don't know how anybody gets good with horses without getting into trouble. Trouble is the precursor to good judgement. But Charlotte is lucky in that she has a mum who can help her through a lot of the trouble and teach her a better approach way to avoid the trouble - she just has to have a change of thought that she is ready to listen.
I don't understand how pony clubs can survive (legally and ethically) with kids riding horses out of control and getting hurt. Pony club should be the bastion of teaching safety and good horsemanship. It's not meant to be a survivor contest. If I was an instructor at PC and saw kids on horses that were barely in control I would stop the show and not let those kids continue without good one-on-one help - I wouldn't let them back on their horses until they proved it was safe. What is PC thinking? How does PC get liability insurance?
I have been a guest instructor at a few PC in past years, but I have never been invited to the same PC twice. At one PC, my afternoon sessions were cancelled because some instructors and parents complained that I was teaching the kids to lead a horse on a loose lead rope rather than from under the chin. They said I was teaching unsafe practices that were not in the PC manual. I think PC is great for kids as a social outlet, but it is an institution that is closed off from good horsemanship and parents should not use it as a source of education for kids. It's time there was an independent review and overhaul of the pony club system in my opinion. If the insurance industry did a proper risk management assessment of the system, it would be the end of all pony clubs.
I hope you and Charlotte are talking civilly again to each other. She's not even a teen yet! How are you going to manage her at 15? Maybe now is the time to learn to use a stock whip.
My warmblood is very green and been out of work for some months due to a paddock injury. Can you recommend a sensible ground training regime to prepare him for my first ride, what you do and for how long and for what period. He is a very sensitive horse and does not like confusion, which I gave him a good dose off before. He also became a bit herd bound and not so confident so I walk with him well away from his usual areas and herd mates, right out of his comfort zone, do a session and come home. Though he gets a bit tense, I can successfully settle him and relax him. I think I get more focus and less resistance when I'm taking him on these walks than when I start doing something in the arena. I want to get it right this time and build a solid foundation. My horse will be saddle fitted soon but I want him ready for that ride. I have your notes on lunging which are terrific. Anything else.
Also, I have been attending regular lessons to prepare myself for the first ride and I can say I feel relaxed and rider fit. I am riding a variety of horses at the school for weeks now and have now progressed to shoulder ins, leg yielding, some flying changes, all transitions without hesitation and reasonable hands/seat. Still a way to go. I did this to ensure I was up to the task of riding my horse who of course is not a school horse.
Always appreciate your thoughts,
It's good that you are getting plenty of riding done on different horses before starting up with your Warmblood.
With regard to ground work for preparing your horse for returning to work, the first thing I would consider is the nature of his injury and be mindful of how that may affect him. But assuming he is fully recovered and back to normal health, I always start with the quality of the leading. A horse should be with you, not dragging along, not leaning on the lead rope, not being pulled forward or pushed backwards. He should move like he was your shadow and weigh just as much. His focus needs to be attentive to you. It's the start of any work that may follow.
I then take up the lead rope to direct his thoughts. If I direct the lead rope to the left or right, does he follow it with his thought? Where is he looking? The lead rope will eventually become the reins and this is the best place to start teaching him that the reins direct his thought. This exercise builds into moving his feet in a manner that the reins suggest. So from using the lead rope to get him to look to his left, follow that with asking him to walk to his left and stop and check in with you when you relax. This idea of using the lead rope to direct his thought followed by his feet can be taken to movements such as hind quarter yields and forehand yields, side passes, turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand, circles on the lunge and backing in circles. You can add obstacles to the exercises like backing around a cone or over a pole or side passing over a tarpaulin etc. There is not limit to the variety of things you can do. But the essential part is that in all those exercises you are directing his thought and not just making his feet move while he is looking for his paddock friends. The exercises are worth nothing if he is not gaining more focus and becoming softer. Remember softness is more than lightness - softness is a mental connection that results in lightness.
Buck Brannaman has a ground work book and dvd available that outlines the exercises he uses when starting a horse for riding. The exercises are excellent, but Buck falls short of doing them well in his dvd. He teaches them as a trick to the horses that leads to submission rather than a mental connection. Nevertheless, his book and dvd give you ideas of things to try. The best book to check out for ground work is Bill Dorrance "True Horsemanship Through Feel." It's worth reading and has lots of good ideas to inspire people.
I hope that has given you some things to think about and experiment with. Good luck.
Ive never written to you before but have been reading you web site for a while now. I have a 3 yr old mare that i will start myself at the end of the year in school holidays. I just want to say how much I get out of your story’s about satts. They are really great. You put so much detail about the small things that i never thought about before. I know you don’t want people to read your articles like they are instructions on how to break in a horse but you have given me so much to think about. I broken in2 other horses before and i see how come i have missed a lot even tho they turned out ok. I wish you lived in Qld so that i could and come and watch you breaking in horses and get more tips. Anyway thanx so much for all your information you put on your web pages and i hope i get to meet you some day.
