Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Just this summer I remember watching a beautiful blood-bay Quarab mare be loaded up into a trailer bound for BC. Her owner, a "trainer," had recently been injured and so was sending the mare out to BC with another trainer until she was to move out there. I say trainer in italics because this woman's injury was incurred working with two of the horses where I boarded and both horses had actually regressed rather than progressed in any way. It was a sunny afternoon when they started to load this poor mare; I had just led one of the horses I was currently working with out of her paddock to enjoy a couple hours of grazing the overgrown grass in front of the arena. First try they attempted to simply walk her into this two-horse straight load step-up but the mare refused.
"She used to be great to load before, but she had an accident in the last trailer..." was her owner's excuse.
Well several shades of darkness later as the sun slid behind the mountains, this mare still wasn't loaded. I was still grazing my horse nearby, so the man attempting to load this mare asked for my assistance. By now they had thrown a stud chain on the mare and had attached a lunge line to the chain, looping it (the line) into and through the trailer for leverage.
"Just tap her on the hind with the whip," he asked me, handing me a longe whip.
As I approached this mare, I laid a hand on her. Despite the cool evening, she was absolutely drenched with sweat - my hand came away literally dripping. Her muscles were rock-hard tensed in preparation to spring, her head was high, her eyes were wide in fear. Her breath was coming out heavy and hard. I rested my hand on her for a moment and attempted to calm her down before taking up position out from her shoulder. As the man pulled, I used my body language to "drive" her forwards while gently tapping her hind, stopping whenever she tried or made the tiniest steps of progress.
"KEEP TAPPING HER!" he chastised me one of the times he noticed I'd stopped to reward her, "AND HIT HER HARDER!!" he cried, as she siddled over towards me.
Well I was all for using the whip as an extension of my arm to a) block side movement, and to b) encourage the mare to try moving forward, to provide her the right cue, but I certainly wasn't here to beat any horses. Do unto others as you'd have done unto you. This mare also had no idea what the "correct answer" was, and so by just persistently hitting her and not rewarding her through some sort of release when she tried, she was becoming increasingly confused, frustrated, and scared. Every time she did take a step forward, she was met with more pressure. He'd rope in any open slack and pull on her head further, to which she'd respond with claustrophobic panic and try desperately to back up via rearing and head-shaking.
It was only a moment or two before he grabbed the whip from my hand (obviously I was useless to him). I backed out and returned to my mare as he proceeded to hit her harder.
Standing next to this mare's owner, I pressed my lips. I wasn't happy with what I was seeing, but my experience has been that in this type of situation nothing can be done. These type of people refuse to open their minds to other methods and until they do, talking to them is like hitting your head on a brick wall. They already knew my position by my refusal to beat the mare. By now there was nothing I could do for the mare in the time span they were requesting either. If I had have taken over, it would have been awhile before I could get her calmed down enough to work with me. Futhermore, she obviously did not know me and so was not about to walk up into that trailer - particularly after such a traumatized association with said trailer - after me either. Any other aids I could have formerly used as an extension of my arm or such were now useless as this mare would be too frightened of any such aids (such as a carrot stick), thinking that I was about to beat her as this man had. Neither the owner nor the trainer were open at this point to someone else taking over and working with this mare - they were in a hurry after all!!

This is the type of situation I see on a constant basis and it both frustrates and angers me. I've found that the only way to possibly get through to these type of people is to show them, so while I have worked hard to improve my own savvy, or knowledge, and improve my partnerships with horses (so that my horses are happy), my (smaller) side goal has also been to demonstrate to others what is possible...because there are other ways!! Even when it is put directly in front of them, people often do not see, but I can only hope that if they see it enough times in enough situations, that perhaps one day they will open their mind. But back to the subject.
They finally did get that mare loaded (well after dark) by snubbing her up to the front of that trailer, beating her from behind, then slamming the door shut behind her.

So here's how the horse sees it:
#1 They see a predator - us.
#2 Said predator tries to lead the horse into a metal cave.
Horses are not particularly all that fond of caves. In fact, they spend most of their lives avoiding them. A cave means a horse is cornered, trapped on 5 sides. Close that door to the trailer and they're trapped on 6 sides! Oh goody, all wrapped and packaged for some predator to take advantage of! And guess who is going to lead him in? A predator! Yay!!

