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Photo by The Untamed Image

In June of 2020, TSB released a book that, as lifelong horse people, we feel is a game-changer. In HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN, brain scientist and horsewoman Janet Jones uses plain language to explore the differences and similarities between equine and human ways of negotiating the world. Mental abilities—like seeing, learning, fearing, trusting, and focusing—are discussed from both human and horse perspectives. Things you might have intuitively understood about your horse, like the fact that he’ll spook at a garden hose (as one example), are now examined through the lens of how the equine brain functions. Other things you might have long puzzled over, like why he spooks at the same garden hose every time he sees it, are finally broken down into understandable reasons for behavior you can address in fair and safe ways.

HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN is changing horsemanship, worldwide. Rights have already been sold to Germany, Japan, and Poland, as more people are hearing about the knowledge of brain science that can be easily applied to their equine activities, immensely improving their handling, training, and riding, whatever their skill level, whatever their discipline.

“The book the horse world has been waiting for.”
TIK MAYNARD, author of In the Middle Are the Horsemen

We recently caught up with author Janet Jones and asked her a little about her book, as well as what she hopes equestrians will gain from it.

Photo by The Untamed Image.

TSB: Your book HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN uses plain language to explain the differences in how the horse’s brain functions versus the human brain. When did it become clear to you that understanding equine perception and brain function was integral to sound horsemanship?


JJ: It became most clear during the unplanned dismounts, especially in that moment between leaving the saddle and hitting the ground.

TSB: You relate a story of a fall as a teenage rider that resulted in bouts of amnesia that lasted for years, noting that this experience is what led you to the world of brain science. What was it about that period following the fall that made you want to know more, so much so that you eventually taught the subject at the collegiate level?

JJ: Wow, I must have banged my head really hard to have set brain science as my teenage goal.

TSB: You share many eye-opening realities related to the horse’s senses in your book. Which is the one that you or your horsemanship was most changed by once you had learned it?


JJ: The horse’s amazing double-sense of smell, which we humans tend to ignore completely because we don’t have one.

Photo courtesy of Janet Jones.


TSB: You speak convincingly of what the term “horsemanship” should mean in your book. It has long been called “the art of horsemanship,” and many would argue or acknowledge that emotion and intuition play a significant role in our day-to-day dealings with our horses. How should this traditional view of horsemanship be changed by the science you explore?

JJ: Emotion and intuition are still very important; we just need to add brain science to them. Science helps to drive the desire to put the horse first, which is my definition of true horsemanship. Once we realize the huge differences in how horses and humans experience the world, we can feel empathy for our animals and try to help them understand how the human world works.


TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

JJ: Don’t poke the bear!


TSB: Just before your book was published, you acquired a three-year-old Dutch Warmblood, who you are starting using brain-based training methods (and blogging about on your website). What inspired you to starting a young horse now, and what are your goals with this new and exciting project?


JJ: Working with young green horses is my version of taking a nap on a rainy day; it’s pure pleasure. I’m fascinated by the way they think. My primary goals are to 1) stay on, 2) avoid spins, bolts, and bucks, 3) earn the horse’s trust, and 4) did I mention stay on?


TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?


JJ: Oh, such a hard question! If forced, I guess I’d have to choose a tall hot leggy Thoroughbred and a blank book so I could write about him in it.


TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?


JJ: Find the invisible “Perfect” button.

Photo courtesy of Janet Jones.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

JJ: Openness.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

JJ: Honesty.

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

JJ: That someone will make me choose only one horse and one book on a desert island.

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

JJ: That’s easy: $$$horses$$$. Books are a close second, but they cost less to feed.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

JJ: I’m full of faults and flaws, but I am me. For that reason only, I wouldn’t change a thing.

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

JJ: Ice wraps.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

JJ: To be with the people and animals who love me and whom I love. Also, not to have to decide between “who” and “whom.”

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

JJ: Secretariat. Okay, he’s not a person, but what a story he could tell.

TSB: If you could go back to December 2019 and go one place anywhere in the world with as many or as few people as you would like, where would you go, who would you bring, and what would you do?

JJ: I would go to a warm ocean with my best friend. We would ride beautiful horses and swim the waves every morning, laugh all afternoon (between reading and naps), and enjoy good dinners together every evening. After a week of that, I’d be ready to go home and write more books.

TSB: What is your motto?

JJ: If your Nerve deny you—
Go above your Nerve—”
(Emily Dickinson, 1862)

HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

The winter months are ahead and wouldn’t it be FAB if you could train with renowned coach and master of motivation Jane Savoie and Olympian Anne Kursinski, all for less than the cost of a week’s worth of Starbucks lattes?

