Monday, March 30, 2009

Training? Stupid horses?

Ran across a couple of videos while surfing youtube (yes, in my "spare time" haha) that caught my attention... These are not meant to criticize the riders but rather to perhaps shine a light on the horse's perspective, to offer another point of view. I am not going to particularly and directly critique the rider or handler, but I will point out possibly contributing facts.

First thought that came into my head: really? Why?? Let's take a step back and look at this. The rider (whose poor riding position - likely due to the occurring conflict - is likely exacerbating the horse's frustration) is hauling on those reins as if there were no tomorrow in an attempt to balance the horse and have him moving in a better frame. The horse's reaction - tail switching, raised head, tense body - is all just a manifestation of the partnership - or lack thereof, between horse and rider. The horse is a reflection of the rider and/or its partnership with said rider. Always. I cannot comment much else on the situation because I am not there. It's not my place to judge, really. I just felt that the title of the video was a poor choice; a horse in a situation such as the one in the video above does not need "training" per se, his rider needs to learn to communicate more efficiently with him (read: quieter!) and to create a partnership of trust and respect so that both partners are working together as a team, rather than fighting one another as shown above. It's not about the horse, it is about the rider.

Racehorse blowing over backward:

I thought this video was pretty interesting. The horse was initially not at all right-brained (reactive) when the rider actually mounted up. He was calm, his body loose, looking around inquisitively at everything around him when you see his head go straight as if he's thinking for an instant. Next, the handler tries to get the horse to move forward, and the horse throws his head up and launches himself backwards. Looks pretty calculated and left-brained (thinking) to me, which is pretty interesting! Normally for a horse to do that he is pretty right-brained and reactive, he's doing it out of instinct to get the rider off his back. This horse though you can see - he makes his final decision as the handler applies pressure, and he means business! As the handler applies pressure, he reacts in response. He thinks about what he is going to do and follows through with it in a serious fashion, no fooling around, he was making sure that rider was coming off, even at the expense of likely injuring himself. That's pretty rare to find a horse move through such a high-intensity reaction like that so left-brained; something serious - in the horse's mind - has to be occurring first (under-saddle) before a horse will consider going to such lengths to remove a rider. I noticed before the horse threw himself that the handler was pretty tense, which also leads to the suspicion that this has perhaps occurred before. Obviously something is going on that the horse does not like that is causing him to react as such! I am suspecting he is a Left-brain Introvert, meaning he naturally thinks rather than reacts, and he keeps his emotions inside rather than outside (ie, moving his feet), in an obvious fashion. He thinks (left-brain), does not display really any signs he is going to react (introvert), then suddenly reacts in reflection to an outside trigger to the emotions that are broiling up inside his head. The downfall for him is that if this becomes something regular for him (or has already), that people will blame him - the horse, rather than taking it as a reaction towards something else. No one will want to work with him and, without looking at things from his perspective and solving the root of the problem, he'll be tossed out to the dogs. Isn't it great to be a horse?

Stupid horse:

Really? Because the horse does not move forward, that automatically makes him stupid? This is the sort of ignorance that gets so many horses in trouble and I really hope this was simply a rider on a trail ride, as opposed to the owner of this horse. The horse is not responding for one of two reasons. Either a) he does not understand what you want (therefore it is our job to teach him), or b) the horse lacks respect for the rider (in which case it is the rider's job to earn the horse's respect). The solution to either situation is up to the rider and is not the result of a stupid horse. Just looking at the horse's response - his ear position (flickering, as opposed to flat against his head in opposition), his head carriage (up and down in lieu of up and tense with ears flat back, a manifestation of a little anxiety as he attempts to solve this puzzle), I am willing to bet on the first reason for the horse not moving forward. Horses are not born knowing human language (which we have made up, keep in mind, the horse did not come up with "forward" cues), just as people are not born knowing sign language.

Stupid horse (numero deux):

All I see is a horse that is trying to solve a puzzle or being resistant (thereby using the back-up as a way of evading his rider). He is trying all sorts of answers; his anxiety is expressed in the tense body, the raised head, the bit-chomping, and the switching tail. He's not stupid, his rider is either not being clear or he has learned the back-up as an evasion technique. Also, notice that the first time his rider attempts to ask him something, he backs up, and she stops asking - she releases/rewards. He licks his lips as he thinks and releases tension. He thinks he may have found the correct answer (even if it's a way of evasion), because she released when he backed up. Then she keeps asking him, so he responds with what he believes to be the correct answer to her request. She keeps re-asking because the answer he gave obviously was not what she was looking for, and he continues to provide her the answer she reinforced only moments before as being correct, all the while becoming more anxious as he does not get the release he is hoping for that tells him he's found the correct answer to her request. His anxiety too is likely not helping him to think, rather it is hindering him a bit. Videos like this make my stomach sink because it shows just how ignorant us humans can be at times. We really have no idea, and the horse is always the one to get the blame. The video is clearly labeled - stupid horse. It's really too bad because this is rider error any way we look at it whether it be as a result of resistance toward the rider (which could also indicate a pain issue) or whether it be the result of the rider being unclear.

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