Posts Tagged ‘horse training’


I think it is Buck Brannaman who has often likened working with horses to parenthood. And, as a horse person and a mom, I concur it is strikingly similar. Loving someone and yet setting limits and saying “No” can be an exhausting act of balance. You don’t want to err too soft or too hard…and even when you think you might have it right, you cringe when you see that look of hurt in your child’s eyes after he’s been remonstrated; you feel badly when your horse sulks a bit after you push his nose away from your pocket.

Faced with this challenge, many of us wonder how the “magicians” of the horse world do it–how those who so obviously have close connections with their horses manage to find that balance between love and limits.

In GALLOP TO FREEDOM, the book he wrote with his wife, Magali Delgado, renowned horseman Frédéric Pignon explores this topic at length. And seeing as his spellbinding liberty acts were what made the original rendition of Cavalia an international phenomenon (he and Magali toured with their horses as part of the original lineup from 2003 to 2009), you have to think that maybe he’s got something in the mix about right:

I allow absolutely no biting or jostling: this is a rule that I start establishing with a young horse from the first day I work with him. In fact, with one that I do not know, I impose a strict limit as to how close he approaches me. No two horses are the same but as a guide I would suggest a distance of a forearm. Confidence breeds respect and vice versa. In liberty training, if there is mutual confidence between us, I can allow myself to tap the horse on his legs with my whip without causing him to run away—but only if my action is a justified reaction to something wrong or disobedient that he has done.

A common mistake is to do too much “snuggling up” to a horse from the beginning. You should keep the distance appropriate to the stage of your relationship. I don’t immediately let a horse invade my space. Quite apart from the danger of being bitten, it puts you on the wrong footing. Once there is total confidence and respect in both directions it becomes another matter.


It is not easy to define rule making. It may seem from what I have said that there are few rules and that the horse is encouraged to take the initiative. However, it is the case that rules are not only essential but that the horse functions the better for accepting certain guidelines. Here is the crux of the situation: you must not impose unreasonable rules that the horse feels he cannot accept with a willing spirit.

Man has deprived the horse of his natural state; the horse has been dragged into the world of humans and therefore it is the foundation stone of our relationship that we earn his respect before anything else. He has lost his freedom but we can give him protection, security, and respect. In return, he will give us respect and affection and recognize the behavioral limits that we set together.

In order to become important to a horse, we cannot remain neutral. I have to impose laws and make it absolutely clear what is not allowed. At the same time, I know that horses often crave reassurance even more than liberty so I must provide this. I have to encourage this craving and convince them that I am the person to satisfy the need.


It has always amazed me how quickly a good chiropractor or osteopath convinces a horse that he is important to him. The horse understands in no time at all that the osteopath will relieve him of his aches and pains and therefore accepts him as a friend. This is why I think it is so important to spend time reassuring a horse and helping him relax rather than treating him with rewards. I often spend a quarter of an hour in the company of a horse, either in his stall or in the field, without asking anything of him. I just rub him gently and caress him and try to show him that there is all the time in the world; I am not going to rush him and I’m not going to make unreasonable demands.

If one of my liberty horses gives another a nip. I give him a tap with my whip. He knows he shouldn’t bite another horse and as long as I tap him with the right amount of strength, he will accept it; he will even put his head on my shoulder as if to say “I know, I know.” But if he only “looks” as though he is going to bite another horse and I give him a sharp tap instead of a warning word, that is not fair and he knows it. He runs away and this time I have to make it up to him by going to him. Even after an hour’s work I may still see in his eye that he is hurt and depressed.

The secret is to deploy the right amount of warning signals when I see a horse has something naughty in mind. “Don’t even think about it,” is a common enough warning between people and I have to find the equivalent for the horse, but it has to be one that he associates with his intention. He then says in effect, “Fair game.”


For more on Pignon and Delgado’s ideas about establishing a balance between love and limits, check out their bestselling books GALLOP TO FREEDOM and BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER: YOU AND YOUR HORSE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

And, don’t miss your chance to train with them in person! They are doing a limited number of clinics in the US in March, or you can join them at their farm in Provence in May for a special retreat experience. For more information CLICK HERE.

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


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Winter is not just coming…for those of us in many parts of North America, it is completely, frigidly, and snowily upon us. Any horse person knows that things just get a bit, well, harder when the temp dips below zero. It doesn’t matter what size the manure pile—it all freezes to the ground.

