Horses Want Fewer Gifts, Better Care

Check out our Annual Gift Guide for Horse Owners

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Sheryl King is professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University, a Fellow of the Equine Science Society, a Best Horse Practices Summit board member, and lifelong horsewoman. In this guest column, she writes about the range of benefits from working and owning horses.

By Dr. Sheryl King

How thoroughly amazing it is that two species so different– evolutionarily and by character – can often become, with a little effort, planning, and sensitivity, so connected to one another. How ironic that this attraction of opposites can often morph into a destructive relationship for the horse despite our best intentions.

When we misinterpret our relationship with our horse, when we move beyond the role of caring steward to treating the horse like an extension of ourselves and our family, we err to the detriment of the horse. We end up loving it badly.

Horses are horses. People are people. Try as we might, the two will never be the same, and as the saying goes, “Vive La Difference!

What am I getting at?

Some examples:

1. We all understand that the horse is strictly an herbivore. Humans, by nature, are not. As omnivores, we eat a variety of foods; variety keeps us healthy. As grazers, horses eat the same thing, day in, day out – grass or hay. They like it that way; indeed, they need it that way to stay healthy. When we love our horses to the point where we project our humanness on them, we tend to try to change their nature toward ours.

We give them variety.

We give them grain because we love to hear that nicker of appreciation.

We give them treats to show them how much we care for them.

We give them all kinds of supplements because companies convince us that we are better owners for doing so.

All of the above often compromises our horses’ digestive, metabolic, even skeletal health.

2. Horses evolved to live outdoors, in the open. They seek shelter only in the most extreme of weather. They have developed a most marvelous skin and hair coat to protect them from all that nature can dole out. Humans were not so blessed. We seek shelter most of the time and we need to artificially cover our bodies to deal with the elements and we project this habit to our horses.

We put our horses indoors; we sometimes even heat that indoor space.

We cover them with all manner of blankets, sheets, coolers or slinkies

These horses often suffer in myriad ways – behavioral problems, respiratory disease, digestive problems, skeletal, and hoof problems. The list goes on.

3. Horses evolved with a need to roam. Even in a pasture, most horses will cover 10 or more miles a day. It is their nature to wander and seek nourishment throughout most of their day. What modern humans consider strenuous exercise is just day-in-the-life movement to a horse.

They need to walk, run, roll, rear, kick. But we humans live in communities; most of us have limited land on which to keep our horses, and many of us want to control where a horse goes, when, and how. Idleness is bad for a horse’s mind and bad for its body. To a horse, W-O-R-K is not a four-letter word; the domesticated horse needs a job and they need to report to work daily.

4. Perhaps our worst disservice is to impose our own emotions and moral values on horses. Their code of ethics is not a human code of ethics. When we think of our horses as our four-footed “equine children,” we fall prey to the notion that horses deserve human rights. Conferring human rights on animals means that by owning them, we exploit them. Moreover, sliding into this way of thinking about gives power to groups who believe:

Horses are pets, not livestock, and are therefore subject to all the controls that we impose on pets

Horse jobs are forms of cruelty

Horses should not be owned by humans at all (i.e. owning pets is a form of slavery and should be banned).

When we allow horses to become pets or otherwise support an animal rights’ agenda, we risk ceding control of how we manage horses to the animal rights groups’ version of “humane.” These groups may advocate:

  • Taking away your horse’s job,
  • Keeping them only in an unnatural, controlled environment
  • Labeling as animal cruelty the keeping of a horse simply, as horses should be kept.

The Take-Home messages:

Recognize that horses are not humans.

Put the needs of the animal above those of the human.

The next time you catch yourself doing “something special” for your horse, stop. Think. Are you really doing this for your horse, or are you doing it for you? If it is really for you, is it also good for the horse?

Beware false prophets of equine welfare – what they preach may actually be bad for horse’s health.

Introducing the Dopamine Counter

No one’s doing a better job of connecting brain science with horsemanship in an innovative, easy-to-grasp, fashion than West Taylor.

West Taylor works with challenging horse

Recently, Taylor released this video of his work with a challenging horse from Colorado. Even by horsemanship video standards, “Flagging on the Fence: Downregulating a Nervous Horse” is long and protracted. But if you’re interested in seeing how a horse can change over the course of 90 minutes and in learning through the narration of Taylor’s science-supported commentary, it’s time well spent.

