The Cavalier Newsletter
Dedicated to the Art of Classical Riding and Driving for the Mature Equestrian
Fall in New England is always extraordinary. This year has been no exception. We have been having one beautiful, blue, sunny day after another. Here, at The Cavalier we have been playing with our horses and enjoying all the pleasures that that relationship brings us.
I hope you will enjoy this edition of The Cavalier. Since we know you all receive so many emails we want you to know that this is a FREE opt-in only email. If you have received it because someone has forwarded it to you, you must click on the Register Now link to the left to be able to receive it again. You can also opt out of this email at any time. And you can rest assured that we will never sell your email or information to anyone.
My youngster at six years old is now under saddle. He has been backed before but now is his turn to enter his "Big Boy" riding career. His rides have been a joy. He is trying so hard for us. Taking our time and not rushing him has definitely been the way to go. He is kind and cooperative and looks forward to our times together. Thank you Felice!
The Cavalier has decided to interrupt their training issues to bring you a series of articles on correct horse hoof maintenance. We have been doing quite a bit of personal research for the last six months with our own horses to bring about this column. We wanted to make sure that when we brought you this information, we had thoroughly tested it and were satisfied with our results. Our equine companions deserve no less.
This month's column, "I Didn't Have a Clue," is about a hard won lesson on my part. My older horse's feet were on the road to disaster. My young one was only safe because of his youthful ability to tolerate bad work and still bounce back. Luckily I was able to learn what I needed to in time thanks to some expert intervention by my trainer and reading some good books by dedicated authors. Thank heavens they provided the learning I needed before any serious harm was done.
The scary part was, I was doing all the "right" things. Even when we think we are being conscientious, we still must realize that we ultimately bear the final responsibility for all our horse's care. This sometimes means that we have to make the effort to learn what we need to make the right decisions and then make the changes on their behalf even if the decisions are unpopular or not mainstream.
Felice Vincelette's article "No Hoof, No Horse" talks about the absolute need for a balanced hoof and how it impacts the horse from both a physical and training perspective.
The good news is that once we do learn the lessons, we own the knowledge, and our horses are safer for it. God bless 'em. Why they put up with us and forgive us I will never know?
Even if your horses are shod, we ask you please to consider what we are talking about in our articles. If you are confused about what Natural Trimming is all about we can help you understand what it is and what it is not. If you are already familiar and have had positive experiences with natural trim please send us your stories. I can not stress this enough. We have been in the dark ages literally about our horse feet. Their health and wellbeing depend on us having a greater awareness in this area.
Nancy Lindley-Gauthier is back with the answer on how you get a reliable "Whoa." I for one, who have done some driving, know how important it is that the horse stay put when you are getting into the contraption behind him. Thank you, Nancy.
We also have our usual features: Follow the Yellow Brick Road, and This Month's Quick Tip.
And as always, enjoy the ride...
Nancy J. Knettell
by Nancy Knettell
They live in as natural a setting as I can provide. They
have shelter from the elements, plenty of clean water, good food and hay, and open space to roam around in. They are wormed regularly, see the vet twice a year, and are attended to by a foot care professional on a monthly basis. I read as many good books and magazines as I can about their care too. But, with my busy schedule I have tended to leave most of the specific care up to the professionals hoping that they are doing what is best for my horses. After all it is hard to take on vet school, farrier school, as well as learn the latest computer technology all at the same time.
So, I have to admit I was totally clueless regarding their feet. I did have a reputable farrier coming in regularly, so I thought I had fully discharged my responsibility in that area. But, I kept having lameness problems with one of my horses that didn't seem to get resolved with any of the work that was being done. I often asked questions so that I could get an idea of what is going on down there. But sometimes I felt as if I was asking questions about alchemy. A lot of hand waving, some magic pixy dust, comments something like, "It is hard for most folks to understand. I have taken years to perfect my understanding of the horse's hoof and how to shoe. You need to go to farrier school and shoe for thirty years" seemed to be the stock answer to my questions on how a horse's hoof is supposed to get turned into gold.
Feet are Not Just Those Things at the End of a Horse's Legs
Not that I wouldn't have liked to understand, mind you. In a past career I was a mechanical designer working in the medical products industry. I understood mechanics and some human physiology where it related to the product I was developing. I was ready for any discussion. But, try as I might, I found most of the answers came down to "Give it time. Trust me." OK. I did. I felt that I was doing my job of making sure the appointments happened and the money was there to pay for the service. Pat myself on the back. Good Horsekeeping Seal of Approval coming in the mail.
