|The Cavalier Newsletter||
Dedicated to the Mature Riding and Driving EnthusiastFebruary 2008
Vol. 2 Ed. 1
Finding Your Inner Leader
by Nancy Knettell
When I first began to work at liberty with my young horse, I asked my instructor, how will I know the difference between him not wanting to work with me or his just being willful? Since my horse is not tethered to me in any way, he can just up and leave if he does not want to hang around. And he often did! At first I was the one who followed him everywhere. Who was training who? But this is what Liberty Training is all about; you work with your horse with neither lead shank nor lunge line attached in a not very confining fenced area such as your horse's pasture. In fact, eventually you will even work without a halter. (I will explain in further chapters why and when a halter might be useful in some cases such as getting started.)
Liberty Training is how you will find out clearly if the horse wants to be with you or not. He will just leave and avoid you at all costs if he does not want to be around you. But can't a horse also say, "I don't wanna?" After all why should any horse want to be in your service? Well, maybe because you are a leader he wants to follow, and besides it might be fun!
This type of training is something that you can do with any horse at any age. It is a great thing to do if you can't or don't feel like riding. Liberty Training, as you will see, is obviously a good way to connect with a young horse just starting his training. But, it can also help to start or wake up a relationship with an older horse too. With Liberty Training, your goal is to both engage your horse's respect and create a situation where it might be rewarding for him to communicate with you. At least your goal is not to make it miserable for him.
Don't get me wrong. This is not a quick fix. Months of hard work can be undone in a second. So why try this technique in the first place? Because not only will you have your horse's full attention and cooperation, you will not be lulled into thinking that just because he is between your reins and legs he is listening to you. And it can be a great deal of fun for both of you.
After working with your horse with liberty training, when you are riding your horse, he will also not just check out and go with the flow either. Horses who get into this sleep mode can surprise you by waking up and taking for the hills when you least expect it. Working with him at liberty you will be able to see when he is attending as when he is not. He will also know he is supposed to listen to you too because you reinforced that expectation. Doing this from the ground allows you to clearly confirm his attention something that is much harder to tell when you are in the saddle.
In addition, your horse and you will have a vocabulary that is clearly understood by both of you. If he is not listening to you, you can head him off at the pass. You will also be able to address your requests of him in a way that he will eventually understand quite clearly when you are in the saddle. Think about it. How does a horse know he has to listen to you or what you mean when you communicate? Liberty Training is how you explain it to him and how you know when he gets it.
Barriers to Success With Liberty Training
The main barriers to success with Liberty Training are Fear, Lack of Respect, and not Ready for the Next Step. In this article we will discuss the impact of Fear on a horse's ability to trust or respect you. I can tell you right now that no horse will want to be around you if they are afraid of you because you have hurt them. We are not talking here about an appropriate immediate and strong response on your part if a horse should try to kick or bite you. We are talking about pain inflicted on the horse out of your frustration. I hope I don't have to say to anyone reading this how unproductive this is as a motivator. No horse will like or respect someone that hurts them with no reason. Not ready for the next step is another issue we will discuss in future articles as we get more into the nuts and bolts of training.
Lack of Respect and Trust on your horse's part as a result of Fear are relationship issues that need to be worked out between you and your horse before you can trust him to carry you safely. Pushing your horse to far beyond his comfort zone or beyond his current ability to handle the next step will create tension between you and your horse as well. Liberty Training will reveal when you have a horse that is disrespectful, afraid of you, or most importantly not listening you. OK, bear with me on what I am going to talk about. Some of this is going to start to sound a bit out there. But, when you examine the information further that I am going to talk about, you will find that it makes sense.
Creating Safety and Stability for Your Horse
The goal is for the horse to want to follow you and therefore show his respect for you because you provide a beacon of safety and stability for him. You send the message "Follow me and not only will you be safe, but I will praise you and make you feel good. Hey, this will be fun too." But one way that we can prevent this relationship from forming with our horse is by bringing our day to day emotional baggage in with us into the training ring. "Oh no, now I have to go to a psychologist to train horses. This is getting to be way too much work."
