Friday, March 19, 2010

Poor Training

This is the last in the series influenced by Cathy's FHOTD, but I thought I'd highlight on a couple things she said; actually not to personally 'attack' or even 'out' Cathy herself, but just to highlight piss-poor training practices that I see quite often, Cathy and her blog aside.

Fugly says: February 22, 2010 at 10:46 am
"I’m also not opposed to tying around in moderation. 15, 20 minutes, fine. Not hours and certainly not days. Then you stop teaching anything and just create soreness and anger."

Her reason, as quoted and explained to a poster who commented on the statement above:

"It teaches them to give to either side without a fight and makes it easier to do the same thing from the saddle. They learn to simply give their nose to relieve the pressure and then do so willingly for the rider. I don’t see anything wrong with it. My trainer does it with halter, not even a bit."

I am strongly opposed to tying around, for two primary reasons:

It is not just one little training technique either, but rather is the result of a mindset, the same mindset who will also be forcing the horse overall and where the horse's dignity and respect for the horse in the overall method is not taken into consideration (usually). As I have said before: why should the horse do what we want? He doesn't know we pay his bills. This is a partnership that involves give and take and honestly, I feel the best way to work with a horse is to have them want to work for you. In such a way they will try their heart out for you and their best interests are served. Since it is a part-ner-ship, the horse has a say as well. Horses can enjoy our company and they can certainly enjoy riding - yes they can even enjoy working in the arena and using themselves athletically. At the very least, if we can pay the horse some respect, they will start to choose to do as we ask and what we wish, even if it is not something they are overly excited about, because they respect us and appreciate our company and working with us.

Tying around is about force, and can be a quite dangerous technique, even for 15-20 minutes (plus, 15-20 minutes is a long time to have your neck held in one place for an extensive period of time!! Try holding your own neck in one extreme position for just one minute and you will find it quite difficult). First off, you've got the horses who have never been taught to think through a situation carefully and/or who do not do so naturally on their own. Push them into such a situation and they will fight, because you are effectively taking away their mode of escape and thus causing claustrophobia in the horse. Imagine someone restricting you from running away should the need arise, and furthermore, restricting your view of your surroundings. You are a prey animal and, from your perspective, could be preyed upon at any moment - so you fight. Of course many horses will quit after a moment or two of struggle, particularly 'quieter' breeds such as Quarter Horses. However you take the risk of a horse not calming down and flipping itself. If the horse struggles to an extreme and gets up (ie. into a half-rear or such), it cannot free its head to re-balance and thus will flip over completely. Secondly, you also have the horses who have previous 'emotional baggage' and where tying their heads around would just be too much pressure - and you might not know until you have already tied their head.

To negate the above associated physical risks to the horse (nevermind the mental and emotional force one is inflicting upon the horse, who is supposed to be your partner) is...well, not all that honest. I have seen the mental and emotional damage such training methods incurred on horses, ruining otherwise good horses. Last year I was prepared to purchase an Argentine Warmblood mare who, unbeknownst to me at the time, had had her head tied around when she was first started. Naturally being a bit resistant anyway, this mare did fight - and flipped over backwards. Onto a panel of the roundpen she was in. She now has permanent scar tissue over her spine and cannot use her back nearly as effectively as a horse without the same injury. Not to mention that she is extremely sour and difficult to work with. Such a gorgeous mare, with a ton of potential (her brother is an Olympic prospect and she had what we thought to be similar jumping caliber) and excellent bloodlines...effectively ruined. I can honestly say with absolute certainty that a few of my own horses and horses I have trained in the past would have reacted the same way with potentially similar consequences had their heads been tied around. It is just too risky and not worth it to your horse, particularly when their are other methods of teaching the horse to give to pressure:
A) Teach your horse to give to pressure in general. Move his hindquarters and front end around, teach him to sidepass off of pressure on the ground, to lower and raise his head, to lift his feet to pressure, to back to pressure, whatever you can think of. Get your horse light and responsive so that his first response to a feather light touch in the right area (in combination with intent in your body language, you should be able to otherwise simply touch your horse wherever without it moving off) is to relax and move away from the pressure, rather than to fight it.
B) Teach your horse to give to pressure on his halter/bridle on the ground first. You can simply stand at his shoulder and ask for little bits of give, asking increasingly more of him until he is (eventually) flexing his nose to his girth area without a fuss, relaxedly, and to a light touch. By standing at his shoulder, you can easily follow his movements. If he moves too quick, back up and ask a little less of him to make sure he understands the basic concept of giving to the pressure. In addition, you can also always carefully loop the leadrope over the horn (half a loop or one loop only so that it comes loose) and carefully ask the horse to give to the pressure, from a few steps back/away from the horse. Without actually tying the horse's head though, there is room for error and you can always release your hold (hold, never pull, that way the horse can be the one to relieve the pressure). Later in the saddle, do the same thing. Personally I do do a bit of this on the ground, however I just find it easier to do most in the saddle as part of one of the very first things I teach the horse. I teach them the Porcupine game on the ground but usually ask them to flex their head in the saddle - I teach this prior to even teaching them to move out, that way I have an emergency stop should I ever need it.

