Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Red Deer Mane Event Part 3 (final)

Last day! I had hoped to catch Jay Hayes with his Session 2 of Group 2 however with the long days and the hour-long drives in between, I just did not make it out early enough to watch his last clinic in the morning. Too bad, however I picked up so much from this event and I have to be satisfied with that! There is always room for more next time.

So, first on the agenda for our day was Jonathan Field with his clinic on Liberty, which he started off with his young 4yo QH, Tessa (his greenie), and finished with her, Hal, and Quincy - his other QH partners. He started off with a great point: Take all the ropes off and you find out the truth, you find out how much your horse likes you. I've repeated this point of his so many times, because I believe it to be so accurate. The ropes are what hold your horse to you, so remove all those and you see where your partnership is truly at in that moment. Jonathan mentioned that liberty allows expression, it allows your horse to truly express to you how he feels and it can also allow the horse to do what HE wants for a minute, which is important! We sometiems get so caught up doing what WE want, oftentimes without any consideration for the horse even. Some additional main points:
- your relationship with a horse should be say 51:49 draw to drive, the horse should be a little more drawn to you than is driven by you (he should want to be with you), yet there should be a balance: too much draw and the horse runs over you, not enough and the horse runs away.
- draw can be created through liberty work, directly drawing the horse in, or also through hanging out with the horse with no pressure to do anything
- the goal is to send the horse out without them leaving and to draw them in without them coming (ie. they remain on a circle rather than coming in to you or taking off)
- be very specific about what you ask your horse: something he once told us in a clinic I attended with one of my horses was If you don't care, then they don't care. If you don't care where they stop, then they won't either - they'll stop whenever, wherever, however. You have to be specific with your horse. If he moves off when ground-tied, put him back in the EXACT spot you'd originally left him in. If you don't, it won't matter to him then if he takes a step off that spot...pretty soon it's two steps, then four, then pretty quick he's not ground-tying any longer.

He went over ground-tying briefly and how it can be done (create a "sweet spot" and correct the horse if she moves, by putting her back in that exact spot - her responsibility is to stay in one spot until invited out), how to balance draw and drive at liberty in a round pen, and then how to do some liberty work in the full arena. He demonstrated some pretty amazing things, including cutting on the ground with Hal (Hal cutting Jonathan), "picking up" Quincy (ie. having him join Jonathan in partnership in a huge arena with other horses) and having him circle responsibly at liberty (same pace, same size circle, just waiting for Jonathan's next cue), and Tessa remaining on the exact spot Jonathan had left her for just about the entire demo after Hal and Quincy came in, despite the two horses galloping around her. Pretty inspiring!

Dressage with Mette was next on our list for the day! Today she brought in her Group 2, all her higher level students. Some of the points she made during her demo's with the students in the clinic:
- the polls should be the highest point and the horse should NOT be behind the vertical, though this is only achieved at the higher levels
- the collected horse is shorter, compressed
- a horse's neck will come up when he is out of balance, to better balance himself (which can then tell you more about what is going on during your work with said horse)
- a horse that is in the downhill position with its neck tucked in too low, work on transitions and in & outs (forward and half-halts)
- the higher level horses, those that are fully collected, will have a bend in their neck (topline) close to their poll. At the beginning stages of collection the bend is lower down the neck, likely about mid-way
- keep the pace even, all the way to the end (ie. extended trot or such)

Mette started off by having her students do a few exercises before having her CDI student run through an Intermediare 1 dressage test for the crowd, which included canter pirouette, extended trot, numerous flying changes, passage, etc. It was pretty neat to see the finished product (or close to, something to aim towards at least) and both rider and horse performed a fabulous test.

Lastly, we took in the Trainer's Challenge finals, a competition between three trainers to each train a colt. The Trainer's Quest I did last October up in St.Paul, Alberta, actually seems to be modelled almost identically to the Mane Event Trainer's Challenge! Each trainer is permitted 4 one-hour sessions in a round pen with their colt. By the finals, the colt and trainer were judged on:
- leading with respect
- w/t/c
- back-up
- picking up all four feet with ease
- tacking up quietly
-mounting and dismounting quietly
- dragging a pole on the ground by a lariat for 25'
- cross a wooden bridge
- swing a rope from the saddle
- weave through a set of cones at the trot
- walk over a set of ground poles
- freestyle (trainer's choice)

Patrick Hooks from Oklahoma was first up. We had only had the chance to catch one of his roundpen sessions (his third), during which we noticed that he had neither his colt's respect nor his trust (none at all in either area) and that he seemed unable to communicate with his colt. His colt, Sunny, a red dun QH, was constantly trying to nip at him (and I hear had successfully done so during an earlier session) and was very obviously ticked off and unhappy with Hooks. Hooks was also unable to have Sunny move out at all under-saddle. He was very inconsistent with his aids and had no idea of timing and release. This all followed him to the finals in the arena. However, you have to give the man credit for trying and I applaud him for continuously pointing out to the audience that it was not the horse's fault whatsoever for the lack of success. I definitely disagreed with a few of his methods though (he spoke of throwing the horse had he been at home, which I strongly disagreed with), but overall he was okay and he certainly seemed a decent man. For freestyle points, Hooks led his colt up into a trailer and also played a song for him on the guitar (lol).

Next in the arena was Doug Mills. Part of me really wanted to like Mills for his constant stream of jokes and seemingly good nature, but the other - larger - part of me had a tough time swallowing his huge ego. This man was definitely parading and was certainly lacking in humbleness. His horse definitely did well, but I felt the colt was right around where it should have been...nothing special. His ego definitely made me shy from him a bit, because it seems those are the type of individuals who often do not mix well with horses at times. For his freestyle he did trailer-loading as well and then did some bridleless work. I have to admit I resent the bridleless work because I felt that he was trying to flaunt his ego once again, yet he had no control over that colt whatsoever. It remained at the gate end of the arena for the most part (when it wasn't, the colt was headed there), and picked up a lot of speed just zipping around small circles at that end. It seemed like a stunt to gain attention and to impress, but to me it wasn't really all that impressive at all - anyone brazen enough could have done what he did. It certainly demonstrated the colt was comfortable under-saddle (which is great), however the colt was still under no control whatsoever (which others likely may not have noticed had they no clue about bridleless riding or even horses). I felt like it was sort of a cheap trick to leave a false impression in spectators' minds. Perhaps I am incorrect?

