May 132016
 
Greg with Harry
Greg with Harry

Greg with Harry

I had not ridden regularly for many years, but took up riding again recently.  In early 2013 I bought Harry; an un-backed 15 hh chestnut Crabbett Arab gelding.  Harry’s registered name is Magic Magnet, by Ibn Silver out of Bint Magnetta; born 1st June 2009.  He lives out with a rescue pony, Dobbin; neither is stabled but both have access to a barn.

As a companion parrot behaviourist, I’m familiar with learning theory and a scientific approach to behavioural work, but most of this has been done with birds not horses.  I have never had any formal training in riding, but learnt informally many years ago on my friends’ horses.  I am still not familiar with the language commonly used by many horsey folks and find terms such as ‘being firm’ and ‘discipline’ etc. both vague and anthropomorphic.  Like most, if not all animals, horses seem incapable of making intentional or malicious errors, so notions of ‘discipline’ seem irrelevant.

Harry is very inquisitive.  While I was still working on finishing various jobs in his barn, he would frequently come to see what I was up to, inspecting the tools I was using.  I generally encouraged these investigations and would show him new things as I worked near him.  Before starting any formal training sessions, I asked Harry to come when I called his name. This seemed preferable than having to ‘catch him up’ from the field.  Within 3 days, using food rewards, Harry’s recall was quite reliable.  He would also come without seeing me, so long as I used the same cue, a whistling call and saying ‘Harry, come here!’  After some routine vet’s checks and settling in for a few months, Harry proved to be sound and ready to be backed.

Training ride

Greg and Harry; training ride for camping trip.

Training problems

Harry had never seen road traffic, or been ridden, or saddled, though he had worn an in-hand bridle with a nylon bit.  So, I was in at the deep end, and needed help to start training him.  I went to various horse events and spoke with other horse riding friends about training methods.  I booked a trainer who used conventional methods which relied on negative reinforcement, even during basic groundwork.  After a few minutes of this I could see Harry was not happy, so I ended the session.  I had to check myself and what I was doing.  When working with any animal, the first thing to ask ourselves, is not ‘Will this work?’ but ‘Is this right; is it humane?’  These conventional methods were failing this test.  I felt I had let Harry down, but how does one apologise to a horse!

I sought help from several equestrian societies here in the UK.  But none seemed to either accept or understand learning theory.  Instead, they relied on traditional aversive methods for most training.  Sadly, this also seemed to be the case with many horse welfare groups.  Indeed, watching other trainers at work, it seemed horses were being trained while in their barely-controlled flight response.  This seemed an eminently dangerous practice with such large powerful animals.

Eventually I made contact with a few equestrians who were clearly familiar with more humane training methods, and took up their suggestions.  McGreevy and MacLean’s book, Equitation Science seemed very good, but still too reliant on aversive stimuli.  Emma Lethbridge’s Knowing Your Horse was very good, as was Mark Hanson’s Your Hidden Horse.  So at least I knew there were horse-friendly methods used by some equestrians.  These training problems prompted me to look into other aspects of traditional horse care as well.  I could not find a scientific case for shoeing, (but plenty against!) nor having to use a bit.  So I thought it best for Harry to be ridden barefoot, bitless and with minimal contact.  Harry’s training was to be based on positive reinforcement wherever possible.  Negative reinforcement would be as mild and brief as possible.  Positive punishment was to be avoided.  I also wanted to avoid Harry getting too excited or fearful while being asked to learn new things, as I felt a calm approach would make things much safer, particularly when I would eventually be riding in traffic.  To teach walk, trot, stop, go back etc, I used mild negative reinforcement via the lead rope on his head collar, paired with a verbal cue, for the action asked for.  Within a few weeks he learnt to accept verbal cues only on most occasions.  Unlike my work with birds, horses seem to be very poor at generalising from novel experiences.  I could get Harry used to novel objects in the yard, like traffic cones and moving wheelbarrows etc., but these same objects 100 yards down the road would be treated with suspicion.  Only repeated exposure in different locations seemed to work.

First outings.

Next, Harry was introduced, in-hand, to local quiet lanes and traffic, while led in his head collar.  Walks were up to 12 miles long, 3 to 5 days a week.  He was walked along routes I would eventually be riding him, accompanied by my partner and the ‘experienced’ Dobbin, also on a lead rope.  This process took nearly two months before he would consistently and calmly accept most vehicles.  Later, still in hand, he was introduced to larger, faster traffic a few miles away.  This was carried out by gradual exposure to large vehicles in a 30mph zone along a stretch of the A38.  Initially he was asked to stand and view these from a distance he found comfortable.  If he remained reasonably calm (head not raised) he was rewarded using food and praise.  His distance to heavy traffic was slowly reduced over a few weeks, at a pace determined by his level of acceptance.  Following this he was walked along this road, in-hand, first with Dobbin, then alone.  Occasionally we had a few scary moments.  While Harry is not perfect in heavy traffic, he is pretty good.  This desensitisation to heavy traffic, prior to riding has been extremely valuable.

Introduction to tack.

Using food rewards Harry was asked to accept wearing his tack.  Training sessions were short, usually about 5 minutes, but sometimes several times a day.  This process took about a week.  The bridle used was a Dr Cook’s cross-under bitless.  The saddle was shown to Harry, so he could smell it and explore it with his muzzle to get used to it.  Then it was placed on his back, without the girth and he was asked to stand still for a few seconds, after which he was rewarded with a carrot and verbal praise and the saddle removed.  Later these periods were extended, and the girth fastened loosely, later still the girth was tightened, and stirrups were introduced.  Unwanted behaviours were rare.  But on two occasions Harry showed some inclination to mugging.  Here, I walked out of his sight so he could not earn any rewards for a short time (negative punishment).

Grazing break

Harry takes a grazing break during a day’s ride

Backing

This seemed like a major challenge (for me!) since I had never backed a horse before.  But Harry’s progress had so far been rapid, and he remained calm in training sessions.  I had a friend help me who held his reins while he was placed next to a mounting block.  I then asked Harry to ‘Stand’ (remain motionless for a few seconds), while I put some pressure from one foot in a stirrup, or leant on him, belly flop style, over the saddle.  I did this from both his nearside and offside.  In later sessions, I got astride him and remained in the saddle for a few seconds only; dismounted and rewarded him with food and verbal praise.  Later still I rewarded him while mounted.  My helper then led him around the yard, while I was on board.  Sometimes he would fidget prior to me getting on him.  In this case, I walked away and left him tied up alone, returning to try again a few minutes later.  I refused to get on board, or give rewards if he moved.   Now, when asked to ‘Stand’ he stands like a rock to be mounted from either side, wherever we are.

I wanted to be able to ride him in walk and trot, before riding him along the same quiet lanes he’d already been used to while in hand.  So the following steps were done in the yard and his field.  Since he was used to responding to verbal requests when in hand, he still accepted these when ridden.  So I combined gentle pressure via legs and/or reins, as needed with the requests to ‘stand’ ‘walk’, ‘trot’ ‘go back’ etc.  He was slow to trot on request and his first attempts at this with me onboard felt very wobbly.  But within a few weeks, we both accomplished a reasonable posting trot.  The bitless bridle has been a boon.  I feel much safer without having anything in Harry’s mouth.  Verbal cues are used first for changes in gait and direction.  Only if these cues are not accepted do I use my legs and reins as needed.  Even then the pressure is mild and with Harry’s quick reactions the pressure is also brief.  So we were now ready to go out for his first ride.