So in short, there are better ways that do not involve forcing your horse.

Onto the next topic, I felt this poster said it best in response to something Cathy said:
February 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm
"First, a comment about the blog. It is NOT OK to “crank them in a circle and boot them after they’ve tried to buck you off”! Horses do what they do for a reason, they react to things. Find out the reason: pain from saddle fit, the bit, feet hurt on landing, body sore or just badly ridden causing fear or pain. Or the anticipation of pain from all the above, especially TB’s. Or any number of reasons, but to say “they tried to buck you off” is taking it personal as if the horse is doing it TO you, like a blame the horse thing when the horse is bucking in response to pain or other stressor. However in the few instances where the horse is really trying to unload you. I’d be looking for reasons for that too, like the horse is truly not broke and in that case shouldn’t be in a show ring anyway. It’s too easy to blame the horse.
In response to your question, I would submit a written letter..."

I really liked the response because I had not considered before (for whatever reason!) that when we punish a horse for bucking, we are taking it personally (imo). The horse is not doing it 'to' us but is rather simply responding. I just thought it was a brilliant way of putting it. Like I always say, a horse who is exhibiting a vice (such as bucking, rearing, biting, kicking, whatever it may be), is simply communicating in the only way it knows how. They cannot articulate their feelings in english so are left to body language. When their 'whispering' does not work, they are forced to increase the 'volume' of their 'speak' until we listen, which can include 'shouting' (ie. bucking, rearing, etc). It is not something to take personally - just listen up and respond!

fhotd says: February 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm
"If you read this blog, you know perfectly well that I always tell people to look for a pain source FIRST. However, some horses DO buck TO BE NAUGHTY. This is a fact. You will never convince me otherwise. In those cases, it is appropriate to make them chase their tail and give them a good you-were-naughty-and-you-know-it boot in the ribs. This is not a punishment that should break the skin or traumatize the animal in any way, shape or form. You do it briefly, immediately and then you move on."

Horses do not just buck to be naughty, plain and simple. They might buck because they do not want you up there or because they are not comfortable with humans in general being up there, but a) they would have provided other signals first and b) they are not doing it 'just because'. There is always a reason, though it may not always be physical pain. They could most certainly be doing it because they are retaliating and are feeling 'rebellious', however it's not a simple 'he's naughty' move: if he's feeling that way towards you or your riding, figure out why and fix it (which often means 'fixing' yourself as the rider, or your approach)*. This is why I say you can work out every issue, including bucking, on the ground first (provided it is not a pain issue, of course). It is not okay to simply boot the horse around in response to a buck. If the horse bucks, it is doing so for a reason - figure out the reason, correct it, and problem solved. Sometimes it means earning the horse's respect, earning their trust, or working more in partnership with them, but booting your partner on a small circle is just plain disrespectful to him.
* I realise I made it seem like the horse is making a personal response toward you, however the fact of the matter is the horse is not doing it on a personal level, though they could be responding to what you are doing, personally. When we take it personally it leads to an aggressive response in lieu of an assertive one, which is detrimental to our response to, and relationship with, that horse.