We have spoken in past columns about the role of the human as competent herd leader and that without respect from the horse there is no relationship and no trust between the both of you. Some of the ways that blocks a respectful relationship between a horse and its owner is a personal need on a human's part to dominate rather than lead and bringing that into the training relationship. The Great and Powerful Ego gets in the way. "You better do this or else!" "I am sick and tired of you not listening to me!" But, this frustration can be about your own personal issues that have nothing to do with the horse. The horse will sense the tension and not want to stick with you. After all, horses generally are pretty good folk and try to do their best for us. When they don't it is usually because they don't understand what you want from them.
Well, in a way, it is helpful to understand that bringing to the surface as best you can, your exact feelings before and while you are working with your horse. Believe it or not you will improve your horse's desire to be with you. Why? We as human beings do pay attention to body language, but it at a far more subconscious level. If our verbalizations belie what we are actually thinking we usually get away with masking our feelings to others with some well chosen words.
How many of you have seen your significant other come drooping in after a hard day at work and ask: "Honey, is everything OK?" A cheery voice comes back, "Yep!" But, inside they are seething from the latest work insult and are trying to deal with it without impacting everyone else. You may be concerned but you move on thinking maybe you interpreted the body language incorrectly. "Probably just tired," you say to yourself. Since we are a verbal species we tend to place more trust on a conscious level, words, rather than our assessment of body language.
What if we lived in a world where everyone took truth serum? "Honey, do I look fat in this dress?" I won't go any further. That is the world of horses. Words mean nothing to them. What is very significant to them is body language and what they determine from it as your actual intent. To get an understanding of how horses are so in tune to body language, consider herd behavior. A lion showing up at a waterhole causes instant flight. Not all of the horses may even see the predator. They just know that they instantaneously feel, and sense the fear and resultant movement of others in their ranks as an initial reaction to danger. They don't even wait for the lead mare or stallion bugle. They certainly don't wait until they see the lion.
How Do Horses View Us?
When we are with our horses, it is important to understand that they are taking a similar measure of us all the time. Are we a friend or enemy? Are we full of anger and frustration or glad to see them? How we are feeling is screaming out to them from our every pore whether we say a word or not. We can't just say to ourselves, "Stupid horse, why don't you learn!" while we pat them on the neck saying the words "Good Horsie!" and have them believe us. They see the tension in our shoulders, the scowl on our face, and sense the frustration in our voice.
Forget it. You cannot lie to a horse. In fact, if he sees your body language says one thing and your words say another. He will now think of you as a liar and will not trust you. After all, you could turn at any moment from the enlightened despot we imagine ourselves to be to having him for lunch. Remember, we are a different species and a potential predator. There are many natural aspects that we exhibit that scream "I want you for lunch" to a horse.
Remember, you might have "kidnapped" him from his previous happy home. He doesn't know about purchase or rescue transactions. Why should he initially trust you? Add to that, the affect of hidden emotional agenda on our part, and you will see this translated into a horse that reacts with aversion. He will absolutely not want to be around you unless he is forced to do so.
It is not easy to leave your frustrations by the gate, but it is essential you at least try if you are to have a willing partner. I have a big, overgrown, goofy, but willful teenager for a horse. I have been frequently angry at myself for both taking on this project as well as feeling overwhelmed with him. But, I have a responsibility to him to do the best that I can. Believe me, I am no saint. I can be quite fiery when aroused, as my husband will tell you. I found though my poorly controlled expressions of some of my present life challenges translated in my horse's mind to: "Human, you are just plain not fun to be with. If you can't control your emotions why should I trust or respect you. I am out of here!" Horse exits stage left.
So is there anything other than spending the next ten years on an analyst's couch that can help us to be more careful with our emotions around our equine friends? Luckily there is: Becoming more authentic with your horse. I have found a few things quite helpful in achieving this. I started out on my journey to review my present relationships with each of my horses. What do they mean to me? What do I want for our relationship? Am I in a safe place right now? Is working with horses really what I want to do? If I am not happy with any of my answers I do something about it. It was helpful to write the questions and answers all down in a journal to get a better perspective. A good trainer will also help you sort out some of the tougher questions as well.
