Horses and Love (2011)

How do I even start this article?  I have so many ideas floating around in my head right now.  What is love?  Is it a feeling?  Is it an act of the will?  Can it apply to horses?  Are there parallels between God’s love for us and my love for a horse?

What is love?

“Love is an act of the will accompanied by emotion that leads to action on behalf of its object.”  ~Voddie Baucham

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I have a tendency to try to overpower things and to dictate.  I try not to let my feelings get involved.  Yet this tendency is not always helpful.

I had this mare for training.  I started by “explaining” to her how things were going to be.  She promptly showed me that she was a lot bigger and did not like my agenda.  I tried to “tell” her to be calm, and she showed me she had more patience than I did.  I tried to show her that the rope wasn’t scary; she showed me she didn’t believe me.

Here I was, trying to force my will, my thoughts, on her and she wasn’t agreeing.  I needed to take a step back.  Why was she distancing herself from me?  It took a while, but I think I figured it out.  I did not love her; she was not my horse and I wasn’t even trying communicate that I cared for her, that she was more to me, more than just something to tame.

I realized I had to change that.

I started by just going to her, rubbing her forehead and being content.  I would rub her gently and firmly.  Then I began endotapping her, with the intention of feeling and being calm and relaxed myself.  There was progress.  Where before, she would stare off into the distance and hold herself aloof, now she would look back at me.  She would allow me to rub her forehead and allow me to help her to relax.

Then while I was down in the round pen with her, as I was thinking about love, and God’s unconditional love toward us, I realized that I needed to love this horse that God had given me stewardship over (just for a little while).  This horse had not done anything for me, but I was to show her compassion and understanding, just as God does for us.

I went down to her and prayed that God would give me a love for this horse.  That it wouldn’t just be an action or a choice, but that it would be a feeling, a state of being.  In that moment, I felt God’s love for me and how much He has forgiven me.  After that, I felt an affection for this horse and I think it really helped us to connect.  I left her halter and lead rope off.  I endotapped her and worked with her (and myself) to just relax.

Then I was able to throw the rope over her, without her moving, and then saddle her up, with her staying calm and relaxed.  She could have left whenever she wanted, but she was much happier to be with me today.  I felt such a joy just being with her.  Me being me and her being her.  No agenda and no set plan.  Just living.

We had a nice day of training and relaxing.  What a difference attitude and thoughts can make.  A lot of the “training” took place doing nothing other than thinking about being relaxed.  I would look away from her, listen to the birds, feel the wind on my face, and try to really feel my weight on my feet.  It seems to have a lot to do with being in the moment and living in the here and now (Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling).

I wanted to love this horse.  I can’t just tell the horse I love you or do something for the horse so that she will know.  I wanted to see if my feelings toward a horse could influence how the horse reacted.  There was a change, but I can’t say how the change came about.

I think of how God loves us.  We don’t seek Him.  He must first seek us.  We are resistant, sinful, rebellious, and unknowing of what can be a beautiful relationship.  Is that not what we do with horses?  We take horses who would rather have nothing to do with us and try to show them the joy of a horse/human bond, but they resist, they run away, and they are fearful of anything we try to do with them.  We must be patient and lovingly seek them and allow them to come to us.  Sure, we could throw a rope around them, tie them to a post, and jump on, but this will not give them a chance to love back.

So my prayer is that God would teach me to love as He loves.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings.  ❤

God bless,

Ivy

‎”It would be easier to count all the stars in the heavens or each grain of sand on the earth, than to measure or even seek to describe the love of God” Paul Washer

Is Horse Training about Winning and Losing?

Is Horse Training About Winning and Losing?

A friend of mine and I were talking about how every interaction with a horse is a win or a loss. I began disagreeing with her. I said that if you make training sessions about winning or losing, black or white, then you set yourself up to fail. If it comes down to you or your horse, you can never win unless you dominate your horse to make sure you never lose.

However, after talking about it some more, we both concluded that what we really meant was that each day was an opportunity to win or lose… for you. It is all about you! You have the opportunity to win or lose in each situation. Your attitude and your response to your horse’s actions determines the outcome. Even if you seemed to make little or no progress, if you stayed focused, relaxed, and calm and kept your horse that way… you WIN!

If, however, you allow the horse’s reactions to trigger emotions of anger, frustration, and failure, you have just lost the battle, no matter what your horse does. You cannot necessarily control your horse’s actions and reactions, but you can control yours.

So, yes, horse training is about winning and losing, but it is not necessarily a contest of wills between you and your horse, but it is about your willingness to control your actions and your attitude no matter what your horse does.

Every interaction with your horse is an opportunity for you to win, an opportunity to prove to your horse that you are a trustworthy leader and a safe companion. This can only happen when you are able to be content with yourself and with your horse, no matter what happens. This is what winning is all about!

What I really mean by head down!

