Monday, January 17, 2011

Horses Enjoying Their Jobs

I HAD actually had full intentions of setting up quite a few scheduled posts pre-Christmas, but then my laptop brilliantly vanished into laptop heaven (hint: it may or may not have involved a White Screen of Death). You do what you can do :)

Unfortunately (IMO) it seems common to think that horses do not enjoy working under-saddle, that they simply put up with it, and that that is okay. Personally, I very much disagree with this line of thinking. I feel a horse who is happy to work under-saddle - who actually looks forward to under-saddle work, is one that is going to do its job best, and that a horse CAN enjoy its job, even if working under-saddle is, well, work, and an unnatural one at that.

Work vs. sitting
Horses in the wild are meant to travel a lot of miles per day and granted our domestic horses do differ somewhat from their wild counterparts, most innate characteristics remain the same or very similar, including their mental and physical need to roam, at least to an extent. So while WE might think sitting around makes a horse perfectly content (as opposed to working under-saddle), that would be considered anthropomorphism - assuming that, because WE might prefer to sit around as opposed to work hard every day, if given the option, that our horses might as well. Most of our horses are not in situations where they may roam as vigorously as their nature indicates and as such, working under-saddle can provide them that mental and physical exercise they may crave and need. The effects of non-exercise in a horse might not be overly noticeable but a horse who enjoys being worked is usually fairly noticeable! Of course, the TYPE of work, how it is being asked of the horse, the level of partnership and HARMONY between horse and rider during work - all plays a role as well. As the quality of all such factors decrease, so will the horse's enjoyment of its work slowly degenerate. If your horse doesn't seem to enjoy its work (ie, behavioural problems such as bucking, rearing, being cinchy, ears pinned, tail swishing, etc), I would highly recommend taking a step back to re-evaluate what you are asking of your horse and how you are asking it, considering both mental and physical aspects.

Social aspects
Working a horse, whether under-saddle or on the ground, encompasses a social aspect for the horse too. Whether or not a horse is your classic in-your-pocket-people-horse or not, they can greatly benefit from what their nature craves as social creatures. I find the more you work with the latter type of horse - the standoffish type of horse who doesn't seem to need that social interaction - the more you spend undemanding social time with them, the more they come around. The more they want to spend time with you too, and the harder they work for you under-saddle and in any aspect - you develop a partnership. Every horse does need that social interaction and working a horse under-saddle, in partnership and harmony, can greatly fill a horse's social requirements (to an extent of course, nothing replaces horse-horse social interactions!).

The physical aspect
It is thought that non-exercise in a horse (whether this means stalling a horse with minimal turnout or keeping a horse in a small paddock or pasture whereby the horse does not move around much) may predispose a horse to injury. Personally, I DO believe it to be true; it only makes sense that a tendon, ligament, muscle that is not regularly conditioned and strengthened, will not hold up under strenuous activity, under stress. It is the reason we condition our horses so carefully, so they do not break down in their chosen disciplines. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the more a horse stands around - whether by individual inclination or due to physical restrictions (such as enclosure size), the less they will physically hold up under duress. Furthermore, it also only makes sense that the horse worked into its teens and twenties, physical condition (etc) withstanding, is going to live a longer happier life than a horse left to sit in its latter years. That said, the type and level of physical exercise must of course be tailored to what that individual horse can handle, what would benefit that individual horse the most, long-term. Over-exercising, over-use of a horse can be just as detrimental if not MORE detrimental, than under-exercise.

The above I feel is reflected in my own horses. I have several in-your-pocket type horses and several whom I consider quite standoffish. Personally, I find it difficult to just spend undemanding time with a horse. I want to work! Accomplish something tangible! I approach my horses with too much of a business-like attitude sometimes, as much as I love them and strive to work in partnership with them (and do work in partnership with them, my sessions with my horses are always very harmonious). As such, sometimes I have to take a step back, recognise my horse(s) has needs too, and cater to those needs. As such, I find doing as such reflects positively in my partnership with my horse and my horse's effort in his work. Just taking that extra minute with your horse can count! Recently, I experienced as such with my CWB mare; she initially lacked a lot of manners but is coming around. As such though, I always had a bit of a business-like attitude towards her, trying to set boundaries and stay on top of her respect issues. Lately though she has been much more respectful and I let down my guard a little and just allowed her in my space - I gave her a little leeway. She responded positively by remaining respectful but seeking out contact with me. It was a reminder to myself to "have my heart in my hand" and to just spend undemanding, "friendly" time with her too. It is give-and-take and if I give a bit, so will she, and working with her on the ground and starting her under-saddle and making requests of her will only be that much easier. It is clear horses definitely benefit from the social aspect of working with humans, whether it be on the ground or under-saddle. There is a notable positive difference in all my horses when I work with them regularly, as opposed to when they sit for weeks or months at a time (recently) due to my work schedule. My Quarab gelding I think is another prime example. Until this fall he was sitting on pasture with a few other horses - approx 40 acres. While he always seemed content and perky whenever I went to see him, he seems even happier now (nickering, eagerly coming up to the fence, etc) as he is kept in condition (he is quite physically fit right now!) and loved on by his teen lessee (he still has his horsey friends too, by the way!). He and his dam are also prime examples of the physical benefits of keeping a horse in regular work (without over-use of course). His dam team-penned and took care of her young child riders until she was thirty and finally euthanised due to the normal complications of old age (arthritis, etc etc). My Quarab himself still looks just as good as he did when he was ten! Or five! Hopefully as he is kept in regular use throughout his years, he will continue to look and age just as well. Lastly, I do keep all my horses on pasture board (and always will, though sometimes stalling would be easier!!) and as such, I have never experienced a tendon or ligament or other soundness-related injury due to stress or over-strain on any of my own horses.

I strongly think horses can and SHOULD enjoy their jobs! As such, we have to take the horse's wants and needs into account as well as our own. I think horses honestly can enjoy their respective discipline(s), the social aspect of working with a human under-saddle and on the ground, using their bodies athletically, the mental stimuli etc working under-saddle entails, and the physical benefits, including longevity, keeping a horse in work under-saddle includes.

ETA: one blog a week already pre-written and pre-scheduled for the next several weeks, so enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I'm new to horses and found this post while searching some info on spending time on a dude ranch out west. Thank you for teaching more about the subtleties of horses.

Blogger said...

Did you know that you can shorten your urls with AdFly and make $$$$$ for every visitor to your short urls.