Thank you for the praise. I’m very glad you like the stories about Satts. He was a very cool horse. I know I’m up to chapter 10 and am just about to start riding him, but I wanted to give people an idea of some of the little things that were so important to Satts. There are at least another 10 chapters to go because there is lot more trouble ahead when we get to the riding. I don’t want to spoil the stories, but there are few horses that challenged my thinking as Satts did when it came to getting along under saddle.
I hope you continue to follow the stories and when it comes time to start your mare please don’t hesitate to ask me questions if you feel the need. Good luck.
This is something you can do with your horse if he has been made unsound by dressage training
I’m sorry it has been a few days since my last posting, but we have been so busy around the farm that by the time the sun has gone down there is little energy for anything but vegetating in front of the TV at night.
We watched parts of the royal wedding. All I could think of was that Kate’s dad must have been thinking he was the luckiest fellow on the planet. He unloaded one daughter with the biggest extravaganza of a wedding possible and all paid for by the British government. How many fathers wish they could foot the bill for their daughter’s wedding on the government? I’ll bet he is working on a plan to scam the government with daughter number 2s wedding as we speak.
I found your discussion on straightness and in particular the shoulder in to be very interesting. I’ve been reading a bit about lateral work, but would be interested in your take on the shoulder in. I think my horse is ready to be introduced to lateral work and would like to know more about the shoulder in.
BTW, I just finished reading your book and loved it. It is one of those books that you hate getting to the end because you want it to go on and on. I have a huge collection of horse books and put it as one of my top two books alongside Nuno Oliveira’s “Classical Principles of the Art of Training Horses.”
Thanks for the high praise regarding my book. I don't think it is nearly as an important book as Nuno's, but I very much appreciate your kind words.
The shoulder in is quite a fundamental exercise, yet a very powerful one. But like all exercises the value of them is only in the quality with which they are performed. Softness to the reins, legs and seat are the key to the value of the SI.
It was initially invented by William Cavendish (Duke of Newcastle, 1592-1676) and performed only on the circle as an exercise in preparing war horses. But later François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688-1751) perfected the exercise to be used in schooling horses for equitation. It was de La Guérinière who changed the SI from being only done on a circle to an exercise performed in straight lines that we see today.
The SI has many functions. Primarily is used as a straightening exercise and also in preparation for self carriage and collection. I have already talked about straightness in a previous entry. But with regard to self carriage and collection, it is the activation or engagement of the inside hind leg that the Si encourages that makes it so useful. When done correctly, it causes deeper flexion of the inside hock, which in turns lowers the croup and raises the shoulders – part of what makes up self carriage and a pre-requisite for collection.
The SI is a 3-track movement when done correctly. If a horse is travelling to the left at SI, the left hind travels it’s own track, the left fore and right hind track the same line and the right hind traverses it’s own line. If you were to look at the footprints from above it would look like the horse was 3 legged by the 3 tracks in the sand.
In this photo you can see a shoulder in to the left being performed in hand. There is flexion to the right while the horse is travelling to the left. The left hind is closest to the wall and is on a single track. The left fore and right hind travel on the same line as each other and track to the inside of the left hind leg. The right fore leg is even further to the inside and also on it's own track.
As the name implies, in the SI the shoulders are brought off the track to the inside. It is the shoulders that move to the inside and not the hinquarters that move to the outside. To do this, I often start in a corner and as I ride my horse around the corner I continue the turn as if I was doing a 10m circle. But when the shoulders come off the track and the flexion is about 30deg I use my outside rein to block the horse continuing the circle and direct him to follow parallel to the track while maintaining the 30 deg flexion and the shoulders inside of the track.. For example, if I am riding in the arena and turn right at a corner, I keep turning until my horse’s shoulders are off the track and I have a 30 deg flexion. Then I bring both hands to the left so that the left rein is off the horse (blocking him continuing the circle and directing him to go along the fenceline) and the right rein is against the neck of the horse (keeping the flexion to the inside). I use my right rein to maintain the flexion and my left hand to stop the horse circling and to follow the line of the track. When this happens the horse’s left hind is on the track. The left fore and right hind travel the same line but about 6” inside of the left hind foot. The right fore is the 3rd line and about 12” inside of the left fore. I want to make it clear that when the SI is correct there is no crossing over of a horse’s legs. They don’t cross, but they move forward parallel to the line of travel (the fenceline of the arena).
I have not said anything about how I use my legs and that’s because when I’m teaching this exercise to a horse I don’t my legs for any purpose but to encourage forwardness. I only use legs if the horse needs more life, but not to direct that life. Later on, when the horse understands the reins better, I will introduce the use of the inside leg to encourage him to move away from the leg.
With regard to the weight of my seat, I tend to add a little more weight to the outside seat bone – but not much. This is because the direction of travel of the horse is in that direction and a rider should always be trying to maintain equilibrium with regard to the horse’s centre of gravity. This means if the horse is moving to the left for example, then in order to keep in balance with him, the rider should have a little more weight to the left. I know there is much debate in the dressage world about whether a rider should have weight on the outside or the inside seat bone. But that’s an argument we can have at another time.