Kendra Gale has been breeding, raising, and training Miniature Horses in Alberta, Canada, for decades, so she’s no stranger to ice in the water trough. Gale is the author of THE BIG BOOK OF MINIATURE HORSES, where she shares sage advice for keeping Miniatures as best suits their equine nature, as well as competing them at the highest levels. Her book is the perfect primer for the horse lover new to Miniatures, or the first-time horse owner, period.

In this segment of TSB’s “Horseworld by the Hour” series, Gale gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to walk a long (but satisfying) day in her winter boots.


6:30 am It’s winter in Alberta, so while I usually get up about now, it’s not the “jump out of bed and get going” it might be on a summer day with lessons or workshops or competitions on the schedule. After all, the sun won’t be up for a couple hours yet!

First priority is, of course, to let my Chihuahua, Clara, out to pee. Depending on the amount of snow or degree of Arctic temperatures, sometimes I’m successful in convincing her, sometimes not. In the summer she spends a lot of the day at the barn with me. In the winter, she opts out of the outdoors as much as possible. To be fair, the snow is sometimes deeper than she is tall!

7:00 am Breakfast and I jump onto the computer for a bit. Check emails, Facebook, and any concerns with my online classroom (www.MiniatureHorsemanship.com). Depending on how it goes, I might get some work done, editing videos or building slideshows, or maybe some writing.

8:00 am The sun starts peeking up between now and 8:30 am this time of year, and I usually wait for it before I head out to start chores. I like being able to see my horses in the daylight. They’re Miniature Horses, and lots of them are black…on days when I have to feed in the dark, I’ve been known to literally trip over them.

Before I go outside, I fill my big pail of hay cubes and senior feed with hot water to make a breakfast of mush for my collection of geriatric Miniature Horses. Then it’s time to layer up to head out—the number of layers is directly proportional to the cold. We have a wide range of winter temperatures here, and it could be above freezing, or it could be 40 below, and those two extremes could be in pretty close proximity to each other. Layers are key!

Image, my blind, one-eyed, 28-year-old, is the first to greet me when I get to the barn, with a hungry nicker and a big “downward dog” stretch. Image, along with Robin (age 27, a retired broodmare) and Valdez (age 29, sire of many of the horses on my farm), spend their nights inside in the winter, and their days, too, in nasty weather. Miniature Horses handle the cold really well, but these old folks do better with some extra spoiling.

With warm mush in their bellies, I head outside to feed the rest of the mush to my pen of slightly-less-old geldings (Knight Rider, 26, Spook, 22, and Paco, 21) and dole out some complete feed for some hard-keepers and the two weanlings, eight-month-old Victor and Vodka.

Next, it’s to the hay stack to collect a couple bales onto my calf sled. Currently I’m feeding about a bale and a half, morning and night, except when it’s colder than -20—then I feed more to help the horses stay warm. I distribute hay to the herd, checking everyone as I go to make sure no one is cold, or sick, or losing weight. I touch each horse every day—that’s 32 miniature equines in total.


The herd. Photo by Kendra Gale.

8:30 am With all the beasties enjoying their breakfast, I love to stop and stand for a moment and enjoy the peace and morning light…unless it’s storming or something.

Next on the list I feed and water my birds. I keep Partridge Chantecler chickens and some mixed-breed ducks that never fail to make me laugh. The birds all do really well in the winter. I check to make sure their heated water dishes are all working and collect any (hopefully not-yet-frozen) eggs.

9:00 am Last week it was -36 and one of my heated, automatic waterers gave up the ghost. Of course, it was the one that the most horses drink from, and with the most run-in sheds in that pasture, I couldn’t move too many horses to other waterers. We got some heated pails to plug in for the herd so they all always had access to that all-important unfrozen water, but it means that next on my to-do list is hauling water: I do about six pails from the hydrant each morning to fill everything up for them.

9:30 am Some days I might head out to teach lessons at a client’s place, or spend the morning working on computer stuff, but today it’s farrier day. I see which horses are due for a trim and bring them into the barn. My farrier comes every two to three weeks and does six Miniatures at a time, which works out to a pretty good rotation. With a little luck, I get them in with enough time to dig the packed snow out of their feet and give them each a quick groom before the farrier arrives.