The good news is YOU CAN!

Photo by Amber Heintzberger

JANE SAVOIE’S DRESSAGE BETWEEN THE JUMPS and ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC have just arrived in the TSB warehouse, and these books have oodles of exercises and training tools to sharpen your skills and hone your horse before what we are all hoping will be a busy and exciting 2021 show season.

In DRESSAGE BETWEEN THE JUMPS, make every jump better with targeted exercises on the flat:

  • BUILD skills without stressing your horse’s body.
  • FIND simple solutions to problems you tend to have on course.
  • IMPROVE time, turns, adjustability, and responsiveness.
  • TRAIN and condition a tuned-in competitor with greater longevity.
Watch the book trailer!

In RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, find the kind of sophisticated, quality instruction you can only get in top barns around the world:

  • EXERCISES to improve your position, your “feel,” and your overall understanding of how to confidently and successfully master a jump course.
  • TOP-NOTCH EDUCATION in basic flatwork and jumping, including bending, adjusting stride length, moving laterally, riding straight lines and curves, jumping without stirrups, and flying changes. You’ll also learn advanced flatwork and jumping, with lessons in flexion and collection, counter-canter, half-pass, ways to perfect distances and count strides, and tips for riding different kinds of combinations, bigger jumps, and natural fences.
  • DISCUSSION of Hunter Derbies and how to ride derby-style courses.
  • HUNDREDS OF COLOR PHOTOS with Kursinski herself demonstrating in the tack.
Watch the book trailer!

These books (and hundreds more in print and digital formats!) are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to see all our newest releases.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Photo by Juliane Fellner

These days, it seems there is nothing harder than tuning out exterior distractions. There are so many competing for our attention–texts, news alerts, social media notifications…not to mention all the more usual suspects, such as other people and animals, sounds and movements, and our own thoughts and worries.

When working with our horses, however, it is of the utmost importance to find ways to quiet the noise on both the inside and outside and truly focus. Horse trainer Vivian Gabor discovered just how important this skill is when she worked with a wild horse from Oregon for 90 days in preparation for the Mustang Makeover in Germany. In her book MUSTANG: FROM WILD HORSE TO RIDING HORSE, she explains why:

“In the interests of successful communication, when you ask a horse to focus fully on your signals, you need to do the same,” Gabor writes. “Horses often feel insecure if you are distracted. Completely tuning out external stimuli doesn’t mean that you don’t pay any attention to what’s going on around you. Quite the opposite, because that’s the only way you can keep the horse safe. You need to be aware of external stimuli, but communicate to the horse that it is not dangerous and doesn’t require your attention. If the horse himself is focused on external stimuli, you should be able to show him that the most important thing for his safety is to pay attention to you.

“Completely tuning out external stimuli doesn’t mean that you don’t pay any attention to what’s going on around you. Quite the opposite.”

“This is how you achieve communication that is built on attentiveness, but also communicates to the horse that you will protect him from external influences or rather, that you will decide whether or not something is dangerous.

“This doesn’t mean working with the horse in a bubble, but creating a safe environment for him where he sees you as a competent leader.”

For more insight on what it’s like to train a Mustang and how those lessons can be applied to our work with any horse, check out MUSTANG: FROM WILD HORSE TO RIDING HORSE by Vivian Gabor, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is free.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on farm in rural Vermont.

With the 2020 we’re all having, the idea of escaping to a beautiful ranch to find peace, balance, and strength through riding and yoga practice sounds pretty darn appealing. Cathy Woods, author of the new book YOGA FOR RIDERS, is the founder and leader of Body, Mind, Equine™ retreats, which in typical years occur at a number of fabulous locations all over the country. We caught up with Cathy following the release of YOGA FOR RIDERS and asked for her to share what a typical first day at one of her retreats is like…so we can all close our eyes, block out the news, and pretend we are there…

24HourswithCathyWoods-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Carol Engan Borelli.

6:00 am: I’m usually rising and shining by the crack of dawn. I don’t mind this—I’m a morning person. I have the best energy and clarity first thing. Before I begin my day of retreat leading, and after a good, bold coffee, I like to spend a little personal time, getting collected. This helps me prepare for my day.  I become still and centered and take inner inventory—I check-in with myself. I move into a brief meditation, typically beginning with some deep breathing, energizing and oxygenating my system, followed by a few moments of gratitude. Then, I simply allow myself time for non-doing as a counterbalance to my day ahead, which is filled with doing. If time permits, I may proceed with a little movement, but not necessarily yoga postures per se—just intuitive movements that feel good and help move energy to my muscles, joints, and organs. I view this time as a type of groundwork for myself. As retreat leader, it is very important that I am leading from a good, clear, centered place (much like a leadership role when working with horses). Since energy is palpable, everyone in the group (as well as the horses) will consciously or subconsciously pick up on my vibe, which could alter the experience in a variety of ways. I like to be sure that I’m in the best space possible for everyone’s benefit.

