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FoodforThought-horseandriderbooks

Sugar cubes. Peppermints. Carrots. Carefully sliced pieces of apple. “Cookies.” Admit it: We all have one. A favorite treat.

When your horse comes trotting up in the pasture, it feels good, right? When he turns and looks over his shoulder after a square halt, your heart melts a little. When he walks, trots, and stays right at your side in the round pen or arena, all sans halter and lead rope, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Was it just the “cookies” that made him do it?

Do you know?

In their book EQUUS LOST? ethologists Francesco De Giorgio and José De Giorgio-Schoorl argue that science says using treats to train a horse—or any animal—is a bad idea, and we should all take our hands out of the goody bag. Here’s what they say:

In today’s social media, there are countless examples of situations where food rewards are used in interaction with all kinds of animals. Dolphins, dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, zebras, tigers, and many others undergo this kind of conditioning. It might look innocent, but it has a direct impact on their limbic system (comprised of brain structures that are involved in emotions).

FoodinHorseTraining-horseandriderbooksWe can understand the severity of this impact by looking, for example, at the importance of the senses for horses, for their well-being in general and, more specifically, in their interaction with humans. If we want to improve our understanding of horses and our interaction with them, we need to be aware of how they create their own experience and leave the horse the freedom to do so.

It’s in the Nose

Horses use their olfactory system to process information coming from odors. They explore and smell in order to be connected with their environment and improve their understanding of it. For this reason, when working with horses, we must learn to be aware of how the horse uses his senses, trying to notice and understand when the horse is interested or focusing on something with his senses. It could be anything! Something on the ground, a fence, something in the air….

Some horses (like many humans!) are no longer used to using their sense of smell to improve their understanding of a situation, and as a result, miss important information that could otherwise be reassuring. This “not smelling” is due to constantly overlooking their needs in their interaction with man. When they want to stop to smell along a path, we ask them to continue walking; when they want to take in the smells of an unknown arena, we ask them to start “working,” for example.

This problem is accentuated further if horses get used to food premium rewards. By being trained to focus on food, their response is stimulated in the limbic system, and the possibility of remaining calm and explorative is almost entirely taken away. They create a strong association between anything interesting to explore and the possibility of food. Of course, the olfactory system is still working, but from a reactive inner state, with the expectation of finding food, instead of simply processing information from an object. A horse that is smelling with food expectations is easily recognizable: his nostrils pass quickly and mechanically without taking in his surroundings, his breath is superficial, and his nose immediately touches a human’s arm or object without first pausing to elaborate the information from a distance or, after slow intense breathing, stopping at a whisker’s distance, taking in all that the moment is telling his perception, to take time to build his own map of the situation. We are not used to paying attention to these kinds of details. We might never know what information the horse is getting, but we can learn to recognize his attention and signs of his elaboration.

Food premiums also have an immediate impact on daily activities. For example, when horses in shared pastures start perceiving man as mere food dispensers, the human presence will immediately trigger food expectations and, consequently, tension in the entire group. This is something we need to take responsibility for instead of trying to correct the behavioral consequences (horses become insistent or even irritated when looking for food), which we caused by using food premiums in the first place.

Can’t Buy Me Love

We often feel the urge to reward because we forget how to live in the moment. The reward becomes a substitute for actually sharing an experience born from an intrinsic interest. Yet, it is from that interest that an authentic relationship can be developed.

Living a calm, interesting life doesn’t need a premium. Life itself should give satisfaction. We live often totally unconnected with ourselves, trying frantically to find contact with the horse, using all kinds of techniques. By offering a premium, we don’t give the horse the possibility to relate to us, congruent and in line with himself.

Equus LostWe need to be aware of the fact that when we give food rewards to horses, we create such a strong magnet that we reduce their ability for free expression. Positive reinforcement is a form of operant conditioning that falls within the behaviorist framework. Today, it is high time for such an approach to human interaction with animals to be thoroughly questioned. Behaviorism completely disregards animals’ mental elaboration, emotions, and internal state.

Want to know more? EQUUS LOST? by Francesco De Giorgio & José De Giorgio-Schoorl is 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 a farm in rural Vermont. 

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In WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS author Beth Baumert explains the four physical “Powerlines”—Vertical, Connecting, Spiraling, and Visual—that she says enable us to become balanced and effective in the saddle. The Visual Powerline influences the horse’s balance, as well as his line of travel.

The trajectory of the rider’s eyes is a Visual Powerline that goes out from your body—that is, outside the physical system. It connects you and your horse to the outside world. Your body spirals onto your line of travel, and your eyes focus on a point—a dressage letter, tree, fencepost, or a jump—and use it as a frame of reference so the horse can be directed on a planned course.

