Monday, December 9, 2013

2013 USDF Annual Convention - December 4th through December 8th.

The Annual Convention was located in Lexingto KY this year, right in the middle of horse country. December can be a little tricky and this early December was no exception. We left Wisconsin a day early to drive out of a storm and left Lexington Saturday evening instead of Sunday to avoid an ice storm. The convention was great - driving conditions were fair to poor. The Board of Governers was really not overwhelmed with decision making. The only contested office that needed to be voted upon was Secretary of the Board for USDF. Margaret Freeman was elected to this position. She has a masters degree in journalism, an excellent choice. Lisa Gorretta, from region 2, ran unopposed for the position of Vice President. The USDF is very proud of the National championship show that was held in Lexington this year. Next year the championships are scheduled to be at Gladstone. There was a fair amount of talk about Intermediare being changed from 1 and 2 to A and B. This was done to make the steps towards grand Prix more gradual. Some of the educational classes that I had time to attend were Degenerative Joint Diseas, Equine Rehabilitation and Preventative care, Schleese Saddle fit for life, colic and equine emergencies, and gastro intestinal health in the equine athlete. There were some ey opening facts in each session. Degenerative Joint Disease and Equine Rehabilitation to me seemed fairly linked. It seems that giving Adequan every four days for 7 injections, was a helpful thing to do for your equine athlete. It really was one of those preventative options that can help your horse's joints long term. Adequan and Legend are the only FDA approved drugs that we have available for prevention and repair. Feeding joint supplements can help, but their absorbtion rate is quite a bit lower. Shoeing and soundness were talked about as well. Someone asked about shoeing versus natural farrier trimming. The response was that it really depended on the ground you were working on. Some areas of the country were so rocky, that it would be hard to make the natural trimming work well even if it was done very well. The other statement was that the natural trimmer would have to trim the hoof once every 3 weeks and the owner could not rely on the natural wear pattern of the horse. That being said, may folks who show dressage ride their horses often enough and long enough that added support is frequently needed. The training recommendation that was talked about was giving breaks during the training sessions. Allowing the joints to recover before moving on, is beneficial to your horse's joint health. The Schleese saddle fitting classes were also interesting. Jochen Schleese talked about the different saddles needed for men and women. He showed a the difference in how the femur was tied into the pelvis and why the difference was needed. He stated that girls or women needed a narrower twist and a wider seat to be comfortable and secure in the saddle. The placement of the stirrup bars also needed to be adjusted. Jochen stated that lower back pain and pelvis pain are associated with women riding in saddles made for men. Equine nutrition was also discussed and we talked about what kind of oil was best to use on feeds. Soybean Oil was the best option for oil that the horse would like the taste. Apparently, fish oil was even better but the horses are not liking the taste. The University of KY was playing with flavoring the fish oil with Cherry to make it easier for the horses to get used to. Oil decisions were made on which oils had more omega 3 verses omega 6 fats in them. The higher the ratio of Omega 3 the better. When talking about horse feeds, the issue of insulin resistant horses came up. Those horses are fed a low carb diet to keep the sugar to a minimum to avoid founder issues. The other specialty group seemed to be the horses that tie up. Those horses also did better on high fat feeds. Also horses with ulcer symptoms seemed to do better on higher fats feeds as well. There is a lot of research going on right now about which feeds should be fed to which horses. Feeding your horses for peak performance is going to be an interesting field to watch. The awards banquet on Saturday night was really nice. It is fun to see people doing well at all levels. This year I was there to pick up a bronze Freestyle Bar for the freestyles that I have ridden on Hazel and Bacara. The amount of equine knowledge in the room was very inspiring. One of the people that sat at our table was a trainer from California that trained at two farms, one for Hilda Gurney (trakehners), and then for a morgan breeding farm. I took the opportunity to talk with him about flying changes for horses with rounder more baroque bodies (like the Morgans). He shared with me some excersises that he likes for their body types. You never know where you will pick up more ideas! If you would like to talk about any of these things in detail, let me know. I took many photos of the slides! Thank you WWDA for sedning me to this conference as your GMO Rep!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Flying Changes - Tempi Changes - Straightness

