This is the week! Equine Affaire in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is happening Thursday 11-11 through Sunday 11-14, 2021. Come see us at Booth 846-847 in the Better Living Center at the Eastern States Exposition and find all our newest books and hottest sellers, as well as amazing sale bins, author book signings, and chances to win great prizes. We all know that this year’s holiday shopping is going to be frantic and frustrating due to the ongoing supply chain nightmare and shipping issues, so we’re going to be ready to make it easy for you to get it all done, in person, at special event prices.
EA has an all-star lineup of TSB authors presenting this year, including:
Follow us on FB, IG, and Twitter for updates during the show about book signing times and Q & A sessions with authors! And please swing by Booth 846-847 in the Better Living Center to say hello. We love to talk about books and horses.
It is always amazing to learn how our authors manage their days. With most of them working equestrians or equine experts, hours are always an incredible juggling act of horses, clients, and family. This month we caught up with the stunning and talented Sandra Beaulieu, author of FREESTYLE: The Ultimate Guide to Riding, Training, and Competing to Music, to find out how her life balance works as the manager of Little River Friesians in Havana, Florida.
5:00 am A few years ago I started waking up early to work on my book FREESTYLE. I love the dark and quiet nature of the morning…with my two cups of coffee of course! Don’t get me wrong…I would love to sleep in, but if I don’t work in the morning it just won’t happen. To help me stay consistent I put my cell phone outside my room so I have to get up to turn off the alarm, otherwise I will hit snooze. I am currently working on an ebook specifically for Second Level choreography, which is a supplement to my book FREESTYLE. I also work on blog posts, social media…basically anything that involves my computer.
6:00 am Light yoga and any physical therapy exercises I am working on. I have old riding injuries and a chronic hip flexor issue that takes a lot to maintain. I go to the chiropractor and a masseuse once a week and also use my Magna Wave machine, KT tape sometimes, and Arnica to help improve healing and symmetry in my body. If I ride too many horses in one day or a very wide horse it puts a lot of stress on my body so I do my best to stay flexible and strong.
7:00 am Down the stairs and into the barn…I live in a beautiful apartment above the horses and I love being so close to them. I have quick access in case of emergencies, and it makes my day to hear them whinny when it’s time for carrots. There have been many nights where I need to give medications, bring in a loose horse, or check on a pregnant mare. I help with morning chores and make sure everyone is safe, happy, and healthy.
8:00 am – 11:00 am Run back upstairs to make my morning smoothie and take my supplements. Then back downstairs to write out my plan for the day and powwow with Lilian, our barn manager. Every day is different but most of the time I plan to ride two or three horses by lunch. Once a week we plan a trail day where the horses get to venture out and have a relaxing stroll through the woods. Sometimes I am preparing for a clinic, performance, or photo shoot.
I work on basic dressage training with all the riding horses and add liberty and trick training as well. Lately, I have added some working equitation obstacles and introduced some of the horses to the garrocha pole. I like to keep training sessions fun with a lot of variety. I always play music and have individual playlists for each horse to work on future Freestyles and to keep the energy light and playful.
11:00 am – 12:00 pm Lunch time for me and the horses. I help the team give out hay, water, and extra supplements/medications. I usually check the social media channels for Little River Friesians while I eat and Lilian and I meet to work on TikTok videos and post to Instagram/Facebook. We love creating beautiful and funny videos of the horses to share with the world. We have mostly Friesians at the farm along with a few Warlanders (Friesian x Andalusian cross) and Andalusians. They are certainly fairytale horses with wonderful personalities that love to entertain.
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm Back to the horses! We have quite a few broodmares that I work with, doing long-lining, easy trail riding, and sometimes ring work. My main priority is to keep them happy and healthy so that they are in the best shape possible for carrying their foals. This includes a lot of grooming time, bathing/braiding, and some trick training for fun. Lilian and I also work together to train the foals/yearlings so that they are well-handled when they are sold. All our weanlings lead very well, stand for the farrier, get baths, and are introduced to the trailer and the round pen before they move on to new homes.
3:00 pm “Dinner time” is fairly early so the horses can go outside and spend most of their time grazing and out with each other. In the summer months they stay inside under the fans until later in the evening but right now the weather is perfect to be outside from 3:00 pm in the afternoon until 7:00 am the next day.
4:00 pm This is usually my time to work with Rovandio, my personal horse. Right now we are learning how to do Working Equitation and having fun preparing for shows/clinics. Rovandio is nineteen years old and requires a lot of maintenance so while I am grooming him he has the Magna Wave on him, his nebulizer for breathing, and I give him his homeopathic remedies, arnica, and herbal cough syrup before we ride. We usually do a short walking trail ride to warm up and work on dressage and obstacles, depending on how he feels that day.