To us, trailering is logical and void of danger, it's only a harmless method of transporting our horse! But the horse is always focused on its self-preservation, and that definitely means avoiding steal caves.

Whether or not a horse loads or not is a culmination of the partnership between horse and human.

As I stood next to the mare's owner in the above anecdote, her owner commented to me (though I had said nothing), "well you didn't get your mare in the other day, did you?"

Long story short, I had just received this mare to work with two weeks prior, she was halterbroke but had been deemed "untrainable" by her last trainer. As I had not yet had any chance to work with her, I had been unable to load her at that time. As I had not wanted to push the issue with the mare (and coincidentally, later the circumstances that had originally caused me to have to load her evaporated), I let it be so that I may futher develop our partnership prior to our next loading session. There is no way in hell I am forcing a 1,200lb bundle of muscle to do anything when I know there is a better way to get it done.

Over the next month I worked daily with this mare at developing a partnership with her but never worked on trailer loading itself. At the end of the month it came time to move her to a different boarding place. Walking her up to the trailer, mare following behind, I was anticipating that she would refuse to walk in (two-horse angle haul step-up), but I took a deep breath and tried to hide any tension in my body as I walked into the trailer. To my astonishment, this mare followed me right up in with absolutely no hesitation!! All the hard work we had put in together, establishing that partnership, had paid off!

When you forge a partnership with a horse and earn that horse's trust and respect to the point where they have full trust in your leadership (and thus your ability to ensure their survival), anything is possible. It is never about the trailer, it's about the partnership you have with that horse. If the horse has full trust in you as its leader, it will walk into that metal cave without hesitation (because you're the leader - it must be safe!) however if there is any doubt in the horse's mind as to your leadership abilities, he's going to depend upon what his instincts tell him rather than what you tell him - and those instincts of his might tell him to stay the heck away from that trap!!

Long-term, develop that relationship with your horse to the point where he will go anywhere with you! This includes streams, rivers, puddles, ditches, whatever may be.

Short-term, don't lead your horse directly up to the trailer. Predators are straight-line thinkers, while prey animals are not. Lead your horse past the trailer, ask him to perform small tasks around it (from the ground). Sidepass, circles, turns on the forehand, etc, until he is comfortable with the idea of the trailer.
When you do finally lead your horse into the trailer, keep him facing the trailer with gentle corrections, but allow him to back out!! Horses are naturally claustrophobic and they want to know that if they step up into that trailer, they can get back out. Not allowing a horse to back out is like telling a young child first learning to swim that, once you've convinced him into the deep water, he is not allowed to return to the shallow water. He's naturally going to start worrying that, should he feel like he is about to drown, he will not be able to save himself by returning to where he feels comfortable - shallow water. If a claustrophobic prey animal is physically forced into a situation he cannot emotionally handle, he is going to panic, with possibly catastrophic consequences.
Ask politely with a steady and firm touch on the lead, but reward the slightest try!! When your horse so much as shifts his weight forward, reward him by releasing the tension on the rope! Ask for a little more "try" each time, but for each try, reward with a release. After you feel you've made a lot of progress, walk away! Lead your horse off for a few moments of relaxation. Watch for your horse to lick his lips, lower his head, and say "hey, I know what this is all about." You won't lose ground by walking away for a short break - you'll gain ground. You can also 'send' your horse into the trailer the way you would if you were to longe them. Tap gently on their hind with your whip, increasing the taps (increasing the pressure) and releasing the instant your horse responds with a try. Increasingly ask for more try, and reward with rest breaks, rubs, and treats.
When presented with a new situation, horses will try an assortment of "answers" until they find the "correct one" according to what you were asking. They're not mind readers and most of us are not horses, so sometimes it takes a few tries on each of our parts to understand one another. If you do not provide some sort of release as a reward, they will continue searching for a different answer to your query - most likely this will result in "answers" you weren't, or aren't, looking for!