Boy was I wrong though. It will always my responsibility for making decisions about the care of my horses, no one else's! I found this out clearly when I came close to exposing my older horse, Webster, to serious hoof problems. No, it was not that I wasn't getting his hooves trimmed on a consistent basis. I was. My farrier at the time was not trimming him correctly and I had no clue that he wasn't. Thanks to my trainer finally pointed out that my horse's feet were on the steam train to disaster, I was able to turn a bad situation around before it got much worse.
Time to Face the Music
So once I heard the bad news, my thought process went sort of this way -- Embarrassment. "Oh for heaven's sake! Information overload. I will never get the hang of this unending complicated horse stuff. I will always be a bad horse owner." Disbelief. "I have a farrier come out monthly. What else can I do? I don't have the time to deal with this." Hmm, trainer has been pretty dead on about things in the past. Maybe I don't know something. Get another opinion from another farrier. "Yep, I wouldn't change a thing." Still not satisfied. Read the book my trainer recommends: Peter Ramey's book Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You. "Oh heavens, not more complicated stuff I have to absorb." But, I did finally read the book, and thank heavens I did.
I hope you will stay with me with the information I am about to talk about. It is very controversial, but it is also based on good hard research and evidence that has only been available in the last couple of years. Being fairly new, it is just starting to gain ground as accepted horse care practice, but that does not mean that it should be disregarded. On the contrary, we all have been clueless for quite some time about horse's feet. The good news is that it is not hard to understand. Once you do, you will never look at a horse's hoof the same way again.
Some important things you need to know about your horse's feet:
1. Horseshoes are never necessary. They are not a solution to anything. All horses can go barefoot with a little bit of help on our part. We have not bred out this ability. Sure mustangs go barefoot successfully as wild horses. But, they too were once the over-bred pampered horses of wealthy nobles.
2. If your horse has shoes on now, his foot structures cannot function properly. Shoes compromise a horse's ability to keep the inner bone and ligament structures sound and aligned correctly no matter what angle they are trimmed to. They also affect the integrity of the rest of the skeletal system. Upper body problems, such as arthritis and tendon problems, can be traced directly to good, not just bad shoeing.
3. Long hooves, and especially long toes on any horse, even big horses are not natural. The same is true of long or under run heels.
4. All the sides of the hoof, when felt from the coronet band down to the base should feel straight. Any bell shape deviations you feel are called a flares. This is a sign of a problem. They must be removed. Long toe flares or any flares on the hoof are painful, cause the white line to stretch, and can and will introduce bacteria into the hoof capsule. This bacteria can lead to white line disease and possibly laminitis. Feel your horse's hoof. If you have any flares after trim, question them.
5. Your horse's feet should not be crooked after a trim. They should be balanced, straight, square, and even. Anything else means that the internal bone structures are being compromised and the horse is in pain. While a trim of a crooked foot may not necessary be square with the first trim, that is the direction the hoof care professional should be aiming at always. He should tell you approximately how many trims he plans to get you there.
6. Any time your hoof care professional scoops out the front of the sole other than to defolate what is naturally being shed, he causes the coffin bone in the hoof to come dangerously close to penetrating the sole capsule. No hoof care practitioner should do this. Question any farrier doing this. This absolutely is not the way to make a concavity in the sole.
7. A pasture trim IS NOT the same thing as a Natural Trim. Just because your horse does not have shoes on and his hooves are filed continuously does not mean he is trimmed to a natural trim. You need to know exactly what constitutes a natural trim.
8. The sole underneath the horse's hoof should not be so long in front that it is soft. If the distance from the point of the frog to the toe of the hoof is more than 1/3 of the length of the total hoof as measured from the tip of the toe to the heel buttress, the front of your hoof is too long or flared too much. This is what causes the softening. Again you are risking coffin bone penetration. See the picture of the horse hoof here.
This is a picture of my horse Webster's left front foot. He is in the process of rehabilitation. Prior to my having him trimmed by a Natural Hoof Trimmer, distance "B" was almost the same length as distance "A" and the sole area around the frog was so soft you could press it with your thumbs. You could also see that his white line had stretched and had deep pock marks in it. Now "B" is much shorter and is approximately one third of the hoof length "C" as measure from the heel butress to the toe. The white line is smooth and not stretched. You will notice that the hoof is roughly a round shape. Except for the flare the hoof is also roughly even on both sides relative to the center line.