How to Become More Authentic With Your Horse
Once I took stock of my goals and how I wanted to be with my horses, I tried to identify any hidden agenda that might express itself unfairly to the horse before I went in to train. One technique I use before I even touch the gate of my horse's paddock is making a mental list of my present frustrations and repeating afterward that my horse had nothing to with it. "My boss yelled at me today. That is not my horse's fault. My horse is not learning something fast enough. That is not my horse's fault. I don't have enough money to pay the credit card bill. That is not my horse's fault."
You get the idea. At first it is a real discipline to do this, but once you have gone through as much of the list as you can think of, all of the issues that could potentially impact your joyful relationship with your horse are set aside at the gate. And if there is something that you truly cannot set aside that day, then either come back another time or just spend time with your horse without expectations. Eventually with practice, you will be able to go through the list quite quickly and effectively. Soon just the act of picking up the gate latch will signal a change in your outlook.
Another technique I used is to tell my horse the truth about what I am thinking at the moment I am with him. I know, this seems silly, but here is a chance to have your body language match your words and achieve that elusive authenticity. I have often gone in before I tacked up and said to my horse: "You know, I am afraid of you today. Can you try and help me out and understand what I want of you and not scare me?" Those are some of the times when we have had the biggest breakthroughs. I have also gone into my horses and have sincerely apologized to them and asking them for forgiveness. Yes, they cannot understand the words. But, they can see the intent in your body language and hear the tone of your voice. Again you appear authentic.
I can say that the first week that I started using these techniques I was going in on an almost hourly basis and crying in front of my horses for any past transgressions on my part towards them. I know this sounds silly, but I found that they stood and listened. Sure they couldn't understand what I said, but I felt better for it and they could sense my relief in expressing my regret. You will be amazed at how saying "I am sorry," with a light pat on the forehead, will go a long way to signal to them that you care. They are very forgiving creatures.
Always be mindful of you attitude when you put your hand on the latch to open that gate. Greet your horse with a big smile and a big whooping "Glad to see you" attitude. Why wouldn't they be glad to see someone who comes in glad to see them? Having a sense of humor during the tough times helps too. There are many times my silly boy makes a monkey of me. I love when he looks at me when we both know he knows what I want him to do, but he is still at the point of testing me. He will run off in the field and I will have to chase after him to enforce my heard boss status. When he finally stops and turns around to look at me I can see that "Hah! I made your run" look on his face. Boy, can he cover a lot of ground. I am certainly getting fit doing this.
OK, sometimes I make a mistake and get angry. This will happen. Try and just acknowledge it, apologize to your horse, and move on. The apology will give you time to get the ego in control and for you get calm. Let it go, smile, maybe pet the horse and remind yourself to do better next time. Always give yourself the same break that you would give your horse when he makes a mistake.
Sometimes I wish I was one of those old horse intuitives with this just coming to me through sense and observation. I have spent too many years in the techno-suburbs to to be able to observe horses and bring this information to my conscious mind. We are all in the same boat as modern world dwellers. So we must seek out and preserve the wisdom and knowledge that has almost been lost to our mechanized world. Thankfully, more and more people are studying and understanding the joys of a truly better way to have a relationship with horses and writing about it.
For a more in-depth understanding of how your mood and true intent impacts your relationship with your horse, I would heartily recommend the following book: The Tao of Equus: A Woman's Journey of Healing and Transformation through the Way of the Horse by Linda Kohanov. In this book you will find a remarkable woman's account of her attempt to understand what might be the true spiritual link between horses and humans and how we can tap into it to create that powerful connection for ourselves and our equine companions.
The Sleigh Rally
by Nancy Lindley-Gauthier
Sleighs and sleighing have long conveyed an aura of romance. Certainly images of sleighing from days gone by are often picturesque and offer a bit of nostalgia from that time period. Contemporary sleigh rallies attempt to re-capture what is remembered from that nineteenth century sleighing mystique.
At any sleigh rally, horses and ponies can be seen prancing across a snowy backdrop as if springing to life from a painting of an early Central Park winter scene. Hoof beats are muffled by snow; the squeak of leather on leather is overshadowed by the soft and steady chime of bells. Perhaps a campfire in one corner of the field where the rally is held offers warmth and hot cups of cider or cocoa are passed among the mittened hands around the appreciated glow.