Lastly, we watched Mel Hyland on his colt. I really liked this man. There was the odd thing I disagreed with or where I felt he could have done something better, however for the most part he was great - a great man and a great horseman. He came at it from the right angle - from the horse's angle, and was very logical about it; I just really liked what he had to say and what he did in general. His horse seemed to have a great degree of trust and respect for him, despite its apparent difficulty (a little pushy at times). His colt actually seemed similar in personality to the one I worked with at the Trainer's Quest in St.Paul and his colt was about at the same level as mine had been. The colt spooked twice when Hyland went to drag the pole 25' however the horse soon settled down and Hyland got 'er done! Overall I felt he had the best approach and the best colt. His freestyle was trailer-loading and to ride his colt bareback in a halter (which both he and colt performed flawlessly).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Red Deer Mane Event Part 2

Jay Hayes was the first clinic we attended, though we were only fortunate enough to catch the tail end of it. It was Session 2 of Group 1 though, so I am hoping that tomorrow picking up Session 2 of Group 2 I can pick up material similar to that of what we missed today (his Session 1 of Group 1 was very similar to Session 1 of Group 2). The primary points I picked up on today though were:
- don't let the horse leave long - if he does don't be afraid to be left behind (let the horse make the mistake and fix it)
- go deep - horses land on their weak side this way, therefore going deep and landing on their weaker canter lead strengthens their weak side...going long allows them to land on their good side
- GIVE to your horse (reins) during the downward transition
- train the horse to backup, to sit back on his haunches as he approaches the jump

Next we took in our favourite clinician, Jonathan Field - Beginning to Specialization. A few points:
- the most impressionable times in a horse's life are: within the first 24hrs of life (imprinting), within the first 2 weeks of life, pre-ride (all the groundwork you do), and under-saddle (the first ride)
- build a strong foundation then move into specialization
- horses feel the slightest shift in weight, so he re-inforced that you always look (they feel the weight of your head turning), then use seat (ie. push with your seat), then leg, then rein
- sitting up in the saddle at the halt should get the horse's attention but it shouldn't automatically walk forward
- doing serpentines through a line of cones (ie. weave pattern), you can either use a direct rein (lead the front), or use an indirect rein and push the hind over (lead by the hind)
- direct rein leads to straightness, impulsion, and engagement, while the indirect rein leads to bend and disengagement
- a narrower stance, all the way to the hinds crossing over (extreme narrow stance) = less power, disengagement
- wider stance = more power, engagement of the hindquarter
- if the horse picks up speed then starts to leave the path, disengage (full or partial); get a soft feel with your hands and wait for the horse to relax and be with you (soft head, staying between your legs on the path), then leave the horse alone
- at the foundation level, turn and face the jump (sweet spot) so the horse learns to relax rather than build impulsion (prevents anticipation) or even go up to the jump and back
- wait for relaxation
- make your horse elastic: bring the life up ie. take off at the gallop from the halt, for example, (once both you and your horse are sufficiently prepared) and then get back down to relaxation quickly
- horses that crossfire, pick pu the wrong lead often, or are stuck toward one side (ie. bent in one particular direction consistently) can indicate chiropractic issues or one-sidedness

We learned so incredibly much - every time we watch Jonathan our minds practically burst with new knowledge (lol)...can't wait to apply it at home!

We attended a saddle fitting demo and I've been convinced into buying a few DK saddles...wow they seem like amazing saddles! They're supported by Mette Rosencrantz too and several of the high level dressage riders today were in them (that's what really clinched it for me today haha). They're built completely different from your average saddle and use air rather than padding...everything I've learned about these saddles just make so much sense to me after all I have heard and all the research I have done thus far (and will continue to do). $5000 a pop however they seem worth it; so my goal is to eventually have a dressage, jumping, and western saddle.

Oh yea, did I mention that throughout all this I have also been convinced to get into dressage and jumping individually, rather than eventing?? Hehe. We'll see, but those are my thoughts as of late, I think that might be where I am better suited ;P

Next we checked out Mette Rosencrantz with Group 2 today - Level 2 to CDI level. A few of her points during the session (which was so amazing and inspiring, btw!):
- more strength behind results in the poll being the highest point as the horse sits back on its hind end; therefore horses at the lower levels will carry their head behind the vertical...and that's okay! It's not until the horse works up to the higher levels and builds up that strength in his hind that he sits uphill and has his poll the highest point.
- collection cannot come from the hand, it must come from the hind (otherwise the horse becomes heavy on the front)! Your hands must be soft and unmoving. The collection must come from forward thinking from the horse. LOTS of transitions without allowing the horse to get flat at the walk from the trot.
- when the hind is lower and driving, the front becomes lighter
- use the leg yield to supple a horse, they should flex but not bend
- rock the horse back by pushing forward with your legs - NOT by holding back with the reins, then half-halt back (a gentle and QUICK squeeze of the hand, NO pulling back with the hands). The half-halt and the pushing forward with your legs are done at SEPERATE times, NOT simultaneously. The half-halt takes that forward momentum and causes the horse to go up, so that the energy is on the hind...this teaches the horse to eventually sit back on his hind consistently and to build up strength to do so.
- the extended trot is done by allowing the horse to go out in the front - elasticity. The steps are the same pace but are longer and more forward.
- the passage is shorter and higher, "damming up the river" but NOT pulling back....the horse is on the hind
- the piaffe is the extreme of the passage, a "standing passage"

Mette gave her students a couple of exercises to do that included leg yields, half-pass, shoulder-in, and haunches-in. She also had her higher-level students (including one who competes against her) perform for us an extended trot, a passage, and a canter-pirouette - they were amazing to watch!!

Jonathan Field next had on a lecture about bits and bitting. He started off by pointing out that bits do NOT train the horse. Horsemanship trains the horse. Next, he listed two basic types of bits: those that help the horse stay straight and those that help the horse stay bent, for lateral work and disengagement. With that in mind, he has a 5 step program of "bits" he uses:
1. rope halter - groundwork. Solve the problem on the outside before going to the inside, therefore you do not dull the inside
2. rope hackamore - stiff (for straightness) or flexible/soft bosal (for disengagement)
3. 1/4" lift (port) - some tongue (the most invasive part of a horse, the tongue) relief yet the pressure is still distributed rather than focused on the bars and lips
4. 3/4" port
5. 1" port
The first bit is double-jointed with a barrel roll in the center to prevent the total collapse of the bit (and therefore nutcracker action) - the bit itself has a lot of movement side-to-side...which results in a lot of "fuzz", a lot of background noise, when communicating with the horse. This is absolutely fine when building a foundation, but as you build up and start to specialize, you want to start fading out that fuzz...which the bits do. Each bit, as the port rose, became more solid. The ultimate "specialization" bit would be the spade bit, where communication between horse and rider is uber intimate.
The ports offer increasing tongue relief and as the port increases so does the training level (so distribution of pressure becomes less of an issue as less pressure is used anyways). This way the horse can still swallow easily. The low port though prevents pallet pressure - pallet pressure does not begin until a port is 2 1/2" or so high, the port of a bit will not interact with a horse's pallet until this point.

