Monday, November 30, 2009
Recently someone asked me what they can do with their young colt prior to having him started in a few years, and I thought my answer to the question would make a great post, as it is a common question!
SO, my answer:
Definitely handle your colt a lot, but the biggest thing I see with horses who come to me who have been handled a lot is that while their owners earned their trust, they failed to earn their respect. Exposure is great for a young horse:
-Picking up his feet (including banging them in simulation of being shod)
-Throwing ropes around him (all over him!)
-Throwing tarps on him
-Having him walk over/through/under/into things
-Putting a rope/cinch around his barrel ("tighten" it like you would a cinch)
-Playing with his mouth in preparation for having a bit/dewormer/etc in there
-Touching him everywhere (use a stick as an arm extension first if your horse is sensitive and prone to trying to kick when touched in some areas)
-Take him to shows just to experience the atmosphere
-Etc, etc, etc...anything you can do, do.
He can do a lot of things without actually carrying a rider (even pack him - albeit lightly - if you're on trails, if possible). Packing a horse strengthens him physically, teaches him body awareness, teaches him how to handle himself with weight, and accustoms him to the actual weight itself.
However, while exposing him to everything and earning his trust is great, make sure you remember to also earn his respect. Too many young horses come to me thinking it is okay to walk all over me, which can be dangerous. Practice things like having him move out of your space (both using physical pressure - the Parelli Porcupine game, and using body language - the Parelli Driving game). Make sure he does not come into your space unless invited - ever (just do this by holding yourself in a manner that commands respect, by moving him out of your space when he does come in, and by playing games that earn his respect in the first place). Of course do not ever try to force him to do anything, but at the same time set him up so that he does act respectfully, and always be assertive (yet never aggressive). I am just as guilty as any to be won over by a cute foal face, but we have to remember to always be assertive (though we can still just be super friendly and undemanding as well at times). I would highly recommend the Parelli 7 games with him and even the Liberty and On-Line patterns. Just listen to him as to how long/short his sessions can be (though if you're interactive enough and he's having fun, you can usually go on for quite awhile), but he can play all those games/patterns at his age (even a foal can).
Expose expose expose those foals. I highly recommend Dr.Miller's Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal as well as the Parelli 7 games and patterns. Just remember to always earn a young horse's respect as well as their trust; you're creating the foundation for a horse who is one day going to be 10x the size he is as a foal! Anything he gets away with now, he is going to figure is fine when he is later 1,000lbs.
If you're unsure, take a look at momma and how she interacts with her foal - she'll deliver plenty of lovin' but she also won't hesitate to give him a good nip in the rump when he's being disrespectful toward her (this does not mean you should be hitting your foal, however there should be boundaries - little touches are okay when they are accompanied by phases and by proper communication).
If you're really unsure and don't feel you have the expertise to deal with a foal, a) get professional help and b) turn the foal out with older horses who will set a good example and who will teach him to be a behaved and balanced horse. Not 5 or 6 year-old geldings, either...20yo broodmares (or the like). Don't turn teenagers out with teenagers, or kids out with teenagers - make sure your young horses have a (or several, preferably) good examples to follow and to keep them in line. Don't underestimate the importance of such - raising a foal with other foals only or with a gelding or mare who never establishes boundaries could easily create a monster.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thank you very much for your email. We understand your concern about safety and helmets and we are grateful that you took the time to email us so we can better address the issue. Our goal at Parelli Natural Horsemanship is to make the world a better place for horses and humans, and a critical component of that goal is safety. We support any protective gear - including helmets - that gives the rider a safer experience, and we require children under the age of 18 and recommend beginners wear helmets no matter the circumstances. We encourage each rider to thoroughly evaluate their situation, enroll in a training program and research and consider all available protective gear and safety procedures.
Thank you for your support.
Sincerely, Parelli Natural Horsemanship
So there you have it folks, the Parelli’s aren’t actually out to kill children. I know, surprising – I am sure.