11:30 am It’s a trickier day for trims—most of the herd is easy, but we’ve got the weanlings on the list today. Victor is perfect, but Vodka used up all his “Good Boy” during treatment for an eye injury earlier this year and is going through a rebellious stage. We’re patient with him and he decides he’ll be a good citizen in the end. The big challenge today is Bentley, my new Miniature Mule: He’s only lived here a few months and is nervous of strangers, especially strangers who want to pick up his feet while holding tools. It takes some time, but it ultimately goes well. The farrier and I are pleased with his progress, and he gets lots of treats for his bravery. Luckily, the other three we trim today are old pros (that’s enough excitement for us for one day). They all get cookies and go back out with their friends to finish their breakfast. At this point, it doesn’t have to be very cold for me to still feel frozen solid—it’s definitely time to get back in the house for a bit!


Clara and Victor. Photo by Kendra Gale.

12:00 pm I grab some lunch (and probably some hot tea!) and get back on the computer for a while. Time to get to work on whatever project I’m working on. Currently, I’m organizing a clinic/conference event, preparing for a clinic I’m teaching up north in a few weeks, and building a webinar and a couple promos for my online classroom.

1:30 pm I’m wrapped up in what I’m working on and would love keep at it, but the sun is shining so I head back outside. Time to clean stalls while the old folks are out enjoying some winter sun. Stall cleaning gets more complicated the colder it gets: frozen poop balls bounce away when they fall off the fork, and at times I take the pee spots out in one big frozen chunk, kind of like clumping cat litter. I also haul more water—another six pails midday (I’ll never take my automatic waterers for granted again after this…)

2:00 pm I want to get Rocky’s tail put back up—he’s my breeding stallion (Victor and Vodka’s daddy) and one of my favorite driving horses. I love his long tail and usually keep it up in a sock to protect it. This fall I let it down during fly season, and then I never got it put up again. After the last big snowfall I was laughing at the funny trail it left in the snow, but I’m sure that was pretty hard on it. Now that the weather has improved I’m going to get it up before the next snow and cold snap is scheduled. I set up my video camera so I can make a quick tutorial of the process for my YouTube channel.

2:30 pm Since I have Rocky in, I set up some of the obstacles for the January online Horse Agility competition. Rocky’s been off for a while, so it’s a good refresher for him. I set up the obstacles inside the barn. My barn is a good-sized tent building so I’m able to squeeze in a full agility course if I’m creative. It’s nice to work in out of the wind, and I’m paranoid about my horses slipping on poor footing outside in the winter. I also never drive in the winter, unless there is no snow or ice at all. Luckily, while driving is my favorite discipline, there are lots of other fun things to do with my Miniature Horses, and agility is one of my preferred wintertime activities.


Rocky with a frosty forelock. Photo by Kendra Gale.

3:00 pm  Now I’ve got the obstacles set up, and I let Johnnie in to play. He does his agility at liberty. Johnnie is coming four, and while he’s one of my tiniest in stature at not quite 31 inches, he’s the biggest personality. I don’t dare practice any obstacle too many times, or he gets bored and invents new ways to do them. We work on standing and waiting until I ask him to come toward me, practice his sidepassing, and then move on to something else. Johnnie has been trained using positive reinforcement. I also want to start him in harness, so today I have a sidepull I’m going to use on him—I’ve driven Rocky bitless some, but I’m really looking forward to starting Johnnie bitless right front the start. We practice giving to pressure on the sidepull, first using a target to help him understand. It’s a fun new game for both of us! I’ve got the video camera running again, as one of my online courses is on starting your Miniature Horse in harness, and I want to add the bitless training process to the content. The toughest part with Johnnie is always convincing him to leave when I’m done playing with him…after demonstrating all kinds of skills at liberty, I actually have to put a halter on him to lead him back out to be with his friends!

3:45 pm I’m cold again, so it’s back in for more tea (Earl Grey with milk and a dribble of maple syrup—my friend named it a “Canadian Fog”) and to download my videos onto the computer. I get started on video editing and laugh at Johnnie’s antics. The bloopers are always my favorite, and if I don’t leave them in, I save them for future amusement.