First hacking sessions.

Clad in hi-viz vests, we took Dobbin with us on a lead rein.  The first few rides were short, again along familiar lanes.  Harry did not mind most traffic, as he’d got used to this during many earlier walks in-hand.  But cyclists induced a threat response, with his ears held back tightly if they came too close.  I ignored this, just asking him to ‘walk on’.  Some noisy motorbikes and large vans which came too close or approached too quickly caused a fear response and Harry would start to shy away from them; so with a raised hand I asked these drivers to stop for me.  Harry was asked to walk past them in his own time.  I have also had do this with police cars and ambulances with sirens blaring while ‘blue-lighting’ past me.  Where Harry felt unable to pass a vehicle while staying reasonably calm, I dismounted and lead him past.  Gradually he learnt to accept these vehicles, though he is still not confident with large loud tractors and it is difficult to get regular, predictable exposure to these which would help with his training.

Dr Cook Bitless Bridle

Harry wearing Dr Cook’s cross-under bitless bridle (noseband has been padded) and Biothane headcollar. Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor, Somerset.

Harry remains barefoot, bitless and is not subjected to reprimands or positive punishment.  I feel much safer without him wearing a bit and I ride with little or no contact, giving verbal cues before resorting to physical aids.  After backing and basic schooling, Harry was ridden 12 to 20 miles a day, several times a week, as part of his training for a forthcoming camping trip.  On long rides I dismount every hour for about 10 minutes and walk with him.  This gives him a rest from carrying me and helps me keep fit as well!  I also dismount on ground that might be too difficult for him, where he might lose his footing.  Harry took some time to get used to crossing water and squeezing through narrow places on some of our more tricky bridleways.  But he remains calm, he makes a point of coming to see me when I go to his field, and he seems to really enjoy being groomed.  He stands still as his tack is put on him and when being mounted.  When out riding, he’ll go almost anywhere I point him, without making a drama out of things we encounter on our rides.  He is happy to be tied up for an hour at lunch-time to graze, or for a while at a pub or café while I get my own food.  He has turned out to be very co-operative and calm, and I feel this is the best insurance for both my safety and his welfare.  I am convinced that more horses and riders would benefit greatly by using gentle training methods based on learning theory.

Copyright:  Greg Glendell 2014

 In part two, Greg describes his camping trip with Harry over Dartmoor and Exmoor.

Jan 292014
 

Dressur Rollkur Barock One thing cannot be acceptable only because it is accepted by many Fritz Stahlecker, horse trainer and author of several books and articles  developed with his hand-saddle-hand method (in short: HSH method) a stress-free and non-violent training for horses. In his latest book ” Horses my students my teachers ” he critically analysis the developments of modern dressage. I would like to introduce you to this book, because it fits well with one of the main topics of this blog ( Controversial issues), I find the development in dressage similar frightening and ” diseased” as he does, and because I very much like the philosophical approach of his book. Have fun reading and let the critical thinking begin! Harsh judgements Right from the start, Fritz Stahlecker harshly criticizes today’s dressage scence. With sentences likeCover für Pferde - meine Schüler, meine Lehrer

The horse teaches us that only the things achieved without violence are valid results that deserve applause. The self-healing process of the sick scene is initiated by the FN and must be enforced against all protests

he points out directly the “sick points” of the riding world, or at least almost without exception that of the sports scene. In my opinion, Stahlecker criticizes this world from two sides: On the one side, he highlights the excessive work pressure, which is required of the horses, while on the other side, he criticizes our perception and evaluation of what we see. Let me expalin this in more depth. Performance over all In today’s world, power is placed above all. The grades achieved by a child in school ( the child’s performance), determine his fate. Is the grade point average good enough for the apprenticeship or maybe even university studies? In a system like that, good performance is rewarded. The better the child performs (evaluated with school grades ), the better his future prospects look. Discipline , drill and power become established as values already in early childhood. Later on at work, does not look much better. Commissions for good performance, overtime is normal, even from home one can (and should) work on. All of that is regarded as normal. Noone thinks about this twice. The same can be seen in the ( riding ) sport. Also here , its about perfomring to one’s best (or better): Always, faster, higher, farther, up to or even beyond one’s limits. This way of thinking also applies to horses:

Maximum performance in sports ( … ) going to one’s limits at any cost, even the humiliation of a creature [the horse] is de facto tolerated. ” ( Stahlecker , 2012 Franckh – Kosmos Verlag ) .

Dressur LeistungssportToday’s dressage is seen (and practiced) by most people only as a competitive sport and no longer perceived as what it used to be at the core: the Art of Riding (Reitkunst). The mere choice of words “ we work our horses ” that we use every day, should make us double-think. It’s no wonder that things such as doping scandals and controversial training methods occur in such a setting of hard work and performance. You only see what you want to see Stahlecker believes that we should see more than a sport’s perfromance and an exalted show in the dressage arenas. Instead, we should be seeing a harmonious partnership between horse and rider that show us the art of riding. Stahlecker is convinced that what we see on the show grounds today  has nothing to do with the art of riding. The prevailing performances of sport machines is made acceptable by different players. Firstly, there are the judges http://polpix.sueddeutsche.com/bild/1.1016377.1355769763/860x860/dressurpferd-totilas.jpgand other officials, who judge the riding. Than, there are also the spectators . Interestingly, these two parties often seem to work together. A good example of this good interaction is the stallion Totilas, who had not only huge success in sports, but  who was also highly coveted by spectators and the press. Mind you, all of this has happeened despite people knowing of the controversial training method of Rollkur that have been used (of course there is this counter-movements, but they are shockingly low ).

