Tag Archives: horses

Expressing Emotions :)

SonicBronking01We as humans are allowed to express our feelings and emotions as and when they arise, yet horses are often discouraged from doing so.  When the horse is in the stable we expect them to be calm and pleasant. If the horse is agitated they are often reprimanded for not standing still. Getting excited or bucking playfully is discouraged. Is it any wonder that some horses become bored or withdrawn from their environment if they are never allowed to show their true feelings and emotions.

I had a horse come to me several years ago to bring on and compete after he had been ‘broken in’ by someone else first. After several weeks had gone by and the date of the horses arrival had been and gone, I decided to contact the owner. She told me they had had some problems with him and his attitude but it was all sorted and the horse would arrive the following week.

The day the lorry carrying the new horse arrived on the yard I was greeted by a tearful owner. She hadn’t seen the horse for several weeks while he was away being broken in, and on collection to bring him to me she was greeted with a skinny, depressed and scarred horse that had been broken in more ways than one. He would stand at the back of his stable, head hung low not really interested in anyone or anything. It took over 12 months for that horse to come out of his shell and enjoy life. He was sensible to ride even though he liked to be extravagant sometimes, but he had a beautiful personality, kind gentle and had forgiven enough to trust people again.

Another horse called Sonic was turned out with his friend Corelli as they were growing up for a couple of years, and when it came time to start his training he was moved to another yard. For the first week or so he was understandably not happy. The last time he had been separated like this was when he was taken from his mother, so not surprising he was upset. We gave him a new friend who was older and they got on well for the 2 years he was there. Then came his next move, to a yard of lots more horses.

The first day was a nightmare! He was rearing in the stable ( to the point where I couldn’t get out the stable door and had to escape over the wall into the next stable). I left him to get on with it for a while and eventually he settled down for the night. The separation anxiety was getting less with each move of yard and proved he was starting to cope.

Sonic was later turned out with a group of horses and to our surprise heSonictempest 02 became best friends with an old mare known for being very grumpy towards other horses!. The older mare was called Tempest and as time went on Sonic was happy to leave her to go out on his own. He would call to her on his return and she would wait for him at the gate before going off together. Tempest being the old mare that she was, was not in the best of health. She had a heart murmur and huge melanomas  on her dock. We knew at some point the time would come when we would have to say goodbye to her.

I worried about Sonic’s reaction to losing another friend so took the decision that, when the time came, I would let him grieve and deal with his emotions as naturally as possible.

That day came this winter. Tempest’s melanomas had ruptured and it had put strain on her heart. Sonic knew the situation and had spent all morning with his head over into her stable with his eyes half closed and a very quiet manner. The decision was made by the vet to put her to sleep.

Tempest was led out of her stable as Sonic called to her, to an open space where she was to be put to sleep. Once she had gone, I led Sonic over to where Tempest lay. You could see the emotions running through him as he tried to understand why his nuzzle didn’t stir her nor the paw to encourage her to get up. He then moved to her head and sniffed her face and mouth. He stood still for a while and then slowly started to graze by her head.

SonicpoppyFor about two weeks he would look for her but carry on with life in a quiet way. It’s as if life is different for him now, he has grown up. Leaving the yard or other horses isn’t such an issue any more, there are always friends to come home to.

Sometimes you just have to let a horse be a horse….

Using the 6 Training Scales

SonicMurf01In my last blog I went over what the 6 training scales are. In this one I want to delve a little deeper and look at the three groups – PRELIMINARY TRAINING, DEVELOPMENT OF PUSHING POWER and DEVELOPMENT OF CARRYING CAPACITY.

Preliminary training consists of familiarisation, natural balance, confidence, basic understanding of the aids and basis of communication. When horses are first broken in to ride, they are taught to go when the legs are applied and stop/turn with the use of the reins. Once the horse is familiar with these aids, we then need to look at how the horse is going. The first three scales are – Relaxation, Rhythm, and Contact.These three go hand in hand and you cannot have one without the other two. When a horse is moving freely forward in a relaxed state, it will find its natural balance (not rushing or behind the leg). With a natural balance, rhythm is created. The forward rhythm along with relaxation means the horse will be more into a light seeking contact. By contact I do not mean outline, and at this stage I wouldn’t be too concerned about getting a correct outline, that will come in time. Once the horse has found his relaxed rhythm and contact, his confidence will grow.

Using voice commands as you would on the lunge can help to reassure the horse and encourage concentration. Change direction frequently and lots of transitions will all help to build the basis of communication, and rest breaks on a long rein to encourage relaxation. As the horse gains strength, the use of smaller circles, serpentines and loops can be used. This is also a good time to introduce leg yield and steps of turn on the forehand.

The second group, Development of Pushing Power consists of 4 scales – Rhythm, Contact, Straightness, and Impulsion. These again cannot happen without the others being correct. Once rhythm and contact are achieved it will be easier to get the horse straighter (all horses are crooked to a certain degree and mostly to the left). When the horse is going straighter, more impulsion is achieved as the horse can step under and push from the hindquarters in an economical way. Exercises to help with this is shoulder fore and shoulder in, travers, renvers, moving on to half pass. The use of half halts to help balance and prepare the horse for a movement, encourages the hindlegs under more. Counter canter can help to strengthen and relax, with an introduction of walk to canter encouraging impulsion. Using trot poles or cavalletti help the horse to shorten and lengthen the stride as well as elevation.

Then we come to the third group, Development of Carrying Capacity. This is where we start to get to the pinnacle of training, and not all horses will achieve it to a high level. The scales in this group are – Impulsion and Collection. Provided the training done in the lower scales has been carried out correctly in a relaxed way, impulsion (not speed) should be readily available and the horse strong enough to introduce more collection. Although some degree of collection will have been achieved throughout the scales, this is where the horse really learns to sit on its haunches.

Exercises like turn on the haunches then straight into canter is great for freeing up the forehand and transferring more weight onto the hindlegs. (We aim for the horse to carry 60% of weight on the hindquarters and 40% on the forehand) Canter-to-walk transitions will also help this providing the horse is straight. This is also where spring and suspension come into play in the higher movements like pirouettes, piaffe, passage, flying changes and tempi changes are taught, and self carriage is achieved. It is also where true extension can be established as the horse needs the strength in his hindquarters to be able to push through to extend.Sonictraining04

The final creation of all the scales is THROUGHNESS. This is the transference of the created power from the hindquarters over the back and into a soft contact and back to the hindlegs in a constant flow.