4:45 pm I haven’t quite warmed up, but it’s getting dark, so I’m back out to start the evening chores. I bring in the old folks and and feed everyone just like in the morning. It’s supposed to extra cold overnight, so I give everybody some additional hay to help them stay warm. I turn on a podcast while I work: I like to listen to Horses In The Morning or Star Trek: The Next Conversation.

5:30 pm The sunset over the mountains is my favorite. I often pause my chores to take photos if it’s particularly spectacular.

I give Robin and Image their medication (Cushings medication for both, and anti-inflammatory for Robin) and haul another six or eight pails of water (I really can’t wait til that waterer is fixed…) before I say goodnight to everyone, close up the coops for the night, and head for the house. I check that the security camera is working in the barn—if anything seems amiss, I can see the stalls from my phone. It’s especially handy during foaling season.


Another day done. Photo by Kendra Gale.

6:00 pm It’s back to the house for the evening. A couple times a month I teach a live webinar in the evenings, but most of the time I curl up on the couch with my laptop, enjoying some TV while I keep working away on my current projects. Or I might head over to my grandparents house to watch the game on TV…Go Flames Go!

10:00 pm I let Clara out one last time and we head for bed—a Chihuahua’s favorite time of day!

Kendra Gale’s book THE BIG BOOK OF MINIATURE HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Click below to watch the trailer:

Be sure to read the other installments in the TSB “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series:













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

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Wouldn’t it be fabulous if when you bought gifts for the holidays, you were automatically entered to win great prizes? Wouldn’t that put a whole new spin on the Christmas shopping experience?

Oh, wait…that’s EXACTLY what we’re doing!

That’s right, during the month of December, if you buy a copy of THELWELL’S PONY CAVALCADE or LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP from the TSB online bookstore http://www.HorseandRiderBooks.com, you are automatically entered to win crazy cool prize packs!

Here’s what’s up:


Who doesn’t love Thelwell ponies? They are fat, hairy, and smarter than all of us combined. Purchase a copy of THELWELL’S PONY CAVALCADE, which includes the classics Angels on Horseback, A Leg at Each Corner, and Thelwell’s Riding Academy, from www.HorseandRiderBooks.com (CLICK HERE) during the month of December, and you will be entered to win a hilarious set of Thelwell placemats and two pairs of Thelwell riding socks from Inkstables.com! That’s potentially four great gifts for the price of one (or one for them, three for you…).


And if you are of a more serious turn of mind, how about a copy of LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP, a super introduction to valuable groundwork skills that can be used to help create a stronger connection and better communication between horse and rider before you get in the saddle. Long-reining is invaluable for starting youngsters, rehabbing after injuries, and safely dealing with training problems. Buy a copy of LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP from www.HorseandRiderBooks.com (CLICK HERE) or DoubleDanHorsemanship.com during the month of December and you’ll be automatically entered to win a set of Long-Reining with Double Dan Horsemanship DVDs, a set of Double Dan Horsemanship Long Reins, and a Lungie-Bungie! That’s a prize pack worth over $230! Woohoo!

Hurry…December (and your excuse for shopping online) won’t last forever…


CLICK HERE to order THELWELL’S PONY CAVALCADE and be automatically entered to win Thelwell swag!

CLICK HERE to order LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP and be automatically entered to win $230 worth of training gear!


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


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In her new book TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, gold-medal Olympian and champion eventer Ingrid Klimke shares intimate profiles of 10 of her horses. We are invited into her barn where she explains their personality quirks, their strengths and their challenges. Klimke outlines each horse’s training plan, highlighting why certain accommodations are made for a particular individual, and illustrating how another has blossomed under different training expectations.

Among others, readers meet Geraldine, a large-framed, elegant chestnut mare who shines in the  dressage arena. This is her story:

Geraldine grew up with the herd at Gut Schwaighof, the facility of her breeders and part owners, Hannelore and Ulrich Zeising. They informed me that she was ranked rather low in the herd as a foal. The Zeisings showed her to me as a three-year-old and we turned her loose to move about in the indoor arena. She had a light, floating trot and I liked her. I could also see that she was going to first need to grow into her large body and definitely needed more time to develop.

We decided to send her to my former apprentice, Lara Heggelmann, who thoroughly and carefully trained her through Second Level. Afterward, Geraldine returned to my barn at the end of her fifth year.