After the last video where I talked about how low I get the horses to drop their heads, there were a lot of questions.  In this video, I talk about what the horses should look like when they are gaiting and why we ask for the head to be so low.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!

The Best Bit for the Gaited Horse

Okay, I admit it, there is no one bit for that works best for every gaited horse.  However, I am going to list a few bits that I like and I am going to talk about why the bit doesn’t really matter too much in the end, except for the horse’s comfort.

First off, let me say that you can train any gaited horse to gait in a snaffle or bitless bridle.  You do not need a shanked bit.  However, they can be good reasons to ride a horse in shanked bit, but not to get a good gait.

Also, I want to mention that a snaffle is only a bit with no leverage.  If the bit has any kind of shanks, it is not a snaffle.

Okay, now that I have got that off my chest… 🙂

For the last couple of years, I have been using the Gary Lane Freedom snaffle, which I liked pretty well.  You could use it as a simple snaffle or get the smallest bit of leverage if you clipped it to the reins.  I still use this bit on occasion, but last fall I had the opportunity to try a new bit which has totally blown me away in how well it works and how much horses seem to love it.

The Rockin’ S Raised Snaffle

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I recently heard about this bit, created by Mark Rashid.  Since I bought the bit in September, I have been able to use in on almost 2 dozen different horses.  Most of the horses seemed to really prefer this bit over their own.  Some even had dramatic changes like going from only pacing with their head high to gaiting with their head low in 5 minutes!

So, the Rockin’ S Raised (ported) Snaffle is the bit I like the best at the moment.

However, as long as your horse is comfortable with the bit you have, I am not urging you to buy a new bit.  I will say that many horses do not like bits with a single joint for the mouthpiece.  When you pull back on both reins, the middle of the joint can poke the top of their mouth, causing them to raise their head.  This is the opposite effect of what we want.

I encourage everyone to pay attention to their horse.  He may or may not actually like the bit that he has.  Don’t just use a bit because that is what he was used to before.  If you can borrow bits from friends or fellow boarders, try as many as you can and find one that your horse seems to like.

I have seen dramatic changes when changing from one snaffle bit to another, from a single jointed bit to a french link kind of mouthpiece.

With the Rockin’ S Snaffle, I have seen horses go from tossing their heads, to being comfortable carrying a bit, start gaiting in one session, and give vertical flexion without any resistance.

Additional info about the Rockin’ S Snaffle.
http://www.markrashid.com/about/rockin-s-snaffle
http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/products/hh-asks-rockin-s-snaffle-264473

 

 

 

5 Myths about Gaited Horses

Myth 1: Gaited horses just gait on their own.

This is true and not true. Gaited horses do have the ability to gait; that part is natural. However, they are not born just gaiting smoothly. Many gaited horses pace, trot, or do something in between that is not as smooth as we would want. To get that perfectly even, smooth gaits takes time and training.

Myth 2: You need a shanked bit or a “gaited horse bit” to get them to gait.

I have trained numerous gaited horses, all different breeds, to gait with a plain snaffle or with just a hackamore. The key is to train them to gait, not play at forcing them into a particular head set.

Myth 3: Gaited horses need their noses tucked in or “collected” to gait.

Once a horse learns the correct way to gait (meaning the correct footfall), many of them like their head level with their withers and their nose slightly out. They travel with a long, level gait that is super comfortable because the horse is relaxed. Horses do not need the reins held tightly once they have learned to gait naturally on a loose rein.

Myth 4: You need to know the name your horse’s gait.

Names do not mean anything to the horse or your backside if it is not smooth! You should focus on getting a gait that is smooth and easy to sit, at both a slow speed and a medium speed. Many of the breeds do the exact same gait, but they call them different names. Use your judgment and decide what your priority is.

Myth 5: You can never canter your gaited horse.

I am asked this one a lot. I always make sure the gaited horses I work with are comfortable cantering a little. However, I never ask for the canter from the gait, always from the walk. Gaited horses should be able to gait quickly without breaking to the canter. If we are always asking for the canter from the gait, they will not learn to gait quickly, but will rather break to the canter.

A Tale of Two Horses

Yesterday, I went and worked with two different Missouri Fox Trotters. I worked with each horse for about 1 hour. It was a mix of me working with the horse and then giving a lesson for the riders.

Both horses are normally ridden in plain snaffles, with their owners preferring to keep it that way. Both owners were frustrated with their horses not gaiting. So gaiting was the focus of both sessions.

First Horse

The first horse, a gelding, was a typical MFT. He had a fairly level head and neck. He was a very nice horse who listened well in the arena. His rider said that when he gaits slowly, it stays smooth, but when you speed him up, he trots. I observed that he actually was not gaiting correctly when slow, he was just doing a cross between walking fast and trotting, which may sound like it is correct for a fox trotter, but it isn’t smooth and degrades to a very bumpy trot when sped up.