Last fall we acquired an off-track Thoroughbred. Well when we came to pick him up the horse had full-blown ringworm!! I quickly re-arranged an alternate boarding place where I could keep him isolated from other horses. Over the next two months as he recovered, I took him out on trails so as to prevent his going insane in his isolated paddock (this was an easily stressed horse already, nevermind the additional stress of being isolated in a small paddock caused!), but otherwise did no work with him, as I tried to keep contact with him as minimal as possible (I was working with several other horses at the time and did not wish to spread the infection). When his skin infection finally cleared up, I had to trailer this horse to the boarding place I'd originally intended to take him. While I had definitely established a bond with this horse over time, I had not yet established a partnership and despite this horse having been loaded a number of times throughout his career, there was no question about it, he was not walking into that trailer. As I was quietly working with him in an attempt to convince him into the trailer, the owner of the place walked up. I asked him if he wouldn't please quietly wave his arms towards my horse's hind just to encourage him in. Well this is a man who is fairly aggressive with his horses and Link (my horse) read him pretty accurately in his body language and threw a double-barrel kick in his direction. Not exactly what I was looking for, but given the man's attitude and body language, I couldn't say I blamed Link!
After initially cursing Link and Thoroughbreds in general, the man quickly snapped "you're never going to get his horse in the way you're doing now!"
For the love of God, it's only been all of 5 minutes!!
"Well, I've got all day!" was my reply. 5 or 10 minutes later (I wasn't counting) that horse was loaded. Not exactly how I would normally have liked it (ie. the horse walks into the trailer comfortably based on a solid partnership), but it worked to simply be quiet and patient! Passively persistent, as Parelli calls it.

"Act like you have 15 minutes and it will take you all day. But act like you've got all day, and it will only take you 15 minutes."

Lastly, be prepared to "take the time it takes so it takes less time". Prior and proper preparation are key - if you properly prepare your horse beforehand via a solid partnership, you will not ever have to worry about loading your horse into a trailer.

Head Tossing

Head tossing is not a bad habit designed to make you frustrated nor is it a misbehaviour on the part of the horse; rather it's a manifestation of an underlying problem. Solve the root of the problem and the head tossing disappears.

Causes and what you can do:
- Pinching saddle - have your saddle fitted by a professional saddle fitter!! There are many saddle fitting sites available to you (ie. Saddleworld) as well that can help you determine your saddle's fit, but do not rely solely upon these in lieu of a professional.
- Examine the bit you are using; it could be ill-fitting, pinching, too advanced for you or your horse's level, or just not right for your horse's horsenality
- You! Hard hands, a stiff seat, your body language all could be potential causes to your horse's head tossing
- Horses are prey animals and as such, when they are right-brained/reactive/stressed, they need to move their feet (here's where that fight or flight instinct kicks in). It's part of their nature - when their senses tell them something in the environment is not right (like the predator on its back, the waving grass that could be hiding a crouched lion, etc), mother nature tells them to flee! As predators, when our horse wants to move his feet too much for our liking, we clamp down!! We tense our bodies, clamp our legs around the barrel of our horse and close our hands on our horse's mouth. Our body language clearly conveys to the horse the message that we're nervous, which causes the horse to think: "hey, if the leader on my back is nervous, I'd better get the heck out of here!". In addition, our tendency to clamp down can further compound issues such as poorly fitting tack. When we clamp down, our horse still (perhaps even moreso by this point) desperately feels the need to flee and so if it cannot, it might headtoss as an expression of frustration and in an attempt at regaining control so it may flee. So instead of clamping down, convey to your horse, through a relaxed body posture and loose rein, that you've got the situation under control. If you need to correct with rein, do so by closing your hands, then immediately releasing. Encourage relaxation with exercises such as circles or shoulder-in. In addition, build your horse's trust in your leadership so that she doesn't feel the need to flee. Rather than moving her feet, your horse will be following your lead and be a relaxed partner.
- Environmental factors such as flies, wind, dust, debris, etc. My Quarab is extremely sensitive and at times has had to wear an ear net to keep out flies and wind!

Sometimes it takes the eye of a professional or someone not related to your horse (someone able to take a step back and fully evaluate the situation), or even just someone thinking from another angle, to determine the cause of your horse's head tossing. Solve the root of the problem and the head tossing evaporates!

