After many successful rehab experiences with horses that had ‘people problems’, and 7 years of working with ‘airs above the grounds’ performer turned equine behaviorist Anita Kush, I realize that a large range of problems in the human – horse interaction can be traced back to a small set of unhelpful behaviors on part of the human.
Let’s get one thing clear: It is NEVER the horse’s fault. If we can agree on this, you may read on and may find something helpful here.
Bonding with our horse – what a wonderful and noble intention.
Not only do we want to get on, get along and understand each other, we want to forge a relationship that will be strong enough to carry us through the unavoidable moment of crisis – big or small. We want to have ‘something in the bank’ – on the trust level. This topic is rich enough to fill a book. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Let’s start somewhere…
Here 3 common mistakes and what to do instead:
Mistake: Feed snack as reward.
Do this instead: Let ‘virtue be its own reward’. The exercise went well? The horse stood calmly for the farrier or while mounting? Praise in a soft voice, be a relaxing and reassuring presence for your horse. Then feed snacks out of that context of reward, for no reason at all, just to socialize.
Mistake: Letting your horse fend for himself
Do this instead: A dominant horse is crowding your horse when you fetch her from the pasture? Your horse’s more assertive friend grabs for his feed bowl? A fellow boarder is loud and encroaches on your space in front of your horse? These and other types of situations require you to take charge. Give your horse the feeling that you are “in charge of everything” and will create a safe environment where your horse’s needs (for instance for space) are met. Be your horse’s ‘Joan of Arc’ or ‘Genghis Khan’!
Mistake: Expect obedience at all cost (i.e. “don’t let him get away with it”)
Do this instead: Look at every interaction with your horse as a conversation. E.g. you want to turn left, your horse turns right. Diffuse, deflect, re-channel – never argue with your horse. In this case: Good idea, but let’s do that my way (turning right, circling around, coming at it again, repeat until desired outcome is achieved – without confrontation!). Obedience in horses is a habit willingly built on trust, never enforced.
Follow this ‘recipe’ for 30 days, then let me know how you and your horse are doing.
Every horse is different – when it comes to mouth shape and sensitivity. Some horses simply cannot make peace with a bit, others are bothered by a bridle.
My sensitive Lusitano gelding Regalo tends to curl up with even some gentle bits. For him, the answer is an original Meroth Freedom snaffle (caution, don’t buy a knock off, more about that in this blog post).
When I approach him just with reins and attached bit in hand, he willingly opens his mouth and lets me place the bit inside, then patiently stands while I fasten the bit at his jaw. I make sure to have two finger wiggle room as I don’t want to tie the tongue down, simply stop the bit from falling out.
Riding with gentle contact makes for a relaxed horse. No metal in the mouth, no bridle hugging the head.
Regalo seems happy, is responsive and no longer curls up.
Besides, doesn’t he look handsome without bridle?
5 Signs Your Horse Is Unhappy with Bit or Bridle
Doesn’t take bit
Curls up (behind the bit)
Tension in poll and TMJ
What do you think? What are your experiences with bit and bridle? Do you use a leather bit by Meroth? Comment below.
In this article, we will briefly explore how our ‘frame of mind’, interaction and communication styles affect our horses – mentally and physically!
Watching a patient young father today with his unruly but content and curious toddler at our local Wholefoods, I remembered a standard sentence that I heard when I was a child: “Why?” “Because I say so.”
The memory triggered number of other phrases that people in my generation will still be familiar with:
Don’t talk back.
Children should be seen, not heard.
….. the list goes on.
Not blaming the generation of my (German) parents here, who learned their parenting skills from a generation born into monarchy. Not listening was utterly ‘un-Prussian’!
What I am saying in a nut shell: We all know that what we learned to be true at some point, may no longer serve our higher purpose and we can unlearn and relearn to better meet our own and others’ needs – including our horses!
One fundamental skill that many riders and horse people need to desperately unlearn and relearn —in my opinion—is the way they interact with horses.
Negative Effects of Confrontational and Threatening Interaction
Ever walked down the street and heard a sudden crash from a car accident? How did your body respond? You went into ‘defense mode‘, preparing to fight or run. Horses and other mammals respond very similarly – with ‘hyperarousal‘.