Mette Rosencrantz once more (our final clinician of the day)!! I absolutely love this woman, her style is logical and she looks at things from the horse's perspective and really focuses on the rider being soft and supple. This group was Group 1 from yesterday and was at Training Level. Her points for this group, among the exercises she had them do:
- loosen the arm - do not use your arms to balance
- NEVER pull back with your hands - softly open and close your hands and use your bottom three fingers for communication, but do not pull back.
- knee under your hip, toes pointed slightly outward (just like how you would stand), longer leg and stirrups (but it is better to be 1/2 a hole too short than 2 holes too long!)
- use your legs before your reins
- bend at each corner!
- your hands should always be above the level of the bit
Next was Group 2 from yesterday, riding at Level 1. The primary points in this group:
- the horse can never get off your hands if you never get off his face. So get off his face! What I always say: if your horse is leaning on your hands, quit giving him something to lean on!!
- at this level the horses should have a rounder frame than Training Level
- on the circle, the inside hand "sweeps the dust" into the outside hand (which holds the "dustpan"), swoosh and catch, softly, to achieve that bend and to support the horse throughout the bend - the outside rein supports
- canter to trot transitions - contract contract contract the horse THEN trot
- if the horse leans into the circle, do NOT hold the horse up with the outside rein, push him with your inside leg
- on the longe (with a rider or with a young horse with no rider): you can attach a side rein to the outside and have the longe line run through the inside rein and clip onto the ring at the pommel; this causes the horse to be concave a little on the circle but the side rein prevents him from falling in
- your hands should be 50/50 - soften/give and take/harden per hand, you can't take take take in one hand nor can you give give give in the other - they must work together in reflection
- do not move your arms, only move your hand and wrist
- length of the dressage stirrup - there should be some bend in the knee but you should also be able to use your foot without losing your stirrups
- use your calves rather than thighs (wear down your boots in lieu of the insides of your pants)

I have learned so much - I leave each day my head spinning from new information and so mentally exhausted from all the thinking and input! I am learning a lot from everyone we watch - I just wish we could see them all! I wish very much I could watch Al Dunning however I just have not yet had the chance to! I am hoping that tomorrow I can catch a bit of him during his Q&A. I am so ecstatic to take all this home and start applying it - I have some fantastic basics to work on at home in both the natural horsemanship, western, dressage, and jumping areas!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Red Deer Mane Event Part 1

So Matt and I attended the Red Deer Mane Event and plan to do so again Saturday and Sunday. Here's what we experienced today, Friday April 24!

Stopped in at DK Saddlery, Danny Kroetch, to check out some amazing saddles! His western saddles look fabulous and are adjustable to various horses, though he custom fits it primarily to your main horse. The english saddles are custom fit and can be adjusted per horse, but not per ride (ie. I can't adjust it myself, I have to take it in to him). They're made completely different from most I've seen - wider gullets but with good wither clearance and air panels! Anyways, they look absolutely fabulous and run at $5000 apiece; I might just have to work out a near-ish future (a future that includes loans and debt haha) deal with him for a jumping saddle and a western pleasure too ;P

Next we hit up Jonathan Field's clinic on Leading Up to Flying Lead Changes. He was absolutely stunning - this guy is brilliant! Sidenote: I attended a Level 1 and then a Level 2 Parelli clinic with him, taking my young Warmblood cross Koolaid, a few years past and learned so much.

He focused primarily on 1) Path 2) Speed and 3) Bow bend to achieve the flying change. You have to have each component to achieve a successful flying lead change, in that specific order. He set up a pattern and explained that you had to ensure that your horse did the pattern -went through specific cones, etc. If you allowed him to take over the pattern - if you did not show enough leadership to take him through the pattern correctly, then your horse is going to take leadership in other areas as well, which will manifest itself as herdboundness, flight, etc. So if a horse missed a cone, he'd tell the rider to go back and get that cone. If a horse turned to the left rather than the right, the rider was going to make a full circle to the right immediately after halting the horse from going any further to the left. Path. Speed indicates tension and so if a horse is tearing around with his head in the air, it's going to be difficult to achieve a lead change - he has to be soft and supple, which equals a slow and rythmic canter. Speed also affects path and also bow bend. The bow bend (a full body arc) is necessary to allow the horse to pick up the correct lead.

He had a few exercises leading up to the actual change which allowed the rider and horse to sufficiently prepare for a correct flying lead change. It was fabulous - when the horses first entered the arena it was clear many were tense, uptight, and not at the level to achieve a flying lead change - yet Jonathan had every single horse performing flying lead changes by the end of his hour 15min clinic (as well as improving some general horsemanship with some riders). I had not thought it possible, yet all the exercises he used just enabled it to happen so easily!!

He also spoke some on how when a horse spooks and goes to bolt, he bow bends away from the object in question, so the key is to be able to bow bend the horse towards the object he's fearful of so as to maintain control. Otherwise the horse bow bends away, digs his heels in, and has complete power to take off. Another good point that Jonathan made was that whatever you have at home is amplified at the show. Whatever you have at the walk is amplified at the trot. So many times you hear people say - "well my horse is good at home!" or "his walk is fine!" yet some small piece of foundation was missing, something they'd inadvertedly missed, and it was amplified when the stress level and general level or work increased. The other key point Jonathan made was to start and finish with relaxation. My goal is always to have my horses more relaxed when we finish than when we begin, which we do 99.9 percent of the time. However Jonathan was going further with that, working a specific pattern until relaxation is achieved. For example, if a horse was tense during the canter after a flying change, Jonathan would have the rider circle at the canter (or even the trot) until it was relaxed, then it was permitted to relax (halting for a rest at a set of barrels). The reason for this is that what happens last starts to happen first, so if a horse ends tense, soon he starts to start out tense too. This way the action itself (in the above example, the canter then the flying lead change) brings about relaxation. The way Jonathan just pieced together the flying lead change made so much sense and worked so well - I can't wait to use it on my own horses!

Next clinician we saw was Jay Hayes, Jumping (Group Session). He started off with speaking on rider position - full seat (including a flat back, not rounded not arched - as I was taught), two-point, and three-point positions. A few points he made were:
- impulsion before collection
- 90 percent weight should be in the rider's heel = a low center of gravity for jumping
- DO NOT SEE-SAW ON YOUR HORSE'S MOUTH!!! I see so many riders doing this and even one of the girls at the clinic was see-sawing away before Jay corrected her.
- close the hip angle at the trot (go from two-point to three-point and back and forth)
- 4 and 4 - everything is done in four's. 4 seconds of collection, for for relaxation. 4 strides before the jump you are putting the horse on the hind with a half-halt.
- the horse needs the most care before the jump, not after: after a jump allow the horse to gallop out, collecting them only 4 strides before the jump (which is also where you change jumping position)
- your first jump is your most conservative jump of the day
- a mistake made going deep to a jump can be a good mistake, a mistake made going long to a jump is a bad mistake
- shorten stride before the jump results in bigger scope
- the quality of the gallop is directly related to the quality of jump
- let the horse jump up to you - close your hip angle then you can open a bit at the jump to feel the belly lift up to you
His primary 7 points were:
1. Forward - obtain impulsion, allow the horse to gallop between jumps
2. Jump line - stay on your jump line and be watching it from a ways back
3. Stride control - have control of your horse's stride so you can shorten the strides 4 strides out from the jump, setting the horse on its hind for bigger scope (because the horse is on his hind and can power up vertically over the jump)
4. Exercise/train/compete - you need all three
5. Seat - your seat should match the jump (size and proximity)
6. Hip angles - related to seat, closed or open depending on the jump size
7. Release - there should be no release, the horse then comes against your hands and powers up vertically; he mentions this is why your horse should be in a soft bit, nothing more than a simple snaffle...this is where my opinion differs from his - I strongly feel that your hand should follow the horse during a release. But we'll see, perhaps my opinion will follow his if I see it's still in the horse's best interests.
He led his students through a variety of exercises too that really helped put together a correct jump.

