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AlphaHorse News - Sept. 2004

Greetings (Subscriber),

Before jumping into the "meat" of this newsletter I wanted to take a moment to thank you for subscribing to AlphaHorse News. The reception we have received from the Internet horse community since the launch of AlphaHorse has been very positive, and the fact you enjoyed our site enough to subscribe to our newsletter means a lot to us.

In This Issue:

bulletAnd So It Begins...
bulletThe Intelligence Of Horses
bulletRFD-TV: Are You Watching?
bulletWould You Like Faster Updates?
bulletMister Ed Review
bulletScare Training And Sue Again

And So It Begins...

AlphaHorse was launched in late-July with the goal of being a repository for useful horse information ranging from horse training to health and care. Of course that's only the tip of the iceberg since we currently offer photo galleries, horse games, horse reviews and even more – and we only plan to add to what already exists! From the gracious e-mails we've received so far as well as your ultimate vote of confidence (you subscribed to our newsletter, after all!), it appears we're on the right track towards meeting our goal.

It can take many months before the major search engines pick up (index) new websites, and although we're starting to receive visitors via Google and the other search engines currently the majority of our visitors are still coming from word of mouth via other horse websites and horse enthusiasts. I sincerely thank everyone who has been recommending our website to their friends and fellow horsemen.

Since this is the first newsletter since the release of AlphaHorse, I'm not going to offer a list of recent updates since the entire website is relatively new! But don't worry, friends – we will provide a listing of new site content beginning with the next issue.

Thanks again for being a part of AlphaHorse. Please don't hesitate to share your thoughts about the site, newsletter or what you would like to see added in the future.

Jeffrey Rolo

The Intelligence of Horses

Too many people underestimate the intelligence of horses, believing equines to be dependent almost solely on natural instinct rather than actual cognitive ability. The irony behind this untrue perception is that it is generally the result of ignorance or misunderstanding on the part of the human, rather than the horse.

There is no doubt that human intellect has the capability of being unrivaled when compared to animal species, but that intellectual capacity can also be our downfall when we allow ourselves to feel so superior that we immediately dismiss the intelligence of various animals. Such flippant dismissal not only puts our own intelligence (or impartiality, at the very least) in question, but also proves to be a liability when attempting to train or work with our horses.

Let me insert a quick example of people's ironic ability to blame their own intellectual weaknesses upon a horse. When I was a young child my mother owned a horse that was stabled in our backyard. Life was sweet… that is, until a crafty new addition joined our ranks. This filly was surely a safecracker in a previous life, because she had an uncanny knack for conquering any latch or obstruction you put in her way.

Each time my father would place a new latch on the fence, the horse would inevitably devise a way to open it. As all too often happens when people become frustrated with animals, after a few unsuccessful attempts at keeping this "escaped convict" in her paddock my father resorted to mumbling under his breath about how "dumb" the horse was. Why couldn't the stupid horse just behave and stay in her paddock?

My mother's correct retort, of course, was that if he was incapable of building a suitable latch system then perhaps it wasn't the horse's intelligence that should be questioned. Naturally all of the above was done in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek manner… and we still smile today when we think back to that brilliant escape artist… but putting the humor aside, my mother's statement delved right into the crux of the matter.

Anytime we fail to control or train an animal we are quick to blame the problem on the animal. "Well, if the dumb horse had any intelligence he would know what I want and do it!" But if you look deeper, who's really at fault for these failed confrontations? The horse that doesn't understand the request, or the "intellectually superior" human that fails to understand the horse?

In all my years of working with horses I have been constantly impressed with their overall ability to adapt to human environments and work out solutions to problems or challenges presented to them. Sure, sometimes you'll find a horse that comes up short in the intelligence department, but for the most part horses reflect the same qualities that we as humans do: intelligence, adaptability, mischief, playfulness, loyalty, jealousy, stress and many others.

If you take the time to learn a horse's language, you'll see they are anything but "dumb animals." It is unfair to the horse to cast aspersions against his intellectual capacity because we fail to comprehend his language or ways. Doing so is akin to calling a Spaniard stupid because you're an English speaker and simply do not understand the Spanish language! Before you can judge a person or horse's intelligence, you must first understand their language so you can adequately communicate your statements or desires.

