Friday, April 27, 2012

Jane Savoie: Part 2

The second discussion was meant as a supplementation of Part 1, to answer a lot of queries Savoie had been unable to address in Part 1.

The +1/-1 poll suppling exercise (+#/-# referring to the degree of bend in the horse's poll and neck) is a 'valium' exercise that helps relax the horse (loosen/supple the body + the mind/body connection = relaxes the mind). The horse should lengthen and stretch down.

With a 'block'/stiffness - check your position first and foremost, then check your aids, that they are consistent and correct.
- With an increase in speed a block/stiffness may return therefore re-supple at that speed
- With increased collection a block/stiffness may return
1 - check suppleness in the poll
2 - do collection exercises (ie, shoulder-in) or transitions skipping a gait (ie, walk-canter-walk)
3 - re-check suppleness in the poll

Check out schlesse - 9 tips of saddle fit

When you take up contact, open your elbows like a hinge, lower your hands over the horse's withers - have elastic elbows.

How many times might you have to apply connecting aids?
- layer your connecting aids like coats of paint to maintain connection (maintenance)
- apply very light aids ie, maybe every 5 strides
- anticipate when the horse might leave the connection and remind - maintenance - as opposed to letting him make the mistake and correcting. Instead, layer connecting aids one on top of the other.

Horses with high head carriage (etc):
If he can eat grass, he can go long & low
1 - precede connecting aids with suppling (ie, +7 or +1 exercises)
2 - maintain elastic elbows - don't lock your elbows while giving the connecting aids

A rider's banging legs are usually a symptom of tight hips not absorbing the motion of the horse - the motion of the horse comes out via banging legs, a bobbing head/hands, bobbing ankles, etc. Instead, have a ready leg - always have contact with the horse's barrel, legs draped like a wet towel but never squeezing constantly.

Do not generally do much work on contact with a young horse - especially at the walk, the easiest gait to ruin.

Teaching a horse to be on the bit - exercise #1:
Gives the horse and rider the idea of roundness based on a breakdown of the components of the connecting aids (1 - driving aids, 2 - bending aids, 3 - rein of opposition). This exercise is not for the baby horse not yet on contact.
1 - walk on a 20m circle (eventually this may be progressed to trot/canter and by decreasing circle size ie, to 12m)
2 - pick a point on the circle where you lightly close both legs and think about accelerating onto a smaller circle inside that circle
3 - at the tangent point where you leave the 20m circle, press with both legs and turn onto a 6m circle
4 - blend back onto the 20m circle
How the exercise works -
The acceleration is the driving aid (add hind leg), by virtue of the small circle you get the bending aid (inside rein), and by virtue of the circle being small you get the rein of opposition (outside rein defines circle size).
Therefore close both legs as you turn onto the 6m circle, close your outer hand in a fist, and squeeze and release with the inside rein... soften as you blend back onto the 20m circle. These all constitute your connecting aids!
Teaching a horse to be on the bit - exercise #2:
For the horse confused by legs v. hand.
1 - Ask for lengthening +++ with legs
2 - Ask for lengthening and add outside hand - use the lengthening to push the horse through the closed hand - keep lengthening +++
the key - watch the outside of the horse's neck for even a 1/2'' of lengthening of the neck or even
a 1/2'' lowering of the neck. That is our signal your horse has stepped through your closed
outside hand = release and reward (keep your inside hand flexing the horse).
1 - exercise #1 - little circle with big circle
2 - exercise #2 - lengthening, lengthening through the outside hand
3 - finished product - connecting aids

As it pertains to a horse in L&L - there is 'good dirt-sucking'... and there is 'bad dirt sucking':
Bad - long low neck with hinds trailing out the back door
Good - the hinds are driving under the horse and the horse is L&L upfront
The horse has no option but to fall on the forehand if you have not closed your legs and ridden the hind legs underneath when going from L&L to a short frame.

