Dedicated to the Art of Classical Riding
for the Mature Rider
February 2007 - Vol 1, Issue 2
In this edition we are going to take the first steps towards helping your horse become the ride of your dreams. In my article "Fix it from the Ground", I will be presenting a new and practical look at the basic concept that underlines all classical training: work in hand. With this method you can help the horse to find her own understanding and balance before you even put one foot in the saddle.
We welcome back our contributing writer and classical training expert, Felice Vincelette, with her article "Creating the Horse you Want to Ride." This is the first in her series of articles on effective classical training and riding. She is starting at the begining with the process of working with the horse's body to uncover problems that might interfere with your future progress as well as give you a new way to communicate with your horse.
We also welcome another new writer, Nancy Lindley-Gauthier, who will give you a perspective of Dressage from the carriage driver's seat in her article: "Driven Dressage: The Same, Yet Different."
Jean Tattan, our equine massage therapist, is back with more questions and answers from her practice.
In the article "Webster, From Rescue to Ravishing," I hope to inspire you to look beyond the sale pages to find the horse you have always wanted. In addition you will also find our standard features: Comments, Questions and Answers, Follow the Yellow Brick Road, and This Month's Training Tip
For those of you who have inquired about our website, www.thecavalieronline.com, we hope to have it up by the end of March. There you will find a link to our past editions. Also, you will find a forward look to new features in upcoming months in The Cavalier.
And as always, enjoy the ride.
Fix it From the Ground
Fix it From the Ground
One of the challenges the mature rider faces as we move up in years is that the ground seems to get progressively harder when we land on it. I am not sure if this is a geologic phenomenon or not, but it sure seems like it. The thought had occurred to me that maybe riding was not such a good way to test this theory, but I have already gone past that brief moment of reason. We are with horse now, and would prefer to be with the dirt as little as possible.
Our interactions with horses come in all forms depending on their present state of training and where we eventually want them to be. Teaching a horse a new technique involves communicating a request to an animal that does not always understand enough to return the correct response immediately. And on top of that, when we are on her back the horse is generally moving. So, we are still required to maintain our equilibrium, intent of speed, and direction while trying to impart the new information. As anyone who has tried to teach a horse the shoulder in for the first time will tell you, doing this from the top of the saddle is indeed a challenge even on a well schooled horse.
Getting a young or green horse to accept us as a reliable source of direction adds a new dimension. Her lack of time on this planet adds her uncertainty and confusion to the equation. She is in the process of becoming surer of herself, but is definitely not there yet. And while she looks big, she is not really that big inside; even her ability to carry weight for any length of time is not really there yet either. This translates to potentially a lot of fight or flight responses, communications of distress on her part, that are not helpful during the process. That is no back I want to sit on. I am sure that you will all agree; to safely bring her to a stronger and more reliable mount before both the trainer and the horse are hurt is certainly the goal. The challenge is also ensuring both the trainer and the horse enjoy the experience as well. This is where teaching from the ground comes in to play.
Many riders (and I was one of them) seem to view ground work for a young horse as longing her until she was somewhat responsive to voice commands at walk, trot, canter, and most importantly, WHOA! Later, the longe session is used to burn off some steam; sort of a way to get the horse tired so that the mounted session was a little less explosive. But, once the horse is somewhat confirmed in her gaits, it is time to mount up. All other lessons would be taught from the saddle. After all, wasn’t the point of a riding horse is that you rode her? And doesn’t it show how good a rider you are if you ride her through the bad behavior and the bucks?
The bad behavior and the bucks were what made me decide to consider another way though. Certainly, the untimely date I had with the arena floor was the most helpful clue. I was lucky enough to be at a barn where there was a trainer, Felice Vincelette, who convinced me that both behaviors were not a result of naughtiness, especially in a young horse. They were instead communications of distress that I needed to listen to, or youthful exuberance that needed to be understood and channeled correctly. Either way, I realized I was not sufficiently skilled enough to handle that from the saddle. Felice showed me how to work with my young horse from the ground; not just chasing him around the ring at the end of a longe line. In fact, once I understood that a young horse on a longe line would only be going around madly in a circle, putting undue stress on his young joints, and I would have little or no tactile communication with him, I was interested in learning more.
One of the hardest things for me to intuit was that a horse does not naturally listen to his owner. Sure, I could understand it intellectually, but I really had a hard time internalizing the concept. It was helpful for me to visualize a puppy, just brought home for the first time, and my trying to get him to understand that he is not to run away from me. He is sort of aware that the human is there and due to the hand waving and jumping up and down, might have something important to say. But it is not clear to him at all what that person is saying or what she wants him to do. So it goes without saying that getting on a horse in this state, as you leave the bonds of earth, you are riding a problem. Going back to the dog metaphor, if you have taken the needed time to work with him appropriately, you will eventually pat Rover on the head and say, "You are the smartest member of the family!" now that he is totally in tune with your commands.