Lastly we got a chance to watch Mette Rosencrantz's Dressage clinic. She started out with two Training Level riders. She set up pairs of cones for a 20m circle and had them work up to half-halts at the trot and bending on the 20m at the walk and trot. Here's how Mette described the advanced half-halt:
It's composed of a very briefly closed, then opened, hand (say one second in length). It's supposed to allow the hind end to continue its forward momentum and energy as the front end slows, as opposed to halting the hind completely (she paralleled it to tossing a stick into a rear bike wheel as opposed to allowing it to continue to spin). Therefore the half-halt is actually quick little steps as the horse's hind momentum continues and the horse coils its body, before the stride is lengthened again. The overall speed of the trot is slowed yet the speed of the horse's steps are basically maintained. It's the beginning of the piaffe - eventually slowing the half-halt until you get that trot-on-spot. The half-halt is essentially pressuring the desire of the horse to move forward, "damming up the river".
Something I did not know that was also mentioned was that the FEI Prix St.George upwards is where the double bridle is mandatory; below that level it's voluntary but the judges will take a harder stance when judging you.

Next Mette took in three riders working on their Level 1 dressage. She was looking for the horses to bend enough for the rider to see the horse's inside eye and nostril in the bend as she asked them to trot the 20m circle with periodic walks and then half-halts. Lastly, she had them work on walking then trotting the 10m circle with bend. Mette also pointed out how the rider who is forward in her seat with her horse's nose to its chest (avoiding the rider) has no speed control. I felt this ties in (indirectly) to the three points Jonathan listed: Path, Speed, Bow Bend.

Actually a lot tied in together between all three clinics! I loved all three clinics and learned so incredibly much, but the Jonathan Field clinic was so amazing, as everything he said crossed over to so many other areas. The dressage and jumping clinics were fabulous as well, it was great to pick up new patterns and ideas to work on to get me started on and it was great to learn that a lot of what I tend to do naturally is correct - I'm on the right track! Still so incredibly much to learn though, it's never ending!! Can't wait to get back into lessons, some dressage this year then maybe some jumping next spring. I was originally thinking eventing with Link, but had always had jumping (ie. Spruce Meadows) at the back of my mind...now I'm leaning more that way than the eventing. We'll see!! Much more tomorrow to enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bucking videos

Seems like there are an endless supply of these videos!

Hey I'd have something to say about you banging my sides like that too! It's not about Arabs having attitude, it's about your horse bucking you off. The problem is not the horse, the problem is the rider and their approach. I think the horse is being pretty clear here about not wanting you up there. If the horse is bucking, he's telling you - clearly - to get off. Guess what, I'm going to listen to what he says, that's what partnership is about - whether that means getting off and addressing the root issue on the ground, or backing off the pressure and adjusting your approach under-saddle. It will not, I repeat, not, put you back a step in your training to get off a horse when he puts up a fuss, provided you correct the issue of why he is bucking (whether then - after you dismount, or during later sessions). If he's bucking out of discomfort or pain, I need to get off and fix the problem so that my horse does not feel the need to buck. If he's bucking out of disrespect or out of fear, well obviously I have more work to do - work that can be done on the ground and work that is often better suited to be done on the ground. There are certainly times when bucking can be addressed under-saddle of course, but in this instance, continuing to push a horse who has said "no" several times is not the correct answer. "If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question or you asked the question wrong". What irks me the most is that (once again) the horse is blamed. Hey, who gave YOU the right to swing your leg over that animal's back, without its approval, and to force your will upon it? Rather than blaming the horse for "having attitude", the rider should be re-evaluating the response they are invoking in the request they are making, and adjusting as appropriate (which might mean seeking out knowledge or seeking the help of a professional).

I hate the word breaking when used in regards to horses. Just rubs me the wrong way. The horse looks skinny because she is skinny. I can count every single one of her ribs and her hip bones are sticking out. That's a good 150 to 200lbs underweight. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck...guess what, it's probably a duck. The horse is skinny. Day 1 and you hop on the horse suddenly, no ground work, no mount-up prep? Horse looks pissed the entire time, particularly after being kicked so liberally (even in later videos of the horse). On the other hand, like she pointed out, this is her first horse, so it's not going to be perfect, and at least it is not abusive. The girl herself could be a great person - I have nothing against her personally. However if it were to be my first time, I'd be delving into some vids and books on starting horses! As for the comments stating that "of course the horse is going to buck, it's her first ride"...it does not have to be that way and in my personal opinion, shouldn't be that way.

That horse wanted nooo part of that girl. Shocking, considering the constant kicking! Oh and the fact that she looks like she's about to tear him to shreds after being bucked off...I wonder what happens at home after he tells her she's no longer welcome up there? More yanking on his mouth? Well now we know why the tie-down is on... On your horse is NO place to be venting your frustration. If your horse bucks you off, take a good hard look at why he bucked you off, most often the reason is us as riders, a lack of partnership between us and our horse, ill-fitting tack, etc.

"They said it was a kid-safe horse". Well yea...but not when you're yanking around on that curb bit and kicking the shit out of him. We won't get into the bad riding that likely also exacerbated the reason the horse took to bucking. He's not nuts or "poorly trained", just sane enough to want the rider causing him so much confusion and discomfort off his back!