Do NOT by any means, restrain your horse from head tossing by tying her head down or such. Look at it from the horse's point of view and try to instead solve the root of the problem. The horse is not misbehaving for you but rather is trying to communicate to you a problem; restraining the horse only further aggravates the problem and frustrates the horse because now she no longer has an outlet to express herself. Restraining a horse is a band-aid "solution" that only masks the problem, not cures it, and is not in the best interests of any horse.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cribbing: nasty habit?

Cribbing: this is where the horse grabs a solid object such as a stall door, rocks his body backward and arches his neck, sucking in air as he pulls against the object.

Some facts about cribbing:

"Psychology researchers at the University of Southampton in England have discovered that horses who crib have a greater difficulty learning reward-based behaviours than do thos who do not engage in the habitual behaviour." - Equus 373/13 (Oct 08)

"A new study from the United Kingdom shows that horses who crib are 67 times more likely to develop epiploic foramen entrapment (EFE), a type of colic involving strangulating obstruction of the small intestine, than are horses who do not exhibit this behaviour."
"Archer* stresses, however, that her findings do not suggest that cribbing is a direct cause of EFE." - Equus 372/17 (Sept 08)

Causes of cribbing have been proven to include:
1- environmental factors such as stress or boredom
...which incidentally can cause...
2- digestive discomfort such as ulcers

Cribbing can cause colic (or can be an early sign of digestive upset, which would eventually culminate in colic) and weight loss, each of which exacerbates cribbing, which exacerbates digestive upset...and so on. Environmental factors also exacerbate digestive discomfort, and cribbing exacerbates the stress that continues the vicious circle.

Since cribbing is not a bad habit but is rather a manifestation of an underlying problem, putting a cribbing collar on a horse that cribs only masks the problem rather than elminates or fixes it. Most cribbing collars therefore do not actually even work since they do not fix the underlying problem - many even end up leaving sores on the horse. The only thing most cribbing collars achieve is to cover up what we do not wish to have visible at the expense of our horses.

""My advice to owners based on current scientific evidence is to just let cribbing horses crib, but at the same time see if you can alter their management in a way to reduce their overall stress," says Archer. "Turn them out as much as you can and keep forage in front of them. Don't hide them in the back of the barn because you think they'll teach all the horses to crib. There's no scientific evidence that this happens, and you'll just make them miserable in isolation and probably make the situation worse." - Equus 372/17 (Sept 08)

Things you can do to alleviate/stop cribbing:
- Evaluate your horse's diet; highly-concentrated diets, especially when fed in large and infrequent meals rather than in small portions over longer periods of time have been proven to induce and exacerbate cribbing
- Provide your horse with plenty of forage over a 24/7 period, preferably grass out on pasture! If grain is absolutely necessary, reduce the amount fed and/or spread it out over several feedings.
- Pasture horses in lieu of stalling them (yes, even those high-priced Warmbloods!!). If this is not possible, get your horse out as much as possible, preferably in daily turn-out. If you are able to pasture your horse, it is best to do so in a social situation (rather than in an individual paddock). A horse in a stall should be provided with some type of stimulation, whether it be via a Jolly ball, Likit, or other; ideally a horse should be able to see its herdmates in the barn.
- If cribbing continues to persist despite environmental and feeding changes, have your vet perform a gastric endoscopy. They tend to run (here in Calgary, Alberta) at a few hundred dollars and are the only definitive way to determine if your horse has ulcers.

*Debra Archer, BVMS, PhD

The Hard-to-catch Horse

"Oh, my horse is great, but she's sometimes difficult to catch in the field, so I have to leave her halter on." You don't want to know how many times I've heard this one. "But we have a great relationship!" I've taken a horse out of a pasture, someone in an adjacent pasture attempting the same thing, and returned later only to find that person still trying to catch their horse! Heck, I've even seen people chase down their horse in an ATV or on another horse and ROPE the horse they ride every day, their partner!!