Geraldine is a quiet and reserved horse. She is shy and was often afraid in the beginning, especially when ridden out in front of other horses. She did not trust herself to lead the group when riding out, but she did not feel comfortable in the middle of the group, either. She went at the back of the group and put a big distance between herself and the other horses, which fascinated us. She let the distance get bigger and bigger and gave the impression she would prefer to have nothing to do with the other horses. Over the years, her behavior has changed: today, she will bravely take the lead and stays with the group, as long as the others don’t get too close for her liking.

Geraldine is a sound-sensitive horse and whenever anything is new for her, she finds it daunting at first. We have tried to be very cautious when getting her used to new things and to increase her self-confidence. When she does something well, I always praise her and build in a walk break. In this way, she knows everything is all right. She can relax and I win her trust. She is very sensitive to ride, so I really need to concentrate fully on her and give my aids with feel. Geraldine is very good natured and always very motivated. She wants to do everything right and always tries her best. In the barn, she is also very sociable and well behaved. Just being “left alone” is not her thing. Without her stablemates, she does not feel at ease.

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Photo from Training Horses the Ingrid Klimke Way

In order for Geraldine to learn to relax when being ridden in a group, we always take her with us on our hacks and adventures. I’m of the opinion it will help her to experience being ridden out in the open. Of course, she is also worked on the longe line once a week and ridden over cavalletti for gymnastic benefits. As Geraldine’s future lies clearly in dressage, it has also become the emphasis of her training. This means I do dressage-oriented work with her four days a week. She learns new exercises step by step, and I’m currently beginning to compete her at Prix St. Georges. In order for her to be able to learn new exercises well, it’s important there is a relaxed atmosphere in the riding arena or the indoor where she’s working. Most significantly for Geraldine, we really need to master that which she’s already learned, so that she can demonstrate it with self-confidence. When — and only when — the fundamentals are good, I can go further with her training, step by step.

At the moment, Geraldine is secure with all exercises at Prix St. Georges and she has successfully begun learning collected steps, working in the direction of piaffe and passage.

Read about Klimke’s other horses, as well as her training philosophy and favorite exercises, in TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

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


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In November of 2016 the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE was released, becoming an instant bestseller and propelling a little-known trainer and riding teacher from Westminster, Vermont, into a whirlwind of book signings, speaking engagements, and clinics throughout North America. Now with the book soon to be released in Dutch and in German, and a follow-up DVD and book in the works, Sharon Wilsie is looking to help more people, from all equestrian backgrounds and disciplines, all over the world, learn to truly communicate with their horses—but not using our language of words and ropes. Wilsie has decoded Horse Speak for the rest of us.

TSB: How did you conceive of the different aspects of Horse Speak?

SW: As a long-time animal trainer, I am intrinsically aware of the difference between a “trained skill” and an “authentic response” from the animal’s own nature. I can train a horse, for instance, to come to the mounting block while at liberty and stand perfectly still without a halter or bridle, and I can then proceed to ride that horse without tack. Eventually, though, this was no longer satisfying, as it occurred to me that just because a horse could do this with apparent ease and obedience did not necessarily mean that he was choosing to do it of his own volition. A well trained and loved servant is still a servant.

I truly wanted to know if a horse, given freedom of choice, would choose to offer me his back. In order to answer this question, I needed to go beyond training. I had to be able to ask a question, “Would you be interested in having me on your back?” Moreover, I would have to understand his answer.

Ultimately, I had to learn to speak “Horse.” Language flows, bends, twists, and turns. It is not the straight-line reasoning of training, which pares down to a set of responses the animal learns to give to the same cues over and over again. The language of the horse belies his innate world view, which can be similar to ours, and in other cases can be almost in opposition to us.

In this work, I start teaching people with the most basic platform: I call it “Going to Zero.” This simply means you adopt the inner state of calm that horses seek to maintain at all times. If you can steady yourself by learning to be at “Zero intensity,” both outside and in, you are on your way to learning the visual language of the horse.

TSB: How does Horse Speak differ from other forms of human-animal communication?