Personally, though I do fully support the use of helmets (and other protective gear, such as vests), I recognise that the decision of whether to wear or not to wear a helmet is a personal decision; I never look down on an individual for not wearing a helmet (heck, most of time I just do not even notice). Each individual needs to weigh out the risks appropriated to not wearing a helmet and decide what they are comfortable with according to their beliefs and values, their horse, their horse's level, their riding level, etc. On one side of the coin, you can say: what does it hurt, so you had might as well wear a helmet - better safe than sorry. On the other side, I believe that you can also go too far. Pony Club requires (or at least some of my clubs did - the ones I can recall) their students to wear helmets even when the child is on the ground around their horse. Where do we stop - at bubble wrap?? Yet again though, kids + horses = maybe it is best to wear a helmet at all times, even on the ground. I believe that all kids should wear helmets at least while on a horse - our kids will for certain. However once again, it is still a personal decision (even if it be a parent/guardian).
Holy cow, you guys haven't taken this one too far now, have you?
Just real quick, but I thought I would post the following comment as an example of some sanity:
Painted Hill says:
November 24, 2009 at 12:47 am
Sorry Fugs, but I’ll have to disagree. 12 is not too old to run, especially without the wear and tear of constant training. She hasn’t been beat up and used up. Look at the Grand National horses, they race over much tougher courses often into their teens…(not that i am a fan of the GN, just sayin…). And yes, they are usually kept fit over their life, but horses don’t lose fitness like people do, you can bring them back if you do it right. As far as losing bone density with pregnancy, that’s usually from lactation, from her record, doesn’t look like she ever had a viable foal…. And yes, she would also lose bone density sitting around, but the wonderful thing about bone is that it responds to stress by remodeling. She’s in work and likely has had some remodeling going on. Do you have any evidence that physiologically speaking this is a bad idea? I’d love to see it. Is she fit? Maybe, you don’t know what kind of workouts she’s been getting. Maybe she is , maybe she isn’t. The track vet has watched her work and has pronounced her OK to race. trust me Dr Peckham didn’t dod that because he believed in the dream, in fact I’m sure he would have loved to find a reason for her not to race, but he did not find one. Will she win? probably not, but so what. If the mare loves to run and is sound and fit, why not let her…. As a former stakes horse (albiet a smaller one) she might have a chance against nickel claimers. And I’m sure the owner knows what a claiming race is, and I doubt anyone would claim this mare for 5K (other than someone trying to “save” her from racing). Anyone who knows anything about racing realizes that a fair number of horses you care about will be in the claiming ranks….just look at any race card, they aren’t full of stake and allowance races.
And there are two sides to every story, you assume the old owner is telling the truth (even though he himself changed his story…) He never said she could not race, only could not be bred. And trust me, that was NOT to protect the mare….. Now he doesn’t want her raced, but it’s not his mare. And did she get “fired” as you said, or laid off as is reported. There is a difference.
BTW, I’ve seen horses go back to the track and perform well after extended layoffs (many years), it is not impossible.
Oh and about that 17 year old, did you see why they brought him back? He was miserable being retired….He came back to life at the track. Wasn’t that a good thing? Yes, he now probably has a job that will keep him happier, he can stay at the track and not have to run…..
Maybe the owner is a little loopy, aand it’s probably not the smartest decision in the world, but you guys have gone over the edge on this one. People run horses on a dream all the time, you see at every track. As long as they aren’t hurting them, why not? Of course you all think this fragile grandma mare is gonna break down, but there really is no evidence for that….
I'd love to see some evidence too, because if I honestly believed this mare would break down - as evidenced by studies and facts, then I would have to agree that racing her were dangerous. Fact of the matter is, I don't think anyone knows whether or not this mare can be successful on the track, or whether or not she will break down. However I highly doubt that she runs a higher risk than those 2 and 3yo's of breaking down, when in condition. Everyone seems to be acting like this mare was taken from the pasture then run the next day when that most certainly was not the case. As far as this woman's age and apparent lack of experience - how do you know what she does or does not know? Or who is supporting and helping her train this mare? Horses do race into their double-digits, Grand Prix jumpers are considered young to be jumping in international competition at 9 and jump well into their late teens - 12 is not old for a horse and that mare is definitely still in her prime. If the track vets pass her, her works are approved, and she is sound and fit - why can't she race? Because we don't think so? We're not even there! How can we purport to know the situation!!