Here from loom, S. L. and Farragher, B. (2010) Destroying Sanctuary: The Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems. New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 102-106)
“Like other animals [like horses…], humans have formed a highly effective protective system that evolved in our original evolutionary environment when human beings lived in small groups of family members and were threatened by hungry predators. This defensive action system is a total body mobilization, driven by powerful neurochemicals that flood our brain and body. To survive, we must pay attention to any information from the environment that might help us, so many of our senses become more acute—eyes dilate, hearing improves, smells sharpen. Whenever threatened, our attention becomes riveted on the potential threat, and we become hypervigilant to what is going on in our surroundings. … This state is called “hyperarousal” (Horowitz 1986). Below the level of our conscious awareness, we choose appropriate survival-based action: fight, flight, freeze, appease. If we survive the threat, recuperation follows, which is characterized by rest and isolation, wound care, and gradual return to daily activities (van der Hart, Nijenhuis et al. 2005).”
Confrontational Interaction with our horses keeps the horse in a constant state of hyperarousal.
This does not always show up as a ‘hot’ horse.
Here some possible indicators of chronic hyperarousal:
Shut down and dull, perhaps ‘lazy’
Shut down and occasionally explosive/unpredictable
“Rude” – another way of being ‘shut down’ (walks right over you, pushes into you, just wants you to ‘go away’…)
Aggressive (bites, kicks, aggressive toward other horses)
Tense (stiff movement, holds breath, grinds teeth, leans on bit or gets behind bit, etc.)
Possible long-term health problems resulting from chronic hyperarousal (examples):
Arthritic changes (namely in the vertebrae from staying stiff under saddle)
Ulcers and chronic teeth or TMJ problems
Stress on muscles, tendons, ligaments and resulting injuries (from lack of suppleness, chronic tension)
Possibly Insulin Resistance (see source below)
Your frame of mind—and how it plays into your horse’s mental and physical soundness
Our ‘frame of mind’ determines our reality, to a great extent. It is the filter through which we perceive the world.
We will then also behave and communicate according to this ‘frame’ and draw respective conclusions.
Example: If I am a surgeon, I will look at every wart as something that can be removed surgically. If I am an herbalist, I will think of a tincture to apply.
When entering the barn – have a ‘horse lovers frame of mind’.
And to love the horse means to strive to understand the horse’s nature and actively work to meet its mental, emotional, and physical needs!
Part of our ‘frame of mind’ is composed of things we learned throughout our life, meaning learned behaviors that become— sometimes deeply ingrained—habits. This includes attitudes relating to interaction with others and the respective communication style.
Example: If I have learned that I get ahead at the work place by behaving in an intimidating and dominant manner and that this is the way to get results, I may behave similarly at the parent teacher conference (or at the barn!).
Houston – there is trouble!
Over the years, I have observed many kinds of unhelpful and downright harmful interaction with horses, resulting in behavior and performance problems and unsoundness:
Behaving in a confrontational manner (example: jerking on the lead rope for no reason, stepping aggressively toward the horse, etc.)
Demanding obedience (example: getting impatient when the horse does not stand at the mounting block)
Intimidation (scaring the horse into compliance)
Punishment (whipping, spurring, jerking on the reins, even kicking, tying up, and other horrors…)*
And the greatest sin of all: Anthropomorphism (meaning subscribing human traits, feelings, thought patterns, motives, etc. to your horse)
(*Horses have no, NO concept of punishment unless it is immediate, swift, without anger and the horse knows what behavior invited this response.)
Number 5 is key here: Perhaps it is possible to be a tough one to deal with at work or at home, if your ‘frame of mind’ at the barn is that of a person, who realizes that the nature of the horse demands a completely different set of skills and attitudes, namely:
Asking for cooperation
Punishment only as immediate response to dangerous behavior (the very rare exception)
Deep understanding of the nature of the horse as a prey animal that lacks a human’s ability for cunning, strategizing, manipulative, intentionally malicious behavior.
Perhaps it is possible to be a tough one to deal with at work or at home, …the nature of the horse demands a completely different set of skills and attitudes.