After this, my assistant and I go over the logistics of the day to be sure we are on the same page.

7:00 am:  I meet the retreat guests for breakfast. I love breakfast! And at some of the luxury guest ranches, the meals are to die for! This is challenging when breakfast is before yoga class, as yoga and a super-full belly don’t mix. If the schedule allows, sometimes we just have some fruit and juice before yoga, then eat a hearty breakfast after, but each venue is different and we have to go with flow.

Many ranches do their “daily jingle” in the mornings: They bring in the herd of horses, sometimes 200 head, from the overnight pasture. This is one of the best parts of the day—for the guests and for me! We watch the wranglers gather the horses and get to stand fairly close as the herd comes by. It’s an exhilarating and amazing way to start the day—you can just feel the raw horsepower. It’s also a learning moment as we have a chance to observe energy, horse body language, and herd dynamics.

The Daily Jingle

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

8:00 am:  We convene on the yoga mat. I lead everyone in a centering meditation and set our intention for the day. It could be something like: “Drop expectations” or “Practice present-moment awareness.” After meditation, I lead a yoga class, which includes good stretches for riders, then conclude with a deep, guided relaxation. This is followed by a workshop topic, such as “The Parallels of Yoga and Horsemanship,” or “What Makes a Good Rider” or “Breathwork.”

10:00 am: Retreat guests get paired with their horses. The wranglers usually handle this, but I am always nearby, keeping a close watch on everyone and available to answer any questions. As guests lead their horses into the arena, I instruct them to maintain the same centered, relaxed energy we established in the yoga session. For the next couple of hours, I lead the arena portion of Body, Mind, Equine. This includes exercises on the ground and in the saddle to help students become more aware, mindful equestrians by applying yoga principles to their horsemanship. My program assistant is always in the arena as well so participants feel comfortable having more eyes and hands on deck.

arena

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

12:00 pm: Lunch time! We’ve all usually worked up quite an appetite.  I may be small but I love to eat—mealtimes are not only for sustenance but for enjoying each other and socializing, too.

1:30 pm: After lunch we all take a little break. I use this time to recharge. By this time, I’ve led a yoga class, workshop, and arena time, and I’ve done lots of talking and expelled lots of energy. I need a little renewal to be good to go for the rest of the day.

My break always includes silent time. I am also a big fan of power naps, so I may set an alarm and get in a 20-minute rest, or at very least, slip into Savasana (a form of deep relaxation done in yoga).

Afterward, I have another debriefing session with my assistant. We evaluate how the early part of the day went and discuss anything that needs to be addressed.

3:00 pm: We all meet up and get ready to ride out on the trails for a couple of hours. Before we gather our horses, I lead a short meditation to collect us again as a group and continue to help maintain our yogic energy for the ride.

Even though the trail ride is fun for me, I’m still working. The wranglers lead the ride, and I am mounted and in the line-up, but I continue to interweave the teachings for mindful riding into our trail time. Along the way, I point out things like symmetry in the saddle and horse body language, and provide reminders to breathe fully. Sometimes, if we take a break, I encourage some dialogue or lead a few stretches to keep the retreat vibe going and keep everyone connected.

Trail ride

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

5:00 pm: Time to clean up, put on some cowgirl duds and meet up for happy hour! At home I live in either yoga or barn clothes, so I really enjoy breaking out a pretty skirt and boots and spiffing up a bit. The guests seem to like this opportunity, too. Light libations are enjoyed as we relax after a full day of retreat and ranch activities. It’s nice to see everyone kick back.

6:00 pm: Dinner time! I think it’s safe to say that food is a big part of the retreat experience, not only for me but for the guests, as well. However, I’m still on as retreat leader. While we await our entrees, I usually facilitate a, “What was the highlight of your day?” discussion. We go around the table and everyone gets a turn to speak. Sharing is a big part of being on a retreat with a group. I just love hearing about everyone’s day: Some might have had some sort of breakthrough; others may have had a meaningful moment with their horses. This casual conversation keeps me plugged into how everyone is doing. I make mental note if someone seems to be struggling with an aspect of the program or needs extra attention. Although I am chilling and having a good time, I am always present and making sure that the experience stays positive for attendees.

