Monday, August 16, 2010

Science VS tradition: Some food for thought

Some things I have been thinking about this summer. I think I do too many monotonous things I have a lot of time to think.

The time of day you work your horse vs the time you compete.
It takes 14 days for a horses body to acclimate to a temperature change. In the hot summer months we work our horses early morning, late evening because it is cooler. If you are competing, doing trail rides etc. It is not very likely the event will be only in the early morning or evenings. Therefore even though the horse may be fit and able to handle the work you would be asking, does not mean the horse is conditioned to the humidity, heat and stress of all temperatures of the day. A good example of this was the Beijing Olympics. A lot of horses transported there could not handle the temperature change, even though they were extremely fit, world class athletic equines. Take into consideration how hot it is and when you work your horse vs when you are going to need him to compete. By compete I mean everything from competitions to trail rides.

I can get my horse in a "frame" with a bit but not bitless.
The terms on the bit, in a frame, round, on the vertical, flexing at the poll are all pretaining to the same thing but most of the time riders going about it don't know it's true meaning. The phrases I listed above are all about one thing: headset. Riders are so glued to the idea that if the horse is "On the bit" he is traveling correctly, off the forehand, round back, collected but it's far from the truth. Collection is the act of having a horse use his hind end (the motor) to propel himself forward. When riding collection comes from the riders seat and legs, not pulling the horses head into a "frame". This is false collection when riders just gather up the reins, especially in a bit and assume collection when the hind end is in reality strung out and not pushing the horse forward at all.
This is a horse at a local show. Although he is "on the bit" he is clearly on the forehand, traveling incorrectly with a hollow back , hind legs strung out, not collected at all.

It is easy to put tension on a set of reins that have a bit attached and force a horses head into a "frame" the whole thing is that the rest of the body is not there. Collection comes from the hind end as I said and if the horse is properly collected starting with that, the rest of his body will follow. His back will pick up and his head will drop and he will be collected and he will be incredibly light in your hands because you will not need your hands, it's all in your seat. This is what bitless riding is about to me.
It is also the #2 question asked after will my horse stop bitless(the answer is and always has been yes to that one too) that when they ride in a bit they can get their horse to give. When they put a bitless bridle on they realize they can no longer force a horse with the discomfort of a bit in it's mouth to tuck his head in. It requires a little bit of training to teach a horse to flex at the poll and not many riders take the time to do this, even with a bit when they put pressure on the reins the horse often tosses his head up first.

The more I work my horses the quieter they will be.
This is something I have grown into this year. Before I would work my horse hard for an hour. They knew when that hour was done and we were just tooling around int he field they got to go back outside. When we were training they did not have a job, they farted around and spooked and sometimes did stupid things they shouldn't have. This year I have been all business. I take less time at the slower gaits and more time doing harder, longer, faster gaits like canter and galloping. I want my horses to gear down and trot/canter slower when I first get on because they think "Gee we might be cantering for a wile, I better slow down and conserve energy or I am going to get tired real quick" and you know what it works. I took Indigo the infamous spookalot, goofalot mare to a show this weekend and a 9 year old rode her, and did halter with her and she won, I won. It was her first driving show, first time doing halter and first show with a little kid. She was absolutely perfect unlike other years where she was a total wing nut at shows screaming and dancing around and acting silly. She knows when I get on her/harness her there is real work to be done so she just chills out. We placed in every single class she was in. I couldn't be more pleased with my goofy spotty mare, shes finally getting the point, 18 years into her life because I get the point. (more on that show later) I need to WORK my horse, give them a job and make them work hard, much like kids and young adults to give them a good work ethic.
Same goes for the other horses I am working and I am getting a lot more to train this year because word spreads and people want sensible horses to ride and drive. .

Treat the horse just like every other horse and it will act like every other horse.
People make excuses for horses and it limits them from doing things they could perfectly well be doing. There must be a lot of horse abusers in this county because I'll tell ya, everyones got an abused horse here. The thing is when I go to work with a lot of horses the owners start making excuses "You can't do that to clip clop because his previous owners did this to him and he freaks out" they avoid the horse acting up and never do anything with their horse so the horse goes nowhere and continues to do said bad behaviour and get away with it. Horses do not stop being horses just because of past experiences. For example a horse that was abused isn't going to go out into a new herd and the lead mare isn't going to say "Look, don't kick or bite this horse because it was abused. He needs extra grain and hay too so let him have first pick until he is fat and shiny again" Quite the opposite. They are going to bite and kick and squeal and probably shove poor "abused" clip clop around and guess what, clip clop is gonna act just like any other horse and become part of the herd.
When I work with an abused horse or a jumpy horse or whatever it is I am going to move around like I normally do, keeping in mind the horse might jump around or do something unexpected but I do not tip toe around. I want to be predictable and although I might be scary and do scary things I'll keep doing them until the horse has no reaction to them, just like any other horse.