Savoie's trigger words:
1 - Referring to the back end -
Surge from behind (you should almost get whiplash) - rear-wheel-drive. Every set of connecting aids has the feeling of 'medium' gait.
2 - Pertaining to the front end -
When the hind leg is driven forward it meets my closed outside hand (closed in a fist)
Send the hind legs forward and when the horse arrives at my hand I close it in a fist

The rider's hands can be light on the rein but their fingers must be (softly) closed else (1) you'll lose rein and (2) your wrist will be stiff.
- your reins will always get longer after lengthening/extension/2nd gear because the horse's neck lengthens with more forward
- curl your fingers softly around the rein

If the rider's heel is jammed down too low (ie, it should be only slightly lower than the toe to engage the calf), the ankle will be too stiff and cannot act as a shock absorber.

For the horse who is spooky:
1 - supple the horse (ie, +1/+7 suppling exercises, where the habit of relaxation has already been established)
2 - do the +1/+7 exercises far from the spooky object, then not quite parallel to the spooky object bend the horse's neck to +10 so the horse cannot see the spooky object (neck bent to inside). Once adjacent to the spooky object, soften the inside rein (prevents claustrophobia). Do this gradually.
3 - Gradually get closer to the object and increase gait

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jane Savoie: Part 1

Recently - a few months ago - I listened to 2 1-hour talks featuring Jane Savoie. I took a lot of notes and wanted to share those notes (my own add-ins in purple) here for others so voila Part 1 today and next Friday, Part 2.

The topic of Part 1 is - 4 Mistakes Riders Make

#1 Resistance

When a horse resists one mistake a rider will often make is to back off, which rewards the behaviour, or the rider will get aggressive and bully the horse, which creates an unhappy horse.
In training, resistance is inevitable when we ask the horse to move out of its comfort zone - do not be afraid.
Keeping in mind the mantra "when the horse says no you either asked the question wrong or asked the wrong question", when you experience resistance as a rider:
1 - check yourself (your aids, position, etc)
2 - break the exercise down into baby steps
ie, leg yields - initially ask for the yield off the wall, teach all the components of the leg yield
(release to pressure, sidepass...), etc

#2 Quality
Exercises, maneuvers, etc are not an end unto themselves - focus on the big picture (what those maneuvers produce) and on quality
Suppleness - the ability of the horse to smoothly change balance front to back (ie, lengthenings) and side to side (ie, serpentine).
The primary goal is to create an athletic horse and to 'give back' to the horse's movement under the weight of a rider.

#3a Forward - Responsibility
It is your horse's job to maintain gait and the activity.
Take your legs away then correct if your horse slows - do not micro-manage or nag!

#3b Reactiveness to Aids
Give feather-light aids - do not adjust the aid to suit the horse. A horse can feel a fly land on its skin. I don't care what breed of horse you have or what temperament he is or even how small your legs are. He feels your aids.
Correct if you get a sluggish or nil response.
Do a retest after the correction (crucial!) - the response/reactivity must be black and white ie, 100 percent forward (not 99.9 percent).

#4 Connection - it's simple
You will experience trouble when you have not taught the horse the AID to put him on the bit.
Follow the training scale - the horse must be supple through the body and at the poll to connect.
The connecting aids - control the surge from behind (ie, lengthening)
1 - apply your calves (lengthening) - you should feel the surge
2 - catch that energy by closing your outside rein in a fist
The connecting aids should last only 3 seconds -
3 - soft squeezes on the inside rein to keep the neck straight - squeeze and release (like a
sponge or a baby bird in your hand)

There was quite an extensive Q&A session afterward so I will share that also:

Q: Horse bearing down on the bit?
A: A horse bearing down on the bit is being lazy and is not exhibiting self-carriage.
1 - get him quicker behind with quick transitions (this strengthens his engine, his hind)
2 - ease tension in the reins so he learns to carry himself (at first say 2 strides is okay

Q: What is the rubber band exercise?
A: The rubber band exercise is one Savoie uses whereby the horse goes forward and back - do this on a circle at first.
ie, close your legs - 6 strides of forward trot (driven off your leg aids)
tighten your abs - 6 strides of med trot (from your seat)
rinse, lather, repeat
This exercise is essentially transitioning within a gait - ie, the trot - to develop the horse's engine and to develop self-carriage. It develops longitudinal suppleness.