I'm not trying to be hard on the individual people themselves in these videos - as long as actual abuse is not occurring I'm not going to comment much and I really do not feel all that upset towards them personally. We all make mistakes. I know nothing of that specific individual and for all I know they could be a great person. My point is that, just as in the last video, the horse is almost always to blame. That is not right in my books. In the last video, the posters of the video comment that the horse is "nuts" and comment posters say that the horse is "poorly trained" - what, because he will only put up with so much? Come on! Bucking is a form of communication for a horse - how else is he supposed to tell the rider he doesn't want them up there anymore, that they're causing him too much pain, that they're not acting like partners and are not treating him fairly?? Take responsibility, admit that you had a part to play in the horse bucking (a large part) - it's not the horse!! In the barrel racer video, the rider deliberately causes the horse pain and discomfort upon re-mounting. What does she think that horse is going to think of the prospect of her getting on again next time! If you are frustrated, walk away. It is never appropriate to take your frustration out on your horse. I have to admit that I have walked away before, and I have to admit that I've made mistakes before too, remaining with a horse despite frustration. I am working with a 3yo Canadian Sporthorse mare that got me pretty riled up the other day (I went to vaccinate her for her owners, who say she is fine with needles, only to be surprised with huge dinner-plate sized feet hanging in my face after the first poke). But just simply the negative energy I portrayed to her by being so frustrated set my work with such a sensitive and mistrusting horse back several steps after I've worked so hard at earning her trust. It is okay to walk away, which I did. Where frustration begins, savvy ends. We become frustrated because we have run out of knowledge, we've run out of ideas of how to handle the situation. Load up that arsenal of knowledge, keep our minds constantly open, and we're set. It's okay to walk away from a situation to come back to it another day with fresh ideas to try. It might be a little more difficult to earn a horse's respect after giving him his way by walking away when he bucks as an evasion, but it places you in a safer situation and it allows you to come at it differently - better, more prepared, next time. If you don't know what to do, staying up there is not going to change that and it will only further frustrate you and your horse (and possibly further jeopardize your safety). "Giving a horse his way" is sometimes the best thing you can do, if you come back to it (next time) properly and armed with the right knowledge to help you, you'll come out ten steps ahead. Way further ahead than if you'd stayed behind and "not given him his way". Promise. If you find yourself over your head or not obtaining the desired response from your horse, take a good hard look at yourself. Take the time to educate yourself and to seek help if necessary, then retry. Don't blame it on the horse.

Abusive riders

Trainer X over at I Hate Your Horse recently showcased the following video:

I'm not the type to openly criticize and judge another rider so blatantly, but this is one case that made my stomach drop. Three words: sick sick sick. No wonder "Bert" bucked her off! Her seat is stiff, her hands rough, her seat is so off it is not even humorous, and she's digging her spurs in like there's no tomorrow. The horse is so obviously upset with her from the very beginning - he told her from the first that he was going to buck her off if she kept it up, yet she ignored him, so he lifts his hind end a little. Her preposterous equitation is the only reason she came off at such a minute attempt at a buck. Then she SMILES, like it's FUN, as her friend (who is ALLOWING THIS BTW) passes her a crop with which to actually BEAT her horse. The horse, terrified, takes off. It's not just the fact that she DID this, but she also posts it on youtube (or has her friend post it, whatever it is), as if SHE IS PROUD OF IT!! As if it's a good joke!! At the end of the video the maker states "they love each other"...really??? Are you serious??? I wouldn't DREAM of doing something like this to the horses I love. And that horse certainly does not love that rider. Could he be any clearer?? This is the type of person who should never ever be permitted around ANY animal.

Another video of Bert, under the same rider:

Good for Bert. Next time, Bert, spin around on her after you buck her off and give her a real good kick in the ass.

The poster of the two above videos, a friend involved (and obviously condoning the behaviour), is starting a poor 2006 APHA colt.

Here's another video of Bert being cruelly beaten...ooops, I mean, free-longed, posted by the same individual who has posted all the videos featured so far. The commentary seems to be supposedly sarcastic and humourous, but personally I just find it sick, disgusting, and immature.

Bert's not free longing, he's trying to evade another beating. It's clear he has no idea what his rider is asking of him, he's confused. So she hits him. And he kicks. Of course he kicks!! I would too if I were him!! Hopefully he actually aims better next time. Sounds harsh, but it would be well-deserved. Of course it would probably only earn him another beating. A testament to the Haflinger's beautiful personality - this horse is putting up with so much!! If I had have done that to my Warmblood gelding he'd be hunting me down by now and gladly kicking the shit out of me.

Update: there were two more videos, one of Bert attempting to get his (assumed owner, different from the above rider) abusive rider off his back, and another of a poor 2006 APHA colt clearly terrified of its rider/"trainer" (under the same rider who's Bert's actual rider/owner)... but Bert's actual rider's account has been deleted and thus the videos are no longer accessible.

It seems the first two videos I pointed out were meant in "fun" but even if these videos were isolated incidents (which they're not, the additional videos prove it), it's obvious it wasn't "fun" for the horse(s). Being abused is never fun. Personally, I strongly believe that this rider should be kicked off the show circuit. For life. Where are her parents?? If I ever caught any child of mine demonstrating what the above rider did to 'Bert', they would be yanked off that horse so fast they wouldn't know what's coming. In my opinion, that girl should never see a horse again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Desensitization vs earning trust

One of our OTTB geldings, Sonny

The following is written by Fugly Horse of the Day author Cathy, over on It's a Really Long Way Down, her personal blog. I had some strong thoughts on it originally, but today was the day things really clicked for me to produce a clear picture. Please take note I am not endorsing Cathy or her FHOTD blog in any way, shape, or form. So, the quote (in regards to desensitizing horses):

"On a related note, do you believe that horses can get too desensitized to the point where they become dull and react to nothing, or is that your goal? I think it kind of depends on how you use them. I think a dull horse is the easiest horse to sell and the most likely horse to find a good home. But obviously that horse isn't going to be your star athlete in a lot of disciplines. I know many people who believe, for example, that spooky horses just have a prettier jump and there's probably some truth to that. They are not going to risk their hoofies touching a scary rail, that's for sure. Does your discipline favor the dull horse or the edgy athlete, and how does your training seek to create that?"

Personally, I think a dull horse is a horse who has been discouraged from being curious and who has been taught to not think for himself. It's a horse ridden with heavy hands and spurs. He reacts to nothing because he's learned he'd better not react and he really just doesn't care anymore. It can also be a very non-reactive, naturally laid-back and confident horse who has never been sensitized, or taught to be light. Some horses just are not naturally reactive as a whole (particularly if they are mentally and emotionally balanced horses) - the Left-brained horses. . I currently have two such horses myself even. The one, a left-brain introvert, is not going to give you much though if you have not earned his respect - earn his partnership and he's in - all four feet. With most people though he would be classified as "dull" and lazy. As far as the edgy horse, well I've got one of those as well. My own "edgy" horse is balanced emotionally and I have worked hard to develop a strong partnership with him. As such, while he is still very sensitive, he follows my leadership. He's relaxed rather than "edgy" and is no more liable to spook than I am (of course, if I spook, it follows that he will too - lol). He is also a very athletic horse, but I would not necessarily place him above my other horses, even my "dull" Warmblood cross (who is not at all "dull", but he would be classified as such in most hands). Take note too that I have worked with additional horses in either category have found the same. It's not about desensitization. I strongly do not believe you can "over desensitize" a horse. It (that is, whether a horse is dull or edgy) is dependant completely upon your program and partnerships with your horses.

