🐴 Starting a horse… 🐴
When I’m trusted to start a horse it’s always a great privilege, and it should be so even if you’re starting your own. I now take considerably longer than many people to start a horse and much longer than I did a decade ago. The main reason for this would be simply due to continued education, as we learn and educate ourselves, we change, we develop and we progress, it’s the way of the world in general.
If you have a young horse, I highly recommend taking the time to educate yourself on how they learn, how you can help them be the best version of themselves and what you can do personally to be the best partner you can be.
WHAT’S THE SECRET TO SUCCESSFUL TRAINING?????
I was recently asked for our most recent magazine article for my top training tip. I hesitated because there were so many things that popped into my head, but I couldn’t pull out one that didn’t work without others in alignment. After I went away and returned to our most recent handover sessions, I realized there was something, but it wasn’t a technical exercise or a specific movement.
Just like our horses, we're asymmetrical. The way we function internally and externally is designed to make our lives easier, quicker and more efficient (even though sometimes it leads to the opposite of these!).
As we move and respond to our environment our biomechanical and physiological functions are consolidated, reinforced or adapted but things like injury and lack of use can cause compensation and coping mechanisms which sometimes work against us.
During training we expect/want our horses to be symmetrical, measured and controlled both physically and mentally - often our training and expectations are very different to their 'normal' which requires both rewiring of the brain and adaptation by the body alongside increasing physical strength in different areas.
Our thought for the day is brought to you by the letter ‘S’…SPOOK!
Imagine you’re feeling anxious or you’ve had a fright. Would your tension and adrenaline dissipate more quickly if you were reprimanded or reassured?
🐴 ARE YOU LISTENING? 🐴
As a rule, horses are non-confrontational, given the option of fight or flight they will usually choose flight or remove themselves from a situation, fighting back only if they feel trapped or have learned to become defensive through previous experience or association. In addition to avoiding confrontation, horses are generally a fairly tolerant species, hence our ability to teach them, as a prey animal, to carry a rider and perform tasks out of the norm for them.
Usually if a horse feels the need to fight back they will indicate their intentions first, using a facial expression or the raise of a foot. These signs may be subtle, so if we plan to work with horses or build our relationships it’s our job to listen to their communication and learn their language. Sometimes we can be a little wrapped up in ourselves and only notice a behaviour when it begins to affect us adversely or interfere with our training sessions, at this stage the behaviour may be magnified or escalated. So how can we better listen to our horses?
I’ll be honest, I’m a perfectionist with a good dose of OCD…in some aspects this really helps in my training. It means I try to be thorough and consistent, which gets results, however, it can be a double edged sword.
Horses are dynamic, they live, breathe and feel…which can make training a bit of a rollercoaster at times! Particularly when we factor in our own mix of changing emotions, physical fitness and imbalance.
When I was a young child I remember riding the school horses, lovingly cared for by Mrs. Parker...on special occasions she would click in a cassette tape over the loud speakers and we would ride to music to help us listen to the horses and what they could teach us. We were to keep tempo and adjust our seats, soft and quiet or extravagant and flowing...the school horses were well versed and knew that tape off by heart. Without any hesitation while the music ebbed and flowed from adagio to allegro they would transform from plodding school ponies to light footed unicorns, sometimes we would close our eyes to feel the air on our cheeks as we floated on our dancing ponies.
As trainers we are frequently faced with an element of proving our worth – with each new client comes a certain burden of proof to demonstrate how or why our methods work.
Sometimes we see dramatic changes during our first training session - cut to scenes involving much moving of feet, rearing, striking, bucking etc.
More often than not, our first session may be underwhelming in terms of the action movie we have envisioned, with minimal explosions and car chases. Though in some cases this may not be enough for our critics, we would encourage you to watch through to the credits. Think of it more as a slow burn with a feel good ending and sometimes even a little unexpected twist.
Something I try to live by every day.
Some of the horses that arrive to us may not be that pleasant to be around initially.
A few things to bear in mind, some of them have had very little life experience, have never left the safety of home or if so, not for a prolonged time, often they have had a few regular handlers.
HOW DOES OUR TRAINING STYLE DIFFER TO OTHERS?
Other versions of this question are ‘Whose methods do you follow?’ and ‘What training style do you use?’
Over time, I have made decisions on which principles are the most important to me, what goals and objectives I would like to reach with each horse and how I can achieve those goals most efficiently, while taking into consideration the safety of the handler/rider and the welfare of the horse.
Alongside constant observations and lessons from every individual horse that we work with, our unique training programs have been developed and continue to develop.
We use a combination of exercises and methods based on horsemanship, straightness training, equine biomechanics and classical dressage to achieve mental and physical engagement.