My Thoroughbred Link was a classic case of what other horsepeople would have considered 'naughty behaviour', which included bucking. On the track, he kicked out at other riders (the people in the saddle specifically, not the horses!) while galloping, and often kicked at people on the ground while walking down the shedrow and on the hotwalker. I do not think it was because he absolutely hated people or anything (though it is true he didn't trust them) - no one actually abused him or beat him by any stretch of the imagination, but he was frustrated and was venting at what he saw as the source of his problems: the people who held him back on the track, the people who made him wear a lip chain (I could always see him visibly relax when it was removed, and I'd always get a relieved or 'happier' 'feel' from him when the lip chain was removed), the people who kept placing him in his stall for 23/7, and the people who punished him (as per 'normal' horsemanship) when he was acting up out of frustration, fear, or excitement. People were a constant factor, to him, whenever he experienced things that made him unhappy. When I first started riding him at home, he did buck - often. He buck, he spun, he leapt, he reared, he did it all. Never once did I boot him or punish him in any other way, shape, or form. Actually, I even stopped riding him altogether for a period (oh, the horror, haha), primarily because I felt he was too dangerous - it was not worth the risk to me. We worked everything out on the ground. There, I found he had a severe distrust of humans (again, not because he was beat or anything, just because he was handled similarly to how Cathy advocates and it, combined with the general track life, clashed with his type of temperament). One night I was doing a figure-8 pattern with him on-line on the ground, and as he passed me, he nailed me good in the leg. He had given me all the signs that he was nervous having to go between me and the barrel in that direction, but I had thought it was ok and pushed him. So, on one of the turns he finally kicked me (quite hard!) - he was acting offensively defensive ('I'll get you before you get me' mentality). Immediately, he spun around and backed up to the end of the line, eyes huge, nostrils flared, entire body tense - he knew he'd 'done wrong' and expected me to come after him. Instead, I cursed under my breath, gathered myself (and boy I was mad! Somehow pain just has a way of doing that, lol), took a deep breath until I was calm, and continued on as if nothing had happened. Immediately I noticed a change in his demeanor, like he released some of that tension and relaxed just a little. I wasn't going to come after him, even if provoked, and he knew it and could trust me a little. A horse has to trust you and has to know that whatever happens, he will be ok. He needs to know that he can have utmost faith in you, that even if the two of you were attacked by a cougar and he had to 'disobey' your initial request so as to get away, that you would not be angry and punish him but that you instead would help him out. He needs to know that you will work in partnership with him, that you will not interfere or hinder him, but that you will help him think clearly and provide a safe and relaxed environment for him. You need to be assertive, but never aggressive, and usually punishment like 'booting the horse around' comes with aggressiveness, emotion behind it, and thus you create an unstable energy (rather than a strong leadership energy) and inspire fear and disrespect in the horse by taking the behaviour personally. I will point out in the above case that gradually Link's behaviours have disappeared with time. I would never ever anticipate his kicking me on the ground again, even if pressured, and he very rarely explodes under-saddle at this point (and if he does, he is now quickly recoverable and his reactions are not strong and frustrated). I anticipate everything will dissipate given time, just as they continue to decrease to this day. I've used the story and example of Link a number of times now, but I feel it's just your classic case and example of how not booting a horse around and otherwise punishing it, can work.

Another gem from Cathy's comment section a short while back (not from fugly though):
February 22, 2010 at 8:46 am
"Anyway, most stock horse trainers you see “jerking, yanking, spurring” are trying to get their horse to perform in a certain manner. They’re trying to get the horse rounded up (via draw reins), lifted in the front (via high port bits), hip moved over or rounded in the back (via constant spur contact in one side or the other), etc. Once the horse has learned what is expected of him, that kind of training is used very infrequently unless the horse “falls apart” and needs tuned back up for a show. What I see happening that’s abusive is uneducated people emulating the spur work, the high port bits, the draw reins, and the rein work but they have no idea what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and when to stop. Almost all top trainers use the method of releasing the method of discomfort when the horse is performing correctly.
I attend and compete at the highest level of stock horse competitions, plus get my young horses accustomed to show traffic at open shows, and I can tell you in all honesty that this is one of the biggest problems we have in front of us. The gap between the successfull, popular trainers and the do-it-yourself amateurs/up-and-coming trainer/youth rider has widened to an almost unsurmountable canyon."