But back to the topic. Desensitizing. This is one of the areas I feel the Parelli Natural Horsemanship differs from other methods, even John Lyons (where horses are taught to spook in place). See the Friendly game is about desensitizing, but it about so much more than that. All 7 games focus not only on earning a horse's respect, but also on earning their trust - on earning a partnership. Today I was tossing ropes around a new mare when it hit me. I've always said that you can't desensitize a horse to everything, there is always going to be something you run across one day that the horse has not seen, and that is where methods that rely purely on desensitization will fail. Tossing ropes over this mare, playing with tarps (a task for another day), and generally just playing all our games are not about desensitization. Sure, that helps. However it is more than that. I am placing this mare in an unfamiliar, scary situation, and I am leading her through it. I am using approach and retreat, never over-challenging her past thresholds she cannot handle, and am generally acting calm, patient, and consistent to represent a strong leader to her. With the ropes, I am introducing her to something she is leery of (as a prey animal), yet those ropes never hurt her. Eventually she becomes accustomed to the ropes but she also gains trust in my leadership, because to her, I ensured her safety. I proved myself a herd leader and went up a notch in doing so. Each task I present her with I am not simply desensitizing her or teaching her something else, I am also earning her trust by getting her through said task safely. That way next time we encounter something we have never seen before, it's not such a big deal to her, she will be willing to follow my leadership and touch or walk past the scary object without objection rather than spooking (a safety mechanism on her part). She'll have enough trust that I got her through all sorts of other prior situations that I can also get her through this one. The proof was really in the pudding today though as the aforementioned mare I was working with reacted less and less and grew calmer and calmer with each new thing I presented her with - she was already investing enough trust in me to get her past a few of the challenging tasks I put her through.

So rather than "making a horse deal" with scary objects (as per Cathy's personal blog It's a Long Way Down) and desensitizing them, does it not make better sense to simply earn such a high level of trust that they trust our leadership and so can follow our calm assertive leadership? That way when we encounter a new object, if we don't spook, they won't either, because our horses will be taking direction from us. I just think that our overall demeanor and methods of working with our horses play more of a role in how our horses handle situations later than actual desensitization does - overall.

Jumpers should not be over-jumping out of fear of a rail and naturally edgy horses do not necessarily have an advantage over naturally dull horses in competition - in my opinion. It is not simply about whether or not a horse is naturally dull or edgy, because so many other factors contribute and combine to create the horse in front of you. Furthermore, it is our job as a rider to 'balance' a horse mentally and emotionally and when we do so we take the extreme responses (whether dull or edgy) out of the equation - we create a horse who is neither overly dull nor overly reactive or edgy. A star athlete needs to be focused, not edgy or reactive (who wastes energy and lacks efficiency), nor dull. The same is required of the average amateur horse - no rider likes to be constantly prodding their horse along, and neither do they wish to be on a horse who is overly reactive and spooky. So with the naturally reactive horse, we focus on desensitization and earning trust (creating a quiet, calm, confident horse), whereas with the naturally dull horse, we focus on sensitization and earning respect (we create a lighter, responsive horse). In my opinion, there is therefore no such thing as too much desensitization because desensitization is not what creates a dull horse.

PS - Oh and for anyone noting the photo and panicking about the leadrope being on the ground...this horse is past the stage of exploding when he accidentally steps on his leadrope. Part of my program, part of the PNH program, is teaching horses to be calmer, braver, smarter partners and also includes teaching them to move off of pressure. So many horses explode when they accidentally step on a rein or leadrope, which is dangerous - but we've all been there. When I first start working with a horse, that is usually where they are at too - it's prey animal instinct to react in fear, often violently, when they find themselves trapped (ie. tangled in a lead, etc). As you teach them to remain calm, think situations through, and to move off of pressure though, this disappears. Sonny and I have put in a lot of time in this area, so I can say with 100 percent confidence and accuracy that if he steps on that leadrope, he's going to either calmly sit there and wait for me to 'rescue' him, or he is going to slowly back off of it so that he is free again. No safety hazards involved.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pulls back when tied

Horses are naturally claustrophobic, which is why trailers and being tied can invoke huge fear-based reactions. Tight spaces or being restricted can impede an escape from a predator, so horses tend to naturally avoid such situations. When put in claustrophobic situations, horses can react blindly and violently, out of instinct to fight or flee. A tied horse cannot evade a predator, she's trapped, so if that flight instinct kicks in for whatever reason (if for whatever reason she feels her safety is jeopardized), she's going to attempt to flee...thereby pulling back. A reactive horse isn't thinking, she's reacting out of pure instinct. What we're asking from the horse, as humans, is for a horse to stand tied without pulling back in the first place, but if she does pull back, for her to release and give to the pressure. In the wild however, horses often push through pressure when they're trapped. Another factor that can play a role in a horse pulling back is the horse that does so while thinking, the horse that isn't pulling back out of reactiveness but rather is doing so decisively and calmly - this reaction is not as common as the reactive reaction and usually indicates a horse that has little disrespect for pressure (or the person, even) and who essentially just wants her own way.

Before ever tying a horse in the first place, a horse should understand pressure and how to respond to it; they need to be taught to move off of pressure. This can be done through the Parelli Porcupine Game (one of the 7 games), where the horse is asked to move off of fingertip pressure that is applied in various phases (touch hair, touch skin, touch muscle, touch "bone"), in various areas of the body (nose, chest, elbow/nose, hindquarter). The goal is for the horse to respond lightly - for us to be able to eventually only apply Phase 1 - touch hair, and have the horse respond to that feather-light touch. I also will throw ropes into the equation. Once the horse is comfortable with ropes all around her, I will ask her to solve puzzles: I'll wrap a 12' lead around her body, walking to her opposite side and by her head with the rope looped around behind her and apply pressure, asking her to follow the feel and turn 360 degrees to once again face me. If she's comfortable with that I'll even wrap her up twice in a 22' rope. Also, I'll toss the rope around legs, apply pressure, and ask her to release (nose and leg relax and give to the pressure). If they're comfortable with thinking through situations, solving puzzles, and releasing to pressure, they have all the tools to then tie. This way if they accidentally step on their lead, rather than exploding, they think the situation through and stand calmly or even remove their foot from the lead. When they're tied and something spooks them, they might flee backwards but as they feel the pressure, they'll give and relax, coming forward. The horse that pulls back in a non-reactive, thinking manner needs us to earn a higher level of respect; a level that encompasses her learning to stay where we ask until we ask otherwise and that also encompasses us earning a sufficient level of respect where she can respect and respond to pressure. Teaching her to release to pressure in the first place is also important for this type of horse. Another method of teaching this horse to stand where we ask is to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy: when not tied, she works, when tied, she is permitted to relax. Lastly, both horses need to have trust in their herd leader's (us) leadership and to be developed into a calmer, smarter, braver horse.