Anthropomorphism (treating your horse as if he/she was a human) sets you up for the following interaction patterns that are not only unfair but also extremely stressful to your horse (examples):
Untimely and unwarranted ‘reward’ and ‘punishment‘ – often long after the fact, something a horse cannot relate to.
The habit of assigning human-like motives and strategies to horses. Horses live in the moment. They did not ‘plan’ to do anything more than 3 seconds in advance!
Expecting your horse to ‘understand’ what you want. (Thinking your horse knows exactly what you want, but doesn’t want to do it.) If your horse understood, he/she would be happy to do it, if you set it up right and strive to understand yourself. Example: Riders, who kick their horse’s sides and shoulders because ‘the horse doesn’t WANT to give me his shoulder’ should be flogged, tarred and feathered. Because that is what that feels like to the horse.
Constant nagging, tugging, pushing, jerking, yelling, as a response to perceived ‘misbehavior’. This includes making annoying ‘eh, eh, eh’ sounds!
Treating your horse like a pet and interpreting disrespectful behavior as ‘cute’ or as a sign of ‘intimacy’. Your horse needs to know you will keep him safe. Let him know you are doing that by setting boundaries.
Being inconsistent and spoiling your horse. You are puzzling your horse! A spoiled horse is a dangerous horse. Create consistency and predictability in every interaction.
The list goes on…
Riders, who kick their horse’s sides and shoulders because “the horse doesn’t WANT to give me his shoulder” should be flogged, tarred and feathered. Because that is what that feels like to the horse.
When looking at your horse – see a horse! Do not transfer the way you understand humans and the behaviors, expectations, interaction and communication styles you may have with humans to your horse!
4 simple steps to improve interaction and relationship with your horse
STOP THINKING OR SPEAKING OF YOUR HORSE AS IF HE/SHE WAS A HUMAN!!!
If you have developed this habit, it takes practice to break. For the next week, simply observe how you think and talk about your horse. Does it sound like you are talking about your favorite nephew or some bully in class? Take a deep breath, acknowledge you ‘anthropomorphized’ your horse, and move on. After this first week, you will feel the NEED to change this.
ASK – DON’T TELL!
Start by changing your vocabulary around that.
I worked with my horse all morning. NOT I worked my horse all morning.
I am asking for a rein back. NOT I am making him rein back.
Later, you can expand on that by framing every request to your horse in an ‘ask’, not a ‘tell’.
DON’T THREATEN YOUR HORSE
You may think you don’t…. But many of us do. Example: I recently stood next to a horse in conversation with the owner, the working student was holding the horse. The working student incessantly jerked on the lead rope/halter every time the horse so much as breathed. It was clear that the expectation: BEHAVE was communicated in a manner that horse must find threatening. This is a hard habit to break as it requires a lot of awareness. My tip: Read the original horse whisperers (Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt). After that, you may find more wisdom in modern horsemen/women but you will know what to look for.
OBSTAIN FROM PUNISHMENT
This is a tough one. The horse was ‘bad’ (anthropomorphism) and needs to be punished, isn’t that so? Don’t we hear trainers say— time and again—“Don’t let him get away with it!” or worse “Whack him!”. We don’t want to be bossed by our horse, we don’t want him to get the upper hand and ‘push our buttons’. Right? Wouldn’t this make us look stupid or incapable? No worries… The only worry you should have is how you look in the eyes of your horse. Don’t punish. Redirect, start over, reward.
Don’t punish. Redirect, start over, reward.
Exception: My rule is, if a horse shows learned, dangerous misbehavior such as biting humans, I do punish swiftly, clearly, without anger (that’s tough) and without letting this moment linger on. 1 second punishment, the next second we simply move on—on a good note. NOTE: You need to be consistent, meaning react the same way every time this behavior is displayed. Otherwise, you are making the problem worse.
Horse are horses! Do not interpret horse behavior within the frame of mind applied to human beings, who have completely different needs, behaviors, motives, and agendas.
Learn non-confrontational interaction with horses!
Don’t threaten your horse! (Get help in identifying what these threatening behaviors are!)
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR VALUABLE TACK, BOOTS & LEATHER ITEMS
Saddles, boots, bridles and other leather items are valuable investments and we want to get the most of our treasured equipment. You’ll want to keep your new boots and saddles wonderful your our older, well-worn-in treasured favorites good-looking and functional for a long time.