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The rider who is constantly looking at her horse’s neck has a problem similar to the one who clutches the saddle with her legs. She will always be in her horse’s balance; she uses her horse’s balance as a frame of reference because she never looks outside it. The rider who stares at her horse’s neck is committed to being “on the forehand” and can’t influence her horse otherwise. Some riders have nervous eyes; they furtively glance here and there. The horse might experience this behavior in the same way a rider experiences a horse that is always looking this way and that. Maybe it’s distracting; it surely can’t help.

The trajectory of the rider’s eyes has amazing influence over the horse’s balance. It can help put horse and rider in a downhill, horizontal, or uphill balance. The angle of the floor of your seat in relation to the ground and your torso’s position is determined by the horse’s balance, but it is influenced by the trajectory of your eyes. When the trajectory is in a downhill balance, your seat is not only inclined to be downhill, but it actually can’t follow the horse’s back.

When the trajectory of the eyes is horizontal, the floor of your seat offers the possibility of a horizontal frame for the “downhill” horse. It influences the horse’s spine to travel in a horizontal path, thus improving his natural balance. The horse’s horizontal frame puts the floor of the rider’s seat in a horizontal position. When the rider is in self-carriage with the trajectory of her eyes on a horizontal line, she can influence the horse to come into an uphill posture.

If you have problems with the trajectory of your eyes, imagine “half-halting” with your head. This encourages you to inhale and shift your head up, which improves your horse’s balance both longitudinally and laterally. It puts the trajectory of your eyes on the line that encourages your horse to become better balanced. Your seat can’t work when your head isn’t balanced over the place where the two spines meet.

Try this exercise:

Step 1  Hold on to just the buckle of your reins with one or both hands, and keep your hands over the pommel of your saddle.

Step 2  Use your eyes to chart your course. Be aware of how your eyes relate to the rest of your body. Your head will want to lead and misalign your body, but don’t let it. Be sure your hands, shoulders, knees, and toes also point the way.

Step 3  Track left and spiral onto a diagonal line of travel. Weight your left seat bone slightly and turn with your outside (right) aids. Be aware of how your weight works. You might need to use more outside leg than you expected.

Step 4  As you finish your diagonal line, spiral right to turn right. Weight your right seat bone slightly and turn with your outside (left) aids. Be persistent about your horse following your body.

Step 5  When your horse is able to understand your body language, pick up the reins and begin your warm-up. You’ll find that your horse is more in tune with your body language, and you only need very subtle rein aids.

 

Learn about the other three Powerlines in Baumert’s bestselling book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, 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 located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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MusofLocFB

The major muscles of locomotion in the horse.

A basic understanding of how the horse’s muscles create movement is essential to riders and trainers as they seek answers to training issues, and it also allows them to play an active part in keeping the horse pain-free and performing well by including bodywork in their regular care regimen.

In THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED WITH THE MASTERSON METHOD Jim Masterson and Coralie Hughes teamed up with Grand Prix dressage rider Betsy Steiner and creator of the Anatomy in Motion VISIBLE HORSE and VISIBLE RIDER Susan Harris to provide a practical level of baseline biomechanics knowledge to support solutions to dressage training problems. Susan Harris painted the primary muscles involved in the work of the dressage horse on an equine accomplice, and hundreds of photographs capture their activity as the horse was then ridden through various movements.

“Muscles can’t push, they can only ‘pull’ (contract) or ‘not pull’ (relax),” says dressage rider and Masterson Method practitioner Coralie Hughes in the book. “Relaxation is as important as contraction—or strength—in the muscle….Tension that inhibits the muscle from being able to fully relax or contract reduces range of motion of the joint with the resultant impact on performance. Furthermore, a muscle that is tight is putting unnatural tension on its tendon, which can actually torque the skeleton. Prolonged unnatural tension can potentially cause tendon and joint damage in the feet and legs.”

For more on the specific biomechanics of the dressage horse, as well as dozens of Masterson Method techniques to relieve tension in the muscles, ease discomfort, and improve the horse’s performance overall, check out THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION

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Jim Masterson indicating the scapula and the withers on a horse painted by Susan Harris, the creator of Anatomy in Motion.

Jim Masterson indicating the scapula and the withers on a horse painted by Susan Harris, the creator of Anatomy in Motion.

 

Have you heard about the Masterson Method yet? This innovative form of bodywork for horses was created by equine massage-bodywork therapist Jim Masterson. In many cases, all it takes is the tiniest of movements on your part to illicit a significant release of tension, stress, and pain in your horse.

