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! 🐴
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!