“ The art of riding appears to require only exercise.However, exercise without true principles is nothing but routine, the fruits of which will be effort , unsafe execution and false jewels, with which you can impress only the half-connoisseur. ” Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The art of riding is based on aesthetics and this leads (inevitably) to respect for the natural characteristics of the horse. What we see today is a disregard of the natural characteristics and movements of the horse to an allmost unimaginable degree. Contemporary dressage is more a kind of show or staging. It pretends to show refined natural movements, but instead does the opposite. Let me give you an example to illustrate this: Imagine a paddock and two horses playing and running in it. To every movement they do, their silhouette changes. If the horse sprints fast across the paddock, its silhouette is not round (being collected) but rather long/stretched. Is the horse however aroused and pounces up and down the fence, the silhouette is rounder and shorter (collected frame) . These two “ frameworks ” are fundamentally different from each other and belong to the respective movement of the hors ein that moment. Without stretching, the horse cannot push forward with big movements that cover lots of ground. Likewise can a horse not piaffe if its silhouette is long and stretched. Thats simply impossible. Evo Baracallo Jungpferde toben Unfortunately, in the dressage ring we nearly almost exclusively see horses in extended gaits that dont have a strechted silhouette  in horses. The great movements (usually only with the forehand that go upwards instead of up-and forwards) without being strechted or coming forward, and the rear legs pushing from behind the horse with small steps, is not only unsightly, but also absolutely unnatural and forced. To every extended gait, an extension of frame is needed. Thus, what we see in those arenas are horses that are being asked to move in a certain posture that (in this combination) doesnt not exist in nature. We should seriously question what it is that we want for ourselves and for the horses : Show or actual riding art? Did it have to be like this? According to Fritz Stahlecker, the way the dressage scene has developed is not unreasonable in itself. The force of habit (written down in the rigid guidelines of the German military regulations – “Deutsche Herresvorschrift”) met up with today’s mentality of a meritocracy. It should come as no surprise that doping scandals and controversial training methods are incraesing. Kandare schmerzIn my opinion, the current consumerism in combination with capitalism and egoism of the present time (all these movements are interconnected and mutually dependent). The horse is still , especially in competitive sports, little more than a commodity (consumerism). With its help the rider builds up his prestige. Success in sports on the backs of horses, seperates you from the (common) crowd. It creates an identity. In addition to an identity and fame, there is also the issue of financial viability (the sooner, the faster, the better). What is left behind with this sort of thinking (the health of the horse) is of no interest or simply taken as accepted. What is missing is the humanity, the meaning and connection with nature, and the arts. We are ready to take pain in order to reach our goals. “ In competitive sports,” said Stahlecker, “ the man does uses [a form of] violence against himself. The transfer to the horse was a psychologically obvious step. Elite sport means sompetition, it means violence against oneself “. In the wild, a horse would never exhaust himself to such an extend that it might lead to permanent damage to its health (unless it is in an emergency situation – better a little bit crippeld than dead). However, we force the horse to do so. Violence and art, can never be reconciled with each other, because where the violence begins, the art ends. But why do we need art anyways? Why riding ART? The art and the horse should be united. Each in itself can play an important role in our society. The horse plays an important role in today’s world. We learn from him to empathize more with nature, and to re-discover it. The art takes us back to the aesthetics, an unison and in the end with its perfection, back to nature, as nature is the only thing that is (and creates) true perefection.

The knowledge of the true nature of the horse is the first foundation of the art of riding and each rider must make it his main subject. Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The symbiosis between art and the horse, dressage as a form of art (the art of riding) shows an artistic parallel to nature (specifically the “natural characteristics of the horse”). What we are already able to see in the field, will become refined with the aid of the instructor/rider with the goal of perfection. However, and this is very important, perfection cannot be enforced. It must come from the horse itself . Only a horse that wants to be beautiful itself, assumes an appropriate attitude. We can only help him (to want to) do this. Collection au natural And what is in this context almost most important for me: The art cannot agree with violence and coercion. A forced harmony between horse and rider does not exist. A few words about the rest of the book Finally, I would like to say briefly the book also explicitely focuses on the training of the horse and what sort of “wrong thinking” is pervailent with that nowadays. For example, he claims that the young horse should not be trained with a bridle in the first section of its training (resistance and violence are often the result of incorrect training), the curb reins should always be slack – to an extent (the weight of the reins (and therewith the pressure that it applies to the horse’s mouth is much higher than we think) and training with side reins and draw reins should be banned: ” the worst hand cannot induce so much pain in the horse’s mouth as an almost absolute captivation by means of fixed side or draw reins”. More information about Fritz Stahlecker and his method in this movie:

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/6k20iTSbCOE” height=”315″ width=”420″ click_words=”Watch on YouTube” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k20iTSbCOE”]

 

This article was published on the author’s blog on 8 January 2014.  The original article can be found here

Aug 012013
 

In my work as an equine behaviourist one of the main concerns of my clients and potential clients is how long it will take for a problem to be resolved and how much time will they need to invest to solve the problem. Both concerns are of course completely valid and it is important that the horse owner knows and understands the process, the steps involved and the estimated timeline of progress. However, I am often surprised at people’s expectations when it comes to how long it might take to solve a problem.

Some people are very happy when I suggest, for example, that within 2 months, very often sooner, they should see significant improvement but some are taken aback and want to see quicker progress. Their viewpoint is often not linked to how much time they can invest in helping their horse or how long the problem has been going on for. For example, (the following is based on experiences but not on any one client in particular) an owner has had a horse on box rest for eight months due to a long process of veterinary diagnosis and treatment. Every day in those eight months the owner’s workload has been much more than when the horse has his/her usual regime and turnout. The owner has needed to visit the horse more often resulting in early mornings and long nights – they have had to arrange additional feed, additional support to clean the stable regularly, and time investment in taking the horse for in-hand grazing opportunities. After the horse has been given the all clear by the vet for limited turnout he starts showing distress in the field and seems to ‘want’ to be stabled. The behaviour is escalating and the horse is becoming more difficult to handle in many situations to the point where the owner calls me in for behavioural advice. In this illustrative case, we would look at the management routine of the horse, the relationship between horse and owner and would create a phased, step-by-step programme to reintroduce the horse to a routine involving turnout. I might say that if aspects of the management are changed and the owner spends often just 5-10 minutes dedicated training with their horse per day then within 2 months (often much sooner) we would expect the horse to be comfortable to spend time in the field and that if the steps are followed that there would also be an improvement in the other issues. Some people recognise that this isn’t much work needed to solve the problem that is causing them significant time investment (to manage a constantly stabled horse) and that will improve the life of the horse but others say that they don’t have 10 minutes a day to work on the behaviour modification programme. In such cases we can consider other options, bringing other people into the solution and so on but time and time again I am surprised by the reluctance to invest a small amount of time to solve a problem that is causing much more time and heartache, not to mention the compromised welfare for the horse.

The rush to solve problems nearly instantly has been pushed in recent years by various methods of horsemanship promoting their approach with the selling point that it is so quick. Demonstrations introducing young horses to tack and riders in sometimes less than 30 minutes draw large crowds and I’m sure are partly responsible for creating expectations for all problems to be ‘solved’ in a short time. Training has moved away from being seen as a gradual process to something that can change with a ‘recipe’ for quick results. However, is everything as it seems? The answer is ‘no’ – being able to ‘get’ a horse to do something in half an hour in one situation is not the same as having solved an issue. And that is before even considering the emotional side-effects for the horse of some of these methods. Effective, ethical and easiest behaviour modification and training is done through small steps – desired behaviour is ‘shaped’ gradually, building confidence as we progress through the steps.

Another key element is that learning isn’t just turned on or off when we want to define a training session. The inspiring trainer Ben Hart (Hart’s Horsemanship) very correctly points out that every moment we spend with our animals teaches them something. When a horse is tied up in the sun and a pile of hay while we chat to our yard friends the horse is learning that although they can’t move away the yard is an OK place to be as it’s somewhere you can eat and nothing much is expected of you. When we poo pick in the field the horse learns that when their human enters a field it doesn’t always mean that being caught and ridden is the result. It is easy to forget this – for example, one owner’s horse used to pull and break away when being lead from the field to the yard. Every day the owner spent around 20 minutes longer than it should have taken catching and re-catching her horse as they not very efficiently made the journey across a field. To re-train this behaviour would have only taken a few minutes a day and much of that could have been during the walk they had to do anyway but the owner claimed to have no time to do the training. What was not understood, until we explored things further, was that every time they made the journey the horse is learning – even if that is learning that the journey between field and stable takes 20 minutes and involves a break away to see other horses across the fence!

This article is a plea to think about the time we spend with our horses and what they are learning from us in that time, to slow things down and allow ourselves and our horses time to learn gradually in steps building confidence along the way. We don’t have to make time for behaviour….we just need to recognise that the time we spend with our horses is teaching them something, and we need to be mindful of what!