I remember being asked to aid in the roundup of one gorgeous black gelding "oh, this horse is fabulous, just sometimes he's hard to catch!" Uh-oh, heard this one before. This horse was not just your usual "hard to catch" horse, he was mortally afraid of humans! He'd been herded into a smaller pen for ease of catching (as if) and it was our "simple" job to "just catch him up for the farrier". Wait a minute....we couldn't even catch this horse, and a farrier was supposed to waltz in and work on him??!! We finally cornered him in his pen and I remember taking a look around. Wow, we were completely justifying that horse's fears. Here's this poor horse, cornered, with four predators crouched around him, prepared to block his next move to escape. His head was up, nostrils flared, muscles tensed to explode through our barricade. Eventually someone did get a halter on that horse but I can tell you it wasn't me! There was no way in hell I was walking up to such a time-bomb - with my luck my move would be the one to set him off. Isn't there a better way to work with our horses?? Shouldn't our supposed partners (whom we constantly proclaim to "love") actually want to be with us?

As a side note, leaving a halter on a prey animal that needs to flee or fight (to the death, if necessary) in an emergent situation (ie. being caught up) is not safe, particularly if you've never taught your horse to think through a situation or puzzle-solve!! Leaving the halter on a horse potentially poses a hazardous situation - the only benefit is one to us in the case of a hard-to-catch horse. Our horses should always come first; so solve the hard-to-catch problem and voila, potentially fatal situation avoided!! Of course there are times when you might be working with a horse and leaving a (breakaway) halter on might be necessary, but where you can avoid it, please do. Furthermore, if you find yourself leaving the halter on your horse for ease of catching, take note - you have work to do.

So let's look at it from the horse's perspective.

"Uh oh, here comes (insert name here, including mine at times!)" Head pops up, body tenses, horse takes flight.

How do you walk up to your horse? Well most of us waltz up to our horses in a direct line, often even at a quick pace. We want to catch our horse and get on to the good stuff!! Well horses are not direct-line thinkers. When a horse walks somewhere, they do not do so in a direct line, they'll walk here, and there, finally approaching the object in question. Now, we've all seen our horse run up to another horse, right? If the partnership between both horses is strong, both horses will run directly up to one another. If the horse being run up to is at a lower level in the hierarchy or is unsure of the horse running up to him though, he's going to move off!

When I was younger, our house backed up onto a greenspace. Well one day I climbed the rocky hill at the back of our house, finally reaching the top and the large greenspace beyond to find a large herd of deer! I was ecstatic and quietly sat myself down about 20 feet from the nearest buck. I sat enthralled for about an hour, until my parents called, as each buck in the herd grazed their way up to within a foot or two or me and then gradually grazed his way off again. I listened raptly as the young bucks "spoke" to one another in quiet voices. Do you think any of those deer saw me and strode right up to me? Heck, I'd have been out of there in a flash had any of them done so! No, they gradually made their way up to me before once again moving off.

Well, horses are the same way. They know they're prey animals, it's naturally bred into them, and they know we're predators. We smell like predators and we act like predators. So when we march up to a horse that is already unsure of what they think of us or what they think of our last session, they're going to instinctively walk away from the predator that's possibly threatening them. So it's not a "horse problem" but rather an "us problem". If we create a partnership where the horse truly wants to be with us, he'll come running when he hears us coming!

At one of the places I boarded my horses, I had Silver (my Quarab) and Koolaid (my WB) in 40 acres of hilly and rocky pastureland by themselves. Now Koolaid wasn't all that thrilled about me at the time, but Silver was his only herd, so where Silver went, Koolaid went (to an extent, Koolaid is still my "lone wolf"). I would walk into that pasture and whistle, then stand quietly. Sure enough, I'd immediately hear an answering whinny. It'd usually be a moment or two before I finally saw Silver poised on some rocky outcropping above with another answering whinny. If for whatever reason Silver couldn't find me, I'd hear a number of calls, requesting me to whistle back to him my location. Once I had, I'd soon here galloping hooves and find Silver cresting some hill to race down to me. Upon arrival, he'd gallop small circles around me excitedly. Koolaid, meanwhile, usually was still making his way down the hill (lol). It wasn't always that way though and there were times in the past where I had had to chase down Silver to catch him! Those were the days I realised I needed to earn his friendship back.