With the right care, we can keep them beautiful and functional. Here some tips:
1. Clean off loose dirt and dust before applying any product. Use a rag on smooth surfaces and a small, firm brush for crevices and hard to reach places or stubborn, caked-on dry dirt.
2. Apply leather cleaning product. Effax Cream Soap: Apply a small amount to a lightly damp small sponge and clean leather in circular motion. Effax Leather Combi: Squirt a few squirts on a lightly damp sponge larger sponge and thoroughly wipe item all over.
3. Wipe off dirt and product with a lightly damp rag and let sit to dry off a bit, but not completely. Let the item air dry, but not in the sun or direct heat! (Do not use a blow dryer, do not place in front of radiator, etc.…)
4. Condition: Effax Leather Oil (twice per year): Apply a thin coat with the included brush all over the item. Let sit for half an hour, then dab any excess oil away with a clean soft rag. Let completely dry and polish (I like to wait until the next day). Effax Conditioning Leather Balm (every couple of months): Either use a clean brush to apply to the leather item or – better yet – apply a generous amount to your hands and massage the product into the leather and use a brush to get into nooks and crannies. Let dry and polish (I like to wait until the next day).
STORAGE TIP: Keeping your leather items covered or tucked away in a cubby will help keep them dust-free and low-maintenance. Wipe off sweat and dirt with a little squirt of Effax Leather Combi after every heavy use or if items are sweaty (bridles, breast plates). Use breathable, not water-proof covers to keep away mildew that thrives in moist conditions. (Sometimes, an old sheet will do the trick!) CONDITIONING TIP: Oiling and conditioning with Effax products has a lasting effect! There will be no need to constantly oil or condition your leather items. Heavily used items can be conditioned once a month. It is more important to keep the items in a clean and protected environment than constantly oiling them, which can make the leather too soft if overdone. CLEANING TIP: Clean both sides of the leather! For thorough cleaning, take the saddle or bridle completely apart and clean all nooks and crannies. Reassemble after conditioning and drying. CAUTION: Never apply oil or conditioner to a dirty leather item. Do not overoil your tack! Do not place your saddle in an overly humid or overly dry (near radiators, etc.) environment!
A shiny coat – (almost) every horse owner dreams of a shiny coat. Whether we look at old paintings or photographs, show footage or horses in our environment, a horse with a shiny coat stands out and has always been revered as a symbol for vibrancy and health.
Most of the time, we associate a shiny coat with certain coat colors, especially black, bay, or chestnut. There is nothing like the glow of a dark bay or coppery chestnut horse! But what about our white or grey horses? Can we produce shine in a grey or white horse?
What makes a horse’s coat shine
There are several factors to consider:
Grooming technique and level of cleanliness
My horse Paladin – a dark bay – seems to have the ‘shiny gene’. So there must be certain factors that make dark hair shine. The university of Delaware on (human) hair color: “Hair color is determined by the amount of eumelanin (which is dark brown) and pheomelanin (which is reddish). The amount of eumelanin ranges continuously from very little, producing light-blonde hair, to large amounts, producing black hair. People with large amounts of pheomelanin have red hair, which can range from pale red (“strawberry blond”) to bright red to reddish brown.”
People and horses are mammals, so genetically and as it pertains to hair, the biochemistry is basically the same. The article further explains that certain genetic aspects seem to be associated with one hair color or another, which explains the whole ‘method in the madness’ of breeding.
But does the hair of dark horses actually have a component that creates ‘shine’? No. The simple fact is that smooth, dark surfaces play with light in a different way than smooth light surfaces. Think of a white car and a black car, both equally clean and polished. Which one will seem more shiny?
Grooming technique and cleanliness
And here comes the deciding factor: Smoothness and cleanliness. If the surface is smooth (again think of a car) versus textured (think of a wooden picnic table), there will be more light reflection. So the key is to create a SMOOTH & CLEAN surface.