A horse needs to have that time too, for many reasons. Some times they are too young for the stresses that carrying a rider can impart. Most classical trainers do not expect more than the basics of leading and manners with their horses until they are five years of age. That is the age when the Spanish Riding School starts their horses' education. Some breeds mature even later. You might think that it is a sign of a good rider if they are able to get on a horse that is three years old and ride him into submission. I would argue that this is not true. Here the needs of the horse are definitely not taken into account. Think of it from the horse's perspective. You are suddenly you are on her back in a predatory position even before you have had a chance to thoroughly get acquainted with each other's language. Many horses do give in, but many retaliate in more subtle ways, such as shying or bolting to let you know you have gone too far. Before you ride a horse that is young or new to you, I suggest giving it plenty of ground time. It is easier and much more effective to see their responses as you work with the horse from that stable position.
In hand work, especially for the young horse, should not be a wet saddle blanket experience either. This is a time for the horse to learn to enjoy his work. To gain submission through overtaxing her is not a helpful goal. It can create a horse that is resentful. Fortunately, in some ways working from the ground is somewhat self-limiting. You are also running around as she does, so while you are building up stamina to ride, you are also listening to your own body when it tells you when you have had enough. The horse will probably feeling the same as well. There are other considerations as too, especially for a young horse or any horse. Working on these techniques day after day is not as productive as it might seem. In fact, sessions of 20 minutes, a few times a week will be more effective and go a long way to ensure that both of you will look forward to the session.
Consider starting a young horse out on the trail while walking behind her in a set of long lines rather than up on top. It is great way to let you and the horse experience new things in a much safer way. If you had the opportunity to ride an old trusted horse out on the trails, I bet you can you remember how calm and a joy she was to ride when you went out on her. Well, what if you built up the same experience from the ground with the young one? If she spooks and runs off, you are not on top, scared out of your mind and transmitting that terror to her for her to remember the next time you go out. But, after some time she will be an old hand at it.
You might think that you are good enough rider to sit a bad spook or something worse, but maybe your horse is not strong enough to carry you that far and tells you so in ways that continue to increase to the point where they unnerve you. This creates a spiral that is tough to get out of. It may take you a few times walking behind her, to get her to think that going out on the trails is fun, relaxing and something to look forward to. Then when you do mount up, she will be in a much better place to enjoy the experience too.
I can sure remember my relief when I said to my trainer, “You mean I can teach all of this from the ground?” It occurred to me that this might be one way to lessen my unplanned trips to Mother Earth. But, as I progressed further, I started to see all of the possibilities beyond just saving me from getting seriously hurt on a regular basis.
One other benefit for me as a returning equestrienne is that I am able to practice subtleties with my hands and body position that are so hard to do when in the saddle. My hands are improving in their position and independance. Also, I am able to practice correct posture as well as see the effect that my upper body position has on maintaining the direction of the horse. I can work on keeping my shoulders open and straight as well as making sure that I am keeping my head looking forward and turning it in the direction I want to go. You will be surprised at how the horse, even on the ground, will not do it correctly until you do it correctly as well. But you are still stable on the ground. Things are not moving under you so fast. So, all you have to worry about is yourself.
If you look at the history of training a horse from the ground, it is deep and well respected. In fact to present a horse from the ground in levade and other high school movements is considered to be a completed horse. Why not teach your horse to walk, trot and maybe even canter in hand before you mount him? By this I mean, you are walking, and later running beside him with your hands on the reins over his whithers as you confirm him in his gaits. Eventually you are moving farther away with long lines as the horse gains confidence and understanding. He will now be moving forward, straight and calm, while you are learning his capabilities. You truly can create a horse that is already ridden in and obedient from the ground before you even get on him. Consider driving horses that are prepared safely and thoroughly to pull a carriage reliably with these techniques. Why not do the same for a saddle horse? And, since it is general practice for the Spanish Riding School and the Cadre Noir, isn't it certainly something to consider?
Anything that you want to ride in the saddle from halt to canter pirouette can be taught from the ground. Beyond the obvious safety issues, you have a better vantage point on the ground to determine the correctness or accuracy of the horse’s action. You are not moving as a result of the horse’s movement so you are not distracted by the other part of the riding responsibilities. If the movement is not correct, you can stop at once, repeat the action in a different way to help the horse to understand what you mean, and perhaps get the right response the second time without losing concentration. In fact, if you are having problems with particular movements, such as a shoulder in, try and see if you can get the horse to offer it correctly from the ground first.
It will take too much time to do this you might say? But, the time you save with this technique is well worth it. From a safety point of view, you have a horse that is more reliable for you when you do put your foot in the stirrup. Also, think of the time and difficulty that you may have to go through to untrain a spoiled or angry horse or one that has developed a bad behavior in response to a a training session where you were mounted and over your head. There are so many of these horses that end up in rescue or worse because the time they required was not there for them. For an older horse such as my Webster, working from the ground was essential in his rehabilitation to ensure he was sound and strong enough to carry me. My getting on him finally and having him also comfortable with my weight was worth all the gound work I did did with him. Now I have a sound and comfortable school master that I would not have been able to afford otherwise.