While tying can teach a horse lots in regards to patience and releasing to pressure, there are also points in time where tying is not the best option, such as when a horse is not yet emotionally and mentally balanced. I've learned not to always tie my undeveloped horses - doing so only causes their stress levels to increase and for them to be more reactive, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to get their heads back into the game and become my partner afterward. Furthermore, when you tie them and it increases anxiety levels (ie, the horse does not eventually relax but becomes increasingly anxious), you run the risk of further cementing that response (anxiety when tied) as a habit. So essentially, there is a time to tie and a time not to tie. The time not to tie is when it causes the horse to become more hyped up emotionally, when it causes more harm than good. When they're standing pawing, weaving, bobbing their heads, and generally expressing anxiety, it's probably not the best time to tie them. You're setting them up for another session of anxiety, bad feelings associated with being tied, and a potential disaster when they eventually pull back. They're not in the right place emotionally and thus further restricting their feet is only going to create anxiety as their feeling of being trapped increases. Instead, work on developing them - creating that calmer, smarter, braver partner so that they're not anxious when restricted. Create a calmer brain and the feet will be quieter - otherwise the brain is anxious, causing the feet to move in a flight pattern, which in turn creates a higher level of anxiety in the brain...and so the vicious circle continues. I find that once a horse is at least somewhat developed, or balanced mentally and emotionally, that tying is no longer an issue. In fact, by that time, they're ground-tying, they're not needing to move their feet in flight! If they're ground-tying, tying to a post later is no problem. The time to tie is when the horse is sufficiently prepared (ie, releases to pressure, etc) and when it causes greater benefit than harm - ie, the horse who calms after perhaps some initial anxious moments or the horse who benefits from learning some patience.

Remember, it is not about the tying itself, it is about the underlying root issues that result in either success or failure when tied.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Continuing on the "problem horse" issues...laziness. Keep in mind the following is assuming pain or discomfort is not an issue, and that the horse understands the request to move forward but simply chooses not to obey this request.

A few weeks ago someone was in the arena, raving about their "bomb-proof" 4yo draft mare. Nothing seemed to scare this mare much...but her owner couldn't get her to move out into a canter, never mind the trouble it took to get a trot! Lots of kicking and frustration and a horse deemd "lazy".

"Lazy" horses are labeled as such for one reason: lack of motivation. It is also a sign that you have not adequately earned that horse's respect - you have only earned so much respect as he's willing to dish out at that exact moment. Think about it: when boss horse comes around and pins his ears at your lazy gelding, your gelding most likely gets out of there pretty fast! He's got a high level of respect for that horse. On the other hand, a horse that sloooowly moves off from the more dominant horse, ears pinned, is displaying his displeasure toward having to submit to the other horse. His reaction toward pinned ears from another horse depends upon his respect level for that specific horse; so while he might move off fast when one horse so much as glances in his direction, he might display some resentment with a tail swish, hindquarters in the other horse's face, and ears pinned, as he slowly moves a step or two away, toward another horse. The key then is clear to a) motivate your horse and b) earn your horse's respect.

A lot of lazy horses absolutely love rest - so use it! I'll work on a particular pattern, transitions, etc and when the horse does it well, he is permitted a quick rest break (longer if he does especially well). Ask a lot but accept little at first and increasingly ask for more from your horse before rewarding him. By rewarding with rest, your horse is constantly tuned in to you to see when you're going to ask for that downwards transition and a rest break and as such he'll be more responsive, particularly with downwards transitions. You can also use treats or even scratches to reward a horse for trying for you; just be careful with treats that the horse is always respectful taking that treat (ie. not grabbing it along with your hand). If a horse is disrespectful toward me in regards to taking a treat, I will either take my hand away and not give him the treat until he is calmly submissive (standing quietly outside my space - designated as such by me - and not grabbing at me), or I will remove treats from the program altogether until I have earned a higher level of respect from that horse. Providing motivation for a horse provides him incentive to have impulsion and to try for you. I will also work on patterns that have a definite end to them (such as riding from one point of the arena to another, and continuing on in such a fashion - along "long" lines for the unmotivated horse, say from the long end of the arena to the other side of the long end) - that way my horse responds with a "how far how fast?" because he knows that he has a rest at the end of the pattern to look forward to.

Lack of respect
Respect is not something that can be forced. Often people seem to think that by "showing the horse who is boss" through physical force, they are earning respect. They're not. Physical force is going to do one of two things: create a fearful horse or a resentful one. The fearful one is not going to trust you in a partnership, let alone your leadership out away from the herd or in a challenging situation. The resentful horse is going to be constantly looking for ways to fight you, he's likely going to respond aggressively towards you, and he's certainly not going to do what you ask (or at least not willingly). This is a 1,000lb animal. I don't know about the next person, but I don't want 1,000lbs of pure muscle bunny rabbit exploding one day in fear, or charging at me with pinned ears. It's just not on my bucket list. I've ridden some great horses who were quick on their feet - they seemingly had a load of respect for their rider. But their actions were too quick, they did not trust their rider and were afraid to step wrong for fear of physical force. It wasn't respect but instead it was fear. As soon as they felt they were beyond the reach of that human, they were in pure flight mode to get away as fast as physically possible. I've also been in pens with stallions that had been trained using physical force who you could not trust - I was constantly watching my back. Those stallions were resentful and were just looking for the opportunity for my guard to be down (I represented any human, to them) to get in and dish out what this other trainer had been dishing out to him.

The primary point though is that respect cannot be forced if one wants a true partnership between horse and rider. It must be 100 percent earned. Play games that have that horse moving his feet more than you are moving yours (watch a herd of horses, the more dominant horse always moves his feet less), both under-saddle and on the ground. What you have on the ground is always halved in the saddle, so earn a 10/10 level of respect from your horse on the ground so that you have a 5/10 in the saddle. Think of it as a partnership - you have to prove to your horse that you are deserving of his respect. He has to earn your trust and respect just as you have to earn his. He has to willingly give it to you. Ask everything in phases, providing your horse the chance to respond to a cue at a lower phase of response (ie. to move forward: squeeze with all four cheeks, move that squeeze down your legs, squeeze with your heel, hold, spank yourself then move that rhythmical spank - rhythmical so as to be predictable to your horse - down to the horse and increase the pressure until the horse moves off; stop as soon as you get a response!), always be rhythmical in everything you ask, and be assertive but never aggressive. Frustration begins where savvy ends, so if you find yourself becoming frustrated, the horse will not "win" by you walking away or dismounting and ending the session. Walking away prevents frustration from transforming assertiveness to aggressiveness. Walk away, figure out a different way to approach the problem, and return when you're calm and better prepared (ie, more knowledgeable and/or in a better state of mind). It's discouraging and difficult to walk away from a session on a sour note, but it's important to do sometimes.

