Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What We Say to Horses

Leaning against the fence of the warm up ring, waiting for the next class to begin, I chatted with an amateur rider who was watching her trainer give her horse a pre-class tune up. “He gets along so well with my horse,” she sighed. “My horse just knows who’s boss. I think we have a personality clash.”

She chatted away to her horse and trainer as she climbed aboard and adjusted her stirrups. Despite the trainer’s instructions to “Just put your hands down and keep off his mouth,” I noticed his face fall as he watched the pair join the crowd of practicing horses. Before one lap of the warm up ring, the horse had lost his focus, frame and rhythm. The rider scowled at her horse and shrugged at her trainer.

Are you speaking so your horse is listening? Are you speaking the same language as your trainer?

· Do you use the same voice commands, right down to the volume and tone?

· Do you have the same leg cues (location and intensity) for go forward, move your hindquarters or forehand?

· Do you use the same rein aids for slow, flex or turn?

Now, it doesn’t really matter what cue you use (you could teach your horse to canter by saying Shazam and touching his shoulder with your toe) as long as your horse gets “the code” and anyone who works with your horse gets it too. Otherwise, all he’s hearing is “Blah, blah, blah…”

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Did I Say That?

Photo courtesy of Mcphail Equine Performance Center

As I entered the office of a friend the other day, I interrupted him as he was dictating into his computer. We’d chit chatted and swapping a few stories, before he realized he’d forgotten to turn off the dictation feature. It was awkwardly funny to hear him read back our conversation from his screen, word for word. Mindless, abstract thoughts recorded in black and white.

I think I’m more intentional about the signals I send to the horses I ride than the words I speak in casual human conversations. I’m fascinated by the work done at facilities such the Mcphail Research Center in Michigan. With motion sensors, force plates, saddle pressure mats and rein tension gauges, they measure the messages horses are receiving from riders and tack. Check out the projects they’re working on


I often ask clinic participants to share with me exactly what aid they use to request a leg yield, left lead canter, to raise or lower the neck or to shorten the stride. Specific techniques may vary but if we can’t put it into words do we really have a plan? Would we ride any differently if we knew our aids were being measured by sensors?