In our expert feature this month, Felice Vincelette will share with us some secrets of how to start to create the back you want to sit on. In upcoming articles we will explore some of the practical methods in a way that is both satisfying and successful for all. Far from a chore, it is addicting and fun to see a horse blossom this way. And when you finally mount him you will have the horse of your dreams. -- Nancy Knettell, Editor in Chief
As you begin your journey of creating the horse you want to ride, setting all else aside, the first and most important question that needs to be asked is “where do I begin?” In my teaching practice the most common element that is always missing, and to my thinking the most important understanding we should all have, is knowledge of the biomechanics of the horse's body. It is essential to start here. Too often I see horses blamed for “acting up" and other bad behaviors due to this lack of understanding. And sadly, I see them being unfairly punished because of this. But what we often mistake for bad behavior in a horse, is actually the horse trying to communicate to us that there is something wrong. Horses by nature are usually pretty willing to go along without much complaint with whatever their human companion chooses to do. When the horse begins to act out though, it usually means that something has gone wrong with him and this “wrongness” has gone unnoticed for a very long time. Unfortunately, the horses that often come to me for rehabilitation are ones that could have remained sane and or sound if the owner had only known what to look for and more importantly, what to do when the first signs appeared. Sometimes these injuries began as small subtle misalignments of muscles and joints. Without treatment they progressed to more painful ones, turning into rearing, bucking, head tossing or the horse just plain running away in an attempt to escape from the pain he was feeling. These are not bad horses. They are horses trying to express to their owners that they are in pain. And for the most part their owners want the best for them but are not even aware of what is going on to be able to fix it. So, what shall we do and where do we begin to correct this error in our knowledge?
It may be hard for us to imagine; in 1907 the horse was still the main means of transportation in most of the world. Mass production of the automobile was still in its infancy. The world depended upon the horse not just to get around, but for many areas of mere survival. Horses lived in close proximity with their humans and as such were very much an important part of human activity. Unfortunately, by the middle of the 20th century that close relationship between horse and human was all but gone. No longer needed as a means of transport or field labor, the horse became a luxury and in becoming so, we as humans lost touch with them. But, in losing that closeness, we also have lost a valuable knowledge of our equine companions, namely the understanding of the biomechanics of the horse and the importance of maintaining it. By this, I mean knowing what contributes to keeping a horse comfortable and sound so that we are rewarded with a happy, willing companion possessed of a long and serviceable life. A lame or sore horse would not have gotten you very far especially if you did depend on them.
Unfortunately most horses in these modern times are now weaned at an early age and even start their training for the show ring as early as six months. They barely have time to learn what it means to be a horse before we subject them to the will of man. Most are housed at boarding or training facilities apart from their owners, and as such can be handled by many different individuals, not just their owners. Often there is limited turnout, so the horse spends his day in a small box with little area to move about or stretch. While his owner may come to ride on a regular basis, the contact is often limited by what ever time is left over from a busy schedule. Workouts can be stressful due to that limited time frame those owners have to spend with their horses, so small subtle misalignments may go unnoticed and untreated. Sound familiar? We have lost our awareness of these subtle changes in our horses because we have grown away from them. And in growing away, we have lost our intimate connection to them. It is the price we pay for living in a fast paced, technological world where the horse is no longer an integral part of our lives. It is a fact of our modern life.
So as caring horse owners stuck in this modern world, what must we do to remedy this unfortunate situation? We must reconnect with our horses in a meaningful way. We can start this connection by learning about and how their bodies work. When I begin working with new horse and human clients I always recommend a great little book by Jack Meagher (pronounced Mar) “Beating Muscle Injuries in Horses”. Mr. Meagher is considered the “father” of equine sports massage therapy in this country. He originally was a very successful sports massage therapist for human athletes. With the help of Jack LeGoff and the USET he branched out into equines. His considerable knowledge of physiology and physics of motion gives valuable insight in preventing injuries before they happen.
I use Jack's book as a bible for all my students. It is a comprehensive, accurate, easy to understand and has very clear and defined illustrations of the horses muscles. I encourage my students to study this book, take it to the barn and start following the guidelines of the 25 stress point check. This program is easily incorporated into a regular grooming schedule. And there is no fancy equipment to purchase, just hands on the horse work. I often suggest that the students copy the diagram of the stress points and hang it where they groom their horse. As you begin to study and use the techniques you will be very surprised to find that your horse quickly responds to the touches. You will also be surprised at how sore he really is! He will let you know by turning his head to the point where you are making contact or moving his body away from that contact such as dropping his back in response to the touch. A horse that is comfortable in and with his own body is a happy horse indeed. If we take the responsibility in preparing our horses for the work we want them to do, it is like putting money in the bank. A horse that can move freely is a horse that stands a better chance at remaining sound and healthy.
On all of my own personal horses, I perform the 25 stress point check before I work with them and when I find something amiss, I immediately set about to release that stress. I also incorporate this same routine into my cooling out/grooming time. Again keeping in mind that by checking for soreness or stress, releasing the tension I am taking valuable steps at keeping my horse comfortable and sound. The great benefit of this is the level of communication you begin to get with your horse. You are taking steps to communicate with him. In turn he responds to your touch and there you have the beginning of a unique language between the two of you. You reach out to find his pain, he responds, you release the pain. He is happy and there begins the conversation. As you continue this practice you will notice that your horse takes on a different look in his body and expressions. He begins to move more comfortably and freely. One student mentioned that after one of her sessions she thought her horse was smiling! After a month or so she thought he was beginning to really enjoy his work. She felt as if she had made a major breakthrough just by being more connected and it tune with her horse's body.
Anyone at any age or level of horsemanship can do this for their horse. It requires no special skills or strengths. Just a deep respect and love for another living being who speaks a different language and wants so much to be heard and understood. After 30,000 years of being our noble companions, I believe we owe the horse that much. -- Felice Vincelette
Next issue: Basic In Hand Work with the Halter and Simple Bridle.