Adding ‘polish’ (car) just makes the surface smoother and thus more shiny! Where is the polish on the horse? It doesn’t come from a can. Our horses have the polish built right in! It is produced by little oil glands attached to each hair root. The key to a shiny coat lies in
Cleaning the coat
Distributing the ‘polish’ (body oils) over the hair and
Just like in us humans, only a healthy horse will have a healthy coat. Feeding the right amount of essential nutrients and healthy oils will be the precondition for a smooth, healthy, vibrant, and shiny looking coat!
Shiny white and grey horses
Shine on your white or grey horse will not be as obvious. It will be a healthy glow and glisten when the light falls in just right. Just because light surfaces reflect light different than dark. The challenge with white and grey horses is that manure and grass stains show up more than in their darker herd mates, which immediately distracts from an overall good-looking, healthy and clean coat. We will talk more about how to tackle stains in white and grey horses in a different post.
Yes, white and grey horses can shine! But their shine will not be as obvious as that of a darker horse since dark surfaces reflect light differently than light surfaces (again, use the car example). The key to a vibrant looking white or grey horse: Good feed, cleanliness, and proper grooming techniques!
There must be hundreds of those books on the market, I thought, and did not have great expectations. (A horse owner’s) Life, however, can be full of surprises and this was a positive one!
Let’s examine the book’s promise:
“More than 500 Practical Ideas”
What sounds like a drag to read through, is actually a very well presented wealth of really good, imaginative, practical and downright frugal ideas, covering anything from grooming over tack care and facilities to riding and pasture.
Granted, some of the tips may not be down your alley (not wanting to create a hand-made net?) but many will.
One I really liked and that alone would make it worth the purchase: Easy to make stirrup covers that will prevent the stirrups from scratching up your saddle when you put it up. It’s not rocket science, but the point is, I never had the idea!
“Horse Owner’s Essential Tips will quickly find a place in the stable office”.
Yes, indeed. It’s easy to read format and delightful illustrations make it wonderful to have at hand for perusing when you only have a little time to kill (waiting for the vet, for instance). In those 10 minutes of browsing through the book, something will catch your eye that will make a difference to your (horse) life, all while enjoying a well-illustrated book, written in a light and easily digestible style.
It is now a part of our barn library to be enjoyed by all.
Some of my favorite horse tips from the book:
Oil to ‘cure’ chestnuts: Apply sunflower or olive oil to large, dry chestnuts daily until they fall off on their own. (I might add: Apply once or twice weekly afterward to keep them from growing back.) This is a low-cost, easy solution to a common unsightly problem.
Secure blanket clasp: Many horse owners blanket their horses in the winter, only to find that their expensive blanket will not stay on the horse. The problem: The clasp keeps opening. Meyrier suggests an easy solution: Use a rubber gasket such as found on certain beer or lemonade bottles to prevent the clasp from opening. A nifty illustration shows how it’s done.
Dried up tear stains on your horse’s face: Many horses don’t appreciate the feel of a wet sponge around their eyes, especially once you start rubbing. Philip Meyrier had an idea: Use moisturizing make-up remover pads: The dirt sticks to the wipes, it’s easy and the horse seems to like it better! (Of course, you could also use Aspire Natural Tear Stain Remover.)
An enjoyable read, great to keep in the barn or take along on a show or horse camping trip.
A chock full of innovative, imaginative and often frugal and funny tips and tricks to make your horse life easier.
NOTE: This article focuses on “Tempo” (the beat). Precondition for finding tempo is relaxation and RHYTHM (regularity).
Please see an article on Rhythm here.
As we follow the Olympics (or not…) or view Youtube videos of the classic ‘Pas de Deuxs’ of yesteryear or spunky dressage Freestyles of today, we may get the idea of riding to music ourselves. Not a dressage rider? Never done this before? No problem! You do not have to wear any special kind of pants to have fun with music.
For those, who have never tried this and would like to give it a shot, here some tips
1. Getting the ‘horse to move in the beat’
Hmm… this is actually not how it works. It works the other way around! Find your horse’s natural beat (Tempo) in all three gaits and certain exercises (according to your schooling level) by determining Beats Per Minute (BPM). Thanks to modern mobile technology, that’s easy with a Smartphone app such as the Android App BPM Tap. This video shows how it works.
Have someone tap the beat on the Smartphone while you ride and write down the respective bpm for trot, canter, for example.