In 2013, I showed my mare Bacara 4th level and am looking forward to showing Prix St. Georges in 2014. I really like to play with the movements before I actually need them for a test. Tempi changes are no exception. As I work alone much of the time, I have to figure out how to make quality improvements each week. In 4th level tempi changes were required in sets of three. In Prix St. Georges tempi changes are required in sets of five. You would not think this is a big deal but as it turns out, it sure can be. Bacara likes to carry her haunches a little to the right and if that happens, then I am unable to get a nice line of tempi chages and the whole line looks crooked. In fourth level, when only 3 changes were needed, it seemed like I had a little more time to get things straight and to get the series of changes started. Now looking towards Prix St. Georges, I either had a nice line or not and I was a bit frustrated on my lack of consistancy. I kept trying to slightly adjust the shoulders for straightness and sometimes it went well and other times it was just not enough. Finally, I decided that the solution to my issue was a full body solution. Now as I approach a flying change line from the left lead, I ask for a little bit of haunches in to obtain the straightness before I begin. And as you may guess, if I am approaching a flying change series from the right I do a little shoulder fore in the canter to align my horse. This reminds me once again to focus on the concept at hand and solve the straightness through the whole horse. This may sound like a simple solution, I wish I would have thought of it earlier! Live and learn! I thought I would share this in case anyone else has this issue.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Keeping the Dressage Horse's Energy Centered

We all know what a nicely moving dressage horse looks like moving nicely forward with a light contact on the reins. The light contact is the key. If there is no contact with the horse, it is really hard to have the horse hear any of your rein aids that tell him what is coming next. If there is too much contact and it feels like the horse is dragging you out of the saddle, you are not going to be able to communicate well either. There are also horses that alternate between no contact and heavy contact. The first order of business in this situation is to have a steady outside rein for your horse to use as a guide. If the horse is able to pull your rein out of position or you as a rider accidently move it too much then the horse has no outside rein to guide him on the best place to be. I frequently place a leather strap or even twine string from one D ring to the other on the front of a dressage saddle so the rider can hold the outside rein and the strap at the same time. This teaches the rider who accidently moves their outside rein to keep it steady. This also helps the rider not be pulled forward if the horse is pulling on them. One of the worst things you can do is see saw your reins. Becuase if your horse is heavy in the rein, he will either brace into the see saw or he will go completely light and have no contact with the bit. Neither of these options makes your horse easier to ride or more correct. The energy of the horse should feel like it is centered under the saddle and the horse has his balance. To make this happen, there must be a light feel in the rein. For the horse that is emptying the rein contact steadying the outside rein (even if you need to hold onto a strap with your outside hand) gives them a steady rein they can trust. Then gently push the horse forward into the contact. Some horses will go from no contact to heavy contact. That is o.k. if the contact gets heavy, flex the horse with your inside rein to encourage the horse to drop their head and neck and relax into the reins. The steady contact is really important as it will show the horse where to go. No contact means you need to push your horse forward to the bridle. Then there are the horses which pull and are really hard to ride as they try to out muscle the rider. Oddly the same steady outside rein helps. The steady outside rein that holds the strap makes the outside rein secure. Then flex the horse's head and neck to the inside while you push him forward. Repeatedly reward forward and soft. This kind of horse uses bracing and blocking to make his job easier hoping his rider will give up. Instead the rider is going to push him actively into the bridle with a until he takes a softer contact and give this horse frequent breaks. If it is hard to get a softer contact, think mini lengthenings whenever you do not feel like you have enough effort. This horse gets physical breaks following a short period of nice forward work with a soft following neck and topline. In this way you can teach your bracing horse to go forward and soft.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Training Process For Independent Riders