Definition of “dressage” and “dresseur”
A dresseur is someone who appoints, dresses, cultivates, aligns, adjusts, appoints as a professional art form. In the truest sense of the word we are the “dresseur” of our horse. The taking of the basic horse, with a profound understanding of his natural, instinctual beauty and a deep knowledge of his bio- mechanics, we set out to “dress’ our horse! We work with the horse to enhance and bring to fruition a more sophisticated beauty without compromising its integrity. And in doing so, taking on this great responsibility, we find ourselves drawn into that beauty and eventually we become a part of it.
Editors Note: This is an excerpt from Felice Vincelette's upcoming book: Creating Freedom; The Art and Science of Horsemanship. She 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
In addition, for those of you who have been trying to find Jack Meagher's book in the past, you may have found that is was out of print. I have good news for you! His family has brought it back in print and have agreed to have The Cavalier as one of the outlets for sales of the publication. We do have them in stock now. The total cost is $18.44 which includes the book price of $14.95 and $3.49 for shipping. If you wish to order a copy please send a check made out to: Nancy Knettell for $18.44 and send it to the address below. Please include with the check, your name, address, and a phone number where I might be able to reach you if there is a problem.
53 Hadley Road
Merrimac, MA 01860
Driven Dressage -- The Same But Different
Now, you don’t have to be competing to be developing dressage movements, but for the sake of comparison, the above (hopefully) shows that a driven dressage horse is working in the same manner as a ridden dressage horse. The horse shown in driven dressage is not an animal that is dragging along, leaning into his collar to pull a serious weight -- like the big park carriages giving rides to folks in Central Park -- but instead usually 'put to' a relatively light weight, if hopefully still attractive vehicle.
The other misconception is that the driver is merely a passenger back there. Think of the forethought and effort it takes the rider to produce that very nice dressage lengthening we started with. Visualize riding past the end of the arena and preparing to make the corner. A great deal depends on your horse. If you are mounted, likely you are thinking of flexing slightly to the inside and using some inside leg to create the bend for the corner that you will continue onto your diagonal line. You are thinking of containing a little extra energy, so when asked, your horse will lengthen readily. You perhaps remind yourself to keep yourself upright and not collapse forward or get behind the vertical. You look ahead and not down, picking the spot where you will return to the rail. This beautiful movement will look as if it happened smoothly and easily, but it is your planning, steadiness, and aides that cause and control it.
Driving that movement; is very nearly the same. As you pass the end of the arena, you plan a half halt, and follow that by a request for a flex that will bring him around the corner with a maintainable bend. You use a touch of whip on inside - near the girth - encourage the horse to hold the bend throughout his body. The whip is just a touch; the mirror of the ridden leg aid. Once the horse and then carriage are on a straight line diagonally across the arena, you will use the sharp verbal command 'Trot On' for lengthening, accompanied by the slightest give of the reins, being careful not to drop horse suddenly on forehand. Your eyes will be focused on that distant spot where you will return to the rail, in order to help you maintain a straight line, and you might remind yourself to sit up straight and provide that steady support to your horse. As you approach the far rail, you make sure you have aimed slightly to the right of the marker and begin the bend to return to the rail. With the merest steadying, the horse continues at the working trot, as you prepare now for the corner. Throughout, you would have tried to maintain a nice rhythmic gait.
So not only does the description of a movement sound the same - you realize that the job of the carriage driver is very like that of the dressage rider. This description likely sounds a lot like the ridden movement and for very good reason - it is very like the ridden movement. The horse is being asked to do the same lengthening, to make the same transitions, and to maintain a consistently forward gait. If competing, the judging should be comparable.
What is different? For starters, having a carriage means that your turns, curves and circles need to be larger. You need to allow room for your wheels to follow in the track of the horse. It is slightly easier on the driver's body; most carriages have some sort of shock-absorbing system, so riding in a carriage places fewer demands on the body. As we have discussed however, it isn't necessarily easy. One doesn’t lounge back with reins draped over Dobbins bum as the buckboard driver's in the old westerns did: well, you could, but you wouldn't be producing a dressage movement at that point. Another adjustment that a driver must make, especially if from a ridden background, is developing a feel for the amount of room required to negotiate turns.
The driven dressage arena is double the size of the standard ridden to take into account that movements require more space. The standard low level circle size for ridden is a 20 meter circle, while for driven the standard is a 40 meter circle. As horses and drivers become more advanced, as with riding, they are asked for smaller figures, but these are on order of increasing difficulty. you no longer bend to fit the horses' body on a circle, but must leave enough room for the carriage to follow the bend. Abrupt turns while possible, may result in the equine turning into his shafts and sort of shouldering the carriage aside: not pretty. One great benefit drivers get is their vantage point - they can clearly see if the horse bends well, and if it is maintained throughout the body. The rider cannot so easily sit back and judge their effect on their equine.
There are differences for the horse as well; the demands on the horse's body are generally diminished. A horse can pull a great deal more than they can carry, so the relatively slight weight of a driver and 2-wheeled vehicle can place less physical demands than carrying half that weight. Many carriage horses are animals that were retired from a ridden sport due to age or injury, and the lesser demand of driving is a way to keep them working, fit, and getting the attention they were used to as a mount.
