Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mexican dancing horses

After reading Cathy's blog I blame Dancing With the Stars for this, I just had to comment. I don't bother commenting on the actual blog (in the comments section, that is) though, as I usually have too much to say in one limited comment box, and then your comments are lost in the multitude of others anyways. So to start, a few example videos of Mexican dancing horses:

Obviously I do not approve of the method displayed in the videos above - tying a horse to pillars and whipping it to do a sort of piaffe is not in the horse's best interests. It is a very false piaffe due to the manner in which the horse is taught. You can see by the horse's body language in each of the above videos that they are very anxious and fearful as a result of this method of training: the feet are fast, many of the horses resort to rearing and bucking, ears and general facial expressions are of that of worried horses, tails are held tensely, and most are ready to explode. It is a method that is abusive and is done out of force and fear; a happy, relaxed, supple horse it does not create.

The original videos have since been deleted, but Cathy's comment pertaining to the very similar video she posted on her blog:
All so that a human can get on him in a … WTF! shanked bit and do this.

As far as that particular horse being ridden in a curb bit, while it is impossible to tell exactly what type of bit is inside his mouth, the rider does maintain a nice loop in the rein and has seemingly soft hands (in the short video clip provided, at least). Curb bits do have their use, as advanced bits - for refinement. They allow a rider to communicate more subtly with the horse. In experienced hands, a curb bit is used as a tool for more intimate communication and thus advanced maneuvers stemming from that advanced communication...not as a source of increased control. Cathy's snide comment in regards to this horse being ridden in a curb bit does not really have all that much merit here based on the available evidence. On the other hand, I doubt a 2yo has had sufficient work on it thus far to warrant it being ridden in a curb bit yet. Still - the actual use of the curb bit itself does not constitute abuse or force in itself - in the videos shown at least.

Then Cathy goes on to say the following:
Now, I know someone will pop up and announce that you can train a horse for this kind of “dancing” without abuse. OK. Can you post a video of that? All I ever see is someone whipping on a horse in cross-ties, and that’s not training.

Well Cathy, I am sure you are perfectly capable yourself of opening your eyes and thus being privy to seeing riders out there who are training their horses to piaffe (and other complicated dressage maneuvers) without abuse.

I found this video interesting (posted in the comments section of Cathy's blog):
Horse Dance 3
It is described in the comments section as a Pakistani horse, however I cannot confirm that, as I do not read/speak Arabic (or whatever the language posted and spoken in the background is!). This, to me, appears to be a good example of someone training a horse to dance sans abuse. The horses are wearing boots to protect their fronts from their hinds possibly hitting, their body language is relaxed and calm (note how they relax immediately after a "dance", even cocking a hind leg), and though they appear to anticipate here and there, they do not appear to be fearful or worried. On the one hand, I am not sure what all those ropes are doing, however they do appear to be loose at times so I am assuming they are simply a communication aid. My only other concern is that the horses are clearly over-flexed...however they are permitted breaks and it does not seem they are kept dancing for extended periods of time (note how they switch out horses). I like how the handlers are constantly rubbing the horses reassuringly, petting them in their spare time, and even spongeing water down their faces - they obviously care!

Another video featured in the comments section was that of Blue Hors Matine. This video has to have been sent around the web at least a hundred times and while I do find it impressive, I still dislike the constant wringing tail. To me, that does not appear to be a horse who is happy and having fun - the wringing (not simply swinging rhythmically) tail indicates to me tension in the back... which also is a 'tell' that the movements performed are falsely and incorrectly executed.

Last but not least (as far as video clips go), I wanted to feature the following:

The Akhal Teke stallion Absent performing a piaffe.

Last response/comment I wanted to make. Posted in the comments section of FHOTD was the question as to whether or not these horses (who are taught to prance) can be taught to move out without the prancing, and how hard is it. In my opinion, the answer is yes (albeit depending on the level of damage done psychologically). We have one OTTB who does a similar sort of dance when he is tense whereby he elevates his motion and shortens his stride similarly to these mexican horses in the above videos. The answer has been slow, patient work. He is so used to being held back from forward movement, that he has learned as a habit to simply elevate his forward momentum as the result of a tense back, as opposed to stretching forward over his back. Since he knows he cannot burst forward (thanks to his track training), even when I have him on a loose rein, he shortens his hind steps and directs all his impulsion upward. At first, this was all he did. Now, however, his "cat-like" trotting is becoming more and more sparse as relaxation and suppleness replaces tension. The key is to teach your horse he can relax and move forward. Whatever is occurring in the mind reflects in the body, so if you teach a horse to have a calm mind, to think rather than react and try to flee, it will reflect as a relaxed back and body. Develop your horse to be calmer, braver, smarter - balance out his emotions. Then, further develop his body with circles, serpentines - all sorts of patterns that encourage him to be supple, relaxed, and loose. Then start using patterns that encourage him to track up, and others that encourage him to extend. It does take a lot of time and patience to re-train a horse who has been taught to move and/or think incorrectly, so be prepared to take the time it takes. It will be worth it!

1 comment:

Lianne said...

Are you still blogging/contactable? I fully agree with the points you've made. I have a Mexican trained/broken/abused *Fjord* whom I'm working with to overcome the bad behavior he developed in response to his abuse -- my conjecture. I would appreciate corresponding with you re: insights and training tips. We made significant progress today and are hoping to continue such success.