9. Hoof problems, such as navicular, are not natural. There are no horses with this disease out in the wild. You might say those horses that went lame did not live to reproduce. Yes, maybe that is true, but there are now countless examples of domesticated horses totally rehabilitated from devastating navicular with the use of natural trimming.
10. A consistently ratty, chipped hoof just before the hoof care professional comes is not a sign of a hoof needing to be trimmed. It is a sign that the trim job was not correctly done. When the hoof has been rehabilitated, a correct trim job should stay maintained between trimmings and should only need a touch up with flares removed when the trimmer comes.
11. Your horse's hoof sole should be shiny, hard as nails with a slight natural concavity, not one produced by a farrier scooping it out with is knife. A concavity will always happen with a correct natural trim.
12. Your horse should move with his heel landing first. If he is landing toe first, he is in pain and is risking navicular.
13. If your horse is sore after a trim, get another trimmer. A horse should go better after a trim, not worse.
14. A horse can run on rock barefoot no matter the color of his hoof, and now there is going to be a few more horses around that are going to prove it. A half inch piece of metal is not going to protect a soft sole or soft hooves from a one inch rock. Yes, sometimes the transition to barefoot requires some time and a bit of management. You might need hoof boots at first for rough trappy ground, but maybe not always for forever.
15. You can do this yourself. You can learn this yourself. This is not rocket science and certainly not alchemy. If your hoof care professional does not explain to you what he is doing in such a way that you understand, find another hoof care professional. Your horse's health depends upon it.
Just the Beginning
This is just a beginning of what you will learn when you start investigating the Natural Hoof Trim. What finally made me go running to the books and websites was when a knowledgeable trimmer turned my horse's left front hoof up to show me what was going on. I saw how the white line was starting to stretch and disintegrate with pock marks in the white line almost a quarter inch deep. Those pock marks can continue to deepen all the way up behind the hoof wall to the coronet band letting in bacteria that can cause white line disease and laminitis. Webster's front soles were also so soft in front that I could press on them with my thumb and see them move.
Once I checked out the pictures in Pete Ramey's book I could see that my horse's coffin bone and all of his weight were being held back by what amounted to a leathery membrane and not the rock hard sole capsule it should be. I was flabbergasted. Webster was pretty much on his way to coffin bone penetration, white line disease and possibly laminitis. This was after my previous farrier pronounced his hooves as fine, just in the stages of rehabilitation.
Well, my horse had been "rehabilitating" for over a year and a half. He should not have a flare the shape of one of Santa's Elves shoes on the front of his front foot that was so long you could scoop snow with it. Plus his feet continued to be a mess before the farrier came. They were tattered in three weeks. "Soft hooves," he would pronounce. "Need shoes."
But, after four correct natural trims you should see Webster's feet now. They are almost straight as arrows on all sides including the fronts. His flares are receding. His toes and heels are not too long or run under and his angles are correct and straight. His tatters and his surface cracks are almost gone. He is putting on healthy hoof in the correct shape now. The soles are getting to be hard as a rock and are beginning to naturally cup. He stands square as a statue on all his feet. While he avoided rocks before, he is able to walk on them now at least for a short time without difficulty. What is even better is the previous lameness due to sore feet is gone. He is advancing heel first and is comfortable on his feet.
I am going to use hoofboots (more about my test of those in upcoming articles) to help Webster through the transition since he desperately needs some physical conditioning. But, I am also hand walking him on pavement and gravel to toughen up his feet as well.
How Did We End Up With Shoes Anyway?
I hope I have not sent you away with your eyes rolling and your hands waving in the air without your doing some investigation on your own. I don't want to be an alarmist, but this issue is so important and serious. After my experience I felt as if I really needed to send out this message. But, how did we get in this circumstance in the first place? Here is a quick history of shoes.
Originally horses were arid land creatures. They traveled as much as twenty miles a day over rough ground looking for forage and water. Anyone who has ever owned an Arab will tell you how tough their feet are. Xenophon in 700 BC extolled the virtues of training a horse on rocky ground to ensure that his hooves were tough enough for battle. But, as horses were brought further north they started to encounter softer and marshier ground. The hoof no longer had the tough rocky going that was required to keep them naturally trimmed and hard. As land became progressively more costly, sizes of farms got smaller and smaller. Horses keeping deteriorated to living in stalls in small stables. The small plots of land that were owned by these farmers allowed for little else.