If you prefer to take a video of your horse under rider and then determine the needed bpm on your desktop, this is the app for you: BPM Online Counter for Desktop
Here the average BPMs – your horse, depending on size and breed – may differ from this!
Walk – between 50-65 BPM
Trot – between 75-90 BPM
Canter – between 95-110 BPM
Passage/Piaffe – between 60-65 BPM
2. Determine the kind of music you like
What type of music do you like? Classical, Pop, Rock, Reggae? Dig around in your CD collection, on your MP3 player, your iTunes, record collection or on Pandora.com.
Unsure? Let your horse guide you! What type of guy or gal is your horse? Daredevil or sensitive flower? What kind of expression do you have as a pair? Serious, sense of humor, goofy, elegant? Have fun with this!
REGISTER HERE NOW: Path to Performance “Rhythm” on 10/27/19 @ AMB Stables in Larsen, WI
3. Find the songs with your horse’s BPM
Oh my! Just when we thought this was going to be easy. Here a good way to start:
Go to Equimusic.com, a free resource created by Michael Matson, creator of the “Dancing Horse Fund” or to the very comprehensive, searchable BPM Database.
Enter the desired BPM in the search field and ‘enter’ to bring up search results.
Browse the songs and listen to the song (youtube, iTunes, etc.) to develop a feel for the beat.
You can either use the suggested songs or find one with a similar beat in your own collection. In that case, double-check with your BMP tap app.
4. Create a log of suitable music per gait.
A great tool is Evernote. You may just be sitting at Starbucks and hear a song that may work for your horse’s trot, tap the beat, confirm, and want to remember that song later! Evernote will work across all your mobile and desktop devices.
5. Create a first practice routine
Motto: Keep it simple and make it short and sweet! Have fun! Just ride in the arena and experiment, then write down what your’d like to do and practice a few times.
Once your are relatively secure, have a friend time the different sequences or take a video so you can time them yourself.
6. Assign music to sequences
Decide which of your selected pieces would be fun to combine and write down your plan.
7. Be the mix master!
Purchase (if needed) the music and mix to match your routine. A useful tool I like and that is also recommend by Equimusic, is the open source application Audacity.
8. Load and go!
Load your mix on your mobile device, get the ear phones going or hook up to your arena speakers and give it a whirl!
9. Some don’ts…
Do not try and force your horse into a beat just because you like the song!
Your horse has ears, too! Heavy Metal may not be the best choice.
When it comes to speaker volume: As high as necessary, as low as possible.
Mix it up and create built-in walk breaks. Be mindful of your horse’s fitness level!
10. Last not least…
Don’t be surprised if your horse shows a side of his/her personality that you did not know yet. You will feel different and so will your horse!
Riding to music can be addictive. You will never listen to the car radio the same way!
Most of all, make this an activity you BOTH can enjoy and keep in mind that it’s easier to overdo it when you are having fun…
“Riding is not about “riding”. It is about everything that happens before we even get to the mounting block.”
A guest blog article by Horse Behavior Specialist Anita Kush
In my practice as a coach to horse owners and trainers, who seek a more mindful connection with their horse, I come across many, who have become caught up in a vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations, shattered hopes and dreams, disillusionment, and more – albeit adjusted – expectations. The way out of this cycle is to start asking ourselves the right – and perhaps uncomfortable – questions:
When I arrive at the barn, what do I really see?
Is it what is before me? Or is it my vision of what I want to be or achieve? And is my horse – my colleague in this endeavor – a partner or a slave to my ambitions and desires?
Is my goal predicated on a picture in a magazine, a moment frozen in time, a video, an idea, a concept, a wish, a book telling us that – yes – I too can look like and be THIS…if only I will follow a certain method or buy a certain product or gadget…
What is meaningful horse work?
It is work that is considerate, fair, helpful, firm (when necessary) and facilitates long term understanding in relationship of the two parties involved.
What is the difference between “disobedience” and learning?
Is it possible that what we interpret as disrespect or unwillingness to perform certain tasks, may be in reality lack of understanding? The horse showing us what he knows and that he is unable – not unwilling – to fulfill the request? Or that perhaps our question isn’t clear. What is accomplished by demanding that certain things happen – even though it may be physically or emotionally impossible for the horse to comply?