At The Rally
Brightly-clad groups of people hustle to harness up the myriad of horses and ponies that are everywhere. All are eager to get underway. Excited horses paw impatiently, although some of the wiser among them, expecting a long day, quietly pull at the hay nets tied to their trailers. Spectators gather into tight groups to stay warm and catch up on the latest news. Over the chatter, you hear that constant, gentle jingle of the sleigh bells. It is often difficult to decide if you are standing in the midst of some current-day activity or you have found a frosty window to the past.
There is the early morning bustle to register for competition classes, locate the warm-up ring, the show ring, and the snack table. But, what are the goals of competitions in a rally, and how much of a sleigh rally in contemporary times is real? Is it a re-enactment, or more? How does the judge make their decisions among such a myriad of sleigh and horse types?
Not all sleigh rallies are meant to be competitive. Some are just group pleasure drives. Many however, feature very real competition, (while the emphasis is most always on fun.) One class in particular is rarely judged in any formal sense - the parade class often opens or closes the day’s events. All competitors are encouraged to get out and take a spin about the arena.
Pleasure classes are judged quite like any other horse show whether driven or ridden, with the horse or pony's overall willingness and correctness being considered. The horses will generally show at walk and trot in both directions of the arena with a number of variations along this same theme such as ladies to drive, or gentleman. Depending on the number of entries, it might be divided by driver age or horse size: ponies, horses, or draft horses. If there are many multiples such as pairs, fours, teams randoms or tandems, those divisions will be offered as well.
Types of Participating Horses and Vehicles Vary
The number of animals found at a rally represents an amazing range of different types and breeds. The horses to be found vying for the win in classes like "working pleasure," "obstacle class," or the wildly popular "Currier & Ives," are in other seasons busy towing hay wagons and jogging down New England's back roads. Some are more usually riding horses, trained to drive specifically so they can take part in winter sleigh events. One can find a range from mules to minis, retired racing Standardbreds, draft horses, and everything in between. There is no preferred breed or type, save that every effort should be made for the horse to suit the vehicle that he pulls.
There is much variation among the vehicles as well. Sleighs are comprised of a wide range of types, models and styles. There are the simple two-person vehicles, the "one-horse open sleighs." There are vehicles for two horses, vehicles for four. There are tiny sleighs built for miniature horses. Usually well- represented at any sleigh rally are the basic Portland and Albany Cutters, but one will also find Quebec sleighs, box sleighs, likely a few of the specialty types like the vis-à-vis, the barouche, and the landau, as well as sundry types of bob-sleighs. Any of these, in practically any combination, will be acceptable in the pleasure, cones and marathon classes.
Classes of Competition
Cones, also called the obstacle class (scooting about the arena through a pre-arranged course,) and the marathon - (a jaunt across country) are generally judged solely on time.
It is in the famous "Currier & Ives" class where 'turnout' where turnout along with having appropriate accessories is paramount. The adherence to tradition is all important. Each turnout attempts to present a picture from the past. Your display could be agricultural, say a draft pony put to a box-type sleigh, or draft pair pulling a hay wagon. These would be technically correct, as 'working' turnouts. You must make sure harness, clothing and vehicle all suit one another.
However, it is nearly always the 'formals' that take this class. Any one of the lighter breeds such as a Morgan, put to a beautifully finished sleigh most represents this ideal. Instead of a rope of bells, perhaps the equine carries a tier of 'saddle' chimes. The driver is attired in formal clothes, top-hatted and dashing. Formal turnout can vary of course, but it is always to period. One can get the best idea looking at a Currier & Ives print: A Day's Sleighing in Central Park.
In a tightly contested class, the judge may call for a showing of 'strong trot' or lengthenings, he (or she) might inspect each vehicle for appropriate accessories. Everything from footwarmers to appropriate clothing, spare equipment, gloves, and more are considered. It goes without saying that each part of the 'turnout', equine, vehicle, people, clothing and accessories must be spotlessly cleaned with all metalwork shining. Other fun classes are often popped into the day's line-up with many possibilities. From the 'best sleigh dog,' to the walking races, an infinite number of classes are possible. The different competitions in today's sleigh rallies derive from the driving traditions from when horses were an integral part of our existence.