Q: Elastic elbows
A: Part of having an inviting, elastic contact - have elbows that allow for movement (ie, an elastic elbow)... THEN the horse may connect.
How to have open elbows - when posting at the trot, imagine pushing the horse's mane down, or pushing clothes down a washboard.
ie, with the western horse on a looped rein, the same degree of loop is kept the same

Q: Draw reins
A: Draw reins are a quick fix - they are a substitute for good riding. Riders use gadgets when they run out of tools. In draw reins the horse will break at the 3rd and 4th vertebrae as the horse learns to 'save' himself. As a result, he rolls under the bit. The solution to a horse rolling under the bit (evading contact, breaking at the 3rd and 4th, being BTV) is to put the bit in front of the horse. You can do this by lifting the hands up and forward to the same degree, maintaining contact (ie, lift your hands 2'' up and 2'' forward). The horse can therefore step up into the bridle rather than be rolled over the bit. Maintain contact with the horse's mouth during this exercise - think of it as 'lifting the bed sheets up then allowing them to float down' - lift your hands up and forward then allow them to 'float' down.

Q: Counter Canter
A: When riding the counter canter, pretend the opposite canter is correct/true canter and pretend the wall is not there. Riders often overbend the horse's neck to the inside in CC: the opposite shoulder then pops out and the horse is crooked and on the forehand. Think about riding CC while in counter flexion - flex at the poll away from the lead the horse is on. This slides the shoulders over so the shoulders are between the reins. Then ask for true flexion (toward the lead the horse is on) and expect the shoulders to remain straight and between the reins.

Q: Flying Changes
A: Prerequisites:
1 - balanced counter canter
2 - collection - at 2nd level (SI, HI, simple changes), where you have modest collection, about
50/50 weight balanced on the forehand vs. the hind
3 - clean, clear simple changes - walk-canter-walk (no dribbly walk steps in between)
Then you can think about flying changes

At training level about 60/40 weight is balanced on the forehand v. hind
At 1st it is about 55/45
At 2nd it is about 50/50

Q: Canter aids - depart
A: Inside rein - 'turn of key' (thumb up and forward) motion at wrist for poll flexion to the inside
Outside rein - closes in a fist - 2nd level dressage
Inside leg - pushes at the girth for forward
Outside leg - behind the girth to drive outside hind
Weight slightly on inside seatbone - push that hip toward the horse's ear

Q: Basic aid to slow
A: Brief squeeze and release on outside rein. If the horse ignores your cue, exaggerate the correction ie, bring the horse to a halt, then pick up the w/t/c again and retest - accept only 100 percent.

Q: Suppling the poll
A: A dead giveaway of tension in the poll is the horse tilting its head, which indicates a 'lock' in the poll - the horse's ears need to be level.
To supple the poll:
1 - 'turn the key' (twist your wrist so your thumb is on top and forward), support with the
opposite rein
so the horse is not bending through the neck and is instead flexed at the poll
2 - test - see if the horse holds the flexion when you put some loop in the rein
This is +1 only - the horse should barely turn his head at the poll and the crest should flip. Go back and forth with flexions right-left-right-left-right-left
(Check previous blogs on suppleness exercises and YouTube Jane Savoie poll flexion for more)
When the horse's body does not track straight in this exercise, suppling is not going through his body 100 percent - the use of the rein is ricocheting through his body negatively. Correct with leg.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Understanding the horse emotionally

As of this weekend my schedule will change and I will be restricted to writing at the most once a week - I will try to keep up with once a week though (Fridays).