Pressure can be identified as anything that makes your horse experience negative emotions such as being uncomfortable, overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious or panicked and can run through a scale of mild to more intense. Although pressure can come in many different forms and intensities it is possible to identify the most common responses exhibited by each horse, we can then work on redirecting the horse toward finding release, relaxation, security or calmness. By modifying these RESPONSES TO PRESSURE we begin to create conditioned responses and more productive coping mechanisms to build self-confidence, alongside building trust through the belief that we can aid in diffusing difficult or uncomfortable situations.
Your horse may be more sensitive to pressure around different areas of their body, often those that have previously suffered injury or are weaker. We want our horses to be comfortable when moving around but also standing still with pressure around them to prepare them various movements and also environmental pressures.
A few weeks ago we shared our blog post called 'a matter of perspective' to insight some thinking into what it takes from our horses to meet our expectations. We then identified WHAT our training goals were and what we would like from our horses.
Previous posts can be viewed here:
Now that we’ve identified WHAT it is we’re looking for from our horses, let’s take a look at WHY we would like our horses to possess these attributes?
Some of the answers may seem fairly obvious but it is really important that we remember and refer back to them throughout our handling and training to make sure our shared experiences are as positive as possible from both a horse and rider/trainer's perspective! As many of the above are intertwined we will not address each point independently but talk about how our desired attributes make things easier and more pleasant for both horse and human.
Being mentally ENGAGED means having the ability to use more productive (perhaps more from our perspective, but also to help the horse feel less stressed) coping mechanisms in times of pressure or anxiety, this is pretty much anytime our horses are asked to perform a task and anytime they are out of the paddock, be that leading, handling or training.
Left to their own devices they would remain out in the paddock, eating, sleeping and hanging out with friends. When we disturb this natural rhythm it is important we recognise that this presents our horses with situations outside of their natural comfort zone, it is therefore our job to minimise tension and anxiety as much as possible when we are around them by teaching them to be RELAXED but AWARE. Since we are also taking them away from their herd, increasing their vulnerability and therefore their anxiety we must also teach them to be SELF-CONFIDENT alongside building a trusting relationship with them. They must believe that we will not purposefully put them in harms way and that we can direct them to feeling safe and secure. A relaxed and confident horse will be mentally COMFORTABLE during working and handling.
Being physically ENGAGED, BALANCED and STRAIGHT allows our horses to feel COMFORTABLE during handling and training. When we teach balance and body control we build correct muscle tone and improve proprioception and coordination, making routine HANDLING much easier for us and making it easier for our horses to achieve what is being asked. This includes tasks as simple as picking up feet, treating injuries, bandaging, tolerating leg straps on rugs, stepping around gates and leading. If the horse is able to freely shift weight around their body they will be able to balance while standing on three legs and having a single leg lifted and manipulated. If your horse is straight and engaged they will not walk into you with the shoulder while leading and will be able to maintain good spatial boundaries during handling or training, they will be able to MANOEUVRE around gates and will not feel worried around things behind them or around their hind legs.
During riding, movement and training if your horse is balanced, straight and engaged their centre of mass (and a rider) will be adequately supported, as this allows the core muscles to be effectively activated and utilised; as a result they will not travel heavy on the forehand, will not be ‘hard in the mouth’, they will be able to turn corners easily and adjust gaits smoothly with minimal pressure. The lumbar-sacral region and spine, in particular, have a limited amount of support without core engagement and where does a rider sit and create the most downward force?
Without core strength and balance we risk our horses’ SOUNDNESS and LONGEVITY due to increased pressure on these areas and also the joints, which may lead to damage or injury.
Using handling, training and riding techniques which use excessive force or restriction are a serious WELFARE concern for our horses, mentally, the instigation of submissive behaviours or learned helplessness teaches our horses to ‘shut down’ whereby we may still create an obedient horse but never a WILLING partner. There is also the chance that these methods may create a defensive and therefore aggressive horse, who may be labelled as dangerous, pushy or arrogant, making his future a little more uncertain and opening him up to more punishment and harsher interactions (later on we will take a closer look at how to identify a horse who is awake and active in the partnership as opposed to ‘checked out’).
Likewise, the use of excessive forced postures and restricted movement during training or riding is detrimental to both balance and true SELF-CARRIAGE – by restriction and restraint we are robbing ourselves of fluidity and softness, those wings we grow and that floating feeling that can’t be matched by any other.
Which leads us into a reminder that spending time with our equine partners should be ENJOYABLE, PLEASURABLE and FUN!
For many of us, our horses happiness and contentment while they around us makes us feel good, the paddock or barn is often a welcome escape from reality, from work, from daily chores and a horse who nickers when they see you, comes up to be caught, is happy to hang out and easy to handle can cure many ills.