In Western WI there are two kinds of students I routinely help. The first kind is the independent kind that wants to do the training themselves and the second kind is the kind who would like more interactive help but cannot afford it. It really makes no difference to me if the owner wants to or needs to do it themselves. The result is the same. I have to create a normal feel to show them how to train their horses. I learned that BJ Ragatz was one of the best equine dentists through the school of hard knocks. I have had probably 10 different float people over the last 30 years and no one can even come close to his skill level. When he floats a horse, the rider gets a normal mouth feel and that will help them in their training. Saddle fitting I have learned over the last 30 years by the school of hard knocks as well. Saddle fitters are a useful tool but you have to be very aware of your horses preferences. For Pete's sake, I now have several different makes and models of saddles at the barn and it really does help. Making a horse comfortable with its saddle creates a normal feel for the rider as well. Lameness or gait irregularity was learned along the way but pounded into my head in the L program or the learner judges training program. This was a year long program that focused on how to numerically score the horse. If I scored a horse in my test with a numerical score higher than a 5 which had any gait irregularity, I was going to fail the course. My instrucors were mainly Janet Foy (Olympic judge) and Thomas Poulin, (Grand Prix judge). It was not good enough to say irregular or unlevel steps, you had to say if the irregularity originated in the front or the back. You were asked publicly to state your ideas and defend them. The pressure to be sure was immense - so I studied like a crazy fool. I could not afford to flush the money I paid for the program down the drain - I wanted to make the most of the education and to pass. Heck I even went and sat with Marilyn Heath, another Grand Prix judge/instructor who was sometimes a bit abrupt but very bright, because her strength was one of my weaknesses. Riding and training a horse is a personal journey. I get that as there are some horses that I have had for extended personal journeys. But there is a system that governs the personal journey and makes it work. The L Program helped me understand dressage as a system which needed to be personaized to each horse and rider but was still a system non the less. My system for helping independent riders is as follows: 1. Make the horse completely comfortable and that means teeth, saddle, feet and Chiropractic (no exceptions!) At that point the rider who is learning to train will be able to feel that horse's normal. (Otherwise all the rider feels are the blocks that have not been solved) This step may have to be revisited from time to time especially in the saddle fitting area or in the soundness area if the rider increases the intensity of the work for the horse. For example, shoes may be needed as the work load of the horse increases. 2. Teach the basics step by step and help the rider develop the proper feel. At this stage the rider gets to do a lot of fun things and has a variety of things to work on and think about. 3. Help the rider develop a deeper understanding of how movements are connected to each other and what they do for the horse. This is when the rider is able to move up the levels successfully. Oddly, if there is a disagreement between the trainer and the student it usually is in reference to step one. I am not sure how step one - making the horse comfortable can be a stressy thing. The only thing I can think is that people are offended if it is pointed out that they inadvertantly made their horse uncomfortable. We all have had to learn the subtle signs of discomfort over the years and it is not a perfect science. Give yourself a break, solve the comfort piece and move on and enjoy your horses!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Can You Say Engagement?

Bacara and I rode in a Lientje Schueler dressage clinic over Labor Day weekend. This was a great follow-up to the Carole Grant clinic. From Carole I had some practical solutions to solving training issues. From Lientje, I learned much about gait improvement. We worked on half steps and engagement more than I have ever worked on them before. I have played with half steps myself but never had a ground person help me with them before. Bacara responded really well to the help and increased her engagement quite a bit. The over all message was that Bacara needed to accept more engagement and not block in her neck when asked for more. After doing the half steps - more engagement in the regular work seemed quite a bit easier. I widened my reins and pushed for more throughness in her lower neck. It seems like if there is a problem with the engagement and collection in my mare it is at the base of her neck. This work helped her engagement and balance so much that I felt like I had much more time for all of the movements. I had better placement of the steps and a slower but more engaged horse. I have always known that the half steps would help the horse's overall work - but this was very loud and very effective. I have not done any work in the past with a ground person because I really have no one here at the farm that is educated enough to do that for me. Lientje is by far one of the best clinicians for quality of gait improvement. I hope she knows how much us Wisconsinites appreciate her input!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Compassion is always the right answer!

Everyone seems to understand empathy (the ability to see things from anothers point of view).  But few people understand compassion.  Compassion is someone who has empathy and acts with kindness as a result of that knowledge.

The horse world is very funny.  Many horse owners, farriers, trainers and veterinarians will argue a point and literally stop talking to friends and associates over defending their particular theory.  The problem is that there is no one theory for every situation that works all of the time.  If compassion is the map for the decision making, then these issues would be fewer and farther between.

I had a student this spring who entered a horse show and was having a problem with her mare.  The problem was pain in her front feet.  This spring was a bit on the wet side and the mare had developed thrush.  The student was a big supporter of natural trimming and would not hear of putting shoes on to make her mare comfortable to show the mare. 

If you are working your horse with the idea of compassion and want to do the right thing by your horse these are the choices you have.  If your horse is sore and thrushy, give her time off as you treat her feet and let her heal.  It is less than kind to ride a horse with pain.  The second choice you would have is to purchase hoof boots and if this takes care of the problem, then you can ride your horse in these while you eradicate the thrush.  The third choice would be to use shoes on a very short term basis while you treat the thrush.