Are you right now saying, “Hey wait a minute - I've seen carriage horses and I've never seen them going like a dressage horse?” Yes - there are nearly as many ways to drive a horse as there is to ride one. Many a light horse is shown as a '”pleasure horse” with a manner of going more comparable to a ridden pleasure horse; a fine harness class might recall a more saddle-seat way of going, and many a breed organization develops their own standards for their driving competitions.
However, Driven dressage classes are held in a dressage arena and judged by a qualified judge at many Carriage Shows. Driven Dressage also makes up the first leg of the 3 part competition that is the sport of "Combined Driving." And for the non- competitive, adding driving to your horse's repertoire can often enhance your enjoyment of your equine, and may even give you a new training tool or two. -- Nancy Lindley-Gauthier
Now, how to judge if your horse is safe carriage horse material? stay tuned...
Interested in driving? Do take a look at the America n Driving Society Website the organization that produces a calendar of events and provides rules and structure to driving competitions in the USA. If you aren't interested in competing, you will find a great deal of information and resources for instruction, gear and harnesses, and safety concerns.
More of Equine Muscle Massage -- Your Horse Will Love You For It
Editor's Note: Jean Tattan is back with more questions from her practice.
Question: My horse is not sore and shows no sign of lameness. Should I schedule a massage anyway?
Answer: A good massage benefits any horse, if not for soreness, then for the benefits of increased circulation. But any horse worked regularly at a high level of training can benefit tremendously for massage. Their muscles are working hard and massage keeps muscles pliable. When they are pliable, they are less likely to be injured.
When properly done, equine sports massage therapy prepares the body for exercise and restores free motion. It relieves muscle tension, lengthens connective tissue, improves temperament, boosts endurance, and the increased circulation can create synovial fluid in joints. It has even been known to ease muscle spasm.
Sports massage done prior to an event can serve as warm-up. After an event it reduces soreness by promoting circulation, which helps rid the body of toxins that build up in muscles after they are worked.
Sports massage done regularly can prevent injury and soreness.
Question: How can massage help muscles with adhesions?
Answer: Sports massage compresses muscle against bone to spread out fibers so blood can flow more easily into the muscle. This helps break apart adhesions.
Adhesions form when a muscle develops an area of tension. It feels like a speed bump in the otherwise smooth muscle tissue. If left untreated it can grow, cause pressure and restrict the movement of your horse. As the spot increases in size it draws in fluid from inflammation and it acts like glue—which causes the adhesion.
It’s important to note that massage is not a substitute for veterinary care. The massage therapist generally sees an injured horse after the veterinarian. But should the horse owner call the massage therapist first, the veterinarian must be called if there is no improvement. Some massage therapist wait to see if there is improvement after three massages. However, Equine Muscle Menders believes that if no improvement is seen after the first massage, the veterinarian should be called.
Question: Once I start having my horse massaged, will it be an expense I will have to incur forever?
Answer: If you are having it done for prevention, of course the answer is yes. But if it is being done for injury, the answer is no.
When a massage therapist is called in do to an acute soft tissue injury you may need to do three massages a week to begin. Based on how well the horse improves, that may be reduced to following week and reduced again the next week.
Keep in mind that the goal is not to forever have a hold on your purse strings. The goal is to get the horse better, even to the point that you no longer need the services of the massage therapist. Then you could continue once a month or once every other month for maintenance.
Then the choice is yours. As the horse owner, you have the final say. No matter which massage therapist you employ, it’s your money and you decide where to spend it. If massage therapy is what you choose, spend your money there. If it is not, tell that to the massage therapist and he/she should respect your wishes.
Jean P. MacDougall-Tattan is an award-winning journalist, a certified equine sports massage therapist, Reiki Master, and owner of Equine Muscle Menders in Merrimac, Mass.
Along with professional deep muscle massage, Jean now offers a new service. She will come to your barn and show you a series of effective warm up massages tailored to your horse's needs. You can use them anytime, whether it is to connect with your horse when are just hanging around him, or before and after your ride. While they are not intended to replace serious deep muscle therapy, they offer a wonderful way to ensure that you and your partner will enjoy this outing and look forward to the next. Jean can be contacted at (978) 346-9300. To learn more visit her website at:
Webster -- From Rescue to Ravishing
I did it again. You would think that after buying my very first horse fifteen years ago, a train wreck in the making, I would have learned. Well, my new one, Reglisse, was three and a half years old when I bought him. To say he has more than a bit to go before he is ready for me is an understatement. I know. I know. What was I thinking? But that is a story for another issue. In the meantime, I really needed to get my confidence back and realized that a youngster barely out of diapers was not going to do that for me. Thank heavens I came to that conclusion before I did some serious damage to myself or Reglisse. But, now I needed another horse, and one that was much more advanced in its training. This one better be suitable or I was never going to get off the ground with this hobby, literally.
Back in the horse market again. At least this time I had some sense and a better idea of what I wanted this time for my second one: sufficient training and temperament, temperament, temperament! I was never the boldest rider, and now that I am starting over, the point is not to get another handful. I was looking for the grandchildren type of horse. You know, the one that you can put your three year old child on and know they will be safe as you lead him around. I was also adamant about decent confirmation. I had owned in my past, a few horses that were less than the best from a structural perspective. It was hard to say goodbye to an old friend that was not that old, because of serious lameness issues due to poor breeding. I did not want to go through that heartbreak again.
