Amy Skinner on Freeloading, II

Amy Skinner

Editor’s Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She works with owner/operator Jim Thomas as a trainer at Bar T Horsemanship where she rides and teaches English and Western. She also maintains Essence Horsemanship. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.
Meet Skinner and Thomas at the Best Horse Practices Summit!

Here, Skinner shares some notes on horses and riders. Read Part I of Freeloading

Skinner writes:

When people bring me a horse and go right to name calling right away, my heart sinks. I regularly hear people regularly call their horses:

  • lazy
  • stubborn
  • uncoordinated/clumsy
  • unathletic
  • moody

When I hear these things, though, what I really hear is that rider’s own personality flaws.  They may be telling me that:

  • they are ignorant to the horse’s real nature
  • they tend to humanize their horse
  • or, that their ego gets in the way of finding the best ways to work with their horse.

I like to give riders the benefit of the doubt and consider that they are on a journey of learning. They are frustrated because the horse won’t cooperate in some way and they don’t understand why and don’t have the tools to work through the problem. Consequently, they resort to name calling.

Folks hear me talk about ego, conflict, and nod in agreement, as if those faults applied to other riders, not them. But we all struggle with our egos.

For example: My ego makes me crave recognition for my work, and I have to be careful that I don’t let it get in the way. I don’t want to satisfy my ego at the expense of the horse, by pushing it in a direction they’re not ready for just to look like a better trainer.

I have to be careful not to attach my self-worth to a student or feel that their riding ability is a reflection of my own.

We all have our struggles. Having an ego isn’t a bad thing, but we need to be aware of it so that it doesn’t interfere in our horsemanship.

Let’s assume that if you’re reading this article, you’re seeking real horsemanship and not wanting to achieve “success” at the horse’s expense.  If we really want to figure out why we run into problems with our horses, we need to change the labels we put on them and maybe change the habit of labeling altogether.

  • ‘Lazy’ could really mean the horse is unresponsive.
  • A ‘stubborn’ horse could just be confused.
  • A ‘clumsy’ horse is off balance.
  • A ‘moody’ horse could be frustrated.

When we consider these behaviors, we first need to look at ourselves.  If the horse is unresponsive, how have we taught him to ignore our cues and messages?  How can we help him understand that our aids have meaning? How can we nurture when and how he responds to them?

Often, the rider doesn’t realize her hands and legs create so much noise for the horse. Then, when they really want their leg to mean something, the horse has tuned it out, the same way that we do at a restaurant with background chatter.

Or, the horse could have been dulled down by other riders. Now, you need to help him understand that what you ask has meaning, and that you’d like him to respond to lighter cues.

Either way, it’s human error.  It’s our responsibility to make things clear and easy for the horse to grasp so he doesn’t get frustrated or tuned out.  It’s our responsibility to help him be balanced.

Horses want to get along.  They want nothing more than to find peace and know what their role in our lives is.  If we want to be fair, decent horsemen and women, then we need to drop the name-calling and start looking at ourselves.

Read Part I of Freeloading

Equine Affaire Art Sends the (Wrong) Message

We’re big fans of the Equine Affaire. We’ve attended the annual version in Massachusetts (there’s one in Ohio, too) for years and have even had a booth there.

So it was with a big “Oh, no!” that we saw the organization’s logo art for this year. It shows a horse grazing in a pasture with its halter on.

Say all you will about so-called “field safe” halters. The consensus here is that any halter left on a horse at liberty is a bad one.

Just ask the guys of Unbranded, who left a halter on one of their mustangs and then woke up to a severely injured horse. (It likely happened when the horse went to scratch his chin, as shown in the illustration below.

Just ask Julie Goodnight, who wrote about it on her social media page:

It’s a scene that irritates me every time I see it: 

horses turned out with halters on…I am not sure whether this is done out of ignorance, laziness or simple incompetence, but I am sure it is not a good idea.

In my opinion, there’s no good reason to turn a horse loose in a halter and leaving a halter on 24/7 is very poor horsemanship. It is uncomfortable, potentially dangerous to the animal and it will not resolve any training issues that the horse might have. Turned loose in a halter, the horse may potentially snag the halter on something and be stuck. Maybe he’ll panic and break free, maybe he’ll throw himself on the ground and struggle; either way the potential for hurting himself is huge.

Besides, how would you like to have that thing on your head all the time? Maybe some people think because we leave collars on dogs, it is ok to leave halters on horses, but a dog does not have the same capacity for panic and destruction that horses have.

Julie Goodnight

Often I hear people say they leave a halter on because their horse is difficult to catch. But guess what? That’s not fixing the problem—it’s avoiding it. Training and good handling will fix a hard-to-catch horse. Leaving a halter on 24/7 will not. I’ve worked with many wild, unhandled or traumatized horses and the temptation to leave a halter on is great. But until the horse is desensitized to your approach, your touch and the halter going on and off, your problem is not solved.

Thanks, Julie.

We visited with the Equine Affaire’s Executive Producer Coagi Long. She said of the watercolor, “It’s a piece of art and is not necessarily meant to be instructional by any means.” During the process for selecting the painting, the fact that the horse was wearing a halter was not addressed. But, Long said, “it’s something we could address in future.”

Thanks, Coagi, we hope you do!

Curious about other practices that we’ve given Thumbs Down?

Read about Cross Ties

Read Amy Skinner’s take on Cross Ties

Read more about Haltering

Summiteers: Come Early for the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Coming to the Best Horse Practices Summit?

Come a few days early to check out the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

This year’s focus is “Laughing Stock” and, as words suggest, is all about humor. Check it out here.

The Durango Cowboy Gathering Parade, one of the largest motorless parades in the country and the largest in Colorado, will take place on Saturday, October 7th at 10:00 a.m.

We heard from Parade Coordinator, Pam Jacobs. She writes:

The fun-filled morning starts with a hardy chuckwagon breakfast at 5th and Main which benefits the Gathering and its youth programs. Local music groups perform up and down Main Street beginning at 9:30. The parade kicks off with an old fashioned gunfight in front of the historic Strater Hotel.

This parade does its best to celebrate the lifestyles of rural people and to focus on various organizations in the community, giving anyone who is interested a chance to get their “cowboy on” by participating in the event. Wagons, carriages, horses, mules, miniature donkeys, llamas, dogs, buckaroos on stick horses, fashionable ladies and gentlemen dressed in period costume, and even a genuine performing Texas longhorn are all part of what has become a popular Durango tradition for the past 29 years.

We hope to see you there!

Interested in riding in the parade? Contact Angela.fountain at co.laplata.us or at 970 382 6465 

For more information, contact Pam Jacobs, Parade Coordinator at collegeplanningservices at hotmail.com or call (512) 517-5619.

Historic Host Hotel Opens Rooms to Summit

This just in!

The historic Strater Hotel, host to the Best Horse Practices Summit, has made available a limited number of rooms for attendees of the Best Horse Practices Summit. We’re thrilled to offer this option for attendees during what is a very busy fall season for the Strater.

Interested parties must book directly by calling (800) 247 4431 and ask for the Best Horse Practices Summit (BHPS) special, available October 8-11.

Discounted price for a single without breakfast, $159.

Discounted price for queen and twin (for two or three guests), $182.

Check out the Lodging page here.

Register for the Summit here. 

See you in Durango!

The Summit will be held at the Strater Hotel and nearby fairgrounds

Bring Your Spouse to the Summit!

Are you passionate about riding and horses, but your partner isn’t?

Steering committee members have fielded requests for “May I bring a non-horse-y spouse?” and have answered the call.

Beginning this week and for a limited time, those registering for the Best Horse Practices Summit may click on the option “My Spouse Will Join Me For Meals.”

We have reserved 20 spots at the Strater Hotel for those partners not interested in the presentations but who would nonetheless like enjoy Durango, the visit, and the Strater’s fine dining.

The cost to those spouses is $120 and payable upon registration, Sunday, October 8, at the Strater Hotel.