The basic problem with this particular horse was the show that they had entered was pricey.  Hoof boots were not allowed - so the only alternative would have been shoes temporarily or scratch the show.  Even glue on shoes that were feet friendly would have been enough to ride and show the mare with compassion.

It is o.k. to promote natural trimming and live with that theory.  It is not o.k. to ride a horse in pain.  If you have not taken very careful care of your horse's feet and the horse has developed thrush - you have an obligation to treat the thrush and to either give the horse time off to heal or make the horse comfortable with either boots or shoes. (What ever is allowed based on the activity you are choosing to engage in.)

Hoof pain does not always express itself as limping.  When there is pain in both front feet it can and often does present and an unwillingness to go forward.  An unwillingness to go forward is a red flag that your horse has something wrong.  That is something that should not be ignored.

We all can live together in harmony with our different theories as long as compassion is the guiding principle.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Carole Grant Clinic July 29 - July 30, 2013

I decided to ride in a Carole Grant clinic even though I had never met her before as she has a great reputation.  But of course I was a little nervous as my advanced horse is very sensitive and can get overwhelmed at times. Thank you Michelle Markquart and River Bluff for hosting this clinic!

On the first day it became apparent to me that I had compromised the relative straightness of my horse in the base of her neck.  I had done this in favor of having a good frame.  While this works somewhat - it does cause problems with upper level collection.  The other piece that became very clear on the first day was that pushing the horse on beat 2 of the canter really helps the horse put their croup lower. 

On the second day of the clinic we reviewed relative straightness but also looked at the individual movements a little more.  We worked on the rein back and how to eliminate any bracing in the horse.  Carole had me ask for the rein back and if bracing occurred, I was supposed to ask for a turn on the forhand.  This really did work to relax her and helped the rein back. 

We also worked on a pattern for individual flying changes to make them straighter.  (Straight flying changes are not always easy on a really flexible horse.)  The pattern was shoulder-for to Half Pass to shoulder for to flying change.  It became obvious very quickly that the changes were straight and easy for her this way.

We also took a look at the four tempis and the problem I have with them.  The problem is that Bacara likes doing changes so much that she gets excited in between the changes.  So oddly we would do a change and then a 10 meter circle and then back on the diagonal and then another change and then another circle and then another change etc. . .  It seems that the tempi changes are not the issue it is the canter in between them that needs to be really rideable.   The message was ride the possibilities.  In other words anything should be possible for your horse the next stride, when that happens, the canter is really easy to ride.

The other significant change I saw in my horse was the quality of her medium trot.  The pattern chosen to improve the medium trot was half pass to medium trot.  The half helps with better engagement and then the medium trot benefited from it.  The reach in the front end of the horse was significantly improved.

The other piece that really helped was an adjustment to the curb bit on the double bridle.  I was very concerned about having the snaffle bit and the curb cross and I guess I over compensated.  With the curb two holes higher, Bacara was very steady in the bridle and less bracey.

Wow, I would do this again!  There was so much information packed into two days, I had to write it down so I did not forget anything!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Warm-up Practices that work are not the same for every horse.

It has become quite clear to me that a different warm-up approach is needed based on the body type of the horse you are riding.  Yes they all have a psychological need to feel safe and appreciated but I am talking about the physical differences today.

My advanced horse Bacara, is very flexible and has quite a lot of movement.  I call her more flexible than strong.  As a flexible horse she needs to warm up is a slightly longer frame and let her strides swing.  This seems to help her back loosen up and be ready for more uphill work.  Other horses on the farm like this are Yatze, and Cest La Vie.  Both of these mares need to swing in their backs at least at the start of the ride to make things work properly.

Another technique that seems to work well with really flexible horses is counter bending on a circle, in both the trot and canter.  It seems these flexible horses easily place their shoulders out or swing their haunches in or out.  The counter bending really does help obtain alignment and help with longitudinal balance.  The flexible horse has an easier time with an uphill balance after this type of warm-up.

Then there are horses that are muscular and strong but are not as flexible as you would like.  These horses frequently have a better longitudinal balance to begin with but may have rhythm problems associated with not having enough flexibility.  Horses here that are like that are Ami, Saleena, Joey and Hazel.  These horses should not be pushed for more longitudinal movement under saddle as they will not be able to give it to you right away.  Instead these horses need lateral movement in their warm-ups to loosen their muscles.

Leg yeilding, Shoulder In. Haunches In and Half Pass are all helpful.  I have found Haunches In on a circle to be one of the most beneficial things I can do for these horses.  The haunches in on a circle really loosens the horse and allows it to bend enough to align its body parts to have better balance and rhythm.

When you ride enough horses per day, you start to see patterns of what is needed based on their body types.

The horses then trust you more as you warm them up with success because they think that they can do the job and their rider will not ask them to do more than they are able.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Whos Responsibility is it? Everyone's but the trainer is held to a higher standard of knowledge.

There are many things that go into a successful partnership with your horse.  It takes a team to make it work.  There are key players required for a successful team that need to work together for a common goal.

The owner must use all of the team members and failure to do so, can cause the whole project to fail.

The trainer is an important team member and a resource for accurate information about what may be needed from the rest of the team.  Each sport within the equestrian field may require slightly different things to come together for your horse to perform at the top of its ability. 

In dressage, a sport horse float is almost a necessity.  It is a sport where light contact for communication is required, so there needs to be total mouth comfort to allow the horse to hear without any stress.  Some folks do not believe in this kind of floating and that can work for them as long as their horse was born with a fairly good mouth.  When there is a problem with the mouth, then the float becomes critical.

The same thing applies to the farrier care.  If your horse has good feet you have more options on hoof care.  Natural trimming can work and does if the hoof structure sufficient.  If the rider rides the horse hard or on hard surfaces - the horse may simply need shoes to be able to function without pain like the rider needs it to.

Saddle fitting is also a big deal.  Your trainer can send you in the right direction, but ultimately having a good saddlefitter in your corner helps you ride your horse pain free.

I have seen people make teeth floating mistakes and farrier mistakes and saddle fitting mistakes.  Most of them willingly make adjustments when the discomfort is pointed out.  Not addressing these things is actually unkind to your horse and counter-productive to your goals.

As a trainer I try not to dwell on these things but I find sometimes I have to.  Pain blocks progress like nothing else I have seen.  The horse looses 1/2 of its I.Q. and is slow to learn at best and becomes dangerous to ride at worst.  No trainer wants her student to not progress or worse yet get hurt.  So at the point where there is a chronic pain problem that is not addressed, it is usually best to suspend the trainer - student relationship.

That being said, I love helping folks and their horses.  It makes my day when they progress and do well.  I love coming back from a horse show talking about what went well and what needs to be worked on to make things even better.  Those are great discussions that help focus the trainer and student for future successes.

It takes a team to make your horse experience a great one.  Pick your team wisely and have a great time.  This is supposed to be fun and educational.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How Complicated Can Riding be?

I know when I was younger it was simple to me.  I wanted a horse and I wanted to learn to ride.  I thought well how complicated can it be?  I was in for a suprise - that is for sure.

The horse needs to be sound and physically comfortable and I need to be ready willing and able to make that happen for my horse.  I also have to take care of myself physically as well.

Saddle fit is a big deal.  If there is a problem with a saddle and it does not fit your horse and your horse is uncomfortable, then right away there will be problems.  To complicate things even further, it seems like there are many horses who have an issue with their saddles even if the fit seems o.k.  I purchased a Lovatt and Rickets saddle a while ago - maybe a year ago.  It has a flair at the shoulder area and does not fit quite the same there and allows for more shoulder freedom.  Well many horses really prefer that kind of a tree.  It makes me wonder if more horses have something like mild kissings in their wither area than I ever realized.  All I know for sure is that for many horses, that saddle is a winner.

I purchased a horse, Soleil for a school horse a while back and I worked on comfort with her for a long time.  She is a Quarter Horse/Arab cross and has fairly wide sprung ribs.  (Great for deep breathing - but hard for saddle fitting.)  Non-slip pads do the trick for her and she is now quite happy.

Teeth floating is also a huge deal.  The horse really needs to be comfortable in their teeth so they can relax and move their jaw as they work.  I prefer an equine dentist for that.  It really makes a difference in performance.