And, OK, I have to admit that honestly, I wanted a nice mane and tail. If I had training, temperament and confirmation, why not have little bit of elegance to go along with those important qualities? But, as the attributes added up, so did the price tag. I did not have the funds to pay $5,000 let alone $10,000 for another horse. The day of the nice, quiet, backyard family horse are far behind us as well. I know there are cheap or even free horses out there, but I was on a mission and waiting for the right horse to drop into my lap someday was not doing it for me.
Then a light bulb went off in my head. I had just recently read an article in another horse magazine that you might be able to find nice horses in rescue. Why not go out on the web and look for one? I rescued a really nice dog, why not a horse? I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical to say the least. Well, I was totally surprised about what I found! And, I think it took me less than an hour of looking at websites in the New England area to find the horse of my dreams. I was astonished.
The picture on the website showed a big, beautiful, happy chestnut horse being held by a young child. He had the kindest eye. Talk about marketing. The picture screamed child safe (“old person” safe?). The horse was at Tara Farm Rescue in Coventry, Connecticut not far from where I live in Massachusetts, so it was doable for me without driving or trucking from a long distance. And he was listed as a Hanoverian. No way, a warmblood in rescue? I could not believe it. I called up that moment. In fact, I actually asked about another horse since I was sure what I was reading was impossible. But the woman I spoke to, BonnieJeanne Gorden, who runs Tara Farm, said Webster would be more suitable for me than the horse I inquired about, and yes indeed he was a Hanoverian. I said that I would be down the next weekend to check him out. If I wasn’t working at the time I probably would have jumped in the car that moment.
This time I was going to be smart about it. I took along someone to help me to make a decision. I was not going to make the same mistake I made the last time; falling in love with a pretty face. The horse was going to be right for me or I was not going to adopt him. When we got to the shelter, it was cold and there was snow on the ground and I was hoping for the best. We found Tara Farm a wonderful haven for all sorts of animals. But, when one of the shelter helpers got Webster out to show me, my heart sank.
He was in pretty sad shape. He was foot sore due to the fact that his hooves were about half the length they should have been. He could barely walk. The hard, uneven, frozen did not help either. But, I could not feel any heat in any of his joints, no splints, no evidence of bowed tendons, no puffiness. His legs appeared pretty clean, although it would have been understandable if he had arthritis in his hocks. That is not always apparent from touch. He was sixteen and his previous career as an eventer would make that somewhat a likelihood. His general confirmation was good despite the fact that he had no muscle tone in his back. The problem appeared to me to be all in his feet. He had the sweetest expression on his face through all of my examination though. My traveling companion was smitten. (So much for detached person to help me make the right decision.) I was still totally unsure. Didn’t I already have one project at home? Is everyone is going to laugh at me for bringing another misfit home? Did I even have the money to support another project like this if he does not work out?
From what I understand, Webster had apparently been ridden in competition incorrectly and pretty hard. He was given up by his owner to someone as a pasture pet because he was no longer serviceable as an eventer, or anything else thanks to such bad use. He was lame with two front leg tendon pulls. But with some time off at his new home he seemed to recover pretty well from his injuries. The new owner felt he was too good to be just hanging around and would make someone a good riding horse. She called BonnieJeanne Gorden at Tara Farm to put him up for adoption. And he was adopted out, but this time his next owner had some financial difficulties. Webster was seriously underfed and had his shoes pulled just before winter to save money. Having had shoes all of his sixteen years, his feet were not strong enough to support his weight. His hooves fell apart on the frozen ground. The lack of food also did not help him maintain any hoof growth either. Tara Farms was able to get him back quickly, but by then he was a mess. BonnieJeanne had started working her magic on him well before I got there, but as I saw Webster, he still needed a long time before he was going to be sound again, if ever.
But, there was something about Webster that I could not walk away from. He had the kindest eye and reminded me of a stuffed animal gone real. I sent back a picture to my instructor and she fell in love with him immediately. She said I had to adopt him. I also called my farrier and he felt that there was probably no structural damage in his hoof, because of the type of horse he was. He was in fact sound before he was adopted out the last time so that was a good sign. With some hoof growth and balancing my farrier felt Webster might come back good as new.
I did not do a vet check on him, which I do not recommend. But, he was not sound and would not have passed it anyway. He did come with a guarantee that he could go back to the shelter if he was not found suitable for any reason. I would lose my donation, a small amount considering what I would have to pay for him if he were sound and for sale through normal means. But, I would be free of the obligation of owning him none-the-less. He had been vetted by the shelter vet and was found to be in good health otherwise. I decided to take a chance on him and brought the trailer down the next weekend, paid the donation fee, agreed to the stipulations in the adoption agreement, and loaded him up.
When I brought Webster to the boarding barn in March, I could see the other boarders rolling their eyes when I unloaded him. He could barely move. I could just hear them thinking, “She’s got one unrideable horse, now she has two?” His coat was dull. He was so skinny. And he was tripping so badly he could hardly hold himself up. But, even though he was a sad sight, his was still regal and elegant tom under all of that. Some how I knew with some time and love he would be fine.