Suzanne Rogers
– Animal Welfare Consultant and Behaviourist – Learning About Animals (www.learningaboutanimals.co.uk)
– Trustee – TAWS (www.taws.org)
– Co-Founder/Programmes Advisor – Change For Animals Foundation (www.changeforanimals.org)
– Animal Welfare Advisor – CVA CPD Programme

Jul 122013
 

As I was sitting outside this morning, enjoying the sun, I watched two workers relaying a pavement. After a while I realised there are many similarities between laying down a pavement and training a horse. Every tile is part of the whole, if you leave one out there will forever be a hole, disrupting the connection between both ends. You need some necessary skill and knowledge, familiarity with the technique, to lay an exceptional pavement, but learning by yourself is not out of the question, if your eyes and heart are willing to see your mistakes. Sometimes you might have to go back and repair your error, sometimes you might have to start over from where your pavement was still sound. Just like a tile laying only slightly askew, it might be hard to locate your mistake by sight, but you will feel its presence every time you walk over the path. Training a horse is a process, it takes time and effort, you can’t miss a step and you need to evaluate regularly. Others can help you see the things that need improvement, so don’t turn them away, but remember that perfection is is just a state of mind, and that you can only reach perfection in your own eyes.

20130712-160058.jpgThis view of training as a process, building blocks and making connections, is not a new one. Take a look at the Scala of dressage, of which I prefer the version put into a pyramid form. The rider is added at the bottom, because the rider, being the worker, controls the whole process and carries the responsibility of completing every step and reaching the top. After all riding a horse is a partnership, equal parts of human and horse, so why should the Skala concern only the horse?

Apart from the rider, relaxation is for me the first and foremost step in training. Lack of relaxation is not only signified by tension or nervousness, but also by a certain amount of resistance against being manipulated by the rider. Relaxation means the horse is willing to let go, both in his body and his mind. This is achieved with trust and feel, force will only create submission, never true relaxation. This is where the relationship between horse and rider stands or falls.

Rhythm, or tact, is the basis of the horse’s movement. We all know walk should be four beat, trot two and canter three, but can we feel the difference? Can you help your horse achieve this purity of gaits? Rhythm comes naturally to a horse in freedom, which can easily be messed up by adding a rider on top. Rhythm is for me not only the beat of the gait, but the horse being able and allowed to move at his own natural potential, which means the rider should not get in the way with his own riding, or force the horse to move in an unnatural way.

Contact is not just the tension in a leather strap between the horse’s mouth/nose and the rider’s hands. Contact is the connection between rider and horse, which includes all physical, verbal and ‘mental’ cues, with understanding coming from both. A horse shouldn’t be afraid to take up this contact, and the human should let go of everything standing in his way to achieve it.

Impulsion is both the power and strength of the horse’s body, specifically hindquarters, achieved by correct conditioning, and the horse’s willingness to lend all this power to his rider. Impulsion is what the rider feels in his hands when the horse’s movement flows from back to front without blockages.

I think the term straightness would be better served by balance. As a horse, like every living being, will keep his own preferences for one side or the other, I don’t think any horse can be truly straight. However, the horse can be brought into balance, with assistance from the rider and his acknowledgement of these preferences. Balance is what keeps the horse healthy, an even loading of each foot, each bone, tendon and muscle, will ensure there is no overexertion of either. Balance is physical balance of the horse, but also balance in his training and a resulting balance in his mind.

Back to the original pavement. Every tile is the same size, it doesn’t matter where exactly you put each of them. However, small irregularities might make them serve better when placed at a particular time and place, to improve the strength of the whole. Just like that, horse training is individualized and every horse will need different things at different times. That does not mean, though, that every horse’s path won’t need to be complete and laid entire to reach the end result: collection. Ability to carry both himself and the rider in a way that doesn’t harm him.

So, let’s stop laying only stepping stones and risking the health of our horses. It is each owner’s responsibility to care for their horse’s well-being, and correct, useful training is very much a part of that.

The pyramid in this article is sourced from http://www.ridingart.com/balance.htm.

Jul 122013
 

The first question is why do we need anything other than the customary practice we’ve built up over the years? And the answer would be that many of those practices are remnants of a past that was radically different from today.
You only have to go back a little over a 100 years and the horse was still the single most important utility in human society. Large numbers of horses were used commercially, for transport and draft in and around towns and cities, requiring them to be kept locally and intensively. Large numbers of military horses were concentrated in cavalry line accommodation to allow for daily group training or immediate deployment.

Those conditions of use and the utility value of horses joined together to produce an attitude that was completely different to that of today: the following quote is from a recent book by Ann Norton Greene: By century’s end, the people driving the horses were in most cases mere employees, who thought of horses as company property. As managers demanded the hauling of larger and larger loads, the employees sometimes abused the horses to satisfy them. (1) Pretty much the whole focus of horse management during the age was how the greatest use could be made of the horse – and, once the horse is confined in a building behaviour becomes of less importance, except where it either interferes with or restricts use.

Go back further in history and we come to a time in which many horses were kept extensively by nomadic or semi nomadic peoples. Their survival required that they knew the horse in a very different way. Without fences and walls and gates your ability to manage and maintain a herd of horses for the use of your immediate or extended family depended entirely on how well you understand their behavior. Each day your primary task was to make certain the herd had sufficient feed and water, or you could expect them to voluntarily relocate! With the horses constantly moving they tended to stay far fitter and healthier, and there was far less need to protect the tough durable hoof that such movement produces. But competing stallions, geldings and mares need to be effectively managed, and in such a way that organized cavalry maneuvers can be mounted rapidly. Very little of the knowledge from this older past has trickled down, often because it was held by people with no written language – which is a great shame. There may be a lot more useful lessons to be learnt from those more distant times than from much closer history.

And so here we are at the present. We have a very different environment to that of the 1800 or 1900s. The commercial and military use of horses across the developed world has all but vanished. There is no longer the necessity for large groups of horses to be kept so close into towns and cities that they need to be managed intensively and in confinement. By contrast there are greater pressures on real estate, which, for a space hungry animal such as the horse, is a major threat. There are also developing concerns over the environment, requiring that we think about how horses fit into the larger, sustainable, picture. Plus there is the growing movement of people that want to connect with animals in a more open, respectful, practical and ethical way.
Arguably what we need is an up to date and complete philosophy suited to these present needs, rather than a mish-mash of customary practices from the past that reflect a different reality. Behavior based horse management (BBHM) is one attempt to create one.

You’ll note that the word ‘natural’ is completely absent so far – and for good reason, since the meaning is so very open to perception. For example ‘natural behaviors’ would likely refer to those found in an ethogram of a particular feral or semi-feral group – in a single, specific, environment. But whilst free expression of those behaviors has often been seen as synonymous with ‘good welfare’, the behaviors a native pony may need to carry out in the New Forest, or a brumby in the Australian outback, are not necessarily going to be the same as those of a fully domestic horse living in the suburbs of an industrial city. In each case what the horse needs is to carry out a package of behaviors that allow it to become functionally adapted to its specific environment. How natural or not those behaviors are, or by what standard they’re ‘naturalness’ might be judged is really irrelevant.

In any case for most horses it’s the human element within their environment that has by far the most powerful impact. And if the horse is going to survive in a domestic environment its ability to interact with people successfully is essential. There are behaviors that might work for feral horses but that don’t fit the majority of domestic environments. Encouraging the expression of a behavior from the ‘wild’, but that has a negative effect on the ability of the horse to function well in a domestic environment makes no good sense, no matter how ‘natural’ it might be.