In these stables the horses were commonly in less than desirable conditions. The stalls were often damp and filled with manure or soft bedding. If they were out in a pasture, the ground was soft and or wet. In these circumstances the wonderful hooves adapted. They became softer and started to fall apart. Naturally the poor horses became footsore with any use outside the stall or soft ground. In came horse shoes to try and keep the horse's hoof together. Everything was tried to ensure a horse was able to go back out in the field. Clips, bars, odd shapes, you name it. But, whether the shoes affected the rest of horse negatively was never questioned, or whether there could be a better solution either. The iron seemed to work in the short term. The horses were relatively sound. Those horses that didn't respond well were labeled a problem to be discarded. Exotic techniques followed to ensure that iron shoes continued doing their job, at least for the feet, were refined to the point that no one ever questioned whether there was a better way. A whole new mythology developed around shoing. That is the legacy that we have ended up with now.
They are "YOUR" Horse's Feet
I am sure that many of you are still unbelievers and are not willing to abandoned shoes, but I would encourage you to still read Pete Ramey's book to at least understand what is going on in your horse's hoof before you come to any final conclusions. If you intend to keep you horse shod, this book will at least help you understand the importance of balanced feet. Even if you think this is all silly new age nonsense or have read many books on the physiology of the hoof, I would still recommend reading it. This is new material that is coming out after the millennium based on research done just in the last few years. The information is very easy to follow. I read most of the normal horse hoof stuff in there in a few hours. The pictures are well done and simple to understand.
I really don't want to turn this column into farrier bashing either. There are wonderful, well meaning farriers out there who have realized the horse shoe in a way is a dance with the devil, and have constantly sought better alternatives. Why would plastic and rubber horse shoes appear on the market if the iron ones were so successful? But, we as horse owners have to take responsibility for our horses and make decisions on their behalf even if it is not popular or conventional. I urge you to get this book and read it. Also go out on the websites on natural hoof care to get more information. Check out Pete Ramey's website link for more information and go from there. If you are interested in finding a Natural Trimmer, be sure to look for someone who is AANHCP certified. You can find more about the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Professionals at their website here. My Natural Hoof Trimmer, Michael Boucher, has a wealth of information on his website. Then go and look at your horse's hoof, whether shod or bare, and take the time to understand what is going on down there.
I can assure you, after my experience this is not another fad that will come and go with the latest gadget that sits in the bottom of my tack box. I would not have brought you this information if I had not witnessed it myself. Once you read about the horse's hoof and how it should be maintained, you will understand why it is absolutely essential that you become a knowledgeable partner and not just a consumer with your horse's hoof care. You will never look at a horse's foot the same way again. Yes, going barefoot with your horse will require a bit more of a commitment. If you decide to pull your horse's shoes and it doesn't work out, you can return to shoes. But, you need to give shoeless a real chance. Gravel crunching feet will take some time but they will come.
One Final Benefit to Consider
There is one final benefit to consider. The cost of a trim is about one third of the cost of a full set of shoes. I would never put my horses in danger because of cost, but it has certainly helped my pocketbook out having them trimmed instead. And I am sure that it will save me in the long run with vet bills due to unsoundness due to hoof, tendon, or joint problems.
Next month we will continue this series by talking about some aspect of natural horsekeeping that will contribute to a healthy hoof. That was another area where my past understanding was so wrong.
Definition of a Balanced Hoof
A Balanced Hoof is one that maintains the hoof's inner bone structure correctly and evenly relative to the internal structure of the hoof wall. The hoof should be symmetrical relative to the center line of the foot when viewed from straight on, from behind, or from below. The angle of the hoof when measured from center front relative to the bottom surface should allow the bottom of the coffin bone to lie naturally parallel to the ground, not angled upward. Both front feet should be identical in length as well. The same with the back ones as well.
If you are in any doubt about the location or angle of the coffin bone inside your horse's hooves, do not hesitate to take an x-ray of them. For example, you could be talking about as little as 3/8 of an inch between the bottom of the sole and the coffin bone. That is why removing anything from the sole other than normal flaking can put your horse in danger of coffin bone penetration. Knowing that, you can see how important it is to understand what your horse's feet look like inside, especially if you plan to make any drastic changes to them.