The video introduces a fun, new learning tool: the Dopamine Counter.

Read more about the neurochemical dopamine here. 

At the beginning of the video, Taylor has the horse tied to a sturdy corral post with several feet of slack in the rope. The goal is to teach the mare to respond to his cue of tapping one side of her haunches or another, to move her hind end left or right.

West Taylor at the Best Horse Practices Summit

At first, it’s a struggle. Taylor taps her hind end repeatedly while clucking. Eventually and without much relaxation, she moves away from his pressure. Taylor responds by leaving her be and waiting. After several seconds, she lowers her head and licks and chews. Ding, ding, ding goes the Dopamine Counter.

If we were super nit-picky about the science, we could say the Dopamine Counter is a stretch. Of course, we don’t know that dopamine is being released in the brain at any precise moment. To do that, we’d have to have some pretty sophisticated equipment and serious expertise in that corral. But licking, chewing, and head lowering are generally associated with dopamine releases, says Dr. Steve Peters, a neuropsychologist at Intermountain Health and co-author of the book, Evidence-Based Horsemanship.

Taylor, owner of Wild West Mustang Ranch, has consulted extensively with Peters. Together, they have conducted Horse Brain Science Seminars. Typically, these offerings feature Peters’ academic presentations paired with Taylor’s work with horses in an arena.

We talked with Taylor about the mare’s progress through the video:

“At first, you can see that she’s barely finding the cue,” said Taylor. “She could barely complete my request, let alone calmly. I like to work toward a point where she is almost cueing herself. In the video, she’s headed there, for sure.”

Micah Fink, founder of Heroes and Horses

Taylor continues:

“Ultimately, what I want horses to do is relax within the cue (not just when the pressure is released). I like to work towards precision, without fear or too much energy. I want them to do something softly and confidently and to have calmness within the cue.”

Beginning next month, Taylor will start several mustangs for the Heroes and Horses. The Montana-based non-profit helps veterans reintegrate after their service by providing a free program in the Montana wilderness, teaching horsemanship, and optimizing the benefits of the horse-human connection.

The horses, all geldings, will come from the Bureau of Land Management facility in Axtel, Utah.

6 Roadblocks to Lightness, Part 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 has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others. Skinner sits on the Best Horse Practices Summit steering committee.

This is Part II of a two-part piece on identifying roadblocks to lightness.

Read Part I

By Amy Skinner

Here are additional areas that I’ve found can inhibit lightness with our horses:

Tacking up, mounting, and warming up:

As you go through your habitual grooming, tacking up, and warming up routine, take notice:

Do you do the same things in the same order each time?

Many of my students haven’t even noticed that they have a routine they follow until I bring it to their attention.

They always:

  • Start on the same side
  • Get on in the same place
  • Warm up to the left first, and so on.

If we are mindlessly going through the motions, it’s easy to be unaware of little slips here and there on our horse’s part.

Maybe they inched around while we saddled, or walked a few steps while we mounted.

Because we aren’t organized or in the moment, we cannot correct or head off these mistakes. Therefore, the horse gets into bad habits because of our bad habit of mindlessness.

I want my horse to be aware and responding to me as I go through getting him ready to ride.  I watch him carefully and ask him to watch me carefully.  I mount on both sides regularly, warm up in different ways and different places. I work toward the goal of having a responsive horse.  A responsive horse is only possible when we ourselves are aware and attentive enough to notice when our horses are checked out.

Bit fit: 

Is your bit hiked up to two or three wrinkles in your horses lip?

If your horse is smiling like the joker while your reins are completely loose, imagine the amount of pressure he feels in his mouth when there is no message being relayed to him.  It’s constant pressure with no meaning.

Later, when you need your rein to mean something, imagine how much more pressure you will need to apply in order to get his attention.  If the bit is kept lower, to where the horse has no wrinkles (but not so low that it bangs his teeth), he can hold it up himself without pressure.  When your rein needs to have meaning, he can feel a much quieter message in the corner of his lip.

Think of people you know who talk loudly and incessantly – for them to really make a point, they have to shout. Prospective listeners are so desensitized to the volume and frequency of their speaking, that these shouters’ words don’t carry much meaning. On the other hand, people tend to lean in and listen when someone speaks softly, meaningfully, and infrequently. This is how we want our hands to be to our horse.

