Dressage riders, barn managers, ranchers, and trail riders gathered to hear neuropsychologist Dr. Steve Peters and horseman Martin Black open the door to a new way of thinking about horsemanship and horse management.
Peters told the packed room:
“Some of you might get uncomfortable. But that’s a good thing. It’s mental growth. It’s asking what this is all about,” he said.
Peters introduced the crowd to the idea of cognitive dissonance: that’s when you have two theories, practices, or understandings that don’t jibe with one another. For example:
You understand that smoking is bad for you, but you smoke.
In terms of Evidence-Based Horsemanship, some examples of cognitive dissonance might be feeding grain and blanketing horses, when you have nonetheless learned that science tells you these routines don’t benefit the horse, said Peters.
Students traveled from as far as Washington and California and provided some stated motivations for attending:
“I like to see the social science and physical science blending,” said Ilona Serrao, a horsewoman from San Diego county.
Attendee Wendy Murdoch, a popular clinician herself, had lots of questions. “I’m always interested in putting science behind the process as opposed to just guessing,” said Murdoch.
The idea, of course, is that horses will benefit, said Black, who expected that participants would find “a different way, a more refined way” of working with their horses.
“What I really enjoy is seeing the change in their horses. To have them seek relief instead of moving from pressure. That may be something new to them,” said Black.
Owners Cindy and Duffy Parker bought their bucolic, 15-acre property more in Sherwood, Oregon, 11 years ago. Back then, it was not so pretty. But over the years, they’ve turned the quiet but busy stables into a gem.
Over 30 horses have daily turnout in clean, connected paddocks. There are several large pastures and grazing spaces. Riders can work in indoor or outdoor arenas or ride around a beautifully-groomed perimeter trail. Clients’ horses are turned out every day, regardless of weather.
“In the last five years, they’ve missed one day,” said Duffy Parker, who with Cindy dug every fence post and built every shelter, completely renovating and improving the former vet facility. “And that was when we had two feet of snow.”
Cindy said the seminar was a welcome affirmation of what she’s seen with horses all along.
“It’s so obvious that by keeping an open mind and by being with the horses, that they’re not ‘stupid,’ as ignorant trainers call them. I think it’s great to have these facts to back up what we’re seeing,” said Parker.
Several years ago in Maine, I ran 24 Carrot Horse Care, taking care of horses while their owners were away or too busy. I tossed hay, mucked stalls, exercised, medicated, and even hauled horses to vets for surgeries.
Most of the time, instructions and specifics were written down and tacked to the barn wall.
Sometimes, notes went missing.
Sometimes, horses went missing. (I once arrived at a Bowdoinham barn to find the horses gone, with not even a distant whinny to hear.I tracked them to a neighbor’s yard, a half mile down the road.)
At some point over the years and miles, I got to thinking:
- Wouldn’t it be great to store horse records and care instructions on a phone?
- Wouldn’t it be great to share that information with others, in times of need?
After working with CSFrontier, I’m proud to present StableMate. This horse care and management application will soon be downloadable to your phone or tablet. With easy sharing features, you can give friends, neighbors, vets, and barn managers access to your care and feed schedule. Never miss a farrier or vet call! Share an x-ray or report. Store your Coggins result.
Stay tuned for more information!
Given the choice between notes for your loved ones on a tailgate or Stablemate, we hope you’ll choose the latter.
If progress must be defined by always moving forward, then my progress with the mule would not be progress at all.
Since my last posts, we’ve ridden many miles. Most have been pleasant, full of camaraderie and connection. There’ve been some unexpected bolts and bucks and I was happy for my tool kit: a one-rein stop, a smidge of confidence, and a healthy dose of humor.
Saddling Jolene, however, remained challenging.
“A mule is like a horse, only more so” is the adage. If it means mules are more flighty, more challenging, and requiring of more positive reinforcement, then I agree whole-heartedly.
Initially, saddling was a 90-minute affair which included getting her comfortable with standing, being comfortable with the pad and the saddle coming on and off, etc.
Slowly, it got whittled to a 30-minute deal.
Then, because of holes in our training, it blew back to 60 minutes of frustration as the mule renewed her wariness and recommenced bolting at the sight of the monstrous saddle and pad.
Daniel Gorman, my friend from Collector, Australia, had some excellent pointers as he watched my struggles:
- Don’t be results-oriented by having saddling and riding as the only acceptable goals.
Gorman watched as I picked up the saddle and walked towards her. And he watched as Jolene repeatedly spun and took off.
“Instead of taking the saddle to her, carry it and walk away with her, with the saddle on your hip until she’s more relaxed,” he suggested.