Then of course there is the farrier.  I am not a huge fan of shoeing every horse but believe if it is necessary for comfort, shoes should be used.  Some breeds have better feet, like many Arabians and I have a few Lipizzaner mares at the farm that have good feet.  I also have some warmbloods that have nice feet.  With the warmbloods, it seems like the less TB blood in the mix, the better the feet.

O.K. now I am making the basic assumption that wormings and basic health is in order. 

Now you are ready to take your riding lesson or go to that show.  If you want to have a great time and learn your sport with the least amount of detours, take care of all of the above.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Practical Help for Horses Who Cross Canter

Recently, there have been two training horses that have an issue where they cross canter.  In other words they canter on the correct lead but swap behind so they are cantering on the inside lead in front and the outside lead behind.

Two things happen when the horse cross canters.  The haunches are lost to the outside and the shoulder collapses to the inside.  Some horses do this because they lack strength and flexibility, so if the rider can help them canter in a united fashion, the horse can be corrected.

Correcting the horse is not about obedience in this case but about developing the strength and flexibility required to hold the canter lead.  If the horse starts the canter as a cross canter - it is likely that he collapses his shoulder during the canter depart.  In this case it is best to use some inside knee to push the shoulders out and a little more upright during the canter depart. 

If the horse starts out in a united inside lead but then later looses his back end, the haunches are sliding too far to the outside of the canter circle.  The best solution to this is for the rider to sit heavy on the outside on seat.  This creates a bit of a block to the horse swinging his haunches out and helps the horse stay aligned so he can keep the inside canter lead in the back.

This process will help rather quickly and the horse will gain strength and flexibility.  As the horse becomes stronger, the rider will not have to weight the outside of the circle and the horse will be able to maintain a united canter lead.

Good Luck with your horses and be sure to have a great time!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Emotional Development of the Dressage Rider

If riding dressage was not difficult enough, add to the equation the emotional requirements for doing it well.  Lets talk about the emotional state that is optimal for the horse to learn and be emotionally healthy.

Lets say there is a scale from one to ten.  One is completely passive and ten is extremely aggressive.  The number five is neutral.  Horses do the best mentally if the rider uses the emotional range from 3 to 7.  

That is the easy part.  Deciding where to be on the scale is the hard part.  For example, if the horse is frightened, most of the time it is advisable to get quieter or use the gentle side of your emotional range.  However, if your horse is frightened and physically in your space, you must increase your emotional state or assertiveness.  For me when I do not know the horse very well, I gradually change my emotional state to see if it helps the horse.  If the horse's behavior becomes worse I will reverse my emotional state and go the other way.

This is why it is confusing. Some horses use stress to control the ride or the interaction.  I always respond to what looks like fear with a softer emotional state at first.  I keep careful track of the horse's response.  If the horse improves then super!  If not. then he is controlling the interaction through his stress.  If the horse responds with more stress you know you have gone in the wrong direction.  Then the rider must increase their emotional state towards being assertive instead. 

Then there is the horse that is just a bit challenging (easier to read).  The rider simply needs to go up the emotional scale to assertiveness.  The rider needs to not hold a grudge and needs to then return immediately to neutral when the behavior improves.  A neutral emotional state is acceptance.  Acceptance is a reward.

If this is not difficult enough, then the rider needs to be able to access their emotional state easily between three and seven.  But people have personalities and preferences of their own.  People have preferences on the emotional scale that they like to use.  It is extremely hard to teach yourself the part of the scale that makes you uncomfortable.  Some people are simply very nice and like to use their neutral and lower emotional scale.  Others are matter of fact and would just like to get it done and are comfortable using the neutral and higher assertive part of their emotional scale.

Horses quite simply need us as riders to use both sides of the emotional scale when we ride.  So the bottom line is that it does not matter which side of the emotional scale you prefer to use as a rider, your horse needs both.  So in the end, all of us learning how to ride well, are uncomfortable as we learn to use the emotional scale.  To do this we need to learn the emotional piece we are weaker at.

Give yourself a break and understand where you naturally fall on the emotional scale.  Then try to teach yourself to use the whole range when you ride.  The start is knowing where you are emotionally and what you need to be for your horse.  Remember your preferred state is very helpful is some situations, just be sure to learn the entire scale. 

There is no right or wrong emotional preference, just awareness and then education on what to use when.