SW: Horse Speak demystifies the subtleties of not only horses, but of the best of the best trainers that people may wish to emulate. When we see a truly stunning performance—whether dressage, circus tricks, Roman riding, or some other amazing horse-and-rider combination—we all wish to experience that level of connection and inspired horsemanship. What few people understand is that body language is a natural part of all of us. It is the level of innate brain connectivity around the interpretation of body language that varies among us. Some people can be naturally fluent in this skill, while others may struggle to interpret even basic facial cues (as is the case in autism).

Horse Speak assists people on any level of awareness to either take what is already working and make it better, or even start from scratch and learn body language basics from the ground up.


TSB: Why do you feel others can benefit from and should learn Horse Speak?

SW: Whether a person has professional goals (showing, teaching, training) or simply enjoys a backyard horse or two, everyone generally wants to have a happy, healthy, and wholesome relationship with horses. Taking the time to really learn their language is just plain common sense.

TSB: How has Horse Speak changed your life with horses? Your career as a horse trainer and riding coach?

SW: To speak the language of the horse is to dive into a world of potential that only exists when two beings can really communicate with each other. And on a completely practical level, I know no better way to help a horse “buy in” to our ideas—whether we want to jump a bigger fence or just get through a veterinary visit without incident.

TSB: How do you see Horse Speak growing and changing other people’s lives with horses? Other people’s equine careers?

SW: In any theater of horsemanship, it is essential to have the utmost safety possible. Far too many people live with a level of mistrust, getting stepped on, run over, bucked off, and so on, while assuming this is just the way things are with horses. This is most definitely NOT the way things should be, and it is NOT ultimately the way horses wish things to be. Especially in the arena of therapeutic horsemanship (physical or emotional/psychological) the need for trust, rapport, and co-facilitation from the horse himself is paramount. One cannot simply layer on more and more obedience-based training, hoping to reach the horse’s authentic core and gain access to the depth of heart that these animals are capable of offering. This can only be reached through communication.

TSB: If there is one common message that most horses are trying to tell us that we don’t understand, what is it?

Horse Speak Final CoverSW: Live from your heart. Horses don’t mind if you cry, or are afraid, or even if you feel frustrated. But they abhor incongruity. If your insides are churning, and your outsides are trying to act like a rigid authority, this inner vs. outer conflict makes horses confused and anxious. If nothing else, learning to think and act like a horse will give any human access to a level of inner awareness and outer presence that trumps any other mechanical, rule-based roboticism that steers us to see horses as more of a biological motorcycle than the elegant gatekeepers to a richer existence in which being “one with nature” is more than a quaint expression: it is reality.

To find out more about HORSE SPEAK and to download a free chapter, CLICK HERE.

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


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Has it ever crossed your mind that your horse might be “left-” or “right-handed”?

According to Gabriele Rachen-Schöneich and Klaus Schöneich in their book STRAIGHTENING THE CROOKED HORSE, every horse is either left- or right-handed, and this “handedness” or “sidedness” is almost identical to that of the human population in terms of occurrence (70-90 percent right-handed).

Interestingly, an April 2012 article on LiveScience.com explains how a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface shows that, the more social the animal—where cooperation is highly valued—the more the general population will trend toward one “sidedness” over the other.

“The most important factor for an efficient society is a high degree of cooperation,” says Professor Daniel M. Abrams, an assistant professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, in the article. “In humans, this has resulted in a right-handed majority.”

Certainly we consider the horse to be a highly social creature, and his early development as a herd and prey animal could be said to have nurtured the characteristics of cooperation, and perhaps, therefore, right-handedness. Whatever the cause, one-sidedness or forelimb dominance is a form of natural crookedness (the horse’s center of balance is displaced forward and to the right or to the left), and this can lead to big problems in the horse way of going (rhythm faults, leaning in, falling out, for example), ultimately compromising his physical and mental soundness and overall well-being.

Consider this example from STRAIGHTENING THE CROOKED HORSE:

Rhythm faults originating in the right shoulder and foreleg are probably the result of natural crookedness, which leads us to another serious problem that arises: if the horse is “leaning,” that is, placing excessive weight on his right shoulder, he will take a slightly shorter step with his right foreleg. Consequently—and this is very important—the right hind leg will also shorten its step. The horse drags the right hind leg, at first almost imperceptibly, but then more and more. This is because when the horse is leaning on his right shoulder, there is less impetus for the right hindquarter and hind leg to move, and consequently the hind leg drags behind…”leaning” on one or other of the shoulders causes a constant strain, which must eventually harm the horse. The rider’s weight inevitably makes the problem worse, especially if he is inexperienced and has not yet learned to control where to place it….It is difficult for a crooked horse to carry his rider. As a result, he becomes nervous, and this seriously affects his training.