Now, on the other hand, a horse who gets "higher and higher" when ridden, as this mare's owner claims, just needs development - it does not necessarily mean she wants to race. However, I know one of our Thoroughbreds would absolutely love to return to the track. He is highly competitive, absolutely loves to run, and is excited just at the sight of a track. If it is not hurting the mare, well, then, so be it. Who are we to judge. Cathy, your posts lately have just been one bash after another - education? Where? My stomach turned when I read your sick excitement in the comment section at someone mentioning it possible to post this mare's owner's alleged comments from another board. How low can you sink? *sigh*
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Obviously I do not approve of the method displayed in the videos above - tying a horse to pillars and whipping it to do a sort of piaffe is not in the horse's best interests. It is a very false piaffe due to the manner in which the horse is taught. You can see by the horse's body language in each of the above videos that they are very anxious and fearful as a result of this method of training: the feet are fast, many of the horses resort to rearing and bucking, ears and general facial expressions are of that of worried horses, tails are held tensely, and most are ready to explode. It is a method that is abusive and is done out of force and fear; a happy, relaxed, supple horse it does not create.
The original videos have since been deleted, but Cathy's comment pertaining to the very similar video she posted on her blog:
All so that a human can get on him in a … WTF! shanked bit and do this.
As far as that particular horse being ridden in a curb bit, while it is impossible to tell exactly what type of bit is inside his mouth, the rider does maintain a nice loop in the rein and has seemingly soft hands (in the short video clip provided, at least). Curb bits do have their use, as advanced bits - for refinement. They allow a rider to communicate more subtly with the horse. In experienced hands, a curb bit is used as a tool for more intimate communication and thus advanced maneuvers stemming from that advanced communication...not as a source of increased control. Cathy's snide comment in regards to this horse being ridden in a curb bit does not really have all that much merit here based on the available evidence. On the other hand, I doubt a 2yo has had sufficient work on it thus far to warrant it being ridden in a curb bit yet. Still - the actual use of the curb bit itself does not constitute abuse or force in itself - in the videos shown at least.
Then Cathy goes on to say the following:
Now, I know someone will pop up and announce that you can train a horse for this kind of “dancing” without abuse. OK. Can you post a video of that? All I ever see is someone whipping on a horse in cross-ties, and that’s not training.
Well Cathy, I am sure you are perfectly capable yourself of opening your eyes and thus being privy to seeing riders out there who are training their horses to piaffe (and other complicated dressage maneuvers) without abuse.
I found this video interesting (posted in the comments section of Cathy's blog):
Horse Dance 3
It is described in the comments section as a Pakistani horse, however I cannot confirm that, as I do not read/speak Arabic (or whatever the language posted and spoken in the background is!). This, to me, appears to be a good example of someone training a horse to dance sans abuse. The horses are wearing boots to protect their fronts from their hinds possibly hitting, their body language is relaxed and calm (note how they relax immediately after a "dance", even cocking a hind leg), and though they appear to anticipate here and there, they do not appear to be fearful or worried. On the one hand, I am not sure what all those ropes are doing, however they do appear to be loose at times so I am assuming they are simply a communication aid. My only other concern is that the horses are clearly over-flexed...however they are permitted breaks and it does not seem they are kept dancing for extended periods of time (note how they switch out horses). I like how the handlers are constantly rubbing the horses reassuringly, petting them in their spare time, and even spongeing water down their faces - they obviously care!
Another video featured in the comments section was that of Blue Hors Matine. This video has to have been sent around the web at least a hundred times and while I do find it impressive, I still dislike the constant wringing tail. To me, that does not appear to be a horse who is happy and having fun - the wringing (not simply swinging rhythmically) tail indicates to me tension in the back... which also is a 'tell' that the movements performed are falsely and incorrectly executed.
Last but not least (as far as video clips go), I wanted to feature the following:
The Akhal Teke stallion Absent performing a piaffe.