What is the process of learning that we need to understand?
Making mistakes and struggling means: Your horse is trying to figure out a way to accomplish what you are asking. He is not avoiding the question!
“Remember, it is not about the task, it is about how we come to it. Is it with willing cooperation or grudging resentment? The choice is ours.” (Anita Kush)
Riding is not about “riding”. It is about everything that happens before we even get to the mounting block. Getting on is the culmination of the totality of the relationship between you and your horse. No gadget or video can give you the answer. There is no one size fits all method or equipment. See beyond mechanics and arm yourself with deeper knowledge.
The horse has all the answers! Look at the horse in front of you: He’ll always tell you the truth and live up to your expectations. Learn to expect what you want to see – a non-confrontational, cooperative and mindful interaction with your horse!
[If you are interested in a consultation with Anita Kush, please see her bio here or call +1847 791 0494.
There is much talk about the German ‘Training Scale’ in the context of horse training and in many a barns – especially with dressage focus – we’ll find posters, images or signs on the walls, showing the 6 elements of the training scale or training pyramid.
Before we discuss the mental factors of relaxation, let’s remind ourselves of the origins of the German Training Scale:
The Training Scale (Skala der Ausbildung) first appears as a 6-step concept in the 1937 version of the “H. Dv. 12 German Cavalry Manual: On the Training Horse and Rider”. At the same time, Siegfried von Haugk – cavalry officer, head of the remount school Oschatz and co-author of the HDV12 – created an updated version of the army hand book on “Teaching Riding to Recruits”, which contained – for the first time – the description of the 6-step systematic training system in sequence as we know it today. The HDV12 is – essentially – the basis for today’s FN Principles of Riding. The ‘principles’ were altered, however, to meet the needs of today’s recreational riders. In recent years, the panel responsible for the content of these principles has decided on a return to some of the original teachings of the HDV12 to ensure horse welfare.
While ‘Rhythm’ is the first element of the Training Scale and basic foundation in the schooling of the young horse, the late Olympic gold medalist Dr. Reiner Klimke valued Suppleness (Relaxation) above all. We can find suppling exercises in his and his daughter Ingrid’s books (for example Basic Training of the Young Horse: Dressage, Jumping, Cross-country) as well as in the HDV12.
But are there preconditions for even getting to suppleness?
Is there a step before the step?
The answer is YES: We need to embark on a ‘Path to Relaxation/Suppleness’, meaning
Eliminate any factors that cause the horse to brace
Release any existing tension in the horse (and rider!)
Create mental relaxation through a non-confrontational dialogue with the horse
This ‘path’ never ends! It must be introduced before Suppleness can be expected. However, it is not a ‘step’ that we accomplish and then move on. We need to actively and consciously incorporate these three important ‘paths’ into our schooling – and the learning as well as the rewards will never stop.
Let’s look a little closer at these 3 elements on the path to suppleness
1. Eliminate factors that cause the horse to brace
Bracing is a reaction on part of the horse, where the horse protects himself against an external influence causing pain or discomfort. This can also be mental discomfort! In response, the horse will constantly contract muscles, not only fatiguing or even damaging these muscles, but also skeletal elements that these muscles are attached to. Relaxed, supple movement becomes impossible. Here some examples for factors that can cause bracing in the horse:
Incorrect use of spurs
Tightly adjusted bridles
Hard rider hands
Rider seat lacking suppleness
The goal: Identify those factors that cause bracing in your horse. Caution: This is not a ‘one fits all’ process, but a very individualized look at what your horse is expressing and an investigation into possible causes. Then eliminate these factors and replace with something that works for horse and rider, but allows the horse to move freely.
Note: Bracing is not always bad… When catching a basketball, you brace against the impact. The key is to be able to let go afterwards! Constant, habitual bracing is the problem.
2. Release existing tension in the horse (and rider)
Once certain bracing patterns or negative movement habits are established, the horse carries tension that he is unable to release himself. These tense, constantly contracted muscles, muscle spasms, lack of flexibility, limited range of motion translates into lack of suppleness. To get a fresh start on your Path to Performance™, you need to create a ‘clean slate’ by releasing tension and restriction and thus create the possibility of learning new movement or postural habits. For both rider and horse, this can be accomplished by:
Bodywork & massage
The goal: Find areas where tension & restriction resides and release it through various modalities, enabling the body to find a whole new way of moving in a relaxed way.