BBHM operates on a principle, shared with conservationists and the organic movement (2), that what is needed is a caretaker, whose role is defined as “a human who assists animals in their daily interplay with their environment”. (3)
So the caretaker’s role is to assist the horse to adapt functionally, and fortunately horses are very adaptable creatures. Even so, there are going to be environments to which it is simply not possible for the horse to adapt, and in which it fails to function well. What makes sense in that situation is to acknowledge the reality, and move the horse out and into one where successful adaptation is possible. Across the remaining range of environments how much work the caretaker has to do will depend; in some the horses are going to need a lot of assistance to get through each day, in others far less.

So what would ‘successful adaptation’ mean? Let’s consider a horse kept primarily for riding. The horse will need to be healthy, and both physically strong and fit enough to carry the rider’s weight in comfort and safety. The horse’s senses need to be operating efficiently so that the horse is able to make decisions while being ridden that impact on rider safety. The horse needs to be well rested and in a well balanced emotional and psychological state in order to interact well with both the rider and the riding environment. Effective communication must exist between horse and rider, plus a co-operative attitude in which the horse carries out the movements that are communicated to it willingly – and for that to happen the attitude of the horse to that particular person, and really to people in general, has to be good. And obviously the adaptation should have some duration – so however the horse is kept it has to be sustainable over an extended period.

If they are to assist the horse to adapt functionally caretakers have to be able to design and manage environments that reliably produce the desired outcome. And for it to have widespread value it has to be done at a reasonable cost.

A majority of the horses that are slaughtered each year have failed to adapt in some way. Physical problems such as with feet from insufficient movement, or lower leg lameness’s from being put into work too early, allergic reactions to housing, obesity and other systemic issues from feed problems, plus the raft of psychological problems; dangerous or anti-social behavior, stereotypies, work intolerance, anxiety and depression. The aim of a philosophy like BBHM is to facilitate successful adaptation to the benefit of all involved – horse, people and the greater environment.

By Andy Beck

www.equine-behavior.com

1. Norton Greene, A. (2008) HORSES AT WORK – Harnessing Power in Industrial America. Harvard University Press.
2. Algers, B. (1990) “Naturligt beteende – ett naturligt begrepp?.” Svensk Veterinartidning.
3. Segerdahl, P. (2006) Can natural behavior be cultivated? The farm as local human/animal culture. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (2007) 20:167-193

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Jul 042013
 

Ever wondered why you should always mount from the left, lead from the left, why in sports black saddles and brown warm blood horses of a certain size are favoured? Or why people call it horse sports but wear uniforms instead of comfortable sports gear? Ever wondered where sports such as competition dressage and show jumping came from? Then read on, for you are about to find out!
Many will tell you it all started with Xenophon, the Greek war general who was the first (that we know of) to pen a dressage and horse training manual. In fact horse sports did not start there at all; they only started much later in history. You see, up to the early 19th century horses were very important for people’s everyday life. It did not really matter what one did, a horse was almost always part of everyday living and surviving. People were mostly brought up with horses and communicating and working together came rather naturally from very young age. By working together constantly, human and horse would learn to cooperate side by side, simply by trial and error. Repeat what works, get rid of what does not. What people found out many centuries ago is, that when you just sit on a horse without certain preparation this horse will soon start to function less and less. The horses started to get physical problems which of course showed up in not being able to perform up to scratch. What people also found out is that you should wait at least until 5@half; years before you start preparing for ridden work and that stallions, because of their build and stamina, were most suitable. Besides that, all the mares were needed to bring up foals; after all for safe and light communication, one needs horses of excellent social upbringing.

20130705-131012.jpg

The Friezes of the Parthenon in Athens, which I visited several times as a child, clearly show extremely collected horses on their haunches without bridle!

I imagine that horse trainers would have observed the horses in their herds and discovered what specific qualities those horses possessed that would function best under their riders. What they thus discovered was that those horses that were able to move their bodies in a certain way, were the ones who would perform best and last the longest as a riding horse. So a logical conclusion would have been to ask horses to perform these certain movements, which the best quality horses did, to see if that would improve their performance and withstand being ridden longer. Obviously, it did and the Gymnasium of the horse was born. You can read about it in Xenophon’s book ‘The Art of Horsemanship’ and many books of the so called ‘classical masters’ thereafter.

The art of war
Also, from Xenophon (and even before Kikuli) up to La Guérinière, we see that war training and horse training are interlinked, they are in fact one and the same thing. Within war it is obviously of vital importance to have outstanding communication with your horse that almost reacts to your thoughts. After all, you won’t last long in battle if you have to fight your horse as well as your opponent. Having said that, having a horse reacting to your thoughts is but a start, the next is that you have to have the horse’s thoughts as well. With that I mean that a thinking horse will also expand your lifespan. When being attacked from parts where you can not see but your horse can, would you rather have a horse who only acts on your commands, or a horse that reacts by getting away from every type of danger, whilst – mind you – keeping you on board. The ultimate war horse, called a ‘destrier’ would even protect his rider should he be slain and on the ground, by standing over him or by pulling him out of harms way by his garment.
Another example, this time of every day life. Towns were small and separated by enormous woods through which you had to travel, sometimes days on end. These woods were full of thieves, not all the likes of Robin Hood and his merry men, rest assured. So, if your horse did not want to go down some path and kept snorting and staring, it was to listen to one’s horse and choose a different path which the horse thought safe. The sum up, to have a long life you need a horse with which you have optimal communication, thatis healthy, agile and strong and that thinks! As it obviously takes time to get to this level of partnership, starting afresh with a new horse was not that evident. So the Gymnasium was designed to keep horses healthy, thinking and communicating for the many years to come. From the start of training at 5½ years preferably up to an age of 25 to 30. Still really common in places like the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, for instance.

Xenophon’s thoughts on the subject:
“But whoever would desire to have a horse serviceable for war, and at the same time of a stately and striking figure to ride, must abstain from pulling his mouth with the bit, and from spurring and whipping him; practices which some people adopt in the notion that they are setting their horses off; but they produce a quite contrary effect from that which they intend.”
“For by pulling the mouths of their horses, they blind them when they ought to see clearly before them, and they frighten them so much by spurring and striking them, that they are confused and run headlong into danger; acts which distinguish such horses as are most averse to being ridden, and as conduct themselves improperly and unbecomingly. “
“But if a rider teach his horse to go with the bridle loose, to carry his neck high, and to arch it from the head onwards, he would thus lead him to do everything in which the animal himself takes pleasure and pride.”
“That he does take pleasure in such actions, we see sufficient proof; for whenever he approaches other horses, and especially when he comes to mares, he rears his neck aloft, bends his head gallantly, throws out his legs with nimbleness, and carries his tail erect.”
“When a rider, therefore, can prompt him to assume that figure which he himself assumes when he wishes to set off his beauty, he will thus exhibit his steed as taking pride in being ridden, and having a magnificent, noble, and distinguished appearance.”

20130705-131259.jpg

This section of the Bayeux tapestry shows the battle of Hastings in 1066. The reins hang slack and often are not held at all. The front and hind legs at the same level suggests terre-a-terre.