Positive training and interaction is reliant on respecting the abilities and strengths (both physical and intellectual) of a horse. As an old belief states - in order to achieve the very best, you must expect the very best. If you don't take the time to honestly assess your horse's intelligence and abilities, you'll probably be unable to help him improve upon them further or overcome weaknesses.

Note: As a subscriber to our newsletter, you received the above article before anyone else. It will not be added to our site until October.

RFD-TV: Are You Watching?

Nowadays there are so many television channels available to cable and satellite subscribers that it's positively mind-boggling. Keeping track of them all is nearly impossible, and all too often an undiscovered gem can be hidden amidst the crowd.

If you're a horse lover you may find RFD-TV to be one of those hidden gems. RFD-TV is a 24-hour station dedicated towards the rural lifestyle, and although it is not dedicated exclusively to horses you'll find a strong portion of its programming includes horse shows.

Here is just a quick snapshot of some of the horse programming offered on RFD-TV in early September:

bulletHorse 'n Around
bulletHorse Shoe 'n Time
bulletCowboy Dressage
bulletDennis Reis Universal Horsemanship
bulletChris Cox Horsemanship
bulletDressage Unlimited
bullet20X Rodeo High
bulletPat Parelli Natural Horsemanship
bulletPaso Fino Special
bulletAppaloosa Special
bulletClinton Anderson Down Under Horsemanship

Of course the above is just the tip of the iceberg, since in addition to the above you'll find horse training shows by big names such as John Lyons (content developed exclusively for this station), Linda Tellington-Jones, Monty Roberts and many more.

Right now only some of the cable networks have picked up RFD-TV, but if you are a subscriber to DISH Network or DIRECTV you'll be glad to know that both networks have added this station to their basic programming. On DISH Network you'll find RFD-TV on channel 9409, while DIRECTV subscribers will find RFD-TV on channel 379.

If you haven't yet checked this channel out I would suggest giving it a shot – there's a nice assortment of educational horse content available every single day. You can even find their weekly programming schedule on their website.

The holidays are coming sooner than any of us may expect, but thanks to the convenience of the Internet we don't have to worry about fighting holiday crowds in the malls and stores.

If you have a horse lover in your life and would like to seek out the perfect horse-oriented gift I'd like to recommend you visit Back In The Saddle. They have a remarkable selection of horse gifts perfect for any occasion.

Back In The Saddle On Line Catalog - Gifts and Apparel for Horse Lovers! Click here to visit.

Would You Like Faster Updates?

Although starting with the next issue we will be including full updates on site additions, AlphaHorse also offers an RSS feed whereby you can receive posted updates anytime you wished. If RSS feeds sound Greek to you, don't worry! If you wanted to take advantage of our RSS feed without the hassles of obtaining an RSS reader, learning about XML, etc. all you need to do is:

  1. Open a free account with Yahoo. If you already have one, skip to step two.
  2. Visit our home page and click on the My Yahoo button you'll find underneath the navigation menu (to the left of the page).

With those two easy steps you can subscribe to our feed and have it appear in your free My Yahoo page. Anytime a new entry is made to our news feed it will appear in your My Yahoo page.

The upside to this is quick updates from the convenience of your Yahoo page. The downside is that we don't list ALL site additions in our news feed, whereas we will try to do so within our newsletters.

Mister Ed Review

Chances are most horsemen are familiar with Mister Ed, the famous (or would infamous be more accurate?) talking horse. Although its day came and went before I was born, I have to say the first time I watched the syndicated repeats on television I was hooked. The show may have been televised in the 60's, but its appeal and subject matter is timeless.

So why do I bring this up out of the blue? Well, when I discovered many of the best Mister Ed episodes were released on DVD I was ecstatic. Finally I could get my Mister Ed "fix" anytime I wanted, rather than hope to catch the rare episode on the TVLand network.

If you haven't watched this series before I recommend you visit my more thorough Mister Ed review.

Scare Training And Sue Again

By Ron Meredith

Over the years, I've had to unlearn a lot of what I learned when I started working with horses in the 1950s. I've changed my training methods so completely that I consider myself a born-again horseman. I owe my conversion to the horses that were generous and forgiving enough to tolerate the rough and ready handling methods in vogue when I started training while I figured things out.

When I was launching my career as a hot shot trainer, I kind of watched what other trainers were doing and tried to put my own spin on the deal. I wasn't big into listening to anybody else but, as time went along, I learned to listen to the horses. Eventually, they showed me that there was a much better, much more horse-logical way to communicate to them what I wanted.

In the beginning, however, my understanding of how to work with a horse was that the first thing you had to convince a horse was that you were the biggest, baddest one in the barn. Then if you yelled loud or startled them with the right timing, they'd do whatever you wanted. Throwing a scare into a horse wasn't a very sophisticated communication system but it seemed to work and a lot of people told me what a really super trainer I was because I could get horses to do the stuff I wanted. And I believed them.

If memory serves, the horse that started me thinking there might be a better way to train horses was a pretty bay Arab mare named Rafsu that I've written about before. She was foaled May 24, 1955, and I still can remember her registration number. I traded a guitar for her when she was 18 months old.

At this point in my horse career, I was really good at using startle and bullying horses into leading and standing and whatever. Everybody told me that you don't ride a baby horse until they're two. So for the first few months I had her, I worked her in a round pen and used a lot of startle and really got on her case. Everybody said that Arabs needed a lot of that because of the way they were and I believed them. Pretty soon I had her doing anything I wanted her to do when I told her to do it by being quick and loud and varying what I did so the she didn't get too used to any one thing. I had her really paying attention.

The day she turned two, I put a saddle on and rode her all day and she didn't seem to mind so I figured I pretty well had her completely trained in one day. So I must have been a really super horse trainer back then.

A few months later Christmas rolled around and I got the present I'd really wanted more than anything else, a nifty two-wheeled racing sulky and a new harness. I was really excited and I couldn't wait to try them out. I took everything up to the barn, got Sue out of her stall and started fastening straps all over her.

Now Sue had been hanging out in the barn not doing very much of anything since the end of November but I didn't think that mattered. She knew all about saddles and girths and bridles and riding. So why not just add cruppers and blinkers and shafts and a few other things? I reasoned she was fully trained so she ought to just accept whatever I was putting on her because I was telling her to do it. Every time she started jiggling around, I just jerked her into paying attention and standing still again and reminded her I was the boss.

The barn was sited in such a way that when I finished harnessing, Sue was aimed straight at the house. All she had to was walk along the driveway which went downhill from the barn then curled around in front of the house. So I got her to stand while I climbed into the sulky and when I asked her to start off, she was pointed in the right direction and there weren't any turns or anything tricky we had to do as we were leaving the barn.

Sue walked gingerly down the driveway and I was happy as a lark because when you're 20 years old it's easy to be happy. We went down around the front of the house and everybody came outside and told me how pretty she looked and how good we were doing and I was waving to everybody. After a bit, I figured that the show was over and it was time to go back to the barn. I asked Sue to turn to the right in a little parking area so we could go back up hill to the barn. That's when it all fell apart.

The mare went sideways in the shafts. When her hip hit the left shaft, she kicked at it and the shaft broke. Then the right shaft folded and I tipped out of the cart. I jerked on the reins to startle her and get her attention but she kept on kicking and flipped the cart over her back. I managed to hang onto reins and jolt her into standing still so I could take all the straps off. I was muttering to myself the whole time about how stupid horses can be. I called her names a lot and put her back into her stall.

You figure out the moral of these stories after you go back inside and sit and think for awhile. Sometimes you have to think a long, long while. What I eventually figured out was that, as a way to control a horse, startle works only as long as you have the biggest startle going. You can use fear to teach a horse something but that's only going to work until something the horse is more afraid of than you comes along. Since horses are always afraid of things that are unusual and things that are unusual are always coming along, I realized I needed to find a way of communicating with horses that wouldn't get cancelled out the minute something scary entered their territory.

I stopped thinking of activity, especially frantic, startle activity with the trainer putting on a big show, as an indicator of learning. Instead, I started to understand that in order for a horse to learn, she first has to be relaxed. And the horses showed me that the best way to get them to relax and pay attention to me was to always work with a quiet sense of rhythm no matter was I was doing around them. So even though I thought I was teaching her, Rafsu taught me that all good training starts with rhythm and relaxation. And it's really boring to watch.

That Christmas day was the end of my cart but it wasn't the end of Sue's driving career. Eventually I took the time to go back and do her driving training the right way and she competed successfully in fine harness classes pulling a shiny chrome-axle Gerald. Sue was a super horse who let bygones be bygones and survived in spite of having a really competent trainer.

© 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 66
Waverly, WV 26184
(800) 679-2603

Thanks 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.

--The Team at AlphaHorse

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