I just wanted to post this as a scary thought - this person claims to compete at the highest level of stock horse competitions!! This is what some at the highest level looks like! The thought sends shivers up my spine. What this person is doing is not creating a frame - any frame created through a high port bit, draw reins, and rein and spur work (I don't care how 'gently' it's done), is a false frame. I absolutely guarantee you the horse will be croup high, that you will see unparallel cannon bones at the trot, that the horse will be strung out, that the back will be tense and hollow, that the horse will not be working from behind, and that the horse's best interests are ultimately not being served. Spurs are for extending the heel, not for 'pushing' the horse into a frame or lifting the belly up, draw reins are almost only ever going to create a false headset (with exceptions), and high port bits are meant only for the most intimate communicate between horse and rider - not to elevate the front (because they don't). Know how you can accomplish the elevated front, a horse working from behind, and the correct 'headset'? Patterns. Exercises. Gently and progressively moulding what the horse gives you. Spurs, draw reins, high ported bits - incorrect and not required and used in the fashion this poster describes - downright abusive. Know why there is an 'insurmountable canyon' between amateurs and these types of pro's? They (amateurs) are emulating how you're doing it, they're just not as 'smooth' at it as you - and neither of you are correct! Amateurs might be worse at 'disguising' what you do though, it is not that you (pro's riding in such a fashion) are doing it correctly!! The pro's who are not riding like this are the real ones to watch and the ones who are doing it properly. Even if there is a gap between amateurs emulating those pro's (those doing it correctly) and the pro's themselves, you will not see the type of treatment and abuse we are seeing among the amateurs who are emulating the pro's who are "jerking, yanking, spurring”, because their 'idols' are not "jerking, yanking, spurring" either.

Cathy's response to a different comment (the OP's comment being the one in the >><<, within fugly's response): fugly says February 22, 2010 at 10:48 am ">>Turns out, I asked about him from the previous abuser what was up with him not liking to be cinched up? He told me he never rode with a tight cinch, he would keep it loose and just yank it tight while riding.<< If you mean tightening the girth after you’re up, we do that all the time. Most horses bloat to some extent and nobody wants to eat dirt. That said, a horse should never be cranky about cinching if you do it slowly and give them walk breaks in between pulls. That horse probably has/had a rib out. Call the chiro.

Firstly, to Cathy's credit, she is right on the latter half of her response, that a horse shouldn't be cranky about cinching and that it should be done slowly and amongst walk breaks. Something else I wanted to put out there to think about/consider (to elaborate): if your horse is bloating up on you, you might be doing something wrong (usually, I have found in my experiences, thanks to my own mistakes and what I have been taught - hellooo little black pony!!). If most of your horses are bloating up on you (so much that you are in danger of eating dirt), you are almost definitely doing something wrong!! Bloating often points to a discomfort on the part of the horse, whether mentally and emotionally or physically. It can signal ulcers or it can signal a horse uncomfortable with your approach under-saddle or with being under-saddle and having a rider, in general. Start doing your girth up in stages, and start working with your horse in such a way that he actually enjoys working with you and is not going to bloat up. Secondly, if you eat dirt anytime your girth is loose, I have to point out that your seat is possibly not all that independent and evenly-balanced. I have ridden (at a gallop) with a loose and flapping cinch before (no, not on purpose of course, my mistake, haha) without eating dirt - because I had a solid, independent seat (of course I fixed it asap), and I have seen professionals do it to demonstrate their point. I am not advocating for riding with a loose cinch or girth of course, but I am just pointing out that a loose cinch, especially one caused by a horse bloating, should not be enough to (usually) cause you to eat dirt; of course it will for some, but then perhaps it is a sign of what you can work on (although sometimes shit just happens though, I understand that!). I actually very very rarely have to do up a girth after mounting; I do the girth/cinch up prior to leaving the barn, once or twice during groundwork, then I check it before mounting. The girth will loosen, however your horse should not actually be bloating (you should not see your horse's stomach inflate when you touch the cinch/girth), and certainly not enough to cause your saddle to slip so bad you eat dirt. Lastly, your cinch/girth does not have to be suffocating tight, just snug enough not to create rubs and to prevent slippage. In my experiences most people cinch up their horses way too tight.

Lastly, I just wanted to more openly publish the following conversation between Cathy and a reader of her blog, because I found it interesting, and a good point(s) by the blog reader:

February 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm
"I know you are not a fan of the foundation quarter horse shows, but you might find a lot of what you are discussing here has been addressed with them. Many of the members my FQHR affiliate has are coming out of AQHA or other breed shows because these issues. ‘Horse Care’ is the FIRST section of the rulebook and it says:
“It is expected that each Foundation Quarter Horse shall be treated humanely with kindness and respect at all times. This Registry will make an earnest effort to educate and encourage breeders, owners and exhibitors for the benefit and well being of these great horses. It is the desire of this Registry that these horses have the opportunity to display their great natural ability not hindered by drugs, surgical alterations or inhumane treatment. Our position is to hold to the highest standard of integrity in treatment and care of the horse.”
I have personally know of cases were people have been removed from the club for treatment of their horses and none of those cases were even close to what was described here and in the video!
They also address HYPP (although FQHR does banish the entire Impressive line rather than basing this condition on testing). I’d like to see a HERDA rule coming out since that one is more likely to affect our type of cow pony. They also do not allow performance points on horses under the age of three years old. Not that we don’t have our own problems but I think if you looked into some of these clubs you might find more pros than cons. I know they don’t encourage the “turnout” that you would like (although I have never seen anyone DQ’d for grooming).
A friend of mine emailed me in horror when she read your comment a few months (?) back where you stated that foundation shows were “un-shows”. She emailed me because I am involved with FQHR shows and she had attended several shows with me… so she was shocked that you commented against them (she’s a regular reader , I’m not). Personally I thought that the term “un-show” was awesome! That does describe a lot of what we stand for… I also thought it was HILARIOUS that you made the comment that “rules forbid things like clipping or nice tack or show clothes, so basically I don’t know what they are showing off”… since if you take away all of those things all that is really left is the HORSE and that is what I think should be the most important thing at a horse show! Just my opinion!"

fhotd says: February 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm
"I know…but I gotta tell you, I HATE that shaggy look. HATE IT. HATE IT. HATE IT.
To me, that’s just not a show. To me, a show is like a beauty pageant…showing up in a flannel shirt and not shaving your pits would take too much away from it. You can be pretty and not abused – really, you can!
My other gripe about foundation shows is the lack of equitation/horsemanship classes. I have a huge problem with that, because riding ability counts and I don’t like the idea of the inference that it is so meaningless that we won’t even have a class that judges the rider."

Foundation Quarter Horse says: February 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm
"I guess to each his own on grooming styles… I shave ears (although not as close as if showing AQHA halter) simply because I think it’s a good thing for them to get used to. I also clip jaw line and muzzle, just because. No one has said anything about that to me. Clipping done but not as extensive as YOU might like!
I love, love, LOVE the long manes… I have evened out a filly that rubbed some off but that’s about it. I like the hippie mane look over the short trimmed or pulled manes. And by no means does that mean that they don’t take just as much grooming time! I think they take more on most of my horses to keep them clean, conditioned and braided so they keep growing and look nice.
I’m an officer this year in our club and we are planning equitation clinics in addition to working cowhorse, reining and handy ranch horse. We don’t offer classes at the shows but we do try to get our members to focus on this aspect. Most of our membership are very good riders, you need a pretty solid seat to stay with some of the cutters that compete with us!
Beauty pagents aside, our main focus is on versatility. So we want to see horse and rider combos that can do it all! That is after all what the ORIGINAL Quarter Horse was all about!"

I think that looking at AQHA shows as a beauty pageant is what has got us into the trouble we are in - stallions and mares in their teens with multiple halter championships under their belt yet who have never been ridden. The very same horses whose musculature and skeletal conformation just does not hold up under-saddle: big double-layer muscles with stick legs and miniscule feet. WP horses being tied with their heads up, for hours, so that they will carry their heads lower in tomorrow's class, all in the name of 'fashion'. These shouldn't be beauty pageants. I am not saying not to groom your horse, but honestly, these horses should be useable and I think more emphasis needs to be placed on a horse's physical abilities, athleticism, conformation, and temperament, than the way they are groomed, the glitter on their tack, and whether or not they can appear and move according to today's fashion fad. This is not a runway, these animals are meant to be used and thus should be judged as such. In regards to the grooming, horses have those whiskers and hairs for a reason - hence the reason they grow them in the first place. When we clip out their ears, remove all eye and nose hairs, etc etc, we strip them of nature's protection, navigation system, etc. For what? For us? Because we like it? Yes, I do clip jawlines (not to the bone though, I use scissors just to trim it up and make an even line), whiskers (not short though, just so they are even and maybe not 8'' long, lol), and feathers for a show or to make a good impression at times, but that is the extent of my grooming. To each their own of course as to what look they prefer, and I certainly realise that show horses should look groomed and presentable, however perhaps it is time to look at things a little differently and to remove our personal appearance likes from the equation - make it more about the horse.

I think that is sufficient fodder to consider for the day!!!


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