I have been reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and am feeling enlightened at just about every turn of the page. Something specific jumped out at me though as it pertains to interacting with prey animals and specifically horses the way another prey animal or horse would. A common criticism of Parelli Natural Horsemanship that I hear is that horses do not think we are horses so it is not necessary (and is even silly, ineffective, and dangerous) to interact with them in such a manner. Well of course they do not regard us as horses - they judge what we are and our behaviour based on our smell, the body language we exhibit, and many other signals and factors (many of which we often are not even aware of or do not consider). However this does not negate the importance of speaking to the horse in a manner it genetically understands. The following is an excerpt from the book (bolded parts mine):

Working with the Animal's Nature: Farm Animals
(p. 169)

A human owner has the responsibility to understand and respect his pet's nature. Dogs and cats are predator animals. Dogs are hyper-social animals who live in dominance hierarchies. If you interfere with the hierarchy you can get the low-ranking do or dogs killed by their own pack mates. You have to work with an animal's emotional makeup, not against it.
Domestic animals such as pigs, cattle, and horses are less controlled by purely social stimuli than dogs, so with these animals it's especially important to exert dominance the way another animal would do it. I learned this lesson when I was raising piglets as part of my Ph.D. work in animal behaviour. My piglets lived in a Disneyland of straw with lots of different objects to root and tear up. I would sit with my piglets for hours and watch their behaviour.
The one I named Mellow Pig would instantly roll over when her belly was scratched and would actively solicit people to rub her belly. But the largest pig in the pen did not like being petted at all, and she was the dominant boss hog. She thought she owned the place. Her coloration was what an Illinois farmer calls blue butt; she had white forequarters and a grayish blue-gray rear. I named her Big Gilt.
When Big Gilt reached a hundred pounds, she started biting me whenever I entered the pen. The other pigs sought petting and stroking but Big Gilt disdained it. She just wanted to be boss. The bigger she got the worse the biting got and I had to stop it.
I tried waving my arms at her and shouting, but it didn't help. In desperation once I even tried slapping her big blue butt. That did no good, either. Finally I figured out that I had to act like a pig. I needed to assert my superior dominance by biting and pushing against the side of her neck the same way another, bigger pig would.
So, to simulate another pig biting and shoving against Big Gilt's neck I used a short piece of one-by-four-inch board, about eighteen inches long, to poke and shove her against the fence. That's what the winner pig does: the winner pushes the loser away, or up against a wall. I shoved the end of the board repeatedly against her thick neck and made it very clear that I was stronger, which I was. A full-grown human can still push around a hundred-pound hog. I didn't hurt her, but I did dominate her.
It worked like magic. Big Gilt stopped biting me and I was now Boss Hog. Using the hardwired instinctual behaviour pattern was much more effective than slapping her. The only problem with this method is that it has to be done when the animal is young enough so you can still easily push the pig away. Again, I want to emphasize that I did not beat her up. She was overpowered by a stronger being who applied pressure to the right spot. Pushing the board against her neck turned on a hardwired instinctual submissive behaviour.
After that Big Gilt was now polite when I entered the pen and she never bit me again, but she still did not like petting. One day while I was stroking Mellow Pig on the belly I started to rub Big Gilt on the belly, too. Since I was not the boss she didn't run away, but she clearly didn't like it. The strangest thing happened. Hardwired instinct collided with clear conscious will. Rubbing her belly triggered the instinctual rolling over behaviour, but only the rear end of Big Gilt rolled over. Her front end remained standing when her hind end collapsed. The whole time I was stroking her a horrid growling sound came out of her throat. I had turned on the pleasure response to a belly rub, but the other end of Big Gilt did not want to give in. She did not dare bit me and she did not try to run away, but she surely did not like it.

