AlphaHorse News - March 2005
Well, March is here, and although technically spring begins this month you sure wouldn't know it up in New England. Last night brought about an annoying snowstorm, and after a week of barely above freezing temperatures we're scheduled for another big snowstorm! Ah well, warmer days are up ahead.
Soon countless horse owners will be pulling out those curry combs and brushes in a seemingly futile effort to remove those thick winter coats from our equine friends. Even better, we'll all find a lot more pleasurable weather in which to train and ride our partners. So on that note, let's segue into the March issue of AlphaHorse News, where the focus will be on riding and/or training advice.
So sit back, relax and enjoy this issue of AlphaHorse News.
In This Issue:
|Relaxation Is The Key|
|The Art of Classical Riding|
|Training With Attitude|
The following content was added to AlphaHorse between the last issue and this one:
The following content was added to AlphaHorse between the last issue and this one:
Relaxation Is The Key
Relaxation. It's just one simple word, yet it holds the very secret to success for not only horse-handler relationships, but also life in general. Most people would agree with this sentiment on its surface, but fail to truly understand its importance when faced with hectic schedules or life's annoyances. Let's look at why it's essential for both horses and handlers to be relaxed before undergoing training or a trail ride.
Nowadays a month can't go by without national news shows sharing studies about the devastating effects of stress on the body. Stress breaks down the immune system, leads to obesity, causes sleeplessness, can provoke hair loss and much, much more. Although stress is a natural human and horse reaction to negative stimuli, it is not a natural or healthy state to remain in! It is essential that you provide an easy-going, calm and happy lifestyle and atmosphere for your horse in order to ensure positive health and longevity.
But It's A Stressful World!
Yes, it often is, but your horse doesn't need to know that. As long as a horse's basic needs (food, grazing, productive exercise and companionship) are met, he will live a relatively stress-free life. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to avoid stress, but a properly cared for horse really has little to no reason to experience life's anxieties.
Customer service personnel are often told to "check their attitude at the door," and while such advice is fairly blunt and candid, it's 100% true. Just as no customer service representative has a right to mouth off at a customer because they are having a bad day, no horse owner has a right to lash out verbally, emotionally or physically at their horse to make their horse as miserable as they are. Horse owners, like CS representatives, must learn to suppress their stress and negative feelings so that they can provide suitable care and respect to their charges.
If you cannot provide for a horse's basic needs, you shouldn't own a horse until you can. If you cannot suppress your negative emotions, try not to work with your equine partner until you're a bit more relaxed. Ultimately there is little reason for a horse to live in a stressed state.
How Do I Know If My Horse Is Relaxed?
This may seem like a flippant answer, but if your horse is relaxed he will look and act in a relaxed manner; it's really that simple. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when gauging a horse's comfort level:
Does my horse enjoy my presence, or would he rather evade me or find companionship with the herd?
When I pet my horse does he tighten his muscles and brace himself, or does he loosen up even further?
When I lead my horse, do I have to tug on my line to get him to move, or does he gladly walk by my side?
Does my horse seem to enjoy his riding or exercise sessions, or does he begrudgingly follow instructions?
Does my horse pass a lot of gas or manure (particularly the loose variety) when working with me?
Horses really aren't that different from us when it comes to dealing with stressful situations. When we anticipate something dreadful we tend to tighten up, hold our breath or assess the area to scope out potential routes of escape. When we're not happy we sometimes slump our shoulders and appear downcast rather than alert and perky. When we're unhappy or stressed we have a hard time focusing on the goal at hand since our mind wanders constantly to that that distresses us.
Although the verbal queues such as vocal tones aren't available with horses, the above physical cues do indeed exist. Watching your horse's body language and mental clarity will go a far way to assess his state of mind and take the appropriate corrective actions to lessen the stress in your horse's life. Remember, relaxation is the key to your horse's health, attention span and ease of learning during lessons.
The Art of Classical Riding
I'm always on the lookout for top quality horse sites, and I have a real gem to recommend this issue: The Art of Classical Riding. Duaa Anwar has put together one of the best series of articles about riding that I've yet to see, with the focus being on classical seat and dressage.
Be sure to stop by when you have some free time and click on the "Riding School" link to indulge in her highly informative offerings.
A Special Mother's Day GiftMother's Day is still quite some time away, but it's never too early to think about a perfect gift that will warm dear old mom's heart. I have a recommendation for you: convert your mom's favorite family or horse photo into a beautiful custom painting that she'll proudly display in her home! Stop by the DaVinci website to learn more about their custom painting services, and while you're there be sure to check out the many samples of their previous work.