Cannon Fodder
This was all fine in man-to-man battle until in the early nineteenth century when warfare changed. Heavy artillery was the new deal and all these horses that were brought up with such care and had so many years of careful training died by the masses. Years of work gone in minutes. Everything changed there and then: it was painfully clear this era of intelligent horse training was over. There was no time for long training and above all, it was not needed! For horses would not come back from the battlefield and if they did, they would often only be good as meat to feed the soldiers. So, to save time they now started the training with foals of 2½ years. Not much preparation at all, just saddle on, lunge and rider on, done. Of course, this would destroy any horse in due time, but who cared? The horse was not meant to last. An other advantage is that a young child of 2½ is much easier to bully around and brainwash than a 5½ year old agile stallion. After all, galloping towards cannon fire does not seem like and intelligent thing to do, and it isn’t. So intelligent, self-preserving horses were not a choice; on the contrary! Now horses were needed that did not think for themselves and complied with every order, no matter how stupid or dangerous. For this purpose the army needed horses that did not offer any objections whatsoever, which became the new purpose of training. Horses who acted like machines to all commands. To reach this goal, stallions were no longer used. Geldings started at an early age, 1½ to 2 years. Mares were used as well. There was a vast demand for horses now as they did not last long anymore. The social upbringing of horses was no longer valued so much, so the foals were taken away from their mother at 6 months as opposed to staying in the herd for years as was common in the past. The training now had one prime directive: complete and utter obedience. Or in other words, to train cannon fodder. To get that obedience it was vital to break any resistance (thus thinking in fact) by a constant demand for precisely that which the horse did not want to do. For instance, a horse did not want to canter, then the riding soldier was commanded to use violence by putting spur and whip to the horse until it cantered and then keep it cantering for as long as the rider wanted. Of course the obvious reason for a horse not to canter would be that his body was not strong, supple and straight enough, nor mature. But again, that did not matter anymore. A horse spooked somewhere? Beat him towards that spot. This was all just preparing for artillery warfare. Or in short, training cannon fodder.

20130705-131306.jpg

British cavalry rider from 1842, sitting behind the movement therefore hindering his horse, and pulling his horse behind the vertical with the reins.

Being the army and liking things uniform, horses were preferred to be the same height and the same colour. Bay was more available than black; grey was not practical and red blood is such a dramatic sight on a white horse, it could lower moral. In training, all riders would lead from the left, mount from the left because their weapon would hang left and above all, in exercises horses would all need to be ridden in the same head set. Head down would prevent the horse from looking around. It is far more easy to dominate a horse who can not actually look around. Now tell me, by reading this, does it all seem familiar? Of course from the late nineteenth century horses became less and less important in warfare. The lieutenants and generals however kept horses for inspecting troops and keeping fit. Busy bees as these high officers were between battles they would start holding contests to show off how obedient their horses really were. These horses were so obedient that they could pull off movements that almost looked like some high school movements! Of course, trampling on the spot is not piaffe, so levade could never follow as the horse is in contra-collection. The horse would sooner stand on his head than on his hind legs, from this contra-balance. Shoulder-in could only be performed on 3 tracks not 4, simply because it was not really a shoulder-in, but just a form of yielding along the track. For a true shoulder in, a horse needs to be able to lift the shoulders and that is impossible when not being prepared from early and correct training. All the high school movements were gone… a true piaffe and levade is the door to the airs; cannon fodder was never able to reach a performance like that. From this cannon fodder training modern horse sports and school riding developed. It is all about showing how obedient your horse is and what a rider can let him do, inspite of the horse itself. The cannon fodder training is therefore constantly present all around us and riders, just like the soldiers and their horses then, do not think about what is healthy, sane, logical or even fun. They all keep up this training without questioning why, looking at the old master’s training as if they were aliens or even worse… do not even know they existed. I once spoke with a well known grand prix dressage rider about Riding Art and he had never heard of La Guérinière, nor of Antoin de Pluvinel. He did not know what Levade or terre a terre was. I was shocked… to me that is like being a painter and not knowing who Rembrand or Rubens were! Or a chef who has never heard of Michelin stars! What would you think of such painters or chefs? Would you expect any good work from them? Not me.
So to complete this – alas- ever so true saga, I would like everyone to ask themselves one question:
.
Are you training your horse for the benefit of both of you, or are you training cannon fodder?

Jun 092013
 

There must be something in the air at the moment; I was recently expounding the virtues of delaying a horse’s training under the saddle only to come across an article last week on The Horse website talking about (race)horse performance at 2, 3 and 5 years related to lesions.

The cause was at that moment of little interest, the age of the horses was. Should we be riding at such immature ages?

Despite being worlds apart, the racehorse industry and the home-hack do have one main thing in common, the wish to turn their beautiful horse into a beautiful rideable horse as soon as possible. After all, most of us don’t just want to look at our horse…

There is plenty of motivation to start early too. In dressage, there is a minimum age at which a horse may compete; according to FEI regulations for international dressage competition, it is six years but for many national events, the rules are different with the minimum age being as low as three. And when one considers horse-racing, the ages are even lower – the racing of two-year-olds is quite commonplace which requires them to be saddled up for the first time when they are not much older than 1½.

For the professional trainer and owner, it is all a question of money. Often the horse is – or can become – quite valuable. Keeping a horse costs money (ironically, for the owners of such horses, it is often just a fraction of their earnings) and the natural desire is to see the horse earn its keep as soon as possible. And eventually, a racehorse can be put out to stud and earn yet more that way – these days not even needing to attain a respectable age with the ability to freeze sperm – but the health of the horse is never the greatest consideration.

So what about the mere mortals of this world? Most horse owners will agree that a horse should not be ridden until it is about 4 years old. A respectable age, one could say; the horse is obviously no longer a foal and is more likely to grow outwards than upwards. However, the growth plates are still a long way off being closed. The last plates will close somewhere between 5½ and eight years old – and it is specifically these growth plates that are found in the back of the horse – all 32 of them!

Most growth plates lie across the weight bearing plane – think of knees, ankles, shoulders etc. – and are less affected by the carriage of weight. But the growth plates in the back lie parallel to the weight bearing plane whereby the back is easily streched and thus can suffer under the weight of the rider.

skeleton of the horseTo clarify, this is the order and the approximate age at which the growth plates close up:

1. Birth: distal phalanx (coffin bone)

2. Birth and six months: middle phalanx

3. Between six months and 1 year: proximal phalanx

4. Between 8 months and 1½ years: metacarpals/metatarsals (cannon bones)

5. Between 1½ and 2½ years: carpal bones

6. Between 2 and 2½ years: radius-ulna

7. Between 2½ and 3 years: ulna/femur, section that carries weight above the radius; tibia

8. Between 3 and 3½ years: humerus; bottom part of the femur

9. Between 3 and 4 years: pelvis begins to close, beginning with the extremities of the ischium, ilium and sacrum

10. Between 3½ and 4 years: lower part (that carries weight) of the scapula (shoulderblade)

; top neck vertebrae

12. From 4 years: tarsal bones then the growth plates between fibula and tibia (not without reason that 18th century literature forbade ploughing, crossing of deep mud and jumping for young horses)

13. Between 5½ and 8 years: vertebrae (the larger the horse and the longer the neck, the longer it takes for the growth plates to close up. For stallions, add another six months: this means a “warmblood” horse of about 17hh will not be fully grown until 8 years old.)