But, it was a very rainy spring. He kept tearing off his shoes in the muddy pastures and losing what precious hoof he was able to grow. So, my farrier and I decided to pull his shoes all together and let the soft ground do its healing. He was starting to respond to plenty of food with a shinier coat, more weight, and longer hooves even though they were growing with a bit of an elf curve in front. I was so worried that there was a problem inside his hoof that would cause permanent unsoundness, but my farrier kept saying he did not think so. A month later my facility was completed and I was able to bring both my horses home. What a thrill to see them in the backyard and to see that Webster was putting on weight and thriving.
With each hoof trim Webster was walking better and better as his hooves were growing and becoming more regular in shape. By July he was not tripping as much as he was when I first got him. My farrier was encouraged as well. I think secretly he was not sure there wasn’t permanent damage but wasn’t going to let me into that notion unless he was sure it was really true. My instructor, Felice, started to show me how to help him to get better for riding now that he was progressing. She did an evaluation on Webster and showed me how to massage him to release all of the muscle problems he had from his lameness and past bad riding. We used Jack Meagher’s book mentioned in the article below as a resource. He loved it so much he would stretch out his neck and almost purr like a kitten when we did it.
Then we progressed to a series of stretching exercises. He was a bit tight at first but soon started to lean into all of is his stretches. All of these moves were done very slowly and deliberated and on both sides. And all of these movements were followed by the same number of steps forward so that he could stretch and straighten out in the opposite direction. ( Editor’s note: We will be detailing more of this information in the March issue of The Cavalier)
Soon Webster was backing up in a straight line and with much more energy. His was becoming more flexible in all of his stretches too, reaching well under himself in the turn on the forehand for example. It was time to start strengthening his back and improving his straightness in preparation for carrying a rider. For that we started to ground drive him. We worked on the straight. We worked on turns. I even had a set of cavaletti that we would travel over and around to get him to gymnasticize his back more. I wanted to make sure that when I got on him he had a strong enough back to carry me. He was starting to gain some muscle finally. His top line was lifting and losing that out of shape sway he had. He was stopping with more engagement and turning with much more bend rather than falling into his corners. His lameness was retreating. His halts were becoming square. He was also becoming a beautiful sight to see through all of this work. His coat shone like a copper penny. His head which used to be so droopy was now erect and proud. He definitely was feeling so much better.
Throughout all of this work though, I would hear from my instructor, "Next spring you will get on him." He was walking straight and had barely a hitch in his footfalls. In fact if you did not know he was totally unsound a few months ago, you would think that his little bit of a bobble was due to uneven ground. I was prepared to do whatever it took to make sure that Webster was ready for me. April, May, who cared. He had come so far, what were a few more months. So, you could not believe my surprise when one gorgeous day in December, my instructor said, “It’s time. You are getting on Webster.” It had only been eight months! It didn’t take me a moment’s hesitation. Get the saddle. Get the mounting block. I am going to ride my Copper Prince! I got on his back and felt his kindness coming through the saddle. He was strong and steady and happy with me up there. We walked ever so slowly and carefully so that both of us could get to know each other this way. It felt like being in a ship rocking gently on the ocean on a beautiful sunny day. I sure have a long way to go to feel confident again, but with my fine and gentle charger I now am on my way.
If you are looking for that special horse, consider looking into rescue. There are many fine horses out there that just happen to find themselves on hard times. Through the series of articles that we will be carrying from the book Creating the Horse You Want to Ride we will be showing you the techniques that will not only prepare a young horse for safe riding, but help rehabilitate an older one as well. These are the ones that we used on Webster to such great success. As always, it is important to give any horse time to realize their potential. It is especially important with a horse that has had such a hard beginning. But, if you are able to give them that time to find there way back to health, you just might uncover a jewel. I certainly did with Webster!
Also, please consider giving some time or a donation to a horse shelter near you. Rescuing horses is expensive and a big commitment. These shelters can use all the help they can get. Tara Farm Rescue is one such organization that deserves such help and recognition. You can find out more information about them on their website: TaraFarm Website. BonnieJeanne, isn’t he just gorgeous now? – Nancy Knettell
This Month's Training Tip
Quick Tip: Teach your horse to cross a scary tarp.
This is one tip that will give your horse a great deal of confidence in you and himself. It is a good idea to teach this on a quiet day. You can progress to a windy when the horse is more confident in himself.
Start with two jump poles on the ground laying parallel to one another about four or five feet apart. I am using two four inch diameter PVC pipes from the hardware store. (Note: in the picture they are more like three feet apart, but I am using a smaller bag for this picture than a tarp.) Use this course as a guide to teach your horse that walking through the poles is no big deal. Walk your horse between the poles the from one end to the other, praising him as you get to the end. Repeat in the other direction. Continue to do this until you feel that the horse is comfortable walking in the poles.
Now you are going to add the tarp to the picture. Fold the tarp lengthwise so that while it might extend out on either side of the poles it is as narrow as you can get it in the direction that the horse is traveling. What I mean by this it should be narrow enough so that it is easy for the horse to step over. Now place the poles over the ends of the tarp the same distance apart you had them in the first step.
Next, calmly lead the horse between the poles and over the tarp. Do not worry that the horse steps over the tarp. This is OK. Repeat this in both directions until the horse does not even bother looking at the tarp.