Last response/comment I wanted to make. Posted in the comments section of FHOTD was the question as to whether or not these horses (who are taught to prance) can be taught to move out without the prancing, and how hard is it. In my opinion, the answer is yes (albeit depending on the level of damage done psychologically). We have one OTTB who does a similar sort of dance when he is tense whereby he elevates his motion and shortens his stride similarly to these mexican horses in the above videos. The answer has been slow, patient work. He is so used to being held back from forward movement, that he has learned as a habit to simply elevate his forward momentum as the result of a tense back, as opposed to stretching forward over his back. Since he knows he cannot burst forward (thanks to his track training), even when I have him on a loose rein, he shortens his hind steps and directs all his impulsion upward. At first, this was all he did. Now, however, his "cat-like" trotting is becoming more and more sparse as relaxation and suppleness replaces tension. The key is to teach your horse he can relax and move forward. Whatever is occurring in the mind reflects in the body, so if you teach a horse to have a calm mind, to think rather than react and try to flee, it will reflect as a relaxed back and body. Develop your horse to be calmer, braver, smarter - balance out his emotions. Then, further develop his body with circles, serpentines - all sorts of patterns that encourage him to be supple, relaxed, and loose. Then start using patterns that encourage him to track up, and others that encourage him to extend. It does take a lot of time and patience to re-train a horse who has been taught to move and/or think incorrectly, so be prepared to take the time it takes. It will be worth it!
Monday, November 23, 2009
One of the latest epiphanies I have now been working on over the past few weeks is shoulders up! I have a terrible habit of hunching my shoulders when I concentrate while working a horse (and I don't think I am the only one to do this, as while looking for photos of horses in extended trot alone I found tons of photos of riders - even professionals - hunched over their horses!). I do it at the trot when I'm asking for a leg yield, I do it as I ask for a canter...I do it often. I always straighten up afterwards, but it's important I learn to just stay straight in the first place. Although this is something I was already aware my body was doing, and I have always been aware of its effect on my horses, I never really realised quite the extent of the effect my hunched shoulders have on my horses...until a few weeks ago.
I was working Link (our Thoroughbred) down the center of the arena and was asking him for a leg yield. He was being a bit sluggish and not quite as sharp and responsive as I wanted, so of course I applied more leg. As we passed X, I realised my shoulders were hunched and made a conscious effort to straighten them up. Immediately, Link responded by leg yielding lighter, by being more responsive and by giving me a cleaner yield.
I always talk about how our horses are a reflection of us and how what we do with our bodies affects their performance, but sometimes I think we all still forget at times, particularly when we are concentrated on a specific task at hand. This was definitely one of those times! I still do hunch my shoulders of course, however now I make a really conscious effort to keep them up and it's working - when I do, Link's leg yields can be beautiful (for our current level).
The same follows for when you are asking your horse to do shoulder-in's, haunches-in's, sidepasses, trot to canter transitions, extended trot, etc. If you are asking your horse to sit back on his hind and lift his shoulders, you must do the same. Try it out - particularly if you have developed your horse to be very sensitive (and even moreso if he is already very sensitive and responsive naturally), you should notice a difference. Whatever you are asking your horse to do - from weight shifts to rib placement, you must do yourself, in your body, to enable him to succeed. Always try to be self-aware and keep your own position in mind when riding and training.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
The Mongol Derby
Hey, most everyone came out of it in great shape! You know what I find most interesting? How strangely quiet all the initial criticizers of this competition are. Heck, Cathy Atkinson (Fugly) didn’t even bother to follow up on the race after the huge furor she set up.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Throughout the horse industry it seems we are working horses younger and younger. TWH’s are being ridden – sored, on stacks, and wearing huge curbs, as “well-broke” two-year-olds. Racehorses are usually started as yearlings (heck, I’ve seen videos of yearlings living on the track in Kentucky!) and some owners/trainers race their two-year-olds hard and heavy. Recently, I stumbled on an ad for a very nice 2yo gelding. He had 180 days on him already and was very well started. It isn’t just professionals competing within the industry that are partaking in this, it’s also your every-day owners and trainers who want their horse to have an edge on the sale industry. I just sold a 5yo mare who I considered green (all her dressage basics and even packing around green riders at a w/t/c, etc) – she had had 60 days on her last year (when I started her), then had about 90 days put on her this year, but spread out due to my work schedule. I had a number of people come in, impressed with where she was at, but I also had a lot of people come in expecting a lot more out of her. Her eventual buyers came in initially expecting her to fully collect, neck rein, and be all sorts of robot-like perfect. I had to gently explain to them that this was a young horse and that I don’t start young horses the way they had obviously expected me to. There is a lot of general industry pressure, I think in particular from individuals not realizing what it takes to make a solid, lasting horse. They see horses like the 2yo mentioned above and expect all horses they see thereafter to also be at that level. Of course then trainers and sellers are pressured into producing such horses!
As much as I am about not judging others, I am also about the welfare of the horse. And a horse’s growth plates do not finish fusing until approximately 6 years of age (some horses may appear to mature prior to 6, but they are not finished maturing). Here is an interesting article. Obviously starting a horse young can have the short-term advantages such as a sale edge over others (unstarted) its age or the potential as a money earner in its designated discipline. However these horses are often eventually losing out. Their hocks start needing to be injected within a few years, fractures occur, tendons bow, hooves start breaking down – the horse breaks down in general. Sometimes the break-down occurs right away (as in, the first year), sometimes the damage does not become obvious until years later, maybe when the horse is in his teens. The horse loses out when he becomes unusable, a pasture ornament. Horses are expensive luxuries to most people, and feeding a pasture ornament is not always an option, so the horse moves from home to home until he likely eventually winds up in a feedlot. While it is important to note that exercise - which might include lightly starting a young horse under-saddle at the age of say 3 or maybe even as a late 2yo - can be advantageous to a young horse, the issue is that (in my opinion) many young horses are worked and pushed too hard at such an early age, before their bodies are capable of such work. Light work and lots of exercise (such as in a large pasture with herdmates) will build, develop, and strengthen ligaments, tendons, muscles, and even affect bone density positively. However it is very easy to cross the line into negatively impacting the horse and, in my opinion, such is done often. Personally, I much prefer extensive groundwork and other extensive exercise (ie, ponying, large pasture with playmates) to applying weight to a young horse's back potentially too early. By applying weight to a young horse's back too early (and "too early" is subject to that individual horse), you create a habit of tension. This is because when the young horse does not possess the strength to carry the weight of a rider, he must tense his back to support his rider. Since everything - ligaments, tendons, muscles, bone - are interconnected within the horse's body, tension in one area creates tension and stress in other areas. This eventually creates wear and tear which can affect longevity. When we create a habit of tension as opposed to a habit of relaxation, we potentially cause damage to the horse physically.
I can understand a lot of people might start a horse young out of lack of knowledge (in which case education is the answer, not condemnation), while others do it out of greed or impatience. For the latter case, I think industry standards are the key – racetracks should move their big races up a year, eliminating 2yo races. Or offer incentives for an owner/trainer choosing to forego 2yo races. In fact, the same could be done across the board in the horse industry – stop offering incentives (either directly or inadvertently) to start horses so young. I think we as participants of the horse industry though need to take a stand on starting horses. Educate those around us, set a good example by waiting to start our own horses (slowly) until they are more mature, and refuse to bow to the pressure of a client requesting you start a horse you deem too young. Personally, the youngest I start a client horse is at a full 3 years of age. Most of the horses I have started thus far have gone on to be lightly ridden enough that I do not think it was harmful to them. In fact, starting them at this age was likely greatly beneficial in a number of ways. As a trainer however, I might start a youngster only lightly but how am I supposed to regulate what an owner does with their horse after it has been started, in a responsible fashion? Of our own homebred horses, I started one (very lightly) as a 3yo and the other as 4yo. Both, now at nine and fourteen, remain sound. Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t actually start anything of my own under-saddle until they were four. In fact, I am casually looking for a mare to train alongside our Thoroughbred, as a jumper, and am looking at unstarted 3yo’s. There is so much you can do until then, to make the youngster a better future partner under-saddle, anyway!