From an excerpt from the book Creating Freedom by Felice M. Vincelette
"No hoof no horse." Truer words were never spoken in regards to the welfare of the horse. Mankind for centuries has tried to ascertain the complexity of the hoof in importance to the rest of a horse's body and how it affects performance. In the past we have tried to "create" a better, stronger hoof by the use of artificial devices. The longest enduring device has been the metal shoe. Iron, steel or aluminum, metal shoes seemed to be the answer to the problems of keeping the hoof from wearing and keeping the horse sound.
Horse people for generations have valued the use of shoes and have made an art of the farrier practice. I have been blessed over the years to have worked with some very fine farriers. Their knowledge and expertise in shoeing certainly kept my horses going well. One of my farrier associates once told me that "if the farrier comes and the next day your horse is lame, get another farrier." I never forgot his words and have passed on the sentiment to all my students.
Meeting Tony Gonzales
The farrier that influenced me the most was Tony Gonzales, who introduced Proper Balance Movement or PBM. Tony published a book "Proper Balance Movement" which I believe is out of print but can be obtained from used equestrian book dealers such as Knight's Books in Maine and Robin Bledsoe in Massachusetts. It deals with shoeing but with a strong emphasis on balance. I recommend this book if you want to begin to understand balance. I was asked to participate in a clinic in Canada with Tony and a Linda Tellington-Jones group. Tony was to assess and correct any problems in the horse's hoofs, the T-Touch people would do their body work and I was to make a before and after comparison on the movement of each horse. It was truly an honor to work with such fine people who were truly dedicated to the well being of the horse.
As it was a four day clinic, I got to see the horses go through stages of change. At first, most horses moved more freely. The second day some of these same horses seemed stiff. Every day the horses were lunged in the morning, had body work mid-day and then a light riding session in the afternoon. But by the end of the clinic, all horses benefited from the program and the participants, horses and humans seemed very pleased. But, I began to notice that the horses Tony left barefoot were much freer in their movement and made notes to ask questions of him about that later.
I did ask Tony about specifically about the barefoot horses later. At the time he was beginning to explore his theory of PBM with the barefooted horse. He believed that if you began to balance the horse's hoof at the very earliest age and keep it balanced there would be no need of shoes. The way the horse moved would show up in the wear patterns of the hoof. This allowed for the horse to be constantly rebalanced according to the changes happening in the horse's body. Thus, as the horse grew in size and progressed in its training, it would always remain in balance. Tony felt that the natural hoof, if well cared for, was the very best for the horse. It allowed the horse to use his whole body correctly.
After much study and deliberation with myself I decided to let my horses go barefoot. I invited Tony to my farm. Tony explained that there would be a period of adjustment and that some horses would get worse before they got better. It would be a whole body experience and many things would begin to change; feet might break up, there might be lameness and sore muscles all over. As we began the process I took careful notes as Tony explained what corrections he was making. He showed me the techniques I would need to know to keep the horses feet trimmed correctly.
Tony came back to the farm twice again to make sure things were progressing in the right direction. I continued his program and all my horses responded well. That was in 1986 and my horses have been barefoot since that time. For anyone who doubts about the ability of horses to go barefoot, I have shown successfully under saddle and in competitive driving that way.
Understanding Your Horse's Body is Important
Understanding your horse's body, especially the feet is vitally important in maintaining the horse sound and happy. Having dealt with many horses, I found that keeping a natural hoof has significantly helped all of them. To understand what constitutes a natural foot, The Natural Hoof by Peter Ramey mentioned above, is a wonderful book on this subject. The author clearly explains the trimming and filing techniques needed to balance your own horse. There are lots of photographs of the worst looking hoofs you have ever seen and the wonderful results of natural trimming done to them. If you are serious about beginning a natural hoof care regimen then I highly suggest this book.
I am sure you are wondering why I have decided to write on this topic. Two reasons: Firstly, an experience I had personally with one of my horses where laminitis was brought on by incorrect balance and trimming of the hoof which started with flairs and a white line separation of the wall. This horse will now have to spend a year growing a complete new hoof not to mention suffering discomfort in the process. But, this horse has been barefoot it's whole life and had a healthy hoof. How did this happen?
Personal Experience is a Tough Teacher
Herein lays the problem. Many modern farriers tend to think that a barefoot horse is not a working horse, so a "pasture" trim should be sufficient. But my horses are working horses. They need more than a pasture trim. That is not the same thing as a Natural Trim. A pasture trim not done correctly will lead to lameness. Unfortunately I was listening to my farrier rather than trusting my own judgment, and my horses were not being trimmed correctly. The changes were gradual, and I was not catching them. It was only when my horse became laminitic that I had to look into the history.
Sadly, what I also saw during the course of the summer was many of my students' horses along with others around them at their boarding barns we on the same road as my horse. The horses were all unbalanced and/or lame and heading down the same path as my poor laminitic fellow. When my students also asked their farriers about the flairs, splits, cracks, white line separation and lack of balance, many of them thought the hooves looked fine. In addition, all of the farriers in question suggested shoes to solve the various lameness issues. A natural hoof care trimmer was found and after a few trimmings my student's horses were back to going well. This was on horses were that were pronounced as hopelessly lame and in need or further exotic pads and bars on their shoes.
A Balanced Horse is a Happy Horse
The second reason I am writing about this issue is a balanced horse is a pleasure to work with. When a horse is balanced its comfort level is increased and its chances of staying sound are greatly enhanced. Wouldn't you want that for your horse?
This article is not about who is right or wrong. It is more a matter of choice, direction, and once again responsibility on the part of the human companion. One of my students who had been experiencing some of the Summer difficulties summed it up this way: she and her horse were going in a direction that her farrier couldn't travel. We have to keep in the foremost of our thoughts not what appears best for the horse, but what is correct.
Taking the time to learn all that is correct for your horse is the most important thing you can do. The horse is the one who always suffers from our ignorance. No question is too foolish to ask if it needs an answer. Sometimes to help create a freer horse we must first be free in ourselves.
For more information on laminitis check out the website for the theHorse.com. They present an interactive website from the University of Kentucky explaining laminitis. Every horse person should watch this! There are also photos of a laminitic horse from Australia. You will never look at your horse's hoofs the same way again. Natural Hoof Care also has a few websites where you will find state listings of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners.
If you have any hoof care questions please direct them to The Cavalier. I will try to respond in the next issue.
Editor's Note: Felice Vincelette is a lifelong horse-woman devoted the Art of French Classical training. Throughout her more than thirty years as a trainer, instructor, breeder of the rare Lipizzan horse, and therapeutic educator, Felice has developed and perfected a unique program based on the elements of French Classicism, integrating healing therapies and the natural language of horses.
Felice is available for private sessions focusing on establishing open lines of communication between the horse and rider. As each horse/human relationship is unique, Felice will formulate a training program tailored to suit the needs of each partnership. Her training focuses on establishing open lines of communication between the horse and rider through the use of the horse's natural language. This development of a language unique to each partnership will open doors not thought possible by modern training methods.
To schedule a private session for your and/or your horse, or for information regarding training, instruction, clinics or workshops, please contact:
192 Beauty Hill Road
Barrington, NH 03825
Phone: (603) 664- 8091.
by Nancy Lindley-Gauthier
An excellent question came up following my last article regarding how to ensure the horse will halt reliably. I have reiterated the importance of horse having a reliable 'whoa' several times in this series. It is important in a riding horse, but it is my belief that responsiveness to the 'whoa' command as well as a willingness to stand is absolutely vital in a driving horse.
However, I will begin with a caveat. No matter how well trained an animal is to stand or halt as desired, nothing is 100% fool proof with a horse. For that reason, no matter how good one of my horses stands at home, at a carriage show, I have a 'header' for safety's sake; most carriage driver's do.
To Stand is a Virtue
The Whoa command, "to come to a complete stop," is really Part One of the command. The rest of whoa is quite often "standing still" for some period of time. These are two separate issues for many horses. Here, I will discuss standing. The initial 'whoa' response can be taught on the ground, under saddle, on the lunge line, and doesn't really require special address. The willingness to stand until told to move off is (most often) the challenge.
Why is a solid halt vital for a driving horse? They will be required to tolerate waiting around for their driver on a number of occasions; harnessing, putting-to(attaching to carriage) and the driver's and passenger's entrance to the carriage all require an animal that stands. For one example: a horse that moves off before given the command to do so, may well drag a wheel into or over the driver or carriage passenger just climbing aboard. To compare to riding - that horse that will not stand may step irritatingly away from the person attempting to mount, but that doesn't usually result in the person being run over. However, we can agree that regardless, a horse that stands beautifully is a bonus, regardless of their planned activity.
The Secret to Teaching a Horse to Stand
The Top-Secret Magic method for training a horse to stand: There isn't one!
Now, there may be some new or old or exceptional plan that this trainer or that could present as the last word in training to stand or whoa. In my experience, the horse's temperament decides which method is most likely to work well for that individual. There are a lot of roads to Rome, and all of them will get you there, if you choose the right one.
My preferred method, using boredom, happened almost by accident. My novice horse had to serve as my 'practice harnessing' body, while I learned how to assemble the seemingly innumerable bits of harness together. She, who had been so irritatingly twitchy if required to stand on cross ties for longer than a very quick grooming found herself regularly required to tolerate being cross-tied on a very regular basis, always for longer than she wanted to. Gently insisting that she stand and regular practice made all the difference.
It was perhaps a summer's worth of lessons I had during which my instructor hovered and suggested quicker ways to harness up, how to adjust specific items of tack, and similar topics. I was focused on the tack, not fussing with the horse. She learned that shifting, pawing, snapping, swishing and even huge sighs were not going to get her out of there. Her normal ten minute grooming was suddenly extended to twenty minutes, sometimes thirty minutes as we fiddled with various things. I did not insist that she go from ten minutes of standing politely to forty, all at once, but that was one result of that summer's effort.
Understand Your Horse's Temperament
Now, I had some advantages. Although my horse was green, she is 1/2 Lipizzaner, and of a generally equable temperament. Her reaction to having to stand longer than she wanted to was to produce some minor and irritating behaviors but nothing that would call challenging. Certainly, there are horses that won't stand on cross ties, but might yank against the ties, try to march off, even rear. If that is a known or expected reaction to standing from a specific horse, I would be careful not to push him to his limit.
I know; some would say that you should deal with or correct the behavior. I think it really depends. If they horse is a lively temperament that is standing tolerably for a few minutes, but getting anxious or being driven mad by bugs or what have you, I see no profit in waiting for him to have his fit. I would much prefer three minutes of good standing, a nice carrot reward, and if/when you can gain that thirty more seconds, you gain more than if you pushed him to his breaking point. The idea is to move that breaking point further out.
I cannot suggest that there is any other magic involved. If you have such a horse, if you know you can park him on crossties for 3 minutes, then do so, do your usual routine, but push it to 3.5 minutes. When you can manage that reliably, push on for 4 minutes. Progress is progress, whether it be in thirty second intervals or three minutes. The key is for the rider or driver to know their horse and to know how much they can improve upon, or in what intervals.
My Horse Doesn't Like Cross Ties
All very well you say, but this horse won't stand for me to mount, or won't stand outside at all or --
I started with the cross tie example because it is how I begin training for horses to stand. If your horse is not comfortable on crossties try this method outside. Pick a spot and use that exact spot for your 'outside standing' training. Lead your horse to the spot, say 'whoa,' and if he does not stop immediately, use your lead shank to bring him to a halt with pressure. If he stops immediately, praise him and move off after just a few seconds. Next time you pass that spot, whoa in the same manner, stand for a moment, and if that is easy, stand longer.
Let's say you get that nice halt, but you know it won't last. You have a twelve second halt before he wants to move off. You will work on that halt-to-patient standing in exactly the same manner you would on the cross ties. Use the same spot, ask the horse to stand. Perhaps you have enough time to check one stirrup length before he moves off? Stop again, check the other stirrup. If that is no problem, check your bridle adjustments.
The Key is Regular Repetition
The key to this exercise is regular repetition, and only adding to the required stand time incrementally. Don't expect beautiful long halts for a horse that you ordinarily bring straight from the barn, hop on, and begin to work. It's going to take some effort to change the horse's expectations. On the other hand, how simple is it to just extend your pre-ride check before mounting each time?
I started with a caveat, and I will end with one. I have taught a number of horses now, of varying temperaments to stand, all so I could safely harness them & put-to a carriage. I've written my usual method for creating that beneficial willingness to stand, and more importantly: I have written it to a specific audience. These thoughts are directed at a group of dressage riders, people who do tend to know their own horse well, know his temperament, issues, etc. It is also with the thought that those horses may have the odd issue, but are primarily reliable/trainable and used to being handled in a logical way.
To fully address the question of "The Whoa" and Standing would take several chapters, and still might not address every possible issue/response or what have you. A search of the internet reveals "whoa" training from natural horsemanship clinics, "whoa" as taught by hunter riders, etc. You see my point. It is a big issue, but a very important one. It is also one that can be solved in many ways. I've given you my method, but do encourage you to research others. If you have other questions or want to pose a specific circumstance, please feel free to send them in.
Next time: a quick and incomplete overview of the next steps in training driving. These won't be especially detailed, because someone who hasn't done this already with a carriage trainer should not try the first time, alone.