Have a great time with your horse!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Setting Limits That Improve Your Relationship With Your Horse

There are some people that are just plain nice people.  They want to find only positive ways to interact with their horses.  This can work most of the time but not all of the time.

If you have a horse that bites, it is your responsibility to resolve that issue.  Many times I think this issue starts when the horse is a foal.  Foals can be really oral and some of them will lick the people handling them.  At that point just pushing their noses away can be enough.  If you do not address it at that point, it becomes biting and then eventually the horse sees it as a fun game.  This horse has become a problem.  If you watch the herd, many horses play biting games with each other and the looser backs up.  So if you have a biting issue you need to back that horse up every time it tries to bite or exhibits pre-biting behavior like putting his lips close to your body.  This has to be a consistent fix every time the horse is handled.

Then there is the issue of a horse that pretends to be afraid of the mounting block.  When I say this I do not mean a young horse that has never seen one I mean an adult horse that has been up to one hundreds or times.  The handler must drive horse towards the block and reward the horse for going up to the block.  This can be done forward or backwards.  This pretend fear is the horse checking in to see if you are really his or her leader.

Space issues are important, if your horse is afraid and shies into you instead of away from you it just plain is not safe.  I know a woman that was leading her horse and he became frightened and shied into her.  I do not know if he just knocked her down or knocked her down and ran her over.  I never heard the details.  What I did hear is that she had a fractured skull.  What I am trying to say is that it does not matter why your horse is scared, he or she is not allowed in your space when they are frightened.  This is a safety issue.  The difference in weight and size makes it dangerous for that to be the case.  Petting the horse when is frightened, is o.k. if the horse is respecting your space.  But if the horse is shying into you or kicking at you, petting is not the best idea.  Enforcing your space is number one and you can follow up with petting once the horse respects your space.

Further, expanding on space issues is the importance of the horse moving its shoulder away from the handler when asked.  Horses rarely shy into a person all of a sudden.  They usually are too close to the handler in their shoulder area for quite some time and then it becomes critical in a scary situation.  I know ground work can be boring but it is really an important piece.

If you look at setting limits as helping the horse, I think it will help if you are a kind hearted person.  The horse who can walk quietly and politely next to the human without crowding them or biting them will have an easier time interacting with people.  If you help the horse become human friendly, the horse will have a better chance to have a stable productive life. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shoulder In - What it does for your horse

Today three of the young horses were worked.  Two mares and a gelding.  Both of the mares are a little farther along than the gelding.  Samantha Wagner rides our young horses and today we played with shoulder-In on all three of them.  It was interesting to see the reactions of each horse based on their temperaments and their physical attributes.

When we teach young horses to walk, trot and canter and even leg yield, they can travel with the base of their legs in a wider fashion.  Nature tells them if they keep their base wider that they are more physically stable.   Before shoulder in is introduced, there must be a basic amount of trust from the horse towards the rider.  This is because shoulder In narrows the base of the horse.  A horse with a narrower base can start to collect and carry itself on its back end a little more.  But a horse with a more narrow base must trust its rider at least somewhat.  Because as the horse narrows its base and performs shoulder in, he or she is less physically stable side to side but is using their hind quarters better.

The first mare is a rather wide built mare that is strong but not laterally flexible.  She is independent in her thoughts and a little opinionated.  We started the shoulder in in the trot so she could feel the stretch but also have enough forward thrust that if she disagreed with her rider - she could still successfully be pushed forward so she could be rewarded.

The second mare was also a wide muscular horse that is a bit shy and timid.  We introduced the shoulder in on this mare in the walk because if she gets stressed out she likes to slow things down and think about them.  Then when the rider tries a second time she is likely to try harder.  She did well in the walk and struggled a little in the trot.  The struggle was not independent thinking but rather the result of a muscular horse that can stretch only so far the first day.

The gelding was the least trained but he is a TB/warmblood cross.  So he has a narrower base to begin with.  He is a confident young man so we started the shoulder In at the trot.  He found his way there on the first try on both sides.  The reason he had it easier was because of how he is put together.

If you are working with your horse and they have a blocky build, remember that lateral movements will be slower when you start teaching them but will help the quality of the horses movement.  Many horses are strong but not flexible, if this describes your horse lateral movements will help loosen them.  Others are flexible but not strong.  Weirdly, lateral movements also help them.  The act of using their hind quarters more using shoulder in improves their strength.