Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Nosebands – how tight is too tight?

Standard equipment in English disciplines. Training equipment in western.  While nosebands are designed to prevent bit evasion, in the horse business, we’re inclined to default into thinking “If a little is good, more is better! Are we masking bit evasion without asking WHY the horse might be resisting?
The International Society of Equitation Science responded to the dilemma of cranking nosebands in equine sport with a study and by designing a noseband gauge for competition ring stewards:
“Some equestrian manuals and competition rule books propose that ‘two fingers’ be used as a spacer to guard against over-tightening, but fail to specify where they should be applied or, indeed, the size of the fingers.” 
“When this device was used to check noseband tightness on 737 horses at a variety of national and international dressage and eventing competitions, 44% of nosebands were found to be too close to the horse’s face to accommodate the tip of the taper gauge under the noseband.  By extrapolation, this revealed that we are routinely preventing swallowing, chewing, yawning and licking in the name of sport.” I.S.E.S.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Do horses sense fear?

Have you ever been unsettled by your classmate’s handwringing before an exam? Or the patient before you holding their jaw as they emerge from the dentist’s room?
Its not that you sense or smell fear. You’re reading their body language….and catching it like an infection.
Riders often tell me that their horse senses they’re nervous. I ask them if they think their nervousness changes the way they ride and move around the horse.
“Do our horses appear to act up because they’re nervous and anxious when we are? Or is it, rather, because when we’re nervous, our muscles get tenser and our aids become completely different from what the horse is used to? To me that makes more logical sense.” Dr. Katrina Merkies, PhD, associate professor and equine program coordinator, University of Guelph

Merkies says this bond is based mostly on correctly applied learning theory—the science of how horses learn. When we’ve trained them in a way that’s consistent and clear and gives the horse a sense of being able to control his environment by knowing how to respond to cues, we can develop a strong lifelong relationship with that horse.

Monday, 19 March 2018


Reliable brakes – not just for reiners!  Anyone ever been thankful for a horse who had a braking safety feature installed? An accident averted, an equitation class won, an opportunity to re-group before things got “out of hand”?
I’ve been thankful for horses that know “whoa” before they steps on the reins, unseat a novice, or bump into another horse in the warm up ring. A nifty tool in training when a horse’s tension’s rising, and BEFORE he hits flight mode!
On another note, who doesn’t wish we’d put the brakes on our tongues from time to time!
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we  could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. in the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes great boasts. Book of James, the Bible

Monday, 12 March 2018

The horse’s flight response. Practice makes perfect.

Flight response is a prey animal’s instinct to flee from perceived danger.
Dr Andrew Mclean says “A structure deep inside the brain called the amygdala, sorts out stimuli as to whether they are fearful or not. Fearful stimuli receive special recognition by the brain in terms of remembering - unlike other information, once learned, fearful responses are not forgotten. You can layer new responses on top, so they become less easily retrieved, but fearful responses need careful training to keep the lid on them.”
A horse doesn’t get a 2nd chance in nature to make a judgment error – when a threat is perceived he flees to a safe distance and checks things out from there. Thus, while most skills are learned by trial and error, it only takes one trial for him to learn something through fear.
The flight response shows up in various  ways. Bucking, shying, tension, running, hurrying, jigging, rushing,”.
Mild to maximum expressions, flight is self-generating -the faster a horse’s legs, go, the more worked up he becomes. That’s why, when afraid, a horse will run right into a fence!
So…it makes you think about the idea of letting a horse “get it out of his system” on a lunge line or chase him in a round pen until he focusses on the handler. If practice makes perfect, what does practicing a fearful situation do?
On a human level, what about rehearsing our fears and fretting over problems? Does running in a circle  get it out of your system or make your worry more?
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Jesus Christ

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Horses and Fences

Don’t give up what you want most for what you want right now.
I had the privilege of speaking to a student group last night- Life Lessons Learned from Horses. From the city, on outdoor education at a local retreat centre, everyone had experienced their first “horse encounter”.
Horses are hard on fences, I told them. They bend them, break them – maybe the grass is greener on the other side…. Every horse person has nursed their share of “fence injuries”!
Kind of like us - when we push the limits, find a loophole, cross the line or take a short- cut, what we think will liberate us might only get us caught up. Or short- cut our goals.