7:30 pm: Depending on the venue, we might gather around a campfire or listen to live music in the evening. Again, this is a sweet time, and from my perspective, it’s very fulfilling to see everybody connecting, letting their hair down, and forming friendships.

Evening campfire

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

9:00 pm: Before bed, I have yet another pow-wow with my assistant about how the day went. Sometimes we have projects to work on, from creating slideshows to other special surprises we have lined up for the guests. Though I’m not much of a night person, this is usually the only time we have to work on these little extras.

10:00 pm: At the latest, this is when I’m heading to bed. I’ve never been one for late nights and cherish a good night’s sleep. When possible, I’ve been known to duck out by nine o’clock. I feel it’s my job to be restored and at my best for the whole of the program.

One of my biggest joys at a Body, Mind, Equine retreat is to see the vast improvements in everyone’s overall horsemanship: the boosted confidence levels, the application of new skills, and the participants really honing the practice of mindfulness. When the retreat is complete, I am usually exhausted (in a good way), yet exhilarated. I leave with many great memories and feeling fulfilled. I could not imagine having a better “job”—there’s a lot to be said for loving the life you live!

 

Yoga for RidersLearn more about how yoga principles can benefit your horsemanship in YOGA FOR RIDERS by Cathy Woods, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order. 

For more information about Cathy Woods and her Body, Mind, Equine Retreats, CLICK HERE.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

BalanceinMovementFB-horseandriderbooks

Good mobility of the shoulders and arms is necessary for good riding. In her classic bestseller BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze says, “One of the ailments of our civilized society, poor posture, especially when sitting, often causes the shoulder girdle to slide forward. In the long term this means severe tension in the area of the back of the neck, since the shoulder girdle is suspended there on the muscles of the neck instead of resting on the thorax…. There are a few very beneficial stretching exercises for the shoulder girdle, in particular, which you can do within the context of your everyday activities.” Von Dietze explains that by incorporating certain movements into your everyday barn tasks, it is possible to be both fit and efficient.

One of the easiest stretches to add to your regular routine is stretching the shoulders while you groom your horse. 

“When grooming your horses’s neck, pause for a moment with your hand high up on the neck. Stand close in to the horse’s shoulder and position your hand with the brush on the horse’s neck. have the opposite leg positioned in front as if you are about to walk forward.

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Photo from Balance in Movement

“Before actually starting to groom with the brush, apply gentle pressure and hold the brush against your horse’s neck. Yo will feel the stretch at the side of the shoulder. Vary the pressure on the hand on the brush: sometimes put more on the little-finger side, sometimes more on the ball of your thumb. Different groups of muscles are activated when you do this and the stretch is intensified.

“Remember the old grooming rule: ‘long strokes and short breaks.’ The stroke should be as long as possible and applied with even pressure. Your whole body can follow the movement.

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Photo from Balance in Movement

“When grooming the horse’s back and belly try other positions and stretches. By varying the body position and pressure you can very easily feel where any muscles are tight and what is best for your body.

“When grooming the other side of the horse, the brush should be held in your other hand as you repeat the stretches and strokes on that side.”

For more innovative exercises to help you improve your seat on the horse and better your riding position and performance, check out BALANCE IN MOVEMENT by Susanne von Dietze, available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

Quarantine-horseandriderbooks

We of course all know a bit too much about quarantine these days. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve had just about enough of it. But if bringing home a new horse–perhaps a rescue, an adoption, or even just a spontaneous purchase from the place just down the road–is a possibility anytime in your future, then understanding the ins and outs of proper equine quarantine procedure is a must to protect other horses on your property or in your boarding facility.

In her book THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR HORSES IN NEED, large animal veterinarian Dr. Stacie Boswell provides the basics of what we need to know to quarantine properly.

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Photo by Zahaoha from Pexels.

Quarantine Basics

Quarantining a rescue horse is important for reducing the chance of contagious diseases and parasites spreading.

Depending on the circumstances, you may not know much about your newly acquired horse. He may have an uncertain vaccine status. Travel exposes him to contagious diseases, especially if he commingled with others at a livestock auction or other holding area.

A new horse should be quarantined from your other horses for at least three weeks. Quarantine distance should be a mimimum 40 feet, which is based on a horse’s ability to sneeze or cough and spray droplets up to 15 feet, and accounts for additional wind dispersal. Another way respiratory diseases are spread is carriage by fomites—objects such as buckets, brushes, or clothing that have come into contact with infected horses.

Quarantine time period and distance recommendations are designed to prevent contagious respiratory diseases such as Equine Herpes Virus (rhinopneumonitis), influenza, and strangles (Streptococcus equi ssp. equi) from infecting the established herd. During the quarantine period, you should monitor the temperature of your new horse each day because a fever sometimes occurs before obvious disease. Spread of other contagious diseases that cause diarrhea (such as Salmonella spp.) are minimized by using proper quarantine procedures.

Finally, quarantine protects your established herd from both external and internal parasites such as lice or strongyles.

Ultimate Guide to Horses in NeedDuring quarantine, you should implement biosecurity measures, including a sanitizing foot bath and protective barrier gear, such as gloves, disposable barrier coveralls or gown, and a hat or mask, especially if there are any signs of illness. A horse can sneeze or breathe into the caretaker’s hair, and the virus particles can then be carried to other horses.

Another technique is to care for your established horses first, and then the new horse. Washing your hands between horses or groups is an easy and effective way to reduce the spread of infectious agents. You should attend to the healthy horses first, then any horses possibly exposed to illness or disease that are not yet showing signs. Take care of sick horses last.

A horse should be fully vaccinated and medically cleared before being moved from quarantine to general housing. A very thin or sick horse may remain in quarantine for a longer period of time. Quarantine should also account for a horse’s mental well-being. Maintain previously established groups, if possible. For instance, if a group of yearlings arrive together, they should continue to live together. Spend time haltering, brushing, petting, and bonding with your new arrivals. Quarantine pens are typically small, so if you have an untrained, untouchable horse, this is a great time to befriend him and begin the halter-training process. When you consistently provide food and water to a horse who has been neglected, this is the first step to showing him that you are trustworthy.

A horse who lives alone may feel stressed out. This is not ideal as stress weakens the immune system. When you adopt a single new horse into your group, he may need a companion during the quarantine time. A fully vaccinated, mature gelding with a steady personality can be used as a quarantine companion. Remember, the “companion” horse cannot be returned to the established herd until the quarantine period is over. A mare is not ideal as she could be impregnated by a newly rescued colt that has not been gelded. A goat can also be used as a companion, without the risk of contracting an equine respiratory disease.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR HORSES IN NEED by Dr. Stacie Boswell is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

MoreThanaGoodEye-horseandriderbooks

Understanding and implementing stride control (being able to adjust the number of strides before and between fences) improves a horse’s rideability and allows the rider to further improve the horse’s technique over an obstacle. Renowned coach Jen Marsden Hamilton has taught countless riders and horses around the world in the striding techniques that brought her success during her own impressive competitive career, and now she has compiled her knowledge in a concise book of exercises and insightful strategies: STRIDE CONTROL. Here’s the backstory of why striding rules the course.

In the 1970s, change came to the hunter-jumper world. Related measured distances became the norm. Show Hunter courses moved from big open courses on half-polo fields to a ring enclosed by a fence. Equitation and Jumper courses became more sophisticated and challenging due to professional course designing. These challenging courses required analysis and a course strategy. Walking the course became necessary. Wonderful riders such as Rodney Jenkins, Bernie Traurig, Katie Monahan Prudent, Conrad Homfeld, and Melanie Smith Taylor became our new heroes. They didn’t rely on just god-given talent. They were educated and talented. (And now we have superheroes Beezie Madden and McLain Ward!)

StrideControlPin-horseandriderbooksSince then, course design has become an art and probably one of the most important elements of a horse show. Measured distances allow and require a more knowledgeable and sophisticated ride than the old days of “hand riding and a good eye.” The rider has or should have the knowledge of the number and quality of the strides on the course (class strategy, based on the course walk or posted distances on the posted course plan), and then that knowledge has to be put into physical action.

Stride control is about the rider creating and controlling the horse’s stride and rhythm based on the knowledge the rider possesses of the course to be ridden (course analysis). Are the distances (measurements) between the jumps normal, long, or short, and how does this relate to the horse being ridden?

Striding (the counting of strides) changed the jumping world as we knew it. Everyone knew that you couldn’t teach an eye, and “feel” was never really discussed. But now a new tool for teaching was added to the equation. The measured distances based on a 12-foot stride provided predictability.

Riders and teachers knew how many strides were to be ridden between jumps. The guesswork was being taken out of riding a course, and it was being replaced with the training of both rider and horse. Dressage always had structure, but jumping was a bit of an organized free-for-all until this change. The “jumper cowboy” was about to be tamed!

Now there really could be a method to teach the rider “feel” on course and educate the rider’s eye…through counting strides.

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What is stride control all about?

• It’s about creating enough canter to get to the jump, jump the jump, and leave the jump to jump the next. The main focus is longitudinal connection (leg to hand) and control while also maintaining correct suppleness laterally, giving more control longitudinally.

• It’s about strengthening the horse and doing gymnastic exercises to improve the horse’s shape and technique over the jumps.

• It’s about the flatwork between the jumps. The hardest part about jumping a course is getting to the jumps! That’s flatwork!

 

STRIDE CONTROL by Jen Marsden Hamilton is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Proprioception. It’s a big word that’s bandied about a lot in equestrian circles. And though it sounds like a massive concept, really it just means your perception or awareness of the position of and movement of your body—and of course as riders and trainers we all know what a huge role that plays when working with horses, on the ground or in the saddle.

In HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN, the book that is taking the equestrian world by storm with its game-changing explanations of the neuroscience of horsemanship, brain scientist and horsewoman Janet Jones explains in plain language how important our proprioception is to achieving effective and fair communication with our horses.

Read on:

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Photo by Markus Spiske

Why do riders have to address small discrepancies in proprioception? If your brain thinks your left shoulder has moved back 1 inch, same as your right one, but in fact it’s moved back 2 inches, so what? The answer is that we need to match our horse’s proprioceptive sensitivity if we hope to achieve brain-to-brain communication. And horses are exquisitely sensitive animals when it comes to body awareness.

Flygirl is a Holsteiner built like a tank, black with a sprinkling of socks and some grey hair on her face. After a lifetime of Grand Prix jumping in the United States and Europe, she’s now a late-twenties school horse who teaches equitation to beginning and intermediate hunt seat riders. One afternoon long ago I was working on flying changes with her and noticed how sensitive she was to my aids. To request a lead change on a straight line, all I had to do was shift my head slightly to the side corresponding to the new lead. She changed instantly. The same was true over fences. To turn left in the air, I just barely looked left.

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Photo by Matthias Zomer

Nearly every trainer will tell you that when riders look left, our hands, shoulders, hips, and legs unconsciously shift left. Horses could be picking up many bodily cues aside from head position—and indeed it’s unlikely they would notice a 10-degree turn of the head. They can’t even see us up there! So I experimented with Fly, holding every part of my body true north while shifting only my head slightly to the northwest. I tried this in all directions, at various locations, over fences and on the flat, at all gaits and unexpected moments over a month or so. She turned every time. She also matched the degree of her bodily turn to the degree of my head turn.

Even if she was picking up some form of unconscious directional change in my body, that level of sensory discrimination is sick—in the very best way.

Can a huge animal be sensitive? Well, the average horse weighs 50 million times more than the average fly, but immediately feels the pest settle on his body. A hypothetical human with that degree of sensitivity would feel the weight of five unseen dandelion seeds—something real humans can’t do. Trained horses can detect from two yards away a nod of the human head that measures only 8/1000 of an inch in displacement. That’s two-and-a-half times more susceptible to visual displacement than we are. Faced with the same nod, humans wouldn’t even know it had occurred.

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If we were as sensitive as horses, we’d be able to detect the weight of five dandelion seeds.

One more statistic: at the withers, a horse can detect 3/10,000 of an ounce of pressure from one nylon filament—the weight of about three grains of sand. Poke the same filament into a human fingertip, and we have no idea it’s there.

With this level of sensitivity, horses notice the difference between 1 inch of shoulder movement and 2 inches. And they’re trying to figure out what it means. If we fail to train our brains proprioceptively, our horses suffer confusion in the face of mixed messages.

A secondary issue is at work here, too: Vision, while a tremendous boon for daily life, often interferes with proprioception. For example, asked to walk at a normal pace and stop with both feet toeing an imaginary line, most people will look at their feet to accomplish the task. Just for fun, hop up and try that, then practice a few times without looking. You might be surprised at how close you come to the line that your eyes can’t see. Our brains can direct our bodies without eyesight, if we let them. Vision cheats our proprioceptive system of the chance to do its work.

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Walk and stop with your feet on an imaginary line, without looking. Your brain can do it if you let it. Photo by Amine M’Siouri.

So, equestrians hone proprioception not only because our mounts are super-sensitive, but also because we can’t watch our bodies or our horses while we ride. We have no choice but to ride by feel. Proprioceptive training teaches our brains to align our joints, maintain balance, isolate muscles for independent use, and regulate their flexibility and strength in ways that promote direct communication between horse and rider.

HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN by Janet Jones is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

FathersDay2020-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Ladd Farm Photography

We’re celebrating fathers this weekend. Thank you to eventer, trainer, horseman, and author of IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN Tik Maynard for this original essay.