A balanced horse shown on the left. A crooked right-handed horse is on the right.

So how do you know if your horse is a lefty or righty? He will display the following characteristics, here described as they would pertain to a right-handed horse, as that is the more common scenario:

  • He leans on his right shoulder and takes a shorter step with his right foreleg. This causes the right hind leg to shorten its step. You can feel what this is like if you try walking while leaning on a cane or a stick in your right hand—you’ll find that your right leg immediately starts taking shorter steps.
  • The horse will not be balanced but will move weight on the diagonal, onto the right shoulder. This causes the horse to carry his head and neck to the opposite side to counteract this excess weight, resulting in concavity on the left side.
  • On the circle as the horse comes away from the wall or rail, the circle tends to get bigger on the left rein and the horse falls in on the right rein.


Straightening-Crooked-PB-30For more information on crookedness in horses and how to resolve related problems, check out STRAIGHTENING THE CROOKED HORSE, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.


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


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Alois Podhajsky with Norman.


Colonel Alois Podhajsky was an Olympian and Director of the the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years. Podhajsky was known to bring out the best in each horse he rode, and to rely on patience, understanding, and affection in the training process.

Podhajsky detailed his riding, training, and competitive experiences in the renowned book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, which was first published in English in 1968. By sharing the stories of each of the horses he worked with over the course of his career, we learn his methods, mistakes, and discoveries. One horse he writes of was an eight-year-old, part-Trakehner gelding named Norman, who helps us learn the lesson that sometimes we have to go back in order to go forward.

Norman had been taught quite a number of things by his breeder in Germany. He knew how to perform lateral work, flying changes, and even some sort of passage…most of it was superficial…. Once again I met in Norman a horse without sufficient urge to go forward unless pushed and often he offered a passage without its being demanded. But his passage was not the artistic solemn movement but a tense sort of hovering trot which had its origin in his reluctance to go forward. It is a great temptation for the rider to accept an exercise that the horse offers but would have a very negative effect on the rest of the training. The idea of dressage is to cultivate and improve the natural movements of the horse so that he executes them upon the slightest aids of the rider. If he anticipates these aids he proves that his obedience is not sufficiently well established. Besides, a horse will anticipate only to make work easier for himself and execute the exercise incorrectly. Consequently the standard of work will decline. If this is the case the rider must interrupt his present work and go back again to the basic training until it is well consolidated. 

We had the greatest trouble making Norman strike off into the canter from the trot. Either he tried to run away or he offered his “passage.” He had been taught to strike off into the canter exclusively from the walk and became nervous and excited upon this unusual demand. However, it is a very important exercise which improves suppleness and helps achieve the correct activity of the hind legs in response to the actions of the reins. It also furthers the will to go forward and establishes obedience and is therefore a necessity in thorough gymnastic training. Besides, it is much more natural and easier for the horse to strike off into the canter from the trot. Nevertheless it took quite a long while until Norman understood this unaccustomed exercise and I had to allow him his lapse of time because I did not want to confuse him or make him nervous.



Walking Norman on a loose rein.


Once again I relied on my proven remedy—good for anything and everything, one might say—which is to teach the horse to move correctly and with suppleness and balance, to make him understand his rider and follow him without reserve. I began to take Norman on the same course of training I pursued with my young horses, with the exception that I spent less time on the various phases. That is, I moved on when I saw that he had understood and was able to execute my demands. Of course I observed him closely all the time and found that I could establish his confidence much more quickly after a few rounds at the walk on a loose rein at the beginning of work and that he paid much less attention to his surroundings than if I had had begun our daily session with the reins applied.

In this way, Norman had a chance to look around in the open-air arena and the adjacent paddocks, and when he was satisfied with what he had seen, he would concentrate entirely upon his work. The rider should always give his horse a chance to look around before beginning serious training. His horse will never become “fed up” with dressage if the rider respects his particularities and allows the freedom of mind necessary for concentrated work.


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You can read more of Alois Podhajsky’s stories in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.


CLICK HERE to order now.

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


Read Full Post »

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