Competition is not the only way that sleighing still exists, however. Recreational sleighing is still popular in northern areas. Many farms offer sleigh rides and attract groups who snuggle in deep wagon loads of hay in a large farm sleigh, on their way to a bonfire or winter cookout. There are more intimate and elegant sleigh rides that one can find offered at bed and breakfasts.
Indeed, even the drivers one sees out at rallies usually will spend many solitary hours in their sleigh, sharing the quiet, crystalline world of winter with their equine partner. Sleighing remains, for many, the ideal way to enjoy a still morning after snowfall, when all the trees droop with a glittering burden of snow. Imagine slipping down near-silent untracked lanes looking for deer as the only other denizens of this pristine winter world.
The Sleigh as a Vital Winter Form of Transport
Although sleigh riding has now become mainly an event with parties and festivals, in the earliest times sleighing was a basic, and vital, winter form of transportation. The tradition of wearing bells comes from those years when sleighs were a necessity. Sleigh bells were originally a result of this rural tradition. They were required, in many cases by law, for safety. While in summer you could hear horses coming from the clopping of their shoes on the hard road, the winter snow so muffled the hoof beats. Bells were necessary to warn of the approach of other vehicles.
The sound would also make the horse or horses you were driving aware of the approach of another horse or team, and keep them from being startled at the last moment. Different bells combine to create a somewhat unique sound, so some claim that they not only knew someone was coming, but it was possible for them to identify which of their neighbors was approaching just by identifying the chime. If you were traveling across country, it was believed that bells could frighten away wildlife as well. Although hardly necessary in full daylight while driving in an open park where sleighs are mostly recreational, bells bring out the charm and tradition of sleighing in days gone by.
It is wonderful to go sleighing or to attend a sleigh rally and feel that incomparable link with the past! For some fun sleighing photos, take a look at this website; http://www.shootthathorse.com/
In the New England area. Probably the best know rallies are Vermont’s Green Mountain Horse Associations's series: www.GMHAinc.org. The Sutton, MA Historical Society and New York State feature several well known sleigh rallies as well. See http://www.ramshornstudio.com/ccha_rally_2.htm for more information. Spectators are always welcome! However; do check, online or via phone, before making the trek to any rally. Weather can play havoc with adequate snow and footing for sleigh rallies!
This Month's Quick Tip - Another Way to Teach "HO"
By Nancy Knettell
A reliable "Ho" is undoubtably one of the most important things you can train your horse to do from a safety perspective. A horse with a reliable brake is always a pleasure to ride or drive. In the last edition of The Cavalier, Nancy Lindley-Gauthier gave you some tips on how to ensure a horse has a solid "Ho" from a driving perspective. As she said, there are many ways to get there. This month I am going to share another way. This was given to me by my cousin Laura who is a knowledgeable life-long horse rider and trainer. I use this all the time with both of my horses. One caution, if you have loose horses in pastures to work with, start this on a Saturday or when you have the time because at first you may have to spend some time running around rounding up confused horses. Whatever you do, don't give up though.
The trick I use is I make my horses wait before I let him eat. You can use this with any horse and is great for a new horse in training or tuning up an older horse as well. You can even practice this with a young horse that is not ready for riding yet. I insist the horse has to stand to at least a count of TEN before he can enter their stall to eat. I do this every time I feed them. Think about it. They say a horse learns something after at least 300 repetitions and does it well after another 300. A horse generally eats grain at least twice a day. If you do this with your horse everytime you feed him, in six months you will have practiced this at least 360 times. In a year it will be over 700 times.
You must never enter a stall with a whip if the horse is in it and the horse has only one way out especially if the horse is terrified of a whip or has not been introduced to it first. Only do this if you have plenty of room to assert your position as herd leader without getting hurt.
I have two horses in a run-in shed that has two open doors although the interior is open to both stalls. Each horse has a bucket inside for grain at each door. The horse that I want to work with should have a halter before I have prepared their feed. I make sure that when I bring the grain buckets out of the feedroom, I carry a dressage whip with me. Both horse are not to be in or around the barn entrance when I am dumping the buckets of grain. They must wait outside.