Photo by Julie Kenney

Position mistakes: 

Are your legs constantly flapping against the horse’s sides

Are your hands coming back as you post?

Are your hips and legs tight, preventing your horse from getting loose?

Rider mistakes can create dullness as the horse sorts through which messages have meaning and which ones don’t.  Often students with “lazy” horses who won’t go forward really just have horses who have learned to ignore leg aids because they never end and rarely have meaning.

This might be more challenging than some of the other roadblocks to lightness. I suggest trying to find a reliable instructor who focuses on discovering and developing softness in your horse and who will help you develop a better seat for a lighter, softer horse.

Final thoughts:

Training might take up an hour a day.  Most of us don’t even ride that much.  Therefore, what makes up the rest of the horses’ day really matters.

How we handle them matters.

How they interact with their world at large matters.

How they perceive their role in our world matters.

Imagine the confusion horses feel as they live one way for 23 hours, and for the 24th hour they’re expected to suddenly adjust.  A horse who understands what’s expected of him can be a relaxed and happy horse, if his human is willing to be disciplined and attentive in his day-to-day interactions with him.

6 Roadblocks to Lightness

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 has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others. Skinner sits on the Best Horse Practices Summit steering committee.

This is Part I of a two-part piece on identifying roadblocks to lightness.

Read Part II

By Amy Skinner

Years ago, I was struggling to get a school horse lighter.  He did his job carrying young riders well. But, in the process of training to be lighter, he became confused about how to respond to aids, as his day job involved ignoring many confusing or accidental messages.

My timing wasn’t great and his habit of hanging on the lead rope, for example, was well-established.  I had a teacher help me and I watched in awe as within a few minutes, this dull pony brightened up, became more aware and bright in his eye, and responded to her with total lightness.

She handed me the lead rope back and said, “he just wasn’t clear on a few things.”  I felt this sense of magic in my hands now, as if all our problems together were fixed and all I had to do was maintain that perfection she created.  Unfortunately, within minutes, he was back to hanging on the lead and I was back to being frustrated.

So what happens between those moments: when the skilled horseman or woman with good timing handles the horse and then hands it off to the student? I’ve put together a list of elements that can dull or confuse horses and added tips for how to encourage lightness in all areas of horse work.

Petting: 

How you pet your horse, believe it or not, makes a huge difference in how he understands interactions with you on the ground or in the saddle.

  • Is he pushing on you to get more scratches?  If your horse pushes on you, or worse, moves you while getting pets, then he may also push through your leg, your bridle, your lead rope.
  • Does your horse avoid your touch and leave?  You want to teach your horse to seek out your aids. Those aids can be anything from your touch with a hand to your leg or rein.  If the horse avoids these aids, he gets released without responding correctly. He learns to do the wrong thing.

Amy Skinner

Petting, to me, should be done in a way that encourages softness, relaxation, and respect.  I don’t take my hand away when a horse pushes or avoids, but I release my hand for the horse softening to my touch. When you pet and when you stop petting is important.

Feeding time: 

Again, if your horse is pushing on you to receive food, this will create problems in the saddle.  My horses don’t get grain until their ears are up and their faces are soft. I don’t reward grumpy faces or threatening ears.  They also don’t get to push me out of the way as I set their hay down.  I want calm, relaxed, and respectful horses at feeding time.  I will add that it isn’t fair to expect horses to be calm about feeding time if they’re waiting hours between feedings, especially if it’s cold.

Leading: 

We tend to absent-mindedly grab our horses and lead them to the barn without paying attention to the quality of our leading.  The way your horse leads is the way he will ride. Leading is a crucial part of my horses’ training.

  • Does the horse drag on the lead rope?
  • Does he rush ahead?

A horse that leads well will likely ride well.  Leading well doesn’t just mean he follows you, it means he responds to the lead rope, where and how it asks him to be.  He should be light on the rope, not rushing ahead or dragging behind. He should lead equally well from both sides.  He should respond to you asking him to step forward, stop, back up, or move to the side without interfering with the path you walk.  He should be focused on you.

Leslie Desmond once told me a halter broke horse is one who’s lead rope you can stick in your belt and go about your chores without him getting in your way.  This horse is a joy to handle.

Tying: 

This element relates to leading.

  • Does your horse pull slack out of his lead rope while he stands tied?
  • Does he peddle backward and hang on the rope?

These are symptoms of a poorly halter-broke horse, or one who is not clear on the meaning of the lead rope.  It’s also likely that this horse will not respond correctly to rein aids.  I don’t tie horses until they respond properly to the lead rope, and when I do tie them, I make sure they can’t take slack from the rope or worse, get away.

Read Part II.

Death of Natural Horsemanship

Natural horsemanship is dead. Long live natural horsemanship.

Natural horsemanship is a trending phrase that got attached to a style of work and a way of connecting with horses that Bill and Tom Dorrance offered up a few generations ago. It involved working with the horse on its behavioral level. Natural horsemanship is defined by the instinctual patterns and social understandings we see in a herd, or even between two horses.

Randy Rieman

Randy Rieman

Most specifically, it embraces the concept of pressure and release.

Pressure and release is defined by the micro-movements and movements between two horses. For example, the head turn or ear pinning of one horse will dictate the movement of a second horse. If the second horse doesn’t understand, the pressure or energy will increase. e.g., the first horse may charge or kick. When the second horse acquiesces, the first horse lets off the pressure or releases.

Furthermore, the work of natural horsemanship can extend to myriad physiological, neurological and anatomical details like:

  • bend (lateral flexion)
  • the hind quarters as engine
  • the flight or fight response of the autonomic nervous system
  • the positive reward cycle involving the neurochemical, dopamine

Natural horsemanship is dead; the term has lost its meaning. But the work is alive and well.

“People now realize that good practitioners don’t label it. It just is,” said Randy Rieman, a Best Horse Practices Summit presenter who sees the phrase more as a clever marketing device than an apt description. “It’s like ‘natural’ potato chips,” said the Dorrance protege.

Just as the public is becoming savvier to food ingredients (Eaters long ago dismissed ‘natural’ as a word with no real meaning.), riders are becoming more knowledgeable about the wider knowledge base of effective, humane horse handling. More and more of us recognize that force and dominance are ineffective training methods. We know punishing equipment and management techniques do not yield gains and can, in fact, foster some seriously negative consequences.

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

But more specifically, we are realizing that natural horsemanship is not something to “follow.” As Rieman said, it just is. We are learning to get great results by simply thinking more like a horse.

Natural horsemanship may be dead as marketing jargon, but it’s alive as a foundation for whatever style of horsemanship we practice, be it dressage, Vaquero horsemanship, trail riding, or cow work.

Consider the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” It’s not only biblical; it’s a universal maxim found in multiple moral-based texts. So, too, with the overarching message of natural horsemanship.

jim thomasThere’s still plenty of progress to make. Getting owners to swap their age-old presumptions of horse handling for a totally contrary, ‘whisper-y’ alternative is a challenge.

Horseman Jim Thomas, another Best Horse Practices Summit presenter, has a clever technique for introducing the concept to riders:

“At a clinic, I find someone who speaks a foreign language. I ask that person to tell everyone to back up (in French, Spanish, whatever). If they don’t understand, I ask them to say it louder and maybe use their hands. Eventually, people just give up. ‘This is how your horse feels!’ I say. It’s amazing, how few people have a concept of thinking like a horse.”

Rieman would agree. “It’s simple, “ he said. “But it’s not easy.”

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

Check out this feature on Animal Intelligence.

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

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.

Riders: Mean What You Say!

Editor’s Note: We welcome Juliana Zunde of Hillsborough, North Carolina as a BestHorsePractices guest columnist.
Zunde was born in Germany and moved to the United States in 1981. She has managed large horse facilities, competed at high levels, and taught extensively, especially to hunter/jumper enthusiasts. She runs Trakai Farm in Hillsborough.
Zunde coaches harmony and balance for the hunter, jumper, and dressage ring.
She has studied with George Morris, Joe Fargis, Jeff Cook, Ann Kursinsky, Dr. Gerd Heuschman, Maclain Ward, Buck Brannaman, and Martin Black.
Read more about her here.

Zunde writes:

I’m with an acquaintance and she looks upset. I ask what’s wrong. The answer is, “Nothing’s wrong.” But the words coming out of her mouth don’t match the look on her face. My answer to her answer is often: “Which would you like me to believe, your words or your expression? They don’t say the same thing.”

As humans, we are very good at covering up how we really feel, saying one thing when we really mean something totally different. The strategy doesn’t work with horses. Their communication is literal and direct.

In training and riding horses, we need to use this inherent part of their nature and their way of “talking” with each other to communicate our needs to them. Horses don’t ever show one thing and mean something totally different. When ears go back, it means move or there will be a consequence. There are no discussions at the water trough as to who would go first. The alpha goes first unless he decides to let another join her. Either way it will be very clear. There is no saying one thing and meaning another.

This also holds true for our communication with them. If you inadvertently use your leg when it should just stay quiet, your horse will respond. He has no clue that you did not mean it.

I see riders and horses get frustrated because there is too much extra clutter in conversations:

  • a leg in the wrong position
  • a sequence started wrong and not in rhythm with the footfall of the horse
  • aids clashing rather than working in concert with each other
  • asking too little or too much at the wrong time

In order to truly have a conversation with your horse, you have to first be in a position to really listen. Read more here.

You have to unclutter your mind, tune into your horse, and feel where she is at that moment.

Secondly, you need to start asking questions. If you don’t get the right answer, look to yourself:

  • Did you ask the right question in the correct sequence?
  • Was it loud enough for him to respond?
  • Did you ask too loudly, causing him to overreact?

The well-trained horse can give you the right answer if you ask the right question with the right meaning and the right intent at the right time. In the same fashion, the green horse will never learn correctly if your aids keep changing or if you are giving him different cues at different times for the same thing. As you can see, there are a lot of things you must do correctly.

In your horse’s world, the right question asked in the right way with the proper intent, and then rewarded with the soft relief when it is willingly answered it something more gratifying, more satisfying than any food treat.

Horses know if you are truly their leader and with them all the way. They won’t believe you unless words, actions, and intent all say the same thing. Horses will always take you at face value. They have no ego that needs protection.

Learn to be true in your communication with yourself and the world around you. The same can hold true for human interactions. The next time someone asks you how you’re feeling, make your words and facial expressions match. Our relationships might improve if we tried to say what we mean honestly and politely.

Think Riding is Hard? Try Teaching It

In a recent BestHorsePractices post, we wrote about Why Riding is the Hardest Thing in the World to Do. It discussed the challenges of thinking, balancing, and connecting with your equine partner.

We then heard from several clinicians who talked about the challenges of nurturing that complicated, multi-faceted horse-rider partnership and communicating effectively enough to be understood and appreciated.

West Taylor, who with Dr. Steve Peters will present at the Horse Science Seminar next month in Park City, helped articulate the challenges.

Taylor shared these thoughts:

My horse training program broken down to its simplest form is: Pressure, Release, and Seeking Relief.

  • Pressure motivates the horse to “find something.”
  • Release tells the horse “you have found the answer.”
  • Allowing the horse the time to “seek relief” after the release of pressure puts it together with a reinforcing dose of dopamine.

From the time I release pressure, that horse is the seeking relief. I don’t know how much value there would be in the release if there weren’t time for that relief. However, if at that time the horse and rider are in a getting-something-done situation, then it’s different. As horsemen, we tend to toggle between these two situations.

I focus on Timing, Balance, and Feel.

Read more about Mastering the Elements here.

There is timing with pressure, timing with release, and timing with balance.

What does the balance of pressure mean? That’s knowing for example when to put on a little pressure and when to add more.

West Taylor’s client at work with her horse

Feel is everything, right?

As in:

  • What do I feel like this horse needs right now?
  • What’s the feel in watching the horse seek relief?

I might ask a horse at liberty to walk across a tarp. The feel to me here is in the observing and reacting:

  • Do I have to step back one step, two steps, five steps?
  • What do I need to do for the horse to be able to do what I’m asking it to do?

Will I need to take two big steps away in order for it to lick and chew?

That’s the feel to me. I see a lot of clients that miss the feel. What I want my clients to find is that feel, that observation. Rather than tell them A, B, and C, I’ll ask them, ‘What did you see?

With clear communication, you will see the results. But can the clients see it?

When something happens with the horse, I like to say:

  • How did you cause that?
  • What did you not support?
  • What did you not adjust to?