I have known Rovandio since he was born and owned by my close friend Bethanne Ragaglia. When he was older I started training him full time and taking him to perform with my horse Douwe. He is a handy horse, easy to ride with one hand, and has a comfortable stride. I started painting from horseback with Rovandio, and we have performed at Equine Affaire and were invited to the World Equestrian Games and Equitana as well.
7:00 am Usually I try to catch up on my own social media channels at this time and make sure to include my sponsors, Adams Horse Supplies, Espana Silk, and Kastel Denmark. I check to see if Little River has any comments/messages and return emails as well.
Before I have dinner I enjoy taking the four-wheeler out to the horse’s paddocks to give them carrots and check that their fly masks/sheets/blankets are on properly and that everyone looks happy and healthy. During this nightly drive I stop by the beautiful meadow where my heart horse Douwe is buried and say goodnight to my special boy. He tragically passed away last summer due to a ruptured spleen and the past year has been a difficult time for me to grieve and figure out my life without him.
8:00 pm Wind down from the day with a healthy salad, sometimes a glass of wine, and an episode of whatever I have been watching recently. I like to watch familiar shows I have seen before…if I watch something new and exciting I just want to stay up all night to see what happens! I love watching shows and movies that have horses and beautiful costumes like Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Bridgerton. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong time period!
9:00 pm My goal is to be in bed by this time, and I usually write in my journal before I turn the lights out, reflecting on my day and appreciating all the positive things in my life. I look forward to the future but do my best to stay present, enjoying my dream job surrounded by the beautiful, special horses of Little River Friesians.
Sandra Beaulieu’s book FREESTYLE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
In her book HORSES IN TRANSLATION, TSB author Sharon Wilsie shares true stories of how she discovered Horse Speak® and the early horses and horse people who benefited from learning it, too. A lifelong horsewoman and animal lover, Sharon had to break down all that she had learned in a traditional sense about how to handle and ride horses in order to open herself to the possibility that there was a better way for our two species to communicate. Namely, she pinpointed ways we can learn to talk to horses in their language instead of expecting them to understand ours.
In this short piece from HORSES IN TRANSLATION, Sharon tests the body language she’d been trying with her own herd with a rescued Mustang. We are given a front-row seat to a breakthrough conversation that has now yielded an entire language that can be incorporated into any training method and used with any breed of horse, in any discipline, with unbelievable results. Horse Speak changes everything.
I received a phone call from the director of a local horse rescue. They had a Mustang no one could do anything with. She knew I was taking time off but asked if I could just come take a look and maybe offer some advice. I hadn’t worked with any horses outside my own herd for several months at this point. But the request didn’t feel like an intrusion. Perhaps I was ready to re-enter the bigger picture.
Sure, I thought. Why not?
The little Mustang stood stoically at the back of his pen, which was attached to the barn and gave him entry to his own stall. He had buddies in pens and stalls on either side of him, but they were all separated due to specific injuries and frailties, and for the time being, needed to stay that way.
The little guy took one look at me and turned his butt toward me, dramatically and as a warning. I got it loud and clear.
Well, I thought. Here goes nothing!
I started to walk back and forth about 10 feet away from his pen, showing him all sides of me. Then I stopped and did an “Aw-Shucks” (looked down and scuffed my foot, asking him to take the pressure off).
The Mustang turned around and dropped his nose to the dirt (the horse version of Aw-Shucks) in about two seconds!
At the time, I wasn’t totally sure about the protocols yet, so I just stood there, licking and chewing with my mouth and lips. He reached his nose in the air toward me and sniffed three huffing breaths. I copied him, figuring he knew better than I did what came next. He then dramatically turned his head to the side, and so did I. Sniffing at me again, the Mustang again lowered his head, muzzle to the ground. I took it as an invitation to come over.
I scuffed my way to him in a very “O” position (rounded shoulders, hands together in front of my belly), and extended my arm with my hand in a fist and my knuckles up when I got close. (This “fist bump” was what I had been using in lieu of a nose to greet my horses.) He touched them lightly with his nose, and turned away, walking into his stall. The conversation seemed to be over.
I walked away to visit some of the other horses and came back a few minutes later. The Mustang was waiting for me at the fence, and he reached to touch my knuckles again. I had the old urge to pat his forehead, but this caused him to pin his ears and turn away. Oops. I hastily backed up and scuffed the ground with my toe. He responded by sniffing the ground again.