God, I’m turning into my dad. I forget where I put the car keys, my wallet. I wear riding pants to the grocery store. I can’t find the milk—it’s right in front of me! I only listen to music I know the words to. My wife has to repeat herself.

Every year my dad hears my mum less and less. Recently she spent weeks deliberating how to tactfully suggest he go in for a hearing test. “Maybe he just needs a hearing aid?” she said. “It’s his happiness I’m worried about,” she explained.

After the test, the doctor sat my dad down.

“So your wife says you don’t hear her anymore?”

Dad, a little embarrassed: “That’s what she says.”

Doctor: “Well, Rick, I don’t know what you’re going to tell her…. Your hearing is fine.”

My parents met in 1957. My mother was eleven. My dad was fifteen. They both grew up in Southlands, a neighborhood in Vancouver. They both loved horses. My mother took lessons at his grandparents’ farm. (His parents, and grandparents, rode; hers did not.)  Recently I asked my mother about how they met:

“Rick was getting into trouble (rolling cars with his girlfriend, amongst other things) so he and his parents [Rick is an only child] moved back in with his grandparents. That’s when I started getting to know Rick better, but as I was fourteen and he was eighteen, and he had a steady girlfriend, there were no expectations on my part. But we used to go up the UBC trails a lot, and at one point, as we were galloping along the beach at Spanish banks, he said, ‘You are so much more fun than Sally!’ So I guess that is when I started getting a bit of a crush.

“That was how we met. How he proposed is funny, too. I was about eighteen, and he was twenty-two. We did a lot of fun stuff together: riding up trails; hikes; swimming; flying around the province in the two-seater Luscombe that was provided by Pitt Meadows Flying Club. It was Valentine’s Day, I forget the year, probably 1965 or ’66, and we went canoeing on the Squamish River. It was kind of cold and rainy and neither of us really had canoeing skills. We started to go sideways and hit a bridge overpass and capsized. The river was shallow enough that we could stand up and drag the canoe to shore. Rick’s movie camera got soaked. We aborted the trip and went home. He lit a fire and we got warmed up. At that point he produced the ring which had been in his pocket the whole day waiting for the romantic moment! But that was years before we actually got married, in 1968. We picked the date of August 29 because Gramps was the official photographer at the Pacific National Exhibition Horse Show, and in those days the PNE was divided into three sections. Your horse had to stay for the whole section, and in between there was a ‘changeover day’ where the horses went out, and the next section of horses came in. On that day there was no photographer needed, so Gramps had the day off. August 29, 1968, was changeover day at the PNE. And Gramps was the official photographer at our wedding.”

This August that will be fifty-two years.

My parents, like most couples I assume, but don’t know for sure, argued. Sometimes with my mother losing her patience. Often with my father leaving the room. But never once in my entire life did I hear the words “breakup” or “divorce.” Their relationship gave me a powerful faith in marriage, loyalty, and family.

My faith in our “family unit” was so strong it might be called blind—and this ability to weather any storm, together, is what I want to give my own family and son.

 

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Photo courtesy of Tik Maynard

 

My dad also gave me a love for animals. Far beyond that, he gave me an empathy for animals. He became a vegetarian in 1959, before it became a big fad in Vancouver. And I was born a vegetarian. I eat dairy and fish, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have tried red meat. (What we are doing to the oceans has convinced me to be more careful about fish now, too.)

I can’t imagine it was easy for my dad to tell his parents and his friends he had given up meat. Today he is just as strong in his convictions. This is how it began, again in my mother’s words:

“In 1959 Rick was living in Maple Ridge on a farm. He was in Pony Club and was selected for the Inter-Pacific Rally in Australia. The other two team members were Tom Gayford, and I think Jim Elder, but I’m not sure about that. They both flew to Australia, but the Maynards had no money, so Rick got passage on a freighter. [The MV King Arthur, carrying lumber, on the way there. The SS Suva, with a load of Sugar from Fiji, on the way back]. I think it took six weeks to get there. Anyhow, some time before he left they got a couple of piglets. Higgledy and Wiggles. ‘Large Pink’ or ‘Yorkshire’ animals. When Rick came back from Australia they were in the freezer! Trauma!”

So my Dad was seventeen when he made this seemingly small decision to act on his own beliefs rather than those of the society around him. But that decision has caused me, and many others that have met my dad, to question their own beliefs. My dad still remembers those pigs. They were intelligent. Each had a character unique to them. And both were “pink with lovely floppy ears.”

For my father to imagine an animal suffering is for him to suffer as well.