From a pro-active standpoint, we need to see how we set it up or how we got in the way. How did we cause an action or behavior? I just keep asking them. Often clients just don’t know. That’s why they are here. That’s what they learn. Teaching horsemanship is the most masterful game of chess that we can play. It’s leading the horse and person to the right moves.

Dorrance Protégés Join Summit Roster

Along with powerful academic and arena presentations, the Best Horse Practices Summit, October 8-10 in Durango, Colorado, will now offer an opportunity to hear from esteemed protégés of Bill and Tom Dorrance. The brothers are widely admired as pioneers of the superior, more mindful horsemanship we see practiced nowadays.

Randy Rieman and Bryan Neubert will join us in Durango for a very special evening, Celebrating the Dorrance Legacy. For Rieman and the Neuberts, it will be a relaxed dinnertime chat at the luxurious Strater Hotel Theater. For us listeners, it will be a night to remember where we can lean in and savor their memories.

Register now.

The BHP Summit is shaping up to be an impressive two-and-a-half days of learning to improve riding and horsemanship. For

Bryan Neubert

a limited time, the Summit organizers are offering a Bring 3, Get in Free!” incentive. When four attendees register and identify each other as part of the incentive, one will be refunded in full.

Rieman and Neubert spent many seasons with the Dorrances and attribute their successes to Bill and Tom’s tutelage.

Neubert and Rieman travel nationally and internationally as clinicians and colt starters. Rieman is also a master storyteller and a regular presenter at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Kate Neubert focuses on young performance horses and this year competed at the Road to the Horse event in Kentucky.

Amy Skinner, another young and talented horsewoman who will be coming to Durango, was thrilled to hear about the addition of the Dorrance Legacy evening to the program.

“The Dorrances worked on a refined feel that focused on what the horse was about to do, then either confirming or redirecting it.  That makes for a more relaxed horse, which, in turn, fosters a better relationship between the horse and rider.  It’s an approach that benefits riders of all disciplines.

Randy Rieman

“It wasn’t just about horsemanship for these men. It was about a better way of life. For those of us who want to dig a little deeper into our relationships with horses, hearing from Dorrance students will be an unbelievable opportunity.”

Skinner runs Essence Horsemanship and starts colts under Jim Thomas at the Bar T Ranch in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Dr. Steve Peters, who with Martin Black will present a BHPS session on Evidence-Based Horsemanship, said the Dorrance Legacy addition was a perfect fit for the conference.

“When Martin and I first started working on Evidence-Based Horsemanship, we looked at giving the horse enough time to ensure optimal learning and to its receiving of dopamine reinforcement.  Martin, who also worked with Tom Dorrance, would regale me with stories of Dorrance’s grasp of what we now know to be the neurochemical makeup of the horse.

Kate Neubert

“It seems Tom was a master at dialing up the horse’s arousal or dialing down its anxiety as needed.  Although I never met him, I am convinced that he was truly a great equine behavioral neurologist,” said Peters.

Register now.

2017 presenters include:

  • Wendy Williams, author of the best-selling The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion, will give the keynote address.
  • Dr. Robert Bowker, former director of the Equine Foot Laboratory at Michigan State University.
  • Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, German veterinarian, rider, and author of the best-selling book, Tug of War: Classical versus Modern Dressage.
  • Dr. Sheryl King is a popular international presenter on equine behavior.
  • Warwick Schiller, NRHA (National Reining Horse Association) Reserve World Champion and represented Australia in reining at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games. He tours internationally and has a popular video subscription.
  • Jim Thomas runs Bar T Horsemanship in Pittsboro, North Carolina. He has started scores of BLM wild horses and competed in multiple Extreme Mustang Makeovers.
  • Dr. Steve Peters and Martin Black of Evidence-Based Horsemanship.

Additional Summit offerings:

  • Fresh, fine dining Strater Hotel meals
  • Meet-and-greet receptions
  • Autograph sessions
  • Trade Show
  • Rider Fitness workout and core fitness elective with David Stickler
  • Post-BHP Summit field trip to visit a wild horse herd in nearby Spring Creek Basin.

The Best Horse Practices Summit is a Colorado 501 (c) (3) non profit corporation with a five member board of directors and nine member steering committee. Its goal is to advance ideas to improve the horse-human connection.

See you in Durango this October!

 

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