I picked it up with her on a lead line and walked off, letting her graze during a pause.
Brilliant. Read more about Daniel Gorman
Jolene got more comfortable with the saddle because it became a side dish to the main meal (walking with me and grazing).
The other problem was that I’d misjudged (again) her sensitivity to containment. I thought that by settling her into a three-sided, stall-like space it would be easier to get her saddled while still allowing her to move. But in short order, Jolene became less and less comfortable with the arrangement.
- Gorman again suggested changing the set-up. I took the saddle and the mule to a grassy spot. I let her eat next to the saddle. I didn’t let her eat when she wasn’t near the saddle.
Another day, I let her hang out near the saddle in the paddock. If she wanted to take off and run from it, I did not offer her relief until she wanted to stand by the saddle.
For 10 days, the pair of us did nothing but hang out, saddle up, and hang out some more.
Three weeks passed since our last ride. Yesterday, we saddled uneventfully and headed out solo for six miles, a sweaty, rigorous ride with pit stops for treats, grazing, and gazing. It was sweetened by that hiccupping progress we’d made on the ground. From my perspective, that ground work deepened her trust in me.
Progress, in our own terms, is progress nonetheless.
You learned or you didn’t.
I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until teetering on the verge of not graduating from college. Up until then, I just assumed I wasn’t as smart as everyone else.
Thankfully, now there are more ways than ever to learn – visual, kinetic, logical, social, etc. If you struggle with one method, chances are you can acquire the same knowledge with less anguish and frustration from a different source.
The same options are becoming more and more available to riders and horse owners. There are DVDs, seminars, books, lessons, clinics, and apprenticeships.
What’s your ideal arrangement?
Mine is slow, easy, and physical. Forget about watching a video or participating in an intense arena session. I learn best in bits and pieces, on the trail with better riders, day after day, in a casual setting, with time to think about my actions, contemplate my horse’s reaction, and make improvements with supervision.
Leslie Desmond is setting up a novel program in Sweden, Spain, Norway, Texas, Oregon, and California. Students sign up for a two-year apprentice program involving four, three-week sessions. No sessions have more than four students. Learning possibilities vary according to students’ abilities and interests, with plenty of time in between the sessions to dwell on things. Read more about Desmond apprenticeships here.
Martin Black offers the Bruneau Ranch School. Students live, work and learn at his Idaho ranch for a month. “There will be no set curriculum; we will simply take advantage of what opportunities arise,” said Black. Read more.
For the love of horses, I’m boycotting the Triple Crown this year. There will be no watching the Derby, Preakness, or Belmont in this house.
- The thoroughbred industry is one of the most irresponsible breeders in the country. Each year, thousands of foals are born, tested for speed, and wasted. Men and women of the Sport of Kings breed with impunity. Horses are their easy, experimental crops. Dan James, of Double Dan Horsemanship has seen it first-hand. He told me:
“I think the thoroughbred industry needs to become a little more responsible for the number of horses that are being produced each year… What are they going to do for the rest of their lives?” Dan James
- Some trainers and jockeys are no better than the scoundrels of soring in the walking horse industry. As has been widely reported, they’ve been secretly abusing them with electric shocks during training sessions and competitions. Read more.
- Drugging horses continues, despite condemnation by politicians and the public. Drug testing and compliance is likely more restrictive for cows than it is for thoroughbreds. Read more.
- ROI (Return On Investment) is more important than proper horse development. Why else would babies be running at the tender age of two years? That kind of intense activity is too much for young horses, athletically AND mentally, say the authors of Evidence-Based Horsemanship.
- Recently, I watched an excellent short documentary of nurse mare foals. These days-old thoroughbred foals are stripped from their mothers, so the mares can serve other foals with higher racing potential. Hundreds of foals are cast aside. Some have been rescued. Like the aforementioned abuses of thoroughbreds, the practice goes unchecked. Watch the video.
- The industry does a nice job of contributing to thoroughbred rescues and agencies. But the charitable efforts are self-serving. It’s their Tide detergent for image laundering.
The industry has no incentive to amend their harmful practices. And I’m not counting on politicians or law enforcement to affect any meaningful change. Adopting a thoroughbred is a nice gesture and bless those non-profits for all the lives saved.
But if breeding is a running hose, rescuing simply diverts the flow. Better to turn off the faucet and pressure the industry to rein in breeding and treat their charges more humanely. Better to not watch in hopes that less viewing translates to fewer dollars.
Their practices are not what’s best for the horse. They are not BestHorsePractices.