3. Create mental relaxation through a non-confrontational dialogue with the horse
You are strolling down a busy street on a sunny Saturday afternoon – leisurely shopping pleasure. Suddenly, you hear a loud crash only a few yards away. A car accident! How does your body feel? Without any of your conscious doing, your body will show the typical human stress response posture: tucked in chest and abdominals, shoulders rounded forward, knees slightly bent, head moves forward (basically our modern ‘smart phone’ posture…) – and increased blood sugar and blood pressure, heart rate and sweating.
The horse – as a prey animal – has an even more fine-tuned physical response to stress. These physical responses can be so subtle, that we relatively loud-mouthed, always on the ‘go’ humans, do not even notice. Here a short list of the horse’s physical responses to stress:
Hollowed back or braced back
Holding abdominals tight (sheath makes wind-sucking noise when trotting)
Shallow, fast breath
Overall tension and short-striding
An many more….
The key to avoiding these physical stress responses is to eliminate stress. Easier said than done! Are you causing your horse stress? You may not think so. But once you experience truly non-confrontational dialog with your horse, you will see a difference.
The goal: Creating a relaxed mental platform on which horse and rider and interact productively without the barriers of stress response, which always leads to physical tension.
Got it? Got A-B-C covered? Then off you go, enjoy your success with Suppling Exercises!
Twice every year your horse changes his coat—from thin summer coat to thick winter coat and vice versa. In the spring, our horses are shedding their thick coat and horse owners are working hard with various tools from massage curry , over shedding blade to shedding brushes with soft brass bristles to help their horse through the transition. But is that enough?
Is hair all there is to shedding?
Not at all. As the days get longer, your horse’s organism receives signals to change the coat—and body and metabolism are also experiencing significant changes. The horse has to produce a large number of proteins in order to create the new coat. This is an enormous feat!
Here 5 things you can do to help your horse shed his coat:
Optimize nutrition & add oils
Now that your horse’s body is working hard to not only come up with a complete new coat but also to adjust the metabolism to the changes in temperature, it is even more important to be especially diligent in balancing nutrition: Vitamins, especially biotin; minerals; herbs that stimulate the metabolism and the kidneys. Get in touch with your local horse feed specialist to fine-tune your horse’s nutrition during this important time. Healthy oils and essential fatty acids (such as Eo 3 Omega-3 Supplement For Horses) help your horse grow a healthy new coat. Calculate the right amount and follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Supporting your horse with the right nutrition can help your horse shed his coat.
Consider brewer’s yeast for horses
Brewer’s yeast can help increase feed efficiency and is a supplement that has been fed to horses for hundreds of years. Find a product that is especially formulated for horses or horse feed that already contains brewer’s yeast. (I like Horse Brewers Yeast Supplement – 4 Lbs)
Massage & curry
Support your horse’s change of coat by massaging his coat and skin, not only to remove old and itchy hair and dander, but also to increase blood circulation. This helps your horse feel better and supports the new growth from the bottom up. Use a flexible massage curry that feels good to your horse, such as “New Generation” by Haas .)
Ditch the shedding blade!
If you want to see a really shiny, smooth summer coat, replace harsh shedding blades – which can scratch the skin, damage hair follicles and roughen the soft hair of the new summer coat – with a firm brush or better yet a 50% brass bristle brush. To help your horse shed his coat without rushing the process, use a 50/50 brass bristle brush – such as the HorseHaus ‘Curly’. This brush will gently remove the soft undercoat that is so hard to grab with a shedding blade. At the same time, it removes dirt and dander and leaves the coat clean.
Take it easy
If possible, ask a little less of your horse during shedding time. Your horse’s systems are already quite strained through the effort of changing coats and metabolism. If your horse is a bit on the lazy side during coat change season, let him get away with some of that and lighten the work load, if possible.
In short: When your horse is shedding the winter or summer coat (yes, that needs to shed, too) and grows a new coat, there is much going on ‘behind the scenes’. Taking this into consideration during coat change time will make a big difference to your horse.