So what do humans usually do, and what does it look like to the horse?
What we do: we cut a horse off and crowd it into a corner. As we move quickly to cut off the horse, we're usually even crouched down!!!
What it looks like to the horse: a pack of circling wolves, crouched and poised to spring.
What happens next: either the horse realises it's been caught and resigns itself to its fate, or it reacts instinctively in an attempt to evade being caught. He's not worried about being haltered at this point, he's worried about being taken down and eaten!
Then, as soon as we do get close to the horse, we swing our arms over it and entrap it with a rope! Take note that we just proved the horse right: we're a predator looking to catch them (and do who-knows-what-with-them) and they're possibly in danger.
This may seem dramatic, but these are prey animals. They're seeing us as predators and furthermore, we're acting like predators! So they're going to react as any prey animal would do - they're going to fight their way out of a potentially life-threatening situation or flee from it.

What can we do instead?
Long-term, you can develop a partnership with your horse where your horse wants to spend time with you. "Take everything off your horse and you see what you have." If you were to take everything off of your horse, what would your horse do? Would he still continue in partnership with you? Could you still perform your dressage test or reining pattern? Or would your horse walk away from you to visit his buddies, eat some grass, or just get away from you?
Solve the root of the problem, whether it be further cementing that partnership between you and your horse to the point where your horse sees you and comes running, or whether it be engaging your horse's mind in such a way that she sees spending time with you as fun and exciting. Create a partnership where your horse is catching you!

Short-term, don't chase your horse!! In doing so, you are only confirming your horse's worst fears. "Take the time it takes so that it takes less time" and be willing to spend all day out there. "If you act like you've got 15 minutes, it will take all day, but if you act like you've got all day, then it will only take 15 minutes." My favourite horseman, Pat Parelli, always says "I've never seen it take longer than two days!" It's true! Get out there and be prepared to simply watch your horse graze. If she's in a stall, wait until her nose comes around to face you instead of her bum. Bring a book and sit and read if need be. Meander around the pasture visiting the other horses, or quietly but not threateningly following your horse. When your horse gives you an eye, an ear, a look, or a step towards you, remove any pressure: turn away, walk away, whatever need be for your situation. As Pat says, get your horse to catch you! Find your horse's moolah, or motivation, and use it. If your horse likes treats, bring along some treats. If your horse loves being groomed, when you finally get close detangle that mane and tail and just spend some quality time together. Figure out what you need to do to attract your horse. You can also play some games on increasingly longer lines and eventually, at liberty - get your horse to move away from you and return to you, using the line (and then, at liberty, a roundpen) as a safety net rather than a tool to bring him in. In this way, you are practising for when you bring him in from the pasture next time. Lastly, keep in mind that your horse's 'catchability' will also be a reflection of your last session with him; if your horse really enjoys working with you, he won't be difficult to catch. If he's difficult to catch - no worries, but you have work to do.

The Biter

Most of us have had one of these at some point in our career with horses, from the lippy youngster to the nasty biting schoolhorse.

A horse bites for one of two reasons:
1. As a defensive reaction, or
2. Out of a lack of respect

The defensive bite occurs when the horse is fearful and feels the need to protect itself. The normal reaction in most people is to smack the biting horse, right? Well in the defensive horse that is already lacking in trust, you have just confirmed what it suspected all along: humans are unpredictable and may hit you at any point in time. WATCH OUT!! So what do you do? Earn the horse's trust; it sounds simple and it really is: if the horse has got trust in you he won't feel the need to protect himself. This involves learning to think more like a prey animal and to communicate with the horse in a way which he understands. With a mutual language, you can start to play games that earn the horse's trust in both you and your leadership.

The dominating bite occurs in the horse that is reacting disrespectfully towards you. He's letting you know in no uncertain terms that he's unhappy with what you've done and that he'd like you out of his space. Now. This isn't a result of a "misbehaviour" that must be punished, it's the result of you failing to earn the respect of your horse. Smacking this horse will result in your horse either a) escalating his aggressiveness in an attempt to "put you back in line" (since you obviously ignored his previous cues) and/or b) continuing the "see-how-fast-I-can-bite-you-before-you-smack-me" game you've now created. What's important here is to find a way you can earn, not force, your horse's respect; create a partnership so that he does not want to bite you in the first place!