Here’s an example: The Withers Wiggle may sound like the newest equine dance craze, but really it’s a gentle Masterson Method Technique that targets largely inaccessible muscles surrounding the thoracic vertebrae beneath the scapula. Release of tension there improves the horse’s suspension, extension, and fluidity of movement in the front end, and comfort and mobility in and behind the withers themselves.

The withers are the ends of the vertical vertebral processes that project up from the fourth through the eighth thoracic vertebrae. Your horse will tell you if there is tension to be released here by his subtle (or not so subtle) responses to this technique.

 

THE WITHERS WIGGLE

Place your fingers on the first knob of the withers.

Place your fingers on the first knob of the withers.

 

1  Place your fingers on the first knob of the withers.

Gently wiggle your fingers from side to side, using almost no pressure at all, searching for a subtle response such as the lips twitching, sighing, or a blink of the eye.

3  If you get a blink, pause, wiggle again, and pause. As long as you are getting responses, continue this a few more times on that spot.

4  Move on to the next knob of the withers and wiggle-wiggle (you won’t actually feel movement and you aren’t pushing or pulling), pause and move on to the next knob of the withers. With your thumb and first finger on either side of the withers, simply “wiggle-wiggle-wiggle” slowly and gently, using your wrist and fingers, not the muscles of your arm.

5  You only have to do the Withers Wiggle from one side of the horse. Continue on down the withers, following the horse’s responses as you go. Bigger releases will be accompanied by bigger release responses, such as shaking, snorting, and repeated yawning.

This Withers Wiggle thing feels good!

This Withers Wiggle thing feels good!

 

Yes, that really is all there is to it! The Withers Wiggle is almost more of an intention than a movement.

 

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For more great techniques that will make your horse feel good while improving his performance, check out THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED WITH THE MASTERSON METHOD, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE

 

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CoGCoE

The horse’s center of gravity is indicated by the clear circle. His center of energy and control is shown by the black circle.

As we ride, we hear a lot about getting our horses “off their forehands” or “off their shoulders”—and most of us engage in any number of schooling figures and half-halts with just this goal in mind. But without an inner sense of what it is we are doing for our horses when we shift the balance, playing with that center of gravity and center of energy and control, it’s all just circles and walk-halt-walk transitions. Here’s a quick and easy exercise from Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, to really hit the message home.

The horse’s center of gravity is the balance point of his body, and it is located in the girth area. His center of control and energy, however, is below his spine at the back of his loin, just below the lumbosacral joint. Similarly, our center of control and energy is in our lower back, just in front of our lumbosacral joint. Because we stand vertically, in contrast to the horizontal horse, our center of gravity is not near our shoulder blades but rather is in the same area as our center of control and energy. As a result, when we put our center of gravity over our feet for balance, we also find our center of control and energy in the same spot.

The location of the center of gravity in both rider and horse changes at times. When you are startled or frightened your center of gravity rises above its desired depth, as it does in times of tension, or apprehension. In either case it makes you less grounded. The center of gravity of a startled or actively engaged horse moves slightly back as he tips his pelvis down to bring his hind feet more nearly under his center of gravity.

You can get a sense of center of gravity vs. center of energy and control from the horse’s viewpoint with this short exercise:

1  Get down on your hands and knees. Find a balance with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hip joints.

2  Gently engage your center, and allowing your hip joints to slightly close and open, rock back a tiny bit and then back again to balance. Notice how this pelvic rocking motion tends to fill your lower back across the loin. This puts you in a position for balanced, fluid, forward motion.

3  Notice that your shoulders are also part of the rocking motion and since they are not carrying a lot of weight, they are free for forward movement. Shift your balance forward, putting your weight on your shoulders and hands, and you will no longer be able to move forward; your hands will seem to be stuck to the ground. This is how your horse feels when he is too much on his forehand.

 

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For more riding insight from the legendary Sally Swift, check out CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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

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Image used by permission (thelwell.org.uk).

Image used by permission (thelwell.org.uk).

 

Norman Thelwell was right, of course—and I’d say his wisdom is best followed in these first few days after Mother’s Day!

Many of us have, in fact, been “keeping our own ponies clean” for many years, but as rote as basic grooming may seem by now, there are still little things we can learn to keep our horses that much shinier, healthier, and happier in the days ahead. The new book WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES by pro grooms Cat Hill and Emma Ford is chock full of the kinds of tricks of the trade it takes a lifetime of experience in the barn aisle to acquire. Here are five pro tips they recommend that you might not have tried yet:

 

1  Pick your horse’s feet out while he is still in his stall to help keep your barn aisle clean and tidy. Do it over a small bucket to prevent mud from falling into the bedding and creating dust.