Head to the Summit Registration page here. 

 

Board limits BHP Summit attendance to 200

As the Best Horse Practices Summit approaches, the conference’s board of directors has voted to limit attendance to 200 registrants. This recent move will ensure that participants enjoy an intimate, resonant experience from the academic and arena presenters.

The Summit takes place at the historic Strater Hotel and the LaPlata Fairgrounds, October 8-10, in Durango, Colorado, just after the annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

A stunning roster of speakers include: Randy Rieman, Bryan Nuebert, Wendy Williams, Martin Black, Warwick Schiller, Jim Thomas, Dr. Sheryl King, Dr. Robert Bowker, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and Dr. Steve Peters.

Summit presenters are excited to offer talks that stretch beyond the typical and that weave holistically into a greater take-home message. Collectively, these presenters – men, women, academics, stockmen, best-selling authors, and international clinicians – are deeply invested in improving the horse-human connection.

“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” said Peters, co-author with Black of Evidence-Based Horsemanship. “I’m as excited to attend as I am to present.”

Read more here.

Patagonia to outfit BHP Summit presenters

Patagonia, the clothing company characteristically associated with surfers and rock climbers, has chosen the Summit as a vehicle for introducing its fall WorkWear line. It’ll be outfitting BHPS presenters with its new Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Barn Coats and colorful Western Snap shirts.

Stay tuned for reviews and details later this week.

Visit the Patagonia WorkWear landing page here. 

“We wanted to put WorkWear in the hands of people who will test it, challenge it, and appreciate its utility,” said Chris Gaggia, marketing manager. “Riders, ranchers, working cowboys, and clinicians – they are outside, working hard in the elements every day. WorkWear is well-suited to the demands of the Summit presenters and attendees.”

Iron Forge Hemp Canvas is made of 55 percent hemp, 27 percent recycled polyester, and 18 percent organic cotton.  The material is supple but tough. Third-party testing has shown that the fabric is 25 percent more abrasion-resistant than cotton duck canvas like you see in Carhartt jackets.

Whoa Podcast Features Summit

We had a great time talking with John Harrer, the host of Whoa Podcast, a popular podcast about horses and horsemanship.

Maddy Butcher was joined by Dr. Steve Peters in talking about the upcoming Best Horse Practices Summit, the development of Evidence-Based Horsemanship, and the new site, HorseHead: Brain Science to Improve Your Horse Work.

Check it out here.

Are Cool Baths a Good Thing for Your Hot Horse?

It’s hot and you’ve just returned from a sweat-inducing ride. Do you hose down your horse?

Believe it or not, almost no research has been done on how to help horses lower their core temperature when we ride them in extremely hot weather. That lack of research, however, hasn’t stopped experts from espousing their professional opinions. Few cite published research in peer-reviewed academic journals (which is something BestHorsePractices tries to do whenever possible).

Here is what we know from common sense and a little science:

Bigger horses have a harder time in the heat. Why? It’s simple math based on the ratio of volume-to-surface-area. Which cools off quicker, a cup of coffee or a kettle of coffee? The cup, of course, because the ratio of the volume-to-surface area is smaller.

We offer some simple observations and suggestions, based on work by D.R. Hodgson, R.E Davis, and F. F. McConaghy and published in the British Veterinary Journal in 1994.

Horses have a greater chance of overheating if:

  • They’re not acclimated to hot weather.
  • They’re overweight and/or inadequately conditioned.
  • In infrequent cases, they suffer from an impairment of the thermoregulatory system like anihidrosis

To cool down your horse properly:

  • Stop exercising
  • Provide shade
  • Make use of fans or cool breezes
  • Give cool water sponge baths or spray with a hose. Many urge that water must be scraped off, so that it doesn’t end up insulating the coat and hindering cooling.

In severe cases, the researchers recommended applying ice packs or towels wet with ice water to the large vessels of the limbs and lateral thorax.

Big Red Flag:

Over-cooling can be dangerous. It may “induce vasoconstriction of the small cutaneous vessels, thereby reducing conduction of heat from core to periphery,” write the researchers.