Of course, all this does not mean that we cannot do anything with our horses until they are eight, but it should certainly set us thinking about our training schemes.

For the professional horseworld, time is loss – except the economics are not taken into account. Maybe not so interesting for the racehorse owner – his horse is often little more than a money factory – but certainly for the livery and riding school owners. In much of Europe, the average age of a riding school horse is horrifically low and the general life-expectancy shows no correlation with what a horse should (healthily) be able to reach. Based upon the size of the animal and the size and rate of its heart etc., the horse has a potential life-expectancy of 50 years. Realistically a little lower at around 40 to 43 years. But a horrific number of horses has already been written off by the age of 20 – imagine writing off people when they get to 38 or 40…

Take a look at the table below – and decide for yourself which of the two columns fits your way of thinking best:

Begin training 3 years 7 years
Full potential 7 years 10 years
End “useful” life 18 years 35 years
Total work period 15 years? 25 years

Just by delaying the moment we start to ride by just 3 years, we can win 10 years in “useful” life. It makes you think…

 

Growth plate information: Timing and rate of skeletal maturation in horses, Dr Deb Bennett, 2005
“Useful Life” table: based on observations by Pierre Enoff, bio-mechanical engineer
Original article published in Dutch: http://www.kobolt.nl/gezondheid/leeftijd-bij-inrijden/   https://sabots-libres.eu/site/engagement/2013/leeftijd-bij-inrijden/

Jun 072013
 

O-Master in proper collectionProper collection is the most efficient way for a horse to carry itself (and also to move). A horse can only collect itself. We cannot force a horse into collection.

Only after I have started my internship at Taonara (Belgium), have I learned what proper collection really means and how it woks scientifically. I also learned the concept of contra collection (by the courtesy of Josepha Guillaum – see article Collection (1)) and finally understood why I always felt like I could not collect the school horses (nor any other horse I ever rode), until now.

I feel that it is time to share my new insights with my readers.

In order to fully understand what I mean with the concept of collection, it is important that you read both parts of the article collection. And please, feel free to comment. I am curious in what you have to say on this topic!

Let me start this article in the same was as I have started the former article Collection (1): Concept and Contra Concept, by trying to define collection.

Definitions of collection:

Wikipedia defines collection as “when a horse carries more weight on his hind legs than on his front legs”. As I have Weight-bearingalready explained in the former article, this understanding of collection is simply wrong. The horse carries around 55% of his weight on the forehand (neck and head), and approximately 45% by the hindquarters. But, these numbers of weight-bearing change constantly, depending on what the horse is doing. When it rests, with the head lowered towards the ground, and one hind leg cocked up, there is more weight on the forehand. However, when it flees there is more weight shifted towards the hind-end (100% weight bearing on the hind legs is achieved when the horse rears). In the picture on the right side, you can actually really see how much weight is one the horse’s forehand (nicely underlined/brought out by the “rider” leaning forwards as well).

Another definition I found was stated in the article Definition Collect, Collection by K. Blocksdorf. This definition states that collection is

When a horse can carry more of its weight on its hindquarters than on the forelegs when ridden or driven. His back will be raised as he engages his stomach muscles. He will be flexing at the poll and will carry himself lightly. This makes the impulsion that comes from the hindquarters much greater (…). The horse can be more easily maneuvered and can carry a rider with greater ease. The horse will reach further underneath its body with its hind legs making stops and turns much more precise.

Overall, I must say that I like this definition a lot, except for the beginning, since it reminds me of the Wikipedia definition. To me, it has many of the most important elements mentioned in collection. Just compare the bullet points below on collection with this definition, and you will find that there actually are a lot of overlaps.

Why do we want collection?

Proper collection is necessary for the horse to carry itself as well as the rider in the most efficient way. Horses are not made for carrying around riders on their back. They must be trained to do so, in order to not break down or get injuries from that. A rider doesn’t only put some extra weight on the horse, but also ads pressure. The horse tries to avoid this pressure by hollowing its back and tense the back muscles (very bad for the horse! And again contra collection!). Another thing that happens when a rider goes on the horse, is that the horse’s balance is disturbed; for a flight animal this can have sever (fatal) consequences. So, before we can even think of collection, we must first teach the horse to stay relaxed, and then to raise his back, and only then can we really start working on proper collection.

Branderup on a properly collected horse

Furthermore, collection is necessary to get the horse to use its body properly, especially when we ask the horse to do something unnatural, i.e. carrying around a rider on his back. Often, the horse hallows its back and tends to fall on his forehand. From this, many injuries can result, especially relating to the back, the head and neck, as ell as the forehand.

Unfortunately, horses are most often not trained in a proper manner and will carry the rider wrong and are usually even taught to perform in contra collection (and even Rollkur). Have you never wondered why there are so many crippled horses coming out of the professional riding disciplines?

So, all things considered, proper collection helps the horse to carry itself and us properly, insures safty of horse and rider, improves any type/discipline of riding, and is a necessity for maintining a healthy horse.

this YouTube video shows a nice way of a high form of collection with the rider

What is proper collection?

Proper collection can be observed most often when the horse runs around freely in the field. Collection occurs (in the wild) when the horse feels in danger, intimidates rivals, fight, flight, imponieren (marries or opponents), and when playing around.

Proper collection has to do with energy, the ego and balance of a horse.

  • In collection, the energy of the horse is collected. When you look at a horse in proper collection (especially the Spanish breeds), than you can really see the energy contained in a horse. In Spanish bull fights for example one can see a lot of truly collected horses full of nearly overflowing energy! One of the most important (pre)conditions for collection related to energy, is impulsion, which can basically be described as energy coming from the hindquarters (moving the horse forward). Impulsion leads to the engagement of the hindquarters. The hind legs are brought deeper underneath the body and for the rider it feels like riding “uphill” instead of “down-hill”.
  • It is important to notice that a horse can only collect itself. We cannot force a horse to collect itself. We can only aid, but we cannot enforce. In order for a horse to want to collect itself, it must feel good about itself – the ego must be pushed (by us) and we will get a horse that wants to present itself to us. In my internship, I have firstly been really introduced to horses that truely feel good about themselves and that love to collect! It is amazing. So, in order to be able to achieve collection, the horse needs strength, flexibility, balance and proprioception, and not to forget, self-confidence and the desire to do so. So it’s not all about pumping muscles, it’s also about the nervous system, comfort and motivation.
  • Collection also has a lot to do with balance. In order for a horse to be collected, it must foremost be balanced – with or without a rider. For a horse it is of necessity to be balanced at all times, otheriwse a predator might have an easy dinner, for the horse cannot run away properly.

In this YouTube video, all of the aspects mentioned above, and the bulletin points underneath can be observed!

Bulletin Points

I have also tried to note down some of the most important things happening in collection:

  • Higher erection of the neck

  • Vertebral column arches upward

  • Collection au natural

    Flexion at the poll

  • Vertical head position

  • Withers come upwards

  • Free and light shoulders

  • Usage of “stomach muscles”/abs

  • Ribcage is lifted up

  • Usage of upper line neck and back muscle (nuchal ligament is contracted)

  • Longissimus dorsi can move freely

  • Get the back up

  • Collection au natural

    The pelvis tilts

  • Engagement of the hindquarters

  • Setting the hind legs under – Stepping in under the body

  • Shorter, higher strides

  • Lowering of the hind leg joints

  • Freely moving tail

  • “Shorter body”

It is important to note that all of these things are interconnected and interrelated. This is due to the horse (bio)mechanics.