People have written chapters on the SI and there are a few video clips on YouTube if you want to look them up. It’s always good to get expert instruction, but I hope I have given you some thoughts that will help you gauge if you are on the write track (excuse the pun) or not as you teach your horse this valuable exercise.
Hope things are progressing without too many bumps in the road. It sounds like you and Michele are making good progress.
Were you wearing a different type of collar on your shirt, I might start this email with, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned." Last week I was working on canter transitions with Tort and I lost my temper with his little crowhops of protestation. I actually jerked on his mouth at one point.
I was wondering if you'd comment on two areas.
1. The price of a loss of temper. I think Tort may have been just trying to tell me what I was doing wrong (will be question #2), and I think I lost weeks of careful work, and now Tort thinks I am a bit of a jerk. I tend to agree with him. On the other hand, I guess I don't have a good set of tools to tell him DO NOT DO THAT.. So I resort to Neanderthal mode.
2. Horses buck for a reason. Tort had some soreness issues, but I just don't think this was it. We have a new saddle and he feels solid as a rock. I can't feel any soreness. What he has had is a good bit of time without asking him to do much. I feel like the protests at the canter transition are either
a) I'd really rather not. It would be easier just to trot along.
b) STOP SHOUTING! I just need a signal, not a boot in the ribs... Read the book will ya?
I really believe my canter cues may be too strong and I am not setting Tort up for the transitions, and just goosing him out of no where. So the bucks that I punished him for maybe him simply trying to teach me how to ride. However, it is also possible that he has been on welfare and sees no reason that state of affairs shouldn't continue.
There is no good reason to jerk on a horse's mouth. Ever. I think Tort is trying to communicate, but I'm just not always sure what it is. How do you decide what is a tantrum and what is frustration as I don't seem to be hearing anything else he is saying? This is a very very kind horse. But even kind horses can be spoiled. I am extremely talented in that area.
Hope that didn't ramble too much.
I don't feel like a father confessor, but I believe your horse will forgive your bout of temper.
Getting angry with a horse is never the right thing to do. It leads to mistakes and rash decision making. The problem is that anger is driven by emotion (well, it is an emotion) and for us humans emotions can not be switched on and off like a tap - as they can more readily for horses. We have a tendency to hold onto our emotions much longer than a horse. This gets in the way of changing our responses from instant to instant. One minute your anger can help you apply pressure in a way that gives the horse clarity of what is not appropriate behaviour. However, the moment the horse changes his response, we need to change our intent, pressure, tension or whatever to meet the changes in our horse. But because we hold onto our anger and it hangs around long after the horse has changed, it gets in the way of our ability to help our horse.
I think everybody has lost their temper with a horse at some time. When I was a kid I would lose my temper all the time with horses. I think it came from believing that the mis-behaviour of the horse was something it was doing to me personally. I lacked the understanding that it had nothing to do with me and didn't realize that the horse was just being a horse that I failed to communicate with adequately. Later, when I became aware that it was never personal with a horse, I stopped losing my temper. I can't recall the last time I lost my temper with a horse - it's been many, many years.
Having said that, you don't need to lose sleep over your temper tantrum. It is unlikely that you have done much damage to your relationship with Tort. Horses don't hold grudges. They live in the moment and don't think about the last time you whacked them. It is only going to be a problem if you repeatedly lose your temper and now Tort expects to be jerked in the mouth every time you ask him to canter. There is no doubt getting angry and jerking him in the mouth was the wrong response and did not help the situation. But neither is it likely to have done much damage if it was a one off.
With regard to your canter transitions, I would consider changing tactics as an experiment. It sounds like Tort is pretty worried about the canter and your cue to canter is tipping him over the edge to crowhop or buck. Something you could try for awhile is to not use canter aids at all. You might try asking for his trot to just bigger and bigger. Gently push his trot out more. Take your time and don't hurry him for an instant response. Just think about urging him forward. With each increase in speed, you might let him come down to a slower trot or jog or even a walk. Again, make these downward transitions easy and not demanding him - help him find the downward and the upward transitions with just your urging rather than you demanding them. As he becomes more relaxed with the bigger trot, ask a little more and allow him to find the canter. Don't demand the canter - let him make the canter transitions as a natural consequence of being more forward. When he hits the canter, allow it to flow for a few strides at first and then let him come down. If he gets too rushed, gently bend him to a circle and use the circle to help him find the trot - don't grab his mouth with the reins. Bring him back to a relaxed trot or walk. Don't ask for another canter until he gives you a relaxed big trot again. Keep working at having him relax in both the trot and the canter.
When the canter transition is getting smooth, you can introduce the canter aid as part of your transition from a pretty forward trot. Soon you'll be able to ask for a canter from a medium trot and even a walk or halt by gently using the canter aids. But it takes time and consistent practice. Don't rush Tort. He has bad feelings about being asked to canter, so you need to take it slowly and rejoice in every little improvement.
Lastly, I haven't seen you or Tort together and my advice are only meant to give you some thoughts to play around with and experiment. If I was able to witness you firsthand I may give very different advice, so use your own good sense and take all things slowly. If in doubt, get the best help you can find for lessons.
Let me know how you get along and good luck.
I don't think this clip requires any comment from me!