Training With Attitudeby Ron Meredith
Heeding is an attitude you have whenever you're around your horse as much as it is a technique for communicating with him on the ground. You start heeding your horse from the first moment you connect with him whether that's walking down the barn aisle to his stall or out in a field to catch him. You maintain that attitude all the while you're grooming, while you're tacking him up, and while you're working him, whether you work him on the ground or under saddle. And it's not over til it's over. You maintain the attitude while you tack his tack off, cool him out, groom him again and put him away.
Students here at Meredith Manor learn techniques for heeding in their Training I class to give them a method for consistently and clearly communicating with their horses on the ground. But because heeding is an attitude as well as a set of techniques, it is ultimately going to apply to every interaction they will have with their horses. When students tell me they don't see how heeding has any relation to their riding, I know they haven't really figured out the big picture yet.
I like the word "heeding" because it takes a bunch of concepts like leading and heeling and paying attention and rolls them all up together. It's not a word people hear very often so it makes them stop and think about what it means. There are several things they need think about if they want to develop the attitude of heeding:
Be with your horse now, now, and now. When you're with your horse, be with him every moment, every step. You have to put your total attention and focus on the horse if you want him to put his on you. You can't be grooming him and singing along with the radio or leading him and thinking about tomorrow's exam or riding him while you're focused on the way he blew his leads yesterday. You have to be with your horse now, at this moment. Not thinking about the last moment or the one that's coming. You have to be with him stride by stride by stride whether you're leading him or riding him. When you're working with your horse, you always give him your total attention now and now and now.
Be the dominant partner without being predatory. You need the horse's respect in order to be safe around him and to get his attention so you can train him to play whatever game it is you want to play. You have to show the horse that you are the alpha mare in your partnership and ask for his respect by being assertive and putting pressure on the horse. But you never want to use a pressure that surprises the horse or startles him or makes him "spang." When you do that, you become a predator, something to be afraid of. You never want the horse to be afraid of you. You want him to think of being with you as a comfortable, safe place to be.
Show the horse what you want one bite at a time. When students come into Training I, I point out to them that if I asked them to swallow a big ball of string, they would find that pretty gross. But if I take that same ball of string and feed it to them a half inch or even a quarter of an inch at a time, they could eventually swallow that whole ball of string without too much fuss. It's the same with the horse. It's our job to break the game we want to play with the horse down into the smallest bites of string we can, then to feed those to him just one at a time. No forcing, no over facing, no fuss.
Be horse logical when you show and ask the horse to do something. When you want the horse to learn something new, first you have to show him what you want, then you can ask for it. You show and ask the horse by methodically applying a horse-logical pressure or corridor of pressures that creates a feeling in the horse of the shape you want him to take. A horse-logical pressure is just a baby step away from something the horse already knows and it goes away when he does what you are showing or asking him to do. The horse stays calm and the reward of releasing the pressure teaches him what you want.
Be fair when you tell the horse to do something or enforce that request. A corridor of horse-logical pressures creates a feeling in the horse of a shape that you want him to take. Once the horse understands what shape the corridor of pressures is asking him to take, you can start telling him what to do. Telling means that, within the context of what he's already doing, just starting to create the corridor becomes enough to communicate the new shape you want to the horse to take. It's not fair to tell a horse to take a shape and expect that he will do it until you are sure he knows what you're asking. But once you are sure he knows, you can enforce your corridor of pressures to remind him if he gets sloppy or contrary or lazy with stronger aids or a crop or a spur. That's fair as long as your enforcement does not startle or surprise him.
Heeding becomes a mindset that applies whether you're working with your horse on the ground or sitting on his back or sitting behind him in a wagon. You do it in your horse's stall, in an arena, in a field, on the trail, up and down your driveway, in and out of a horse trailer, or in the barn aisle when you're grooming or the farrier's there or the vet's come.
As groundwork, heeding involves some basic techniques but those techniques always have to be tempered by both the temperament and experience of the horse and the temperament and the experience of the trainer. Anybody can read a book or watch a video and pick up a few techniques. It's the attitude of heeding that helps you adapt those techniques to the individual horse and the individual situation.
If you think getting a special halter or rope or stick or pen will make you more successful at training your horse, go right ahead and get them. Those things help some people with their technique but they aren't essential to the attitude. The great thing about an attitude is that it's light and portable. You can just carry it with you wherever you go.
© 1997-2002 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.
Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating with equines for over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.
Rt. 1 Box 66Thanks again for making AlphaHorse one of the premiere sources for horse enthusiasts. As always, we welcome your contributions and thoughts on how to further ensure AlphaHorse exceeds your expectations.
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--The Team at AlphaHorse