You have an amazing horse who consistently gives you a nice ride. You enjoy working with this horse, and he consistency excels at what you ask of him. Then, rather suddenly, things go bad. Your high performing horse begins to struggle. His great attitude begins to turn sour. You no longer enjoy working with him – or, worse, you get hurt. What caused this change? How do you react?
Riding is a selfish act – there is really no getting around that fact. Horses do not ask to participate in the activity, they are conditioned for it. That said, I have over forty years of experience that horses can, if treated right, come to enjoy the activities they engage in with their rider. With recent news that humans have wiped out over 60% of animal life in my life time, the fact that we utilize horses may be the only thing that will spare them from the same fate. But those of us lucky enough to no longer require the horse for transportation or draft work would do well to consider what we are asking of the horse, and why.
It was three years ago that I first posted this. Recently I was telling a friend about the events related herein; so when a request to re-post this followed a short while later, I decided it must be time.
In honor of Halloween, I’m taking a break from my usual equine subjects to tell a ghost story. Growing up, I had a fascination with the supernatural, particularly those of the “true tales” variety. I waited and hoped, in vain, for my own ghostly encounter. As I became an adult, I continued to look for evidence, but increasingly logic took over. I still heard interesting accounts, and when the subject hit “reality” TV, I was drawn in – but there always seemed to be a logical explanation to all of it. And then, this happened …
If there is one piece of wisdom I would wish to impart to anyone who trains horses, it would be this: appreciate the small gifts. If your goal is to win prizes and make money, then that wisdom may not be for you; you have in mind gifts the horse cannot provide, save for the use of its body in service to your ambition. However, if your goal is to enjoy a healthy working relationship with a large sensitive and social animal who grants you the privilege of sitting upon his back, and will offer friendship if you offer it to him, then perhaps those words will be of assistance to you.
If you hang around the classical Dressage crowd for any length of time, you will hear someone say something to this effect: “Horses already know how to do the movements, in the field; training only consists of teaching them to do them with a rider added.” It might also be slightly modified to include “on cue” or “on request”. But is it really that simple? And, if they are able to do the movements, what is it they need to learn, besides the cues, to do it with a rider? Here is my take.
Your horse still trundles along, heavy footed and maybe also heavy in your hand. Or, your horse is constantly in danger of putting you on the fast track to front tooth implants, with his head always in your face. Perhaps your horse travels in a decent frame, but steering or transitions are problems. It can be such a challenge to get your horse to cooperate! You’re trying your best, but nothing is working. What is the secret to improving these situations? The solution likely lies within you.
In a recent post, I discussed the general notion of how you can change the horse’s body, for better or worse, based upon the nature of the work. The inspiration for that post came from Coffee. Recently, my mother had been commenting on how much more handsome Coffee is than when he came here. I put it down to her total infatuation with her boy; but, after taking some current photos, and digging out some photos from his first year, I have to admit that she is absolutely right! There have been changes to his physique that I’ve noticed – and some that have apparently sneaked up on me. For this post I will share some of those photos, and discuss some of the specific changes and their causes.