When spending time around our horses seems an uphill battle and negative behaviours develop on the ground or under saddle, it can take away this enjoyment, dent our confidence and leave us feeling deflated. Being human, it can be easy to search for a ‘quick fix’ in order to snatch back a glimpse of the good times and those happy feelings, be it a different halter, a stronger bit, a tighter noseband or girth or a ‘more secure’ saddle - realistically these may actually hinder our relationship with our horses. Time spent addressing issues through training will make the rewards much more beneficial for both sides of the partnership and longer lasting.
In the next post we will look at how we can achieve the WHAT!!!
Stay tuned and Happy Horsing! 🐴
Many of our new clients or clinic attendees express that our training programs are often quite different to other methods they have experienced or utilised previously.
We thought we would take the opportunity to introduce ourselves, our principles and our training style with some informational posts.
A couple of weeks ago we shared our blog post called 'a matter of perspective' to insight some thinking into what it takes from our horses to meet our expectations. The post can be viewed here:
Secondly, we are going to look at our training goals and WHAT it is that we would like to achieve...
If you own or ride horses, at some point most of us have mumbled, muttered or screamed one of these phrases:
🐴“I just want to be able to walk, trot and canter in the arena”
🐴“I just want to be able to go on a nice trail ride”
🐴“I just want to be able to take my horse out to my local club”
🐴“I just want to ride out with my friends”
🐴“I just want to be able to groom/rug/lead/pick out feet/tie up…”
If you’re dealing with horses on a daily basis, it’s well worth stepping back and thinking about what all of this entails, particularly from the horse’s perspective.
WHY AM I BACK AT THE START?
During our final clinic of 2019 we had the pleasure of seeing a horse and rider combination who we have been involved with since we began our very first series of clinics. Unfortunately, this year has been a bit of a roller-coaster for both of them, meaning they have been unable to remain consistent in their work together due to a wide range of circumstances.
The horse in question is willing in nature, but also very sensitive and can suffer from anxiety, which has also affected her health and temperament at times, hence making the journey extra interesting (I’m sure the mother in question may have used many different words to describe it throughout!). This culminated, very unfortunately, in a recent accident, which although we were very relieved to hear neither horse or rider were badly injured in, both were again shook in their relationship and confidence in each other.
Even before the session, the anxiety and frustration of the rider could be felt, and very understandably so, particularly as since these unfortunate events had unfolded their work together had been somewhat limited. This reflected also in the horses’ behaviour as she showed behavioural signs that hadn’t been seen since our very first meeting several years ago. A short time into the session emotions were still evident and running high and the rider exclaimed ‘I feel like we’re right back at the start…’
Firstly, everything we ask of our horse relies on a basic concept. Even the most complex of movements or patterns relies on the consistent execution of a basic aid or a combination of the basics. As we progress, it is easy to allow our basics to wane if we don’t continue to revisit, recheck and re-tune them, after all, if you don’t continue to practice something, although you may not have forgotten how to do it, your execution may be less than perfect when you decide to attempt it again sometime later. The longer between practices, the more tuning it will take to recover the function.
For example, during my teenage years I was fairly competent at playing the piano, however, if one was put in front of me today I wouldn’t be able to comfortably and fluidly play a tune, even one which I had previously been good at. That being said, it would take less time to refresh my skills than to teach someone who had never played at all.
Secondly, every one of us is playing that good old game of ‘snakes and ladders’ throughout our training. You climb those ladders and get lucky with the dice for a while, only to hit a snake and slide right back down a short time later. It’s just part of the journey that we need to be prepared for, plus, during those fleeting highs all the lows fade away and we are lost in elation, that feeling as equestrians we strive for.
Lastly, my response to the rider in question…
‘Are you back at the start?’
⭐Could your horse maintain a steady rhythm? Could she release, stretch and breathe during her work?
⭐Could she allow you to direct her and tolerate pressure from the legs?
⭐Could she execute accurate figures in the arena?
⭐Were her transitions pushing from the back or was she pulling from the front?
⭐Could you release the rein and have her comfortably follow the contact?
⭐Could she work long and low without losing balance or tempo?
⭐Could you trust her to regain her composure when she became unbalanced?
And as she demonstrated all of these, the answer was ‘no’, she could not. So when you’re feeling disheartened, discouraged or things haven’t quite gone to plan, ask yourself if you’re REALLY back at the start? And regardless of where you’re at, be prepared to figure out which basic aid(s) can help fix your issue.
🦄HERE’S TO REACHING YOUR GOALS BY REVISITING, RECHECKING AND RE-TUNING! 🦄
I don’t have time to ride…”
Many of us can only dream of spending every day riding our unicorns over the hills and into the sunset, the reality may consist of getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home from work, grabbing the kids from school, rummaging through the feed bins at dusk, locating our horses via their reflector rug strips, a quick confirmation that all four legs are attached and rushing home to make dinner and feed the pets.