Most importantly: Train the horse you have in front of you, not the horse you wish you had.

Do any of these relate to what you do with your horse?

What have you been thinking about this summer? Any AHA! moments?


Anonymous said...

Soft self-carriage, with the topline relaxed and the horse using the core to support and lift itself, is the name of the game. Too many people just "ride the head" and think that things are OK when they're far from it.

Getting down to work immediately works well for me - I try to be all business, and completely focussed on what we're doing, and expect the horse to follow my lead - and they do!

The concept of riding (and working with) the horse as though you expect the horse to be the horse you want it to be makes a difference - it's sort of a corollary of your point of not spending time obsessing about the horse's history. Things may come up that are due to past treatment/training, but it's best to just deal with them if they arise and expect the best of the horse - people pretty much get the horse they expect, and the way you interact with the horse and the routines you run become the way the horse is - it isn't just a matter of coddling the horse but rather of people using their expectations to limit what they can do.

Interesting post - thanks!

Sydney_bitless said...

There are so many people who do not use self carriage it's ridiculous. If more people started training properly and riding properly I can assure you the lineups in shows would be a lot different.

Dreaming said...

What a great, thought-provoking post. I love your comment about working harder to help them become quiet. I've just had ground-work lesson with Doc and the instructor suggested having him trot, and trot, and trot on the lunge, on a hill side, until he brought his head down, relaxed his back and settled into an even pace. She said it can sometimes take a long time. Doc figured it out right away! On day two, he settled into his quiet trot in 3 circles. He didn't wan't to have to work so hard!
I am a champion at making excuses for the horses. In watching the trainer work with Pippin I realize just how accommodating I can be. I've got to stop that behavior and raise my expectations for their behavior.

Summer thinking? Is one supposed to think during the summer? Actually, one thing that I realized is that I need to have a plan. So many times I get on the horse and then try to decide what to do. I am disciplining myself to plan ahead. I ask what I want to accomplish in my ride and what strategies I might need to use to get there. I'm also getting better and determining not only what my horse needs to do, but where I fit into the problem and/or solution.
My greatest aha is the relationship between flexibility (or lack thereof) and Doc's struggles with circles and straight lines.

Jen said...

I think horses are like icebergs; 90% of them is below the surface. All most people see are the more superficial aspects of an equine (e.g. strength and beauty). We have several that have been abused and yes, the scars can run pretty darn deep. That being said, however, you can pretty much work your way through anything as long as you have lots of patience and a genuine relationship with your horse (and I think that's the vital part that most folks skip).

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I completely agree about the athletes needing to work in the heat. It's true for people too- bicycle riders and runners.
I definitely need to ride more. I agree that the more the are ridden, the more bombproof they become.
You came upon with a bunch of very good thoughts. Keep thinking for me!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I like your thoughts on all these subjects. You've been doing lots of thinking this summer, thanks for a good read.

We have a horse "Donnie" who really was abused. Over the years he has come into his own by being treated with respect but not tiptoeing around him. He will occasionally still hit the back wall when you go to put a halter or fly mask on him, but he's nothing like he used to be. My daughter (crash test dummy) has even started riding him again this summer. We're hopeful he will be fine with some regular work.

tangerine said...

I have always believed that its a terrible thing to tiptoe around a horse. The only thing I avoid doing is tying because my horse will hurt herself. Everything else, like when dog packs are playing fetch at the arena fence, or my saddle pad flies off in the wind or a standard falls over are all seen as opportunities to learn how to deal with new/scary situations. It gets so frustrating when fellow barn members want to control every aspect of the environment because they don't want to deal with them getting used to it.

Susan said...

I agree that most stuff can be worked through, and a confident human leader can help their horse through most anything.

Anonymous said...

Just had to comment on the Work topic. I could not agree more! It is so true that the way you get a nice relaxed canter is to CANTER and canter a LOT! I didn't come to this conclusion myself, my trainer brought it to my attention and it couldn't be any more true!

And congrats on the show!! Sounds like it was amazing!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Good post. The last one reminds me of one of my favorite Clinton Anderson quotes, "Heart Attacks are Free". lol!

That's just the way I treat Apache and I think she is better for it...and I am, long as I stay far enough away from her back hooves.

With Baby Doll, she was known to blow up big and have monster heart attacks, so I tended to coddle her because the blows ups scared me.
Looking back, that was a bad idea and severely limited her and I both..and just wasn't as fun.


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