And in carriage news: Two World's events for carriage enthusiasts are fast approaching. For info on this years event, visit:
This Month's Training Tip: The Mystery of the Tossing Head
Notes from a clininc by Felice M. Vincelette
I was giving a clinic in California with the emphasis on trouble shooting problems. The group consisted of riders, instructors and trainers. Mostly were dressage people and a few hunter/jumper individuals. There were many lovely horses all with problems of some kind. My last client was a middle-aged woman on a wonderful Warmblood horse. She told me that for the past three months he had been constanly throwing up his head.
The vet, the farrier, the message therapist, the chiropractor, the accupucturist, the saddle fitter, all had come and still it remained a mystery. Something was causing him discomfort and making him stiff. She had come in hopes I might find the problem. I free lunged him, watched his movement and could detect the stiffness in his neck. I then checked his body using the techniques of Jack Meagher hoping this would help release the tension. The horse responded well. Next we saddled him making sure all fit well and it did. The horse still seemd relaxed. He trotted a bit on the lunge with no problems.
On Went the Bridle
She then started to put his bridle on and up went the head! I asked her if he always did this and she told me it started three months ago. I checked his mouth, checked the bit, all seemed fine. Finally the bridle was on and he seemed quiet again. I rechecked the bit fit and the horse seemed comfortable. She mounted and walked on with a loose rein and again the horse was calm. I asked her to move into the trot. As she did she pulled back on the reins to "collect" her horse and the tossing began. Not just an annoying toss but a "I want this off my head" kind of toss.
Something was definetly wrong. I asked her if she had changed anything in his training routine. She said no but then remembered that his bridle was new. "How long has he been in the new bridle?" I asked. "Three months." she replyed. I asked her to dismount then took a rein in each hand and pulled gently towards the ground. The horse immediately responded by jerking his head up. I asked again this time paying close attention to the bridle parts.
As I pulled the reins down I noticed that the crown piece, which was very wide, crushed the back of the horse's ears. Ouch! I did it one more time just to be sure. We took the bridle off and cut out two half moons in the crown piece and put it back on. This time when I asked for a lowering of the head that is what I got. Though the horse was stiff from all the discomfort in his neck, his ears no longer were in pain. I told her some body work would be needed to get him supple again because of his resisitant three months. I spoke with her a month later and he was getting better all the time.
A Small Change Can Make the Difference
I want to be clear that even the smallest change you do with a horse can make a dramatic impact. We always look for the big problems when often times it is the little ones that do the most damage. Study your horse and make notes of how he/she responds. Knowing your horse well will help to keep them happy, supple and sound. Take that extra moment to make sure things are correct.
One more piece of mythology that can lead to a tossing head is the Snaffle bit. The snaffle bit through popular myth is known to be the mildest of bits. It can only be that if it fits your horse's mouth. I have seen horses so uncomfortable in big egg butt snaffles. These are supposed to be the kindest. Any bit is severe if used by unskilled hands. If you are not sure about the fit of the bit you are using ask someone with expertise in this area. A mouth full of metal is uncomforatble at best: at its worst a constant torture. Take time and care and your horse will reward you with many happy hours of riding.
Editor's Note: Here is a picture of the headstalls I use for my horses. They have the cutouts in them for the ears already (red arrows.) If you do purchase this headstall you have to purchase a separate cheekpiece as well that has a buckle on either end. I purchased both pieces from Dressage Extensions. Here is their website.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Last month we talked about about the usefulness of stretching ourselves before we ride. Yoga has definately helped me to gain the flexibility I need to ride my large barrel horses without pain. My posture is becoming naturally balanced. I hope you will give it a try.
This month we are talking about our responsibility to all parts of our horses, not just the easy areas. Good horse care means that we take responsibility for understanding as mucy as we can for their comfort and not abdicating this to someone else no matter how complicated it might seem to learn. Don't be afraid to respectfully question any of your service providers if you feel that they are not going in a direction that you feel is right.
Try not to be blinded by the fashionable and flashy when buying your horse's tack. His comfort is much more important than having the latest look in tack. Take the time to look over what you are putting on your horse to see if it really fits him. If not, replace those pieces that don't. If you are unsure of the fit, don't hesitate to consult a professional to understand how it should fit. It is important to understand that what you put on your horse can hurt him and can not only affect his way of going, but can affect your safety.
Questions, Answers, and Comments
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Don't give up!
Best wishes from Fox Chase Farm,