This may be applied to horses in that it is most effective - almost crucial - to work with the horse in such a way that he understands, in his language so to speak. In a manner that reflects his emotional genetic makeup. When you watch horses in the herd, they exert dominance by moving the submissive horse's feet. They also use increasing pressure, escalating phases of pressure or "ask". This is why techniques that play into this makeup - roundpenning, driving a horse's front and hind ends, directing a horse's feet - are effective. When you consistently establish yourself as the dominant leader, you invite respect and a horse who will follow your leadership without question. Otherwise, the horse will exert dominance over you - someone has to be leader. This should not involve force - it is easy to move a horse's feet using body language. This body language can be clarified to the horse via extensions such as whips or what that extend a person's arm and make their intentions clear. If a person starts with very light, minor phases and escalates to increasing phases of pressure, the horse is permitted to be light, soft, and responsive, but the person is effective as is necessary to solicit a response. Same as in a herd. When laid back ears and a swishing tail are ignored, someone is being chased and possibly bit or kicked. Rhythm to one's pressure is also very important too as rhythm is soothing to the prey animal.

Slapping a horse for "misbehaving" or using positive reinforcement (ie, clicker training) only as primary techniques are not nearly as effective and often ignore the horse's genetic makeup. In my experience, methods that include a variety of types of reinforcement (such as PNH does) and that very thoroughly and directly address the horse's natural tendencies and makeup is much more effective in training. Furthermore, such creates a healthy, balanced and happy horse who understands its role and what is expected of him. Negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, counter-conditioning, etc all have their benefits when combined to address the horse's root nature. If you use techniques that are based primarily on pushing the horse when he is "bad" and rewarding when he is "good" (both arbitrary terms) and that neglect the horse's natural instincts, perhaps it is time to consider other methods that might be more effective when applied correctly. One cannot find true success in ignoring an animal's nature; just as different people communicate best in different manners, so do animals and even horses (which is where it is also very beneficial and even important to understand a horse's 'horsenality').

Monday, April 2, 2012

The importance of rest breaks

All too often in my opinion as riders we get so task-oriented that we can forget something so simple as including sufficient periods of relaxation in our work with our horses. Such can be crucial however - a good rest break will allow working muscles a chance to relax and breathe, your horse to catch his breathe, adrenaline to subside, and for a horse to realize it is tired (and to think). If your routine is go-go-go adrenaline continues to course through your horse's body and he does not have the chance to really relax and think as he possibly could with a well-placed rest break. Rest breaks are important to include in your schooling routine - in addition to the aforementioned benefits rest breaks can constitute a reward for your horse, and thus motivation and incentive to try and work harder for you. This is especially effective in the horse often labelled 'lazy'. The following article is one I wanted to share:

Let Your Nervous Horse Realize It’s Tired

Calming a Nervous Horse

By: Anna Jane White-Mullin

If a horse is excitable when it comes out to work, riders tend to work the animal for long periods of time in an effort to wear it out to achieve compliance. The initial excitability of the animal causes an adrenaline rush, just as though the horse were fearing for its life and needed adrenaline to enable it to run fast for a long period of time to escape a predator. If the rider (or even someone longeing a horse) doesn’t give the animal frequent breaks, the horse’s emotional state remains frenzied, which keeps the adrenaline flowing.

If a horse is very nervous at the start of work, it’s fine to give it short spurts of canter with the rider’s seat off the saddle in two-point position — no more than three times around the arena — followed by a break of about five minutes so that the horse’s level of both adrenaline and oxygen can decline in intensity. As you know, adrenaline and oxygen can cause humans to accomplish what seem to be super-human feats of physicality, and the same is true of an animal; so it is important to get the horse back to a more normal physical and emotional state before you start to work again, or else you’ll find yourself fighting a battle you cannot possibly win.

The oxygen and adrenaline levels are very important, but the horse’s mental state and its ability to realize it is tired are equally important. A walk on a long rein (or at least as long as you can have and still control the nervous horse) provides the animal an opportunity to relax; once it has relaxed a little, it will realize it is tired. Just as you come to a point in a hard day that you think, “I’m worn out,” and start finding ways to take it a little easier, the horse will do the same. Instead of looking for things to spook at, it will just mind its business and cooperate.

This principle is true in all training of the horse. You don’t want to exhaust the animal, for this can be dangerous if your horse doesn’t have what it needs physically and mentally to do what you’re asking of it — for example, jumping a course of fences. What you’re really looking for is a relaxed horse that is willingly submissive. You’ll get this when you offer frequent breaks in your work routine.