I try to carry that thoughtfulness into my career with horses. This started me down the road of learning “natural horsemanship,” and then to understanding “positive reinforcement,” and now to new ideas where I see the similarities between horses, dogs, children, even myself.

My dad taught me to ride; now it is my lifestyle and career, the same as it is for him. And my dad taught me all that by never telling me what to do.

 

 

My dad always speaks to me as if I understand. He always listens to my opinion. He lets me make mistakes. He taught me at home but always encouraged me to take lessons and clinics from other professionals. My dad has attended over 250 clinics, and he has gotten “…at least one very useful idea out of every one.”

I cannot imagine a more humble student of equestrianism than my father. He has coached riders that have gone on to Grand Prix and the Olympics. Recently he has been approached about coaching show jumping for the Canadian Modern Pentathlon Team at the next Olympics. (He has already coached that team at the Olympics twice!) Yet still, at every clinic, he makes notes. Lately he has come to some of my clinics, and he watches and asks questions.

 

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In the words of Canadian show jumping team rider Brian Morton: “ Rick has been the most incredible mentor and father figure in my life. He is a man that first and foremost leads by example. Rick is one of the most naturally talented riders I’ve ever seen. He had and has the ability to win in great style on every type of horse, in every type of event. I got the pleasure to watch Rick win many times, however I’m not sure I can ever recall a boastful moment from him. He is always the first person to give credit to the horse, or to the groom or to whoever it may be that he felt contributed to his success on that day. Rick was my coach and mentor for many years, and if I won a class he was very happy for me. However, if managed to demonstrate the values of humility, perseverance, sportsmanship and patience that he holds so dear, those were the moments that I felt he was the proudest of me”

Dad, I have learned empathy, and commitment to my family from you. You have instilled in me an unrelenting-thirst-for-improvement. Sinead says I am still working on humility.

Thanks for inspiring me, Dad. Happy Fathers Day!

 

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Rick and Brooks Maynard, photo courtesy of Tik Maynard.

Horseman Tik Maynard is the author of the bestselling IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN, available in print and digital formats from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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As we roll toward a summer that promises to be a bit less social than what we might be used to, having some good reading material lined up is going to be HUGE. If you love to ride or are just crazy about horses, we have 5 great equestrian eBooks to recommend.

 

In the Middle Are the Horsemen-horseandriderbooks1  IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN by Tik Maynard

For: Any rider, horse person, or individual seeking a life’s purpose. Those interested in becoming a working student. Those who enjoy travel memoir.

What the critics say: “Funny, honest, and eloquent.” (UnTacked)

 

Four Legs Move My Soul-horseandriderbooks2  FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL by Isabell Werth and Evi Simeoni

For: Dressage enthusiasts. Any competitive rider. Those who enjoy athletes’ biographies.

What the critics say: “A compelling read, with refreshingly honest commentary from Isabell.” (Horse & Hound)

 

Brain Train for Riders Final-horseandriderbooks3  BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS by Andrea Monsarrat Waldo

For: Anyone struggling to surmount issues with fear, lack of confidence, insecurity, anxiety, or nerves when working with horses or competing. Those who like practical exercises for self-improvement.

What the critics say: “Life-changing, honestly.” ($900 Facebook Pony)

 

Horses in Translation-horseandriderbooks4  HORSES IN TRANSLATION by Sharon Wilsie

For: Every horse person looking to “get” what horses say to us and learn how best to respond in a language they can understand. Those who like to read true stories that impart important lessons.

What the critics say: “Wilsie is a gifted storyteller…I was enthralled.” (Horse Nation)

 

Many Brave Fools-horseandriderbooks5  MANY BRAVE FOOLS by Susan E. Conley

For: Women, those who are horse-crazy (newbie or experienced). Those new to riding or horsekeeping. Those dealing with codependency, addiction, and recovery.

What the critics say: “Revealing tale of recovery…honest and humorous.” (Equine Journal)

 

So, How Can I Order?

TSB is SUPER excited to announce that you can now buy eBook editions of your favorite equestrian titles directly from our online bookstore! We have partnered with another independent company and an app called Glassboxx for a seamless eBook order, read, and storage experience. Check out the 100 titles we offer as eBooks (CLICK HERE for a complete list) or browse our store with over 400 books and videos about horses and equestrian sport from some of the top names in the world. (Note: Our New Releases are generally available in eBook format about three months after publication.)

Orders from today until June 14 get 20% off both digital and print orders by using the coupon code EBOOKS (enter the coupon code at checkout). We have FREE SHIPPING in the USA.

CLICK HERE to shop now.

Thank you for supporting small businesses!

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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