The horse is a reflection of its rider. If you act (body language, games with your horse, etc) in a manner that deserves respect, you will earn it. Horses do not naturally want to be the leader, they're prey animals and would prefer the next horse to be leader...but someone has to be Leader. If you are not offering up adequate leadership, your horse is not going to place his trust and respect in you and he's going to take control of the situation to ensure his own safety.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


From the Parelli website:

"Horses kick for two reasons... they're afraid of you or they don't like you! That's the big, distasteful truth! Fearful horses kick in defense, dominant horses kick out of resentment and dominance. Either way, smacking the horse for it doesn't work.

You need to get the horse to where he trusts you, likes you, respects you... and none of that is achieved through violence.

First of all, stay out of the kick zone. Second, learn to "read" your horse's intent, they always give warning signs so you need to learn how to recognize them. Thirdly, give your horse no reason to kick you."

Smacking does not work. Sure it works temporarily, or perhaps only when you are around, but there are more effective ways of dealing with a horse who kicks. If a horse is kicking out of fear, by smaking her you are only proving yourself to her an untrustworthy, unpredictable, predator - not a leader. With the dominant horse kicking to get you out of her space, you're simply aggravating her. She's still ticked off, she still doesn't like you...and now she's even more ticked off towards you. A smack never earns trust and it never earns respect.

1. If your horse kicks, keep out of that area until you've earned her trust or respect!

2. If you can read what your horse is telling you and respond at the smaller phases she's giving you, she won't need to kick. A kick is an escalation of communication from the horse. She gradually escalates her "talking" from a whisper (laid back ears) to a yell (the kick) - respond to a whisper and she won't yell.

3. Give your horse no reason to kick you. Don't push her past her thresholds if she's a fearful horse, to the point where she feels she needs to kick you in self-defense. If it's a dominant kick, don't confront the horse to the point where she feels she needs to kick you. Challenge her to learn and earn her respect, but do not confront her.

Play games that earn a horse's trust and respect. Also, if a horse does kick you, do not react! To them - a prey animal, you are only proving yourself an untrustworthy and unpredictable predator if you react (ie. yell, kick, hit, etc)...just as they had suspected. Instead, remain calm, ignore the behaviour, and work to solve the root of the problem - a lack of trust or respect. Violence solves nothing and will not earn respect or trust.

An example of both dominant and fearful kicking:

One of my recent additions is an off-track Thoroughbred gelding, 5 years old this year. He would kick for both of the above reasons - out of fear and dominance, depending on the situation.

We were playing the figure-8 patter on-line on the ground and he was growing increasingly anxious, especially moving between me and the barrel; at one point, he bolted past me and nailed me in the leg. Immediately afterward, he flipped out even worse - he was positive this predator at the end of the rope was going to kill him, particularly after he had kicked it! Instead, I gritted my teeth and continued working with him calmly and patiently (continuing the exercise) until he calmed down and relaxed. He'd come around that barrel thinking he was in danger, and he was going to 'get me' before I could 'get him'. So a) I ignored his kick, proving to him I wasn't unpredictable after all, that I was still a calm, assertive leader and b) I progressed our work over the following sessions (as planned) to earn his trust. As a result, I am slowly but surely earning his trust in my leadership and in myself as a herd member, to the point where he will never feel the need to kick me in self-defense.

A dominant horse does not want to move his feet for you, he figures he's the best leader and until you prove yourself otherwise, he's going to insist on being leader. This is where it is important to earn a horse's respect and not force it. If you attempt to force it, he might react negatively and even aggressively - he'll fight. If you earn it, he will soon give it willingly. My OTTB, being a dominant horse (a Left-Brain Extrovert, as we'd call him), was not willing to simply hand the reins over to me. If I asked, on the ground, for him to move his hindquarters over (something especially difficult mentally for a dominant horse to do - to move his hindquarters submissively), he'd do it...but I'd have to pay attention to what he said. At first I had to ask little - if I asked too much of him, if he felt I was too demanding, I'd get a tail swish, a dirty look, and a raised hoof - even a kick if I pushed it. As I worked hard at earning his respect in a number of areas, he willingly gave me more and more respect. I asked little and got more. I never confronted him: if he said "no", then "no" it was. Instead, I'd focus on earning his respect differently (perhaps with a lighter phase), or from another angle - I would compromise. Now, he'll let me know if I am asking something rudely (ie. using a higher phase of a"ask" than was necessary), but will willingly give me a high level of respect and move his hind end. Our partnership is still a work in progress, as he's still a pretty new herd member, however we're attaining much, and quickly.

The space invader...no, not ET's...

Continuing on the original problem-solving topic!

We've all had horses like this one, the one that bullies you and runs you over or leaps into your space when he's scared. When I hear an owner say "she's so sweet, she's just such a pocket horse"...that sends red flags up for me. Often it is simply a minor problem, but your "pocket pony" being in your space is not a sign of friendliness but rather a lack of respect for your space. It is not that a horse is not permitted in your space, but it should be on your terms - with you, as the leader, designating when, how, where, and why.

Horses enter our space for one of two reasons. One, they're scared. The safest place for a horse is obviously in the middle of the herd. If you are the only being around your horse, you are that herd. In this case, the horse will run you over in attempt to get himself into an area of safety. Short-term, wave your arms, make yourself big, to prevent the horse from bolting over top of you. A horse in right-brain, reactive mode is not thinking clearly - he's reacting, so you have to be very obvious, even jump in place while waving your arms. As soon as he backs off, stop and relax your body. Long-term, develop a partnership where your horse can trust your leadership, where he does not have to be scared of every little thing because he's following a calm and assertive leader in whom he has full confidence will protect him. Teach your horse games and patterns that develop confidence, that develop a calmer, smarter, braver horse.

The other reason a horse can invade your space is out of dominance. The least dominant horse is the one who moves his feet the most. So if your horse is moving into your space, he is doing so because he gave himself, as self-appointed leader, permission to be in your space. You move your feet to prevent from being run over...you further cement that you're the submissive herd member. Short-term, don't let your horse in your space in the first place!! I find these horses are typically nippers too (another respect issue in this case)...so cut out treats until you've got a high enough level of respect. If you absolutely must give a treat, do not reward the horse until he is showing calm submission rather than dominance. This likely is not going to occur though if you're having an invading-my-space problem or a dominant-nipping problem. Use your arms as "walls" and yo-yo your horse backwards (see the Parelli 7 games) to get your horse out of your space - keep him out there at all times unless you directly invite him in. Be clear, be direct, be consistent, and be assertive (but never aggressive!). Long-term, work on increasing that level of respect. Play games with him that involve his moving his feet whilst yours remain still. Get him to work with snappy, respectful responses. Never confront a dominant horse, but challenge him in such a way that earns his respect.