I got on and worked on getting a nice relaxed walk. I worked on his vertical flexion for the most part. Once he understood that, I was able to get him to stretch down and round up with very light pressure. I made sure he stayed at a nice, relaxed, round walk before asking for anything faster. After about 30 minutes of this work, I was able to ride him around the arena on a loose rein, where he stayed very relaxed and fairly round.

Then I would ask him to gait. I did this by clucking, squeezing just a bit with my calves, and then tapping him smartly on the rump with the whip. If he went into a nice gait, I would praise him and quickly, but gently, slow him down. Then I would let him relax in the walk. Most of the time it was not a nice gait so I would slow him down right away and I would not ask for more speed until he was relaxed in the walk.

The gelding gaited the best when his head was very low and he was round. Twice, when that happened, I felt him lift his back and engage the hind end, and then he gave me a beautiful gait for a few steps. I made sure to praise him a lot after those moments.

Observations:

1. Rather than give to the bit, the gelding would rather push against it and lift his nose, especially at any speed faster than a walk.
2. He didn’t gait so much as stay between a walk and trot, which would fall apart with any amount of speed.
3. Was often behind he leg, not wanting to go forward eagerly on cue.
4. Wasn’t really relaxed in the walk, therefore couldn’t relax in gait and would break to trot.

Fixes:

1. Get him soft in the bridle vertically.
2. Get him stretching down and out, then, later, rounding up.
3. Use endosticks to make sure he responded well to light leg pressure.
4. Get him really relaxed, soft, and round at the walk.
5. Once he was round on a loose rein at the walk, speed him up quickly to gait.

Conclusions:
1. The Gelding gaited the best when his head was low and he was round on a loose rein. He had some brilliant moments of gait then. He would lift his back and carry himself very nicely.

Second Horse

The second horse was a very nice MFT mare. She was very pretty, fine boned girl with a calm disposition. Her head and neck are set higher than first horse’s. Her owner said that she just wants to go into a bumpy trot and does not give a nice gait. Her owner has only owned her for a week, but would like to make sure they get off to a nice start. I observed that, yes, this mare would go into a very bumpy trot.

I got on and began the same as with the gelding, I taught her to bring her nose in with light rein pressure. She figured that out rather quickly, but she didn’t want to lower her head or stretch down. So I tried something different. I would ask her to break at the poll; once she did, I would hold steady pressure on the reins and squeeze with my legs to get a little more forward energy. Sometimes I had to reminder her to move off my legs with taps of the endostick.

This really did help her to stretch down and relax. She didn’t open up as much as the first horse, but she really started to relax. She was constantly licking her lips, yawning, and her ears got a lot more relaxed.

Once I got her this relaxed, I tried gaiting her. I could feel that when I would first get her going, she could do one or two steps of gait, but then would break to the trot. I worked to get her doing a nice, long, relaxed walk before asking her to gait. When she was doing a long walk before I asked her to gait, she would go straight to a trot. I tried again, same thing happened.

So, what I was doing for the mare wasn’t working, though it had worked on the gelding. I needed to try something else. I got her to relax in the walk again, then I asked her to shorten the walk and I “collected” her up just a bit. I jiggled the reins and took very light contact then asked her to gait. This got me much better results. At one point she gaited quite a ways.

Observations:

1. The mare also refused to give to the bit at first and really liked to push the base of her neck down.
2. She was unfocused on her rider, and, while not spooky, was not very calm.
3. She didn’t want to go forward readily off the leg.
4. Seemed unable to relax and lower her head at the walk
5. She didn’t gait at all, but would just trot.

Fixes:
1. Get her flexing vertically with light pressure on the reins.
2. Get her to lower her head and relax and therefore focus on the rider.
3. Ride with endostick to make her move off leg pressure.
4. Once her nose was vertical, hold steady pressure on the reins while squeezing (or bumping) with the legs to get her to stretch down.
5. Trial and error of where her head and neck needed to be to get a few steps of gait rather than trot.

Conclusions:
1. Though she was a fox trotter, same as the gelding, she needed a different frame before she was able to gait. Rather than long, low, and loose, she needed to have a more upright frame.
2. When the lesson first started, she was very pushed down in her neck. By the end, she was carrying herself a lot better.

In the end, both owners were very happy with the progress that had been made. They both had things to work on that would help their horses gait better. Both horses were much more relaxed and focused at the end of the lessons.

Both horses were ridden in snaffle bits and were able to gait a little on a looser rein.

Both horses were a lot more intuned to the rider. I was able to slow and stop both horses by breathing deeply and exhaling softly.

What more can any one ask?

Note: When I asked the horses to gait, I didn’t let them mosey on into it; I used the whip smartly to get the horses to gait NOW. If you let the horses go faster and faster up to a gait, usually they will fall back on old habits and it won’t be smooth. If I asked them to gait and it felt like it wasn’t the right rhythm, then I slowed them right back down to a walk. I hope this gives you some good ideas for working with gaited horses.