Then he began to walk slowly to the left, so I did too. I stopped when he stopped, and he seemed pleased. I was curious to see what would happen if I turned to the right, so I took a step. The little horse paused a good, long moment and then swung around, also moving to the right. I didn’t know what to do next, so I exhaled loudly. He started to yawn. It felt like time to take a nap, so I sat down in the dirt outside his pen. He cocked a hind leg and closed his eyes.
What would my horse Rocky do now? I wondered. (Rocky had been teaching me many of the Horse Speak protocols.) I thought of Rocky flopping his ears sideways and wiggling his lips. I couldn’t flop my ears, but I could wiggle my lips, so I did. The Mustang came out of his reverie and then flopped his ears and wiggled his lips, too. This caused another round of yawning. I took a deep breath, opening my floating ribs to allow in more air, and his lower belly took a Shuddering Breath and expanded, making him look fatter for a minute.
Not sure of what else to do, I stood up. He seemed to know I was at a loss, so he swished his tail at me and headed back inside his stall. I swished my hand down by my thigh in response, and he paused, looking over his shoulder at me, and swished his tail again while blowing out his nose.
I wasn’t sure what good this did the little Mustang, but I was over the moon! The volunteers who had been watching were full of questions, so I agreed to come back for a teaching day to go over some of the movements I had used and why.
I got another call the very next day: The Mustang had met a volunteer at the door of his stall in the morning, for the first time since he had arrived. He allowed a handler to place his halter on so he could go out to the bigger field.
The rescue director said he was much more relaxed—it seemed like he just suddenly “fit in.” I was thrilled—but surprised. How could one visit in which I hadn’t even touched him have caused such a change? Was I just lucky, or was this really happening?
The breakthroughs Sharon experienced with the rescued Mustang were only the beginning. Horse Speak is now practiced by thousands of horse people around the world, and Sharon’s third book ESSENTIAL HORSE SPEAK: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION, is coming out this year.
Eleven years ago, about a year after having my son, I gave Pilates a shot, and WOW! All I can say is it did amazing things for my body and my riding. I’m a fan.
TSB author Laura Reiman has been practicing Pilates since 2007. She completed her Comprehensive Teacher Training Course with BASI Pilates (Body Arts and Science International) in New York, then spent six months in Brisbane, Australia, teaching and continuing to learn from BASI faculty members before opening her own studio in Alexandria, Virginia. Well, Laura is also an eventer, and when her When her young horse was diagnosed with extreme back pain and a neurological disease, she turned to her knowledge of Pilates—the method she’d used to ease back pain in human clients for years—for help. She began to find ways to “bridge the gap” between the horse’s mind and body to help increase his body awareness and core engagement.
In Laura’s new book PILATES FOR HORSES, she shares the Pilates-inspired exercises she determined can offer the horse the same benefits they offer humans. They can be taken in parts or as a whole and seamlessly incorporated into an existing training program to be a preventive tool to increase the horse’s strength, balance, mobility, and stability, or a framework for a new program to help ease a horse back into work following an injury or time off.
Here, Laura shares one of the stretches from her program:
Human athletes know that stretching is an invaluable part of any training program to keep muscles elastic, and a tight muscle is more prone to injury. Stretching helps to improve circulation, range of motion, and overall health of your horse’s muscles, while also decreasing muscle soreness and fatigue. As an added benefit, spending a few minutes stretching your horse can help create a stronger bond.
Also known as “carrot stretches,” incentive stretches use treats or a clicker to ask your horse to stretch himself through flexion (rounding), lateral bending (side to side), and even extension (hollowing or reaching). Try this incentive stretch called “Chin to Chest” as an easy way to start incorporating stretches in your routine on a regular basis.
Ask your horse to bring his nose toward the center of his chest using a treat, creating flexion and stretch in the upper neck muscles.
l Increases mobility in the upper and middle neck muscles including the trapezius cervicis, cervical rhomboids, and splenius muscles.
1 Stand beside your horse, facing forward.
2 Offer a treat near the horse’s nose to get his attention.
3 Slowly move your hand back toward the center of the horse’s chest, covering the treat so he cannot grab it.
4 Make sure the horse’s neck is straight and his nose is pointing down.
5 When using a clicker, activate it right at the center of your horse’s chest.
6 Hold the stretch for 5 seconds to start, working up to 10–20 seconds over the course of several weeks.
7 Repeat 2–4 times, changing sides each time so your horse’s head doesn’t begin to tilt to one side in anticipation.
Every day, after your horse is warmed up. Hold for 10–20 seconds and repeat 2–4 times.
Learn more stretches, in-hand exercises, and ridden lessons to help build and maintain a solid foundation of strength and comfort for your horse in the book PILATES FOR HORSES by Laura Reiman.
CLICK HERE for more information and to download a free chapter.
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.
In her new book, HOW TWO MINDS MEET: THE MENTAL DYNAMICS OF DRESSAGE, Beth Baumert explains how to optimize the use of your “thinking mind” in order to become a better learner in the saddle and provides techniques for maximizing mental and emotional harmony with your horse. Here she tells us why we need to have “the will” to achieve every task, every movement:
Horses don’t understand negatives. They do not understand I hope she doesn’t…, I wish she wouldn’t…, Don’t do this…, I’m afraid that…. They don’t understand mental or emotional garbage—for example, I hope he doesn’t refuse the fence, because I want to get out of this alive and I’m afraid I’ll fall off like I did last week. This is a message that is negative, emotional, and convoluted. It’s usually accompanied by a dreadful mental image that the horse has no trouble reading, and we all know how that story ends.
Since the horse doesn’t understand the negative aspect of the message, he gets a message that goes like this: Refuse the fence as I have in the past. Do it eagerly. My rider may end up on the ground. Even the boldest, most willing jumper would, at least, become distracted or confused by his rider’s message.
The rider must think positively.
German trainer Conrad Schumacher often told his dressage students, “You must have the WILL.” He was usually referring to a line of tempi changes, and he often asked his rider to verbally call out “I WILL” when riding each change. The rider must know what she wants and have a very clear plan for achieving it. Horses train people to think clearly and positively.
For example, to jump a vertical fence or to ride a lengthened stride on the diagonal, the rider might go through these steps:
• Half-halt before the turn and balance through it.
• Half-halt again after the turn to straighten.
• Establish the length of stride you want and ride the line.
• Half-halt to rebalance after the lengthening or the fence.
What saved us in 2020? We had books to publish. The ever-present routine that is our (often overwhelming) publication schedule actually kept us sane: In March, while some titles idled at printers when the world shut down, we were deep in editorial for books that would (hopefully) come out later in the year, designing covers for those already in the proofreading stage, and brainstorming marketing plans for the titles we expected to arrive in our warehouse in the coming weeks. As the months opened and closed, each marked by challenging events and difficult news, we focused on the books in our care and the hope and excitement that each new one always brings.
Of course, the impact of the pandemic affected all stages of a book’s usual evolution. Authors’ lives were upended and so manuscripts were delivered late. Photo shoots had to be rescheduled. Printers were shut down and shipping delays became the norm. Events were canceled, book and tack shops were closed, and publicity and sales efforts moved almost entirely online. And so, the year has been a course in both “steady as she goes” and “think outside the box.”
As we turn the page on 2020 and head into our 36th year as equestrian book publishers, we want to take a look back at the titles we released in the past 12 months. In a year marked by turmoil, the publication of each of these reminded us that, no matter what, we could still count on books to keep us going.
Andrea Waldo reads her bestselling book, teaching you how to handle uncomfortable emotions, such as fear, anger, anxiety, and embarrassment; hone your mental game, focus your riding time to get the most out of your hours in the saddle; and care for your emotional injuries.
After coaching countless riders and horses around the world in the striding techniques that brought her success during her own impressive competitive career, Jen Marsden Hamilton has compiled her knowledge in a concise book of exercises and insightful strategies.
Dr. Stacie Boswell details proactive methods of handling common medical problems and health issues in horses in transition, from nutrition and dentistry to deworming and hoofcare to traumatic injury and emergency rescue scenarios.
Brain scientist and horsewoman Janet Jones describes human and equine brains working together. Using plain language, she explores the differences and similarities between equine and human ways of negotiating the world.
Yoga teacher and horsewoman Cathy Woods shows you how to achieve present moment awareness; find body, breath, and energy awareness; breathe through challenges; listen to your inner voice; slow down; and develop balance and symmetry in the saddle.
Olympian Anne Kursinski’s acclaimed book on riding horses over fences delivers on-target counsel and the kind of sophisticated, quality instruction you can only get in top barns around the world. Updated with over 300 full-color photos.
Master motivator Jane Savoie breaks down the six most common problem areas she sees when horses jump, then fills the rider’s toolbox with targeted exercises on the flat—simple solutions to the nagging problems that prevent riders and horses from doing their best over all kinds of obstacles.
When she was 23, carrying a puppy named Gypsy, Melissa Chapman climbed aboard a horse and rode away from everything, heading west. Part American road trip, part coming-of-age adventure, and part uncommon love story—a remarkable memoir that explores the evolution of the human-animal relationship, along with the raw beauty of a life lived outdoors.
Fergus the Horse, the creation of artist Jean Abernethy, has been entertaining audiences—young and old, in print and online—with his comedic adventures for the past 20 years. Abernethy celebrates his age—and the wisdom that should come with it—with an all-new selection of horsey humor, including many cartoons fans have never seen before.
Canine and equine physiotherapist Katja Bredlau-Morich, author of Kinesiology Taping for Horses, is a pioneer in bringing the method to the dog world. She believes that dogs can benefit hugely from taping techniques, and even better, dog owners and trainers can learn practical steps to using kinesiology tape themselves.
Dr. Ina Gösmeier is a veterinarian who supports her Western medical practice with knowledge gained through the study of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This handbook provides a basic introduction to the guiding principle of determining a horse’s TCM type before making decisions about handling, care, training, or treatment.
In the follow-up to her bestselling WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN, Beth Baumert explains how to optimize the use of the “thinking mind” in order to become a better learner in the saddle and provides techniques for maximizing mental and emotional harmony with the horse.
We are so grateful for all our authors, and for the readers and viewers whose support is essential to our company’s survival. Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful New Year.
The TSB Staff
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.
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.
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.
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.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In her brand new book WHAT HORSES REALLY WANT, horsewoman Lynn Acton explores a number of skills we all would like to bring to the barn, for example:
The ability to earn a horse’s trust starting from the moment you meet him.
Knowledge of how to discourage unwanted behavior without punishment.
Experience turning pressure into a clear means of communication instead of a source of stress.
Brandy is the covergirl on Lynn’s book.
One of the topics Lynn discusses centers around the book’s covergirl: Brandy, a rescue destined to become part of Lynn’s herd. Brandy had been found wandering loose in upstate New York and was so feral it had taken months to lure her into a pasture so she could be herded into a trailer for transport to a rescue farm.
“I have always been good at catching horses,” says Lynn. “I have been doing it the same way for so long I don’t remember when or how I learned, but it works.”
You might be tempted to skip this if your horse is easy to catch, but consider this: good horsemanship includes preparing for the unexpected, such as a gate left open, a rider down, or a loose horse frantic in a situation where he is in the most danger. Our impulse is to rush toward him in a desperate attempt to grab reins or halter, the action most certain to scare him off. Horses who are frightened or excited for any reason need a delicate approach.
The day we met Brandy, her increasingly desperate charge around the arena clearly showed fear. I did what I have always done with horses who do not want to be caught. I invited her to “catch” me instead. This approach is the best starting place even with horses who appear stubborn because such “bad behavior” often masks anxiety.
I strolled toward the center of the ring with a casual slouch, head down, unthreatening. When Brandy looked at me, I backed away, thus rewarding her for looking at me. When she stopped looking at me, I got her attention by moseying obliquely into her line of sight, weaving little serpentines. When she looked at me again, I stopped. When she began to slow down, I stepped back.
When Brandy looked like she was thinking about stepping toward me, I took another step backward. After a few more laps, she actually did step toward me. I took a bigger step back.
It is an intricate dance, each step meant to reassure the horse that I will not chase, harass, or scare her. The more skittish the horse, the slower my approach. Each time she looks at me or moves my way, I reward her by stopping or backing up. If she moves away, I resume moving, careful to keep my angle of approach in front of her, to avoid chasing her.
When Brandy walked toward me, I backed up slowly, letting her catch up to me. Then I stood still, hands down, just talking quietly to her for a moment. Since reaching toward a horse from the front is more threatening, I executed a slow about face so I was standing next to her, facing the same way. Slowly I reached up and scratched her shoulder. It had taken her about 10 minutes to catch me.
At this point, if I wanted to halter the horse, I would slowly reach the lead line under her neck with my left hand, reaching over the crest to grasp the line with my right. This is less threatening than placing a rope over the neck. Having already faced the same direction as the horse, I am in position to slowly slip the halter on. If she is already wearing a halter, I work my hand up to it. Every move is gentle, in slow motion. I breathe deeply.
Instead of haltering Brandy the first time she caught me, I just visited with her for a few quiet minutes, then walked back to the gate. Brandy followed me. She parked herself within arm’s reach of me, and stayed there calmly until I left. While I was not surprised that I had persuaded Brandy to catch me, I was surprised when she followed me and stayed with me. This told me that she wanted to trust.