If you’re longeing the horse, change directions about every five minutes, and take plenty of time while you’re switching the equipment to the other side, so the horse has a little time to settle. Also, don’t longe more than 20 minutes. After this time, when you get on the horse, walk it for at least five minutes on a long rein and let it relax. If you have time, you can even take the horse back to the barn, cool it out, then tack it up later for your ride. You’ll be amazed at how much more successful your work session will be if you’ll give your horse time to calm down, relax, and feel that it is a little tired.

If you’ve taken the route of short periods of canter in two-point, go three times around the ring, take a five-minute break, then do the same thing one more time. If this doesn’t sufficiently calm the horse, you can do the same thing twice more; but again, concentrate as much on a lengthy break time as you do on the cantering, so that the horse can become more calm, relaxed and aware of the fact that its body is tired.

The people who constantly resort to lengthy gallops or an hour of longeing end up with a horse so fit that the initial problem of the horse being at a physical advantage is greatly increased. Also, overwork can cause lameness and other physical problems, so it’s not a wise thing to do. The next time your horse is keyed up, use short periods of work, interspersed with frequent breaks, to make the horse’s mind and body more manageable, rather than taking the lengthy and less-successful route of working your horse nearly to death or attempting to muscle it into submission.

Using circular patterns and exercises to calm a horse and channel his energy can be effective. This is because patterns and circling in particular are naturally calming to prey animals. Channeling a horse's energy via patterns is also effective because it engages his mind and with his mind engaged he becomes less reactive and calmer. A rider can balance this by interspersing schooling with well-timed rest breaks that have the effect mentioned in the article above. Horse won't slow? Pick at it. Ask for little bits of slow and relaxation at a time. Really engage the horse's mind and body, then allow him the opportunity to relax. Continuously present the opportunity and your horse will start to take it. The more he takes it, the more it becomes a habit.

One point the article made was to limit forward ie, lengthy gallops. In my experience it can be helpful to allow a horse to stretch out and 'get the kinks out' ie, release a little energy, but it is also very possible to do too much of this and only contribute to the horse's excited state of mind. I agree with the author's take to restrict canters to say three times around the ring. Longeing, in my opinion, can be limited to even less than 5min bouts and less than 20min sessions. The latter mostly because that much repetitive circling is stressful to a horse's body. In my experience when you allow an anxious, tense, nervous, excited horse to be forward too much, you allow him to build up more adrenaline and to increasingly amp himself up. This is also related to the horse's nature as a flight animal. In flight, a horse does not have to think - in fact he won't. This is the reason you might see or hear stories of deer frantically running down the road when they could simply swerve out of the path of your vehicle - they are not thinking. They are in pure flight mode and flight mode does not allow for thought or rationalization. So it is important to not allow the horse who is excited and moving its feet as a result to continue moving its feet and to engage in full flight mode (visually, the horse will pick up speed and start to increasingly tune out your cues). The increased oxygen and adrenaline coursing through his body will only feed into a cycle whereby the horse becomes increasingly forward and excited, releasing and circulating more oxygen and adrenaline, causing him to become more forward, and so on and so forth. Instead, allow a little forward, then ask your horse to relax. This might mean allowing him to stand or simply walking him out or transitioning down to a gait in which he is more relaxed. If you see or feel your horse becoming increasingly excited and increasingly forward, transition down before he really gets rolling. Then when he is ready, ask him for forward again, and transition down again as he really amps up - or better yet, before. Do short bouts of forward so you can finish with relaxation (at least a little). Remember that if you can finish with relaxation you can develop that relaxation to the point where it is to a greater degree and to the point where eventually you are also starting with relaxation.

Above all, do not resort to wearing your horse out physically, whether on the longe or under-saddle. Doing so will only create a fitter horse and will not directly address relaxation. Remember to include an abundance of rest breaks in your routine with your horse - doing so can have a number of positive benefits and can greatly impact your session with your horse.