As far as the horse who "just" lays his ears back, he's telling you "one day I am going to bite you". He may not bite you today or even tomorrow, but don't be shocked when one day you enter his stall and he bites or kicks - after all, he did tell you he would!!

What can you do in the mean time, whilst you earn that respect and/or trust? Don't place yourself in a position where you can be bitten!! Tie your horse up shorter so that he cannot reach around to grab you. If this is not possible, raise your elbow or arm to "block" the bite - never hit the horse, but you can allow him to run into the blockade you've erected. While it may seem trivial to us, the horse notices the difference between it running into your still arm and your arm moving towards it in a hitting motion. Lastly, look at things from your horse's perspective to figure out why he is biting. Are you doing the cinch up too tightly too fast? Are you being unfair in your requests? Is his back sore or his tack ill-fitting? Is he expressing frustration at being cooped up with too much energy to vent?

Intro to "common horse problems"

There are no problem horses, only problem riders. Experiencing a "problem" with your horse? Well, as difficult as it may be to hear, it is usually a result of you. I have been there too, where "yea my horse is great but...". My warmblood colt, Koolaid, had an entire LIST of problems!! He kicked, he bit, he struck out with his front legs, he bucked, he reared, he reared and struck, he had NO impulsion, was lazy, carried his ears flat against his head at all times, doing any farrier work on his feet was always a huge fight, and he was generally as pleasant working with as a bloodblister under the thumbnail. As I learned more about horse psychology and the relationship between horse and human, it turned out that Koolaid had only one problem - ME!! So instead of trying to force him to work "in partnership" with me, I had to learn a way to earn his trust and respect to the point where he naturally saw me as his leader and wanted to follow!! Coincidentally, I found this followed over to my other horse at the time as well (Silver, my Quarab) as well as, later, to any other horse I worked with. Work became play, and bonds and relationships strengthened into true and solid partnerships.

Horses are very unlike humans and thus are motivated by different things and think completely differently! As a prey animal, their primary focus is on staying alive, even if it means maiming, injuring, or killing themselves or you. When they're in "reactive" or "instinctive" mode, they're not thinking or reasoning. They're reacting based on the instincts mother nature has provided them. From our perspective, some of their fears and reactions may seem unreasonable, but to that horse it is very real. How do they know when the next lion might pop up? My Quarab, Silver, to this day has a set of claw marks on his chest from some animal. Most of our problems with horses are not actually "misbehaviours" but are the result of an underlying problem we failed to address - earning a horse's respect or earning its trust (whether in us or in our leadership). Futhermore, a horse is a prey animal, so it is only natural for them to not want to work with us and to rebel against our requests as predators, particularly when we behave as predators!! A horse looks at us and evaluates us within 10 seconds: say, he smells like a carnivore, he walks like a carnivore, he even reacts like a carnivore! Yup, must be a carnivore!! Why would he choose to work with us, particularly when he feels his survival could be at risk?? So how does this apply to your common everyday problems?

Just as a side note, all of the problems on this list are problems I have encountered at one time or another and are also common problems I hear from fellow riders all the time, which is why they are here!! My list also follows that of Pat Parelli's, though I have expanded upon each problem with my own research and experiences (just in case you are wondering why the organisation of the list seems so similar!).

The point of a partnership is that you and your horse are working together effectively! Smooth communication (and therefore no "vices") via effective mutual communication every day is very possible!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just a Horse

From time to time, people tell me, "Lighten up, it's just a horse," or "That's a lot of money for just a horse."

They don't understand the distance travelled, the time spent, or the costs involved for "just a horse." Some of my proudest moments have come about with "just a horse." Many hours have passed and my only company was "just a horse," but I did not once feel slighted. Some of my saddest moments have been brought about by "just a horse," and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch of "just a horse" gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day.

If you think it's "just a horse," then you will probably understand phrases like "just a friend," "just a sunrise," or "just a promise." "Just a horse" brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy." "Just a horse" brings out the compassion and patience that makes me a better person. Because of "just a horse" I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.

So for me and folks like me, it's not "just a horse," but an emodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment. "Just a horse" brings out what's good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day. I hope that someday people can understand that it's not "just a horse" but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being "just a woman."

So the next time you hear the phrase "just a horse" just smile...because they "just" don't understand.