Sunday, 29 November 2015

Our first Western clinic......

Very interesting outing today. Went to a clinic organised by the Western Edge Riding Club, which is a monthly affair at a yard not far from here. Thought it would be good experience for Sky to do something out of her comfort zone and also decided to take Tari along for a look.

They both coped very well, considering we were in an indoor school and it was blowing a gale and chucking it down which meant all sorts of odd noises, plus some sort of clay pigeon shoot happening nearby. Sky only had one real spook, and Tari just seemed more interested in investigating the mirrors a the far end......

The clinic was with Shane Borland who I'd never heard of before but turned out to be really good. He started off explaining that neck flexion thing the Western horses all seem to know but ours had never been asked for. Now to me it's always looked a bit extreme and really just not comfortable for the horse. But I was interested to know the reasons for doing it.

As Sky had never done anything like that before so didn't know what was being asked of her, he used her as an example. Ali had to slide her hand along one rein, then take that rein out and away from the neck then bring it back to her hip. And wait. Sky of course at first started going round in circles trying to follow her nose.
But the third time Ali did it, Sky realised that movement was not what was being asked for, so she stopped. You could really see her trying to figure it all out.

As soon as there was the slightest softness in the rein, Ali released it. And Sky lowered her head and seemed to lose all the tension in her neck. As this is one of the things we really struggle to get her to do, it's something to play around with a bit more, methinks......

Another interesting idea that he gave them to try was the concept of "throwing things away". So you start trotting the horse along and then you release your hold on the reins and slow down your rising more and more then take your legs away, relax your seat completely and see how long it takes the horse to stop once you stop micro managing. And if they're the sort of horse that speeds up, you use the neck flexion, but nothing else, to change the direction and keep changing the direction until the horse slows down.

What I especially liked about his approach was that he was getting people to look at what they were doing from the horse's point of view. He said the rider needs to perceive the horse's take on what they're being asked, as horses will never be able to see things from the rider's point of view. If you read my last blog post, you'll know why I was so happy to hear that today.

Another exercise was to hold the reins completely loosely on just one finger of each hand, and without shortening them at all, just add one finger at a time to see how little it would take to get the horse to rein back. Remarkably little, as it turned out......
He also explained how he doesn't think most people let their horse ever make a decision. He explained how he likes to let his youngsters decide what they do when he first starts riding them. So he just sits there and is a passenger, they get to go where they like for a bit, then he gently asks them to go in the direction they're already going in so he doesn't start getting into an argument with a horse from the off.

He asked the riders, one by one, to set off down the centre line from A at a trot or canter, then let go of the reins halfway along. The other horses were lined up on both sides of the school. He wanted to see what each horse would do when left to its own devices. First problem was riders cheating and not letting go completely! But when allowed to go where they liked, some horses headed for the gate and some to other horses. Sky just went straight on down towards C but Ali didn't try to grab the reins back and turn her (much to Shane's surprise!) and Sky stopped by the wall, but didn't head for Tari, which I found surprising.......

So lots of food for thought today, Ali said she really enjoyed it and would like to do another one. Tari was a star and apart from occasionally getting bored and needing distracting, was as good as gold. And I was really impressed with how Sky handled it all. Shane said that he wouldn't expect a horse to be as calm in an unfamiliar place as at home, he said you can't always know how much of your home horse is out with you on the road, which I thought was a good way of looking at things.
Oh, and we got to see some rather nice spotties :-)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

If your horse got his own way.....

I came across this blog post today: If your horse got his own way.....

I'm sure a lot of people out there found it rather amusing. But I just found it very sad.

I find it sad that probably the majority of horse owners in this country really believe that their horse does things like kick the door or break through fences just to annoy them. I find it sad that they believe their horse would prefer his "big, comfy stable" to being outside. No stable is big to a horse. In fact, I would say keeping a horse in even the biggest stable is about the same as keeping a human in a Portaloo....yes, I hear people telling me all the time that their horses are waiting by the gate to come in at night because they love their stable. But do they really love their stable? Or have they merely associated coming in to it with getting a bucket of feed?

And then there's the feed. Yes, horses will be happy to eat oats and other hard, starchy, sugary feeds, but it's not what they've evolved to eat. I wonder how many of these horse owners know how their horse's digestive system actually works? Do they know that starch can only be digested in the small intestine and too much means that it passes into the hindgut and has a negative effect on the bacteria therein? Do they know that the horse's stomach continually produces acid (unlike the human stomach) so leaving a horse shut in a stable with nothing to eat for hours (because just how long do you think that haylage will last him? All night?) is a very good way of giving him ulcers?
Yes, of course he wants to roll in the mud. He gets itchy. If they insist on rugging him, he can't scratch his itches so well. It's like the difference between scratching an itch directly on your skin or through a really thick jumper. I know which I prefer......

Breaking through fences to be with his mates - is that just to annoy them? Or have they stopped to think for one minute that he's a prey animal that's evolved for millions of years to feel safe in a herd with a whole load of other prey animals and really isn't happy being kept on his own because they are worried about him getting hurt if he's allowed to be a horse in a field with a bunch of others....?
If I'm honest, I reckon many owners can't spot the signs that their horse is stressed and unhappy with the way he has to live and the way he is treated. Many owners aren't really interested in questioning any of the "normal" ways humans "manage" horses. Many owners have never given a thought to how a big heavy bit or a tight noseband feels to their horse. Or how being ridden with a heavy hand on the reins must feel. The list goes on.......

So what do you think your horse would really like to do if he could plan his own day? Try thinking about everything he does from your horse's point of view rather than your own convenience. If you have gaps in your knowledge, if you merely do things because your yard owner/trainer/vet/farrier/best friend tells you that's how it's always done, why not try to find out more about alternative ways of doing things, find out how horses think, how they would act and react if allowed to display natural behaviour, find out why horses do the things they do, find out what horses really want?

Here are a few places to start:

Epona TV
Good Horsemanship
Inside Out Hoofcare
Hart's Horsemanship
Anna Blake Equestrian
Mark Rashid Horse Training

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Winter woolies

Winter weather is finally starting to arrive here and I am seeing lots of  horses bundled up in rugs and shut in stables. My horses are still out on their windswept hillside and they might look a mess but their coats keep them warm and dry.

Yes, dry.  This may look like a soggy mess......

...but if you part the hair you can see that the water doesn't actually get as far as the skin, you can see it more clearly on Gandalf's lighter coat:

The white bit is dry. The coat clumps together and the water just runs off  the end of the pointy bits. You can see it all beading on their manes too

It doesn't seem to bother them when it's windy either, we've had some pretty wild weather in the last couple of days and I was expecting to find them huddling along the treeline, but they're just out on the side of the hill grazing, as usual..... their full winter plumage ;-)

They're like the opposite of Arctic foxes, only white in the summer!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Random pictures

Haven't had time to do a huge amount with the horses lately, but here are a few recent photos......

And even a couple of Kinna in France from last weekend :-)