The Mental Aspect
Just as a brief sidenote, I wanted to point out that while some horses might be physically mature enough to deal with being lightly started, they might not be mentally mature yet! Mental and emotional fitness and maturity definitely reflects in a horse's body - his relaxation, suppleness, etc, and can obviously then play a role in both his short-term and his long-term mental, emotional, and physical health. Most of the horses we had in our barn on the track were decently mature enough to handle the training, however I can recall this one gelding in particular, with a ton of potential, who was not even close to being mentally or emotionally mature yet. Though he was a 2yo, he looked like a 4 or 5yo. Had he been my horse, he would have been out on pasture for at least another year, if not more. On the other side of the fence, I recently sold a Warmblood mare who was not started until she was 4. She was then turned back out onto pasture and returned to me as a 5yo for another few months. I had dressage professionals come in and comment on how loose and supple she was, they couldn't believe it! Contrary to what happens much of the time in this industry, this mare was not started until she possessed the maturity - including mentally - to handle training. This resulted in a horse that was relaxed mentally and ready to learn - which reflected as a loose and relaxed horse physically. Starting a horse before he or she is mentally mature will reflect in his body as a tense horse and tension in the horse's body can be detrimental, especially if that tension becomes a habit. That tension will stress ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones, and may contribute to future break-down.
I am of the personal belief that a horse should not be started until at least three years. Yearlings and 2yo’s are a no-go. For me, it is a matter of not only evaluating that individual horse, but also of ultimately simply playing it safe rather than sorry. What are your experiences or opinions?
Sidenote: the horse in the photo above, Cheval, sustained a hairline fracture to one of her knees while training and racing as a 3yo.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
June's Mail Call asked what readers thingk about those who are taking in unregistered horses and planning to breed them. The obvious answer is that these grade animals should not be bred, and that doing so will only add to the unwanted-horse burden.
Knowing a horse's genetic past can aid you in creating a foal with the correct conformation to ensure it a successful career and life (hopefully one outside of feedlots and slaughter houses).
In my opinion, I think a registered horse has a better chance than a grade horse at staying in a good home and out of a slaughter house. That is just my opinion.
Food for thought!
Monday, November 9, 2009
"I was wondering if anyone out there would be interested in leasing my 12 year old Palomino Quarter Horse mare? She needs an experinced rider, I am looking for someone who can get her back into shape and keep her in shape and ride her lots, as I currently am trying to sell her....
She is out by ---- so super close to the city!
I am asking $110 a month for leasing."
Um...not to point out the obvious here, but does this not sound like someone asking to be paid to have someone fine-tune their horse for them? Isn't that something a trainer would do, y'know, for something we like to call...money?
Okay, so here's a couple tips and a re-write that won't rub potential leasees the wrong way and that will give you a better chance at getting your horse leased:
12yo (height?) palomino Quarter Horse mare for lease. Needs an experienced rider and has not been ridden in (time?), so is a little out-of-shape. $110/month. Located near ----; super close to the city.
Noting the mare's accomplishments or riding history would be helpful as well. Also, post a quality photo or two (or offer it upon contact at least). Rather than telling potential lessees the mare is to be sold and you're looking for a "trainer" to pay to train your horse, just simply set it up as a short-term lease. Then, if/when you decide to sell your mare, go ahead and sell (just set up some sort of fair arrangement with the lessee - either a pre-determined lease length or a specific length of time for "notice"). If you're looking for someone to actually train or fine-tune your horse though, either do it yourself, or pay a trainer. It is not fair to pawn an unfit, rusty horse off onto some unsuspecting individual looking for a project horse to learn from and work on, then snatch that horse away to make a profit off of as soon as all the hard work is done... unless all is presented upfront.
Friday, November 6, 2009
- Horses being ridden young in various disciplines
- Mongolian Horse Derby update (*gasp* that's right, no one died!)
- Parelli's + helmets update (email)
- Lip chains (yay!)
- Conformation practise pen
- Surprise blog (just to jog my goldfish memory later, it involves a 4yo Hanoverian mare)
Some of the preceding blogs are inspired by other blogs lurking around the great World Wide Web. Others are inspired by my own recent experience(s). Lastly, if any readers have any specific subjects they wish to discuss or have a blog written up a propos, feel free to comment.