If they are in the barn, I slap the whip on the ground or inside one of the doorways to empty the area. Try to do this without scaring the horses. This is just to put them on notice that you want them to move off not run for the hills in fear. If they attempt to come in to the barn or near me, I slap the ground with the whip to back them off.
Ho Means Ho!
Once the horses are out of the barn, I empty the buckets and go the horse who is being trained. I send that horse off far enough that he is not crowding me while I let the other horse get to his bucket. I then go up and hook a lead shank on the one I sent off. The first time he may be off to the far corner in panic, but eventualy he will learn that he will get his supper if he just stands somewhat in the vicinity of the barn. Now I walk this horse in the direction of his feeding door. But, well before I get back to the barn, I stop him with the word "Ho" or "Halt" whichever works for you. Make sure you stop your motion and stand very still as well. Now I try and count to TEN. If the horse moves his feet even a little circle him. You might not get to TEN the first time, but make sure that you are the one to make him make the step forward not him. Once he has ho'ed successfully a bit away from the barn, pat him and say "Good Boy," tap him behind his elbow and say either cluck or say "Walk on" and lead him in, to eat turn him in the door, remove his lead and let him eat.
Keep doing this every day until you feel he is anticipating the "Ho" maneouver and will stand for the full TEN count. Then add another "Ho" closer to the barn. You don't have to count to TEN for the first one now, but make it a meaningful stop. The second one should be a definite count to TEN. Again if he fidgets or moves one foot, turn him around and make him HO again. A HO shoud be a HO. Again, If you find your horse is not capable of a count to TEN at first, try to at least count a few numbers and increase as you go until you reach TEN. But, you must always be the one to decide when the horse is to move forward, not the horse.
Other Ways That You Can Do This
If you do not have an open situation as I do, at least make sure you HO the horse for TEN seconds in front of the barn and then at his stall door. If you are not the one to feed your horse, try Ho-ing the horse before you lead him out the gate if you can and before you put him in his pasture. Any time you can practice this and do it repeatedly enough you will get a horse that will Ho reliably.
There are other reasons to do this too. A horse should never rush through you or tear your arm off when running through any gate or stall doorway. They should never push through you aggresively to get to their dinner. Having a horse that you can trust to stay planted for more than a second is joy at the mounting block as well. You will also build in the "Walk On" command too, such that when you are on the ground or in the saddle, if you touch just behind his shoulder and say "Walk On" he will know what you mean.
Once you are working with your horse without a halter this "Ho" is built in for you. He will know what you expect and will have a new respect for you. You will have a horse with brakes that you will be able to trust.
Don't Give Up
Don't Give Up
I have been doing this with my horse for two years now. He knows when I come out with buckets he is to circle in the field and wait for me to come get him. One time I brought him up to the barn and "HO-ed" him just before his dinner and I forgot to release him with the Walk On command. I walked away from him and did not tap him behind the shoulder. He looked around at me saying, "Aren't you going to let me eat my dinner?" I was at least ten feet away from him before I realised it too. He would not move a muscle even though he was just a foot from his supper bowl. I had to go back, tap him behind the elbow to let him eat. How is that for a trustworthy "HO?"
Remember, you should always consider that when you with your horse you are always training him. Continue to enforce this HO always. If you give him the command and he moves before you let him, never let that go unadressed even if it not convenient for you. This is one command that you never want him to find out that he can violate it. Every action you do, including just hanging around or patting him, should have some purpose. Using every moment you have will move your horse's training forward much quicker. Also, remember those wonderful words that work so well too: “Good Boy” along with a good pat when your horse has done his best for you.
Riding horses can be a dangerous activity that requires your full attention and full responsibility at all times. The information in The Cavalier is offered for instruction and general purposes only, with the understanding that you will use it wisely and at your own discretion. As always, there is no substitute for a fully qualified instructor, a safe place to ride, and a hard hat.
The goal of The Cavalier is to further explore 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. If you have questions that you would like answered by the contributors to this publication please feel free to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be pleased to answer them in the coming months.
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I want to thank all my wonderful readers and the contributors to this publication for their help and support and for making a dream come true for me. Ride with a smile and...
Never give up!
Best wishes from Fox Chase Farm,
Nancy J. Knettell