2  Use a hot towel laid over your horse’s mane to help train his mane to lie flat. Smooth a little beeswax pomade over the mane daily to create a nice, smooth mane.

Don’t overgroom the tail. Keep it tangle-free with gentle daily attention from your fingers and/or comb, always starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. On bath days, use a gentle conditioning shampoo, and scrub the dock really well, getting your fingernails into it, to help remove the dead skin and gunk that can build up close to the roots. Never comb a wet tail!

4  While you groom the horse’s body, look for any scratches, bumps, or skin issues. Once he is clean and before you ride, treat any problems you found while grooming. Thermazene or SSD cream is an excellent strong, gentle antibiotic and antifungal that can be used on many minor skin problems. First clean the area with witch hazel on a clean cotton square, then, if necessary, apply the cream.

5  When trying to get a light-colored horse clean, or one with a lot of “chrome,” you may need several baths with whitening agents to get the desired glow. Make sure not to uses these more than two times a week, though, because they can irritate the horse’s skin. Alternate between a gentle shampoo and a whitening agent. Put a very small amount in water, then sponge directly onto “white bits” of the horse, scrub with your fingers, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. (Note: More is NOT better, in this case, so don’t be tempted to go longer!) Rinse, rinse some more, and rinse again until the water runs clear.

 

You can hear more from Cat and Emma, and learn why Horse Radio Network host Glenn the Geek thinks WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES is “The best book on grooming ever! Horse-Husband Approved!” by listening to last week’s Stable Scoop episode. Click the image below to check it out:

Click the image to listen to Cat Hill and Emma Ford on the Horse Radio Network!

Click the image to listen to Cat Hill and Emma Ford on the Horse Radio Network!

 

WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free excerpt or to order your copy.

 

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

 

 

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Is there a "wild thing" loose in your barn? Get these great tips for "taming manes" and more in WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES.

Is there a “wild thing” loose in your barn? Get these great tips for “taming manes” and more in WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES.

 

AH, SPRING! The warmth of the sun tickled just right by a crisp breeze…the grass growing braver by the day, emerging little by little…the birds chirping their hourly status report with pre-nesting gusto…and ALL THAT HAIR coming off your horse…and onto you…and into your mouth…and…

UGH. SPRING.

As much as we northern horse folk love what it heralds, spring’s not the prettiest time of year for horse OR rider. Between the acres of dirt we’ve let accumulate under “Simba’s” coat (for insulation) and the wilderness that once was a bridlepath, we have weeks ahead spent shedding blade in hand while avoiding all clothing made of fleece and its near relations (aka horsehair magnets).

When we grow most desperate, we just need to remember: the rewards are many when our horses finally reflect the hours of love, labor, and supplements we’ve been throwing their way…usually around June.

Just in time for spring cleanup, pro grooms Cat Hill and Emma Ford bring us WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES, a truly unparalleled guide to top equine turnout, with over 1200 professional color photographs by Jessica Dailey (www.jesslynn.photography). WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Here’s what Cat and Emma have to say about training unruly manes:

 

Whenever you groom your horse, the mane should be combed or brushed out to keep it free of tangles. After bathing, always comb down the wet mane to encourage it to stay on the same side. For the most part, a mane is “trained” to the right side of the horse; however, breeds with manes naturally to the left—Friesians, Andalusians, Lusitanos, Morgans, and Arabians, as well as any dressage horse—are allowed to leave the manes where they are.

 

“Training” the Mane

There are a couple of ways to train a mane to stay on the right side of the neck and to lie flat. In the long run you may never fix issues like manes that stand up or lie on two sides of the neck, but getting it to lie down correctly for a couple of days will allow you to pull, thin, or trim it evenly.

 

Banding

1 Wet the mane and comb smoothly on the right side of the neck.

2 Section off a 2- to 4-inch piece of mane and wrap a braiding band around it until it is snug.

3 Repeat this all the way down the neck.

 

Braiding Down

Depending on how “wild” the mane is, you might need to braid it down.

1 Wet the mane and comb it smoothly on the right side of the neck.

2 Section off a 2- to 4-inch piece of mane and start a loose braid.

3 Make sure you do not pull the side pieces in tightly since this can cause irritation, as well as damage the mane.

4 Braid only 3 or 4 “crosses,” then rubber band the end.

5 Leave these braids in for as long as the horse is comfortable; when he starts to rub his neck, they need to be taken out. Be aware that some horses will take offense and start to rub them out immediately, so always be on the lookout for this!

 

Check out this short video trailer about WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES:

 

 

To order your copy, CLICK HERE NOW.

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