In other words, too much cooling will inhibit the horse’s own physiological ability to cool off.

Yellow Flags:

  • Don’t ask an unfit horse to exercise in the heat
  • Monitor before, during and after hot weather events
  • Know your individual horse
  • Minimize the risk of heat stress by paying attention to your horse and learning heat stress signs and treatment (see above).

Who’s the Freeloader in Your Horse-Rider Partnership?

Editor’s Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She works with owner/operator Jim Thomas as a trainer at Bar T Horsemanship where she rides and teaches English and Western. She also maintains Essence Horsemanship. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.

Meet Skinner and Thomas at the Best Horse Practices Summit

Here, Skinner shares some notes on horses and riders.

Read Freeloading, II

Skinner writes:

Ray Hunt said, “The first time you ride a horse, he’ll cost you money. The second time he’ll hold his own. The third ride, he’s on the payroll.”

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about this process. It has a different meaning to me now than it did years ago. The young horses I started always came up with some resistance to my leg or rein or body aids during the first week of riding, and I always figured they needed more time to sort things out.

This month, as I start a group of young horses at the Bar T, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany:

Amy Skinner

Before riding them, all the work I did with them on the ground was directly related to riding. I asked them to carry themselves a certain way. I looked for lightness and relaxation with my cues.

Beyond these requirements, I also asked the horse to play a part. In other words, I’d ask myself, “How can I get this horse not simply to accept what I’m doing, but to be a part of it?

  • When I caught a horse, I asked it to participate by facing up, lowering its head, softening its poll, and tipping its head toward me. I would want it to find those movements through relaxation and learn to get in these habits without my forcing it.
  • When saddling, I stopped going around the horse to get to the cinches. Instead, I moved the horse around me, moving the shoulders around the front end and putting itself in place for me to cinch it up.
  • I asked my horses to lead up to a block, fence, or wherever I was standing for mounting. I most definitely asked horses to stay still when I mounted and dismounted.
  • I asked the horses to find relaxation in whatever I was asking and to participate rather than tolerate.

What were the results to my new approach?

  • Better first rides with less trouble and fear for both of us.
  • A better connection between what I’d taught on the ground and what I was asking for under saddle.
  • A working horse in fewer rides.

My group of colts right now are on their second and third rides. They are walking through water, going out on the trail, opening fences, and loading cows up onto a trailer.

I believe the reason these colts are so handy and relaxed is because they’ve been contributing since Day 1. Everything we did under saddle was just the next thing from what they’d already been doing on the ground. It wasn’t a shock or big change from their pre-riding life to going under saddle.

I think of bosses I’ve had. In jobs where bosses told me what to do, I complied because my paycheck depended on it. I did what I was asked, nothing more.

In jobs where my bosses asked me to participate and treated me like a work partner, I felt valued and offered more. I noticed things that needed to be done and did them without being asked. I was part of the whole, not just someone being directed and waiting to get done and go home.

I believe horses feel the same. At the risk of humanizing the horse, I feel that when horses who are asked to take part and have jobs, they have pride in their work. I see this when my colts get confident after moving a cow, or ponying another horse, or opening a gate. They know they contributed to something and feel confident about their ability.

I feel sad for horses who just get ridden around in arenas, show pens, and trails where they are just told to perform, go, stop, and turn. I hear people blame their horses regularly, but to me it sounds like excuses for poor horsemanship:

“He’s too much of a baby to do that.”

“My horse hates water, he’d never go through that.”

“That’s all well and good on a gelding, but try doing that with a mare.”

“Oh but he’s an Arab/Warmblood/Showhorse/donkey/mule…”

When riders insult their horses, what they’re really saying is that they as riders are too afraid, ignorant, or unwilling to change. Horses need to be respected as intelligent beings with a lot to offer.

So who is the freeloader? You or your horse? As my teacher Alicia Byberg said, “Pet your horse and slap yourself.” I still haven’t heard better advice to this day.

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