The next step is to unfold the tarp bit by bit so it presents a larger picture to the horse. With the first unfolding the horse may still walk over it. You should be sure to step on it in front of him and while you bring the horse through so you demonstrate that it is no big deal to you. If the horse hesitates let him sniff the tarp. Let him find his own time to step over it. Again, keep doing this until the horse doesn't even look at the tarp.
Now continue to unfold the tarp until the horse has to step on it to get across it. Eventually you will have the tarp fully open. If you need to add poles on either end to make the lane longer and fit the width of the tarp do so. Soon you will find that the horse is so comfortable in the poles that he will cross the tarp and give it little thought.
To be totally truthful, I bribed my horse to come through the poles from one end to the other. I lined him up at one end, stood at the other and held out my hand with the treat. He then marched down the aisle to get his reward at my end. I did this in both directions. Then when I put the bag in the middle he just came like a trooper across it for his treat, stomping on it as he went. He did sniff the bag and move it around the first time but after that he just walked over it like it wasn't even there. As you can see in the picture he is pretty proud of himself now that the nasty old bag is vanquished!
(I know feeding treats is controversial, so I will leave this up to you to decide if you wish to use this method as part of your training.) -- Nancy Knettell
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Last month we talked about creating a beautiful and correct image of what you want your horse to look like when you ride (or drive.) Again, I encourage you to visit the websites of both the Spanish Riding School and the Cadre Noir. Their website addresses are in the upper left hand corner of this e-zine.
This month we have concentrated on the horse’s body to ensure that when we do work with the horse she is comfortable in her ability to move correctly so that we can achieve that correct and beautiful picture that we have in our minds. I am going to take this one step further. For those of you who have not had a body massage, I would encourage you to do so!
I had never had one before this month, believe it or not. But, I figured if I am recommending it to my readers and doing it to my horses, I better find out what it is like and how I would feel afterwards. And to be honest, before I experienced it, I was a bit skeptical as to what effect it really had on my horses.
Well, now I know. I went and had a full body massage and now I am hooked. My masseuse had me purring like a kitten at the end of the session too. I got up from the table and felt wonderful. Aches and pains I thought I had to live with were melted away. Now, I even plan to try to do it once a month.
It is important to remember that we are also a part of the athletic equation too, not just our horse. We need to maintain flexibility as well, so stiffness in our bodies does not impede our horse's ability to move freely. Having our bodies massaged is one way to ensure this. I would highly recommend those of you who have not had the experience give it a try. Not only will you find out what your horse is experiencing, you will feel terrific too! -- Nancy Knettell
Question: I keep wondering if there is anything at all I can be doing with my horses to help them keep some of their muscling - I mean, other than carefully walking around. All they've done for the last month is have a lot of extra turnout, but in small paddocks. I thought if there was something that I could be doing, it might make a good winter-time article. -- Nancy L.
Answer: This is a great question and one that plagues those of us who live in cold climates and have to suspend our activities for the winter if we do not have an indoor. I have asked Felice Vincelette to help me with this answer. She lives in New Hampshire and faces this every year. Her horses are noted for coming out of the winter with little loss of muscle tone.
She credits this to the massages she gives before and after her training sessions. This allows her horses to move freely and correctly while they are in their paddocks which helps to maintain correct musculature. Also, she does a series of in hand exercises to keep the muscles supple and free moving. We will be talking more about them in the March issue. These can be done in the barn aisle or the stall if necessary.
And don't forget, going back to working the horses in hand as well. This is not just for training. When the ground is icy and not safe to get the cart out, hook up the horse on long lines and go over cavaletti or through a course made from jump rails on the ground where you can work. Anything that you can do to make the horse's muscles contract and stretch correctly will help to maintain tone. If you follow this regime, then all you will have to do in the spring is work on the aerobic part. Hopefully your horses muscle are kept supple and maintained for the Spring
I would also like to add that I some how feel it is better for the horse to have some time off as well. The middle of winter is my time to relax my efforts on my horses so that they can experience again what it means to be a horse. This is the least I can do for them.
Hi Nancy -- Thank you so much for sending this to me. I so enjoyed reading your premiere issue! You have done a wonderful, classy and top-notch job with The Cavalier. Onward & forward:)) -- Di
Hello Nancy, My dear friend just sent me a copy of your new venture and I was enchanted and I would like to subscribe. Please send me the details. Much to my amusement, you could have been writing about ME when you described not riding for a while, being in your fifties and the fears of getting back in the saddle. Oh my, I do relate! -- Patty V.
Riding horses can be a dangerous activity that requires your full attention and full responsibility at all times. This information is offered for instruction and general purposes only, with the understanding that you will use it wisely and at your own discretion. And, as always, there is no substitute for a fully qualified instructor, a safe place to ride, and a hard hat.
The mission of The Cavalier is to show you how the classical connection can help both you and your horse achieve harmony on the ground and in the saddle. I welcome all your comments and suggestions. And if you have questions that you would like answered by the contributors to this publication please feel free to email them directly to me at email@example.com, and we will be pleased to answer them in the coming months.
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Again, I want to thank all the contributors to this publication for their help and support and and all of you who wrote in with your wonderful comments. I hope you will join me and continue to ride with a smile and...
Never give up!
Best wishes from Fox Chase Farm,
phone: (978) 346-0042