However, quality over quantity rings true. There are lots of things we can do when spending time with our horses and the good news is that all of it counts!
We can use small amounts of time to create positive experiences that transfer over to our ridden work and also our relationship.
Here are some 10-20 minute ideas on spending quality time with the light of your life, your horse…..
🐴Catching – do you struggle with catching on a regular basis? Does your horse turn away when you put on the halter? Work on simply creating a positive interaction by catching, giving a scratch and releasing or if you have some spare time, give them a groom.
🐴Grooming – horses spend time grooming each other and there are many benefits to a good brush. Grooming allows for a thorough body check and allows you to assess coat and skin condition and identify areas of soreness. Grooming also provides massage to keep muscles soft and supple and provides a chance to provide a positive experience through interaction.
🐴Stretching – learn how to effectively use active and passive stretching techniques to keep your horse feeling his best and get the best out of his work. Carrot stretches are a great incentive!
🐴Postural development – teach postures to promote relaxation and engagement, this work can have an unbelievable impact on ridden training
🐴Teach your horse to walk in a straight line – horses, like people, are naturally asymmetrical and can have conformational or muscular aspects that may attribute to crookedness. Check that your horse can walk towards you, maintaining equal distance in the space between the top of the forelegs as the fetlocks, can you see both sides of the barrel evenly and does the nose come straight towards you?
🐴Teach your horse to shift weight from the forehand to the hinds and maintain spatial boundaries by reversing – make sure your horse keeps his nose directly in front of you, they don’t pivot hips to one side or the other, knees articulate and strides are similar in length. Ask for a small number of strides at a time, at a controlled pace to encourage lifting over the back as opposed to hollowing out.
🐴Yielding - teach your horse to yield to pressure, you can work on yielding from the head and neck, poll, shoulders, hinds or mid-section.
Happy Horsing! 🐴
One objective during the training of horses is to creating an obedient horse who follows direction and is tolerant to many levels of pressure and/or changing environments.
The methods by which we achieve this may affect the longevity or reliability of responses.
By flooding the horse with scarier objects and larger amounts of pressure, we create submission or learned helplessness. This state of mind means the horse checks out to block out the aversive stimulus. They learn that flight or fight is futile, so cease to exhibit a reaction.
This submissive behaviour may last for months or even years and may extend to many different experiences or situations, however, since the horse exhibits limited outward expression, signs or signals during their interactions or work, it is not possible to gauge when or where this tolerance level will be over exerted.
What IS possible is that you may be made very aware of when this threshold has been reached!
Instead of flooding the horse, shutting them down or switching them off from their surroundings and environment, we can teach coping mechanisms and conditioned responses which influence their physiological reactions and in turn, their behaviour and responses to stimuli. By training in this way, we create more versatile responses that extend to a wider scale of pressure levels and a broader set of non-specific stimuli, making a more reliable, safer and happier team-mate.
Pressure comes in many forms, ranging all the way from a clover leaf to a chain saw wielding maniac! Your horse’s temperament, personality and past experiences will determine their tolerance level and there may also be specific triggers.
Some signs your horse may be checked out:
🐴 Immobile ears, often positioned backwards
🐴 Lack of blinking or half blinks
🐴‘Statue’ syndrome, even when the feet are still the horse can show awareness by mobility in the head, neck, ears and facial expressions
🐴 Going to sleep, this is often mistaken as a sign of relaxation but may indicate introverted stress or anxiety
How do we keep our horses checked in?
🐴Teaching coping mechanisms and conditioned responses through redirecting focus, balance, body control and postural training
🐴Teaching our horses to seek direction when unsure
🐴Being tactile and allowing our horses to be tactile
🐴Acknowledging our horse when they are unsure and then providing direction
🐴Allowing expression within safe boundaries
”By teaching our horses to be AWAKE, AWARE and ACKNOWLEDGE, we allow them to RESPOND as opposed to REACT.” - Cadence Horse Training
🦄Pole/cavaletti work can be a fantastic tool for strength building...but that’s not all!🦄
Poles are a great diagnostic tool and can help us to assess and improve physical development through various configurations, in areas such as:
All of these factors help to create a capable, relaxed and willing equine partner.
Balance and physical capability play a large role in preventing negative or unwanted behaviours, sometimes in scenarios that you may not connect immediately.
We are passionate about physical development, particularly that which keeps our horses sound and allows them to efficiently and comfortably carry a rider; we use pole work as a fundamental element of all of our training programs.
Happy Horsing! Don't forget to follow us on Facebook for more news and events!
CADENCE HORSE TRAINING
Striving to maintain an encouraging and inclusive culture among fellow equestrians. We're passionate about all things equine including behaviour, biomechanics, training and horsemanship!