More detailed explanations

In this section, I will briefly elaborate on some of the bulletin points mentioned above and try to make the connections between them clear.

  • The joints – hip, knee, hock and pastern – are always bent to a degree, which leads to shock-absorbing movements. This bend affects the forehand as well, since, due to the bending of the joints in the hindquarters, the croup is slightly lowered, which in turns arches the spine slightly upward and thus raises the forehand. This increased flexion of the joints during the weight bearing phase, is a prerequisite for impulsion. (See above – energy/impulsion). The forehand of a horse should not be forgotten though, since it is pushed up by the muscles of the shoulder the chest and also somewhat the neck muscles.
  • A horse uses his abs to support the arch of the back and the croup.
  • The base of the neck is lifted and the upperline muscles are contracted. The nose drops towards the vertical
  • The tail of the horse should be slightly arched (neither tucked in, nor overtly sticking out) in a horizontal line and then fall down freely, moving gently from side to side.

Levade, the highest form of collection

Levade, with rider

Conclusion

I would like to end my article with a quote by the old (horse) master Xenophon:

If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, then, one directs the horse to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for having been ridden.

Finally, one of the nicest videos on collection I have seen so far:

References:

http://horsemanpro.com/articles/collection.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collection_(horse)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml (read this article for a bio-mechanic explanation!)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml

http://www.josepha.info/ (article contra collection)

http://www.pferdemeldungen.de/2011/10/hin-und-weg-von-der-losgelassenheit_1853.html

http://todayshorse.com/what-is-collection/

http://horses.about.com/od/glossaryofhorsetermsc/g/collection.htm

Pictures:

Youtube.com

http://www.youtube.com/user/TaonaraTV#p/u/3/IbHXw7Sj8K4 (Taonara – O-Master)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDJPDfwidVc&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMB0QTDbNjU&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAWjTnFqVvA&feature=related

 

Originally published on Stéphanie Kniest’s blog Homo Equus: http://lilith16.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/collection-2-proper-collection/

Jun 072013
 

I believe that one of the most important things to pay attention to when training horses is proper collection.  This concept is probably the most misunderstood concept among a large number of (professional) riders. When I turn on the TV and watch a dressage show, or go into a barn and watch people riding, what I encounter most often is a wrong form of collection  and/or not even an attempt to collect the horse at all. Thus, in either case no collection whatsoever.

 

Definitions of collection

The first thing one usually does when trying to find out about a certain subject is googeling it and usually ending up at Wikipedia. Wikipedia claims that collection is “ when a horse carries more weight on his hind legs than on his front legs” (Wikipedia.com). This statement, even though it is heard most commonly when we talk about collection, is not correct! The horse cannot carry more weight on the forehand than on the hind legs, because in the front of a horse are the neck and the head located. I think that this mistaken statement has arisen due to the fact that it might look like the horse carries less weight on the forehand. This happens because the front legs of the horse are raised, while the pelvis of the horse tilts down (see section proper collection for a more detailed explanation). Another definition works out better: “Collection is the bringing together of both ends of the horse for the purpose of lifting and lightening the forehand”(TodayHorse.com). In this definition, one of the main goals of proper collection, the lightening of the forehand, is brought forward, without implying anything about physical weight being carried on the forehand.

Contra-Collection

Before I will explain what proper collection is (in my next post – the article got really long all of the sudden when I was writing it, so I had to divide it in two posts), I will first introduce the opposite: contra collection. This term has been introduced by a dear friend of mine Josepha Guillaume. Much of my understanding of contra collection (and collection in general) is actually derived from her cliniques and her horses (all of them teaching me a lot). By understanding what contra-collection is (and how it comes about), I feel that one can more easily understand and even better value true collection. To make the connection more clear in the text, the contra-collection aspects are written in bold letters, while the opposite aspects of proper collcetion are written in italics.

Our fault

In my opinion, contra collection has to do with how a horse is being ridden. I believe that it is only because of us that a horse will ever walk in contra collection.Young, untrained horses for example mainly walk in their natural, horizontal balanceContra collection happens when the horse is ridden from “front to back” instead of from “back to front”, or in other words, when the horse pulls himself forward with the forehand (rather than pushing himself with the hindquarters).

Our fault of emplyoing aids

Often some form of “aids”, such as draw reins, running martingales, or tiedowns are applied to force the horse’s neck down. The problem is that all of these so called “aids” strengthen those very muscles that raise the horse’s head and drop the base of his neck. Thus, the horse ends up being even more high-headed and more restive with tighter back and loins muscles, than before.

What exactly happens when we tie a horse down?

  • By pulling the horse’s head down, we distort the balance system of the horse (which, just like in humans, is located between the ears). The horse actually feels like it will fall over; in order to prevent this from happening, it tries to pull its head up again (the lower neck muscle is contracted(rather than the topline neck muscle). This also leads to a contracted back muscle (raher than a relaxed back muscle), which disturbs the horse’smovement and leads to unrhtymic gaits (rather than a rhtymic gait). Furthermore, it starts to fall on his forehand in order to not fall on his nose (muscles are contracted) (rather than a light forehand).
  • By employing a strong hand or aids, the horse is forced into specific frame, which will produce, among other things, a shortened and stiff stride(rather than bent properly the joints of his legs), in which the horse’sshoulders aren’t raised.Furthermore, the hind legs will come out behind the horse and the front legs will be set more underneath the horse (rather than having the hind legs deeper underneath the body). Also, the back of the horse drops down (rather than being raised upward).
  • Also, the horse will probably flex his neck at the centerline (rather than at the poll), which leads the horizontal/straight line to rotate downward in the front (rather than rotate upward). The horse will carry the weight on the forehand with the longissimus dorsi, the shoulders, the lower neck muscles and the front legs. A horse that has been rideen in such manner has a very specific composition: the lower neck buldges outward, there is an unnatural bend on the topline of the neck(extreme S shape), the shoulders are heavily developed while there islittle muscle on the hind legs nor on the topline of the neck, the withers are tugged in and the longissuímus dorsi is so tense that the horse cannot maintain proper rhytem in the gaits.

For a better understanding

I was reading through my article and I feel that it might be helpful to introduce a movie that explains the horse’s anatomy. So, here we go:

Movie 1

Movie 2 (is a video of images on the horse’s anatomy – like you would find in a book)

If you know any other helpful movies, please feel free to comment and introduce those =)

It is always useful when exploring the concept of collection to deepen one’s knoweldge in the horse anatomy. Just buy a book on horse anatomy (for example Gerd Heuschmann – If horses could speak)

Examples

I would like to briefly introduce two examples. in the first example I will explain what happens when the horse’s neck is forced down, while the second example very briefly explains what happens if the horse’s neck is forced too much upward.

If the horizontal line falls to the front (the bit is underneath the hip line) and the horse is asked (usually with spurs) to engage his hind legs by placing them well underneath the body, than the horse’s back will be pressured upward, leaving the hind legs lightened (total opposite of the proper collection). This will also result in the horse’s energy to be waste by him trying the reach the ground and lose balance.

Another example, opposite of lowering the head, is erecting the head. In this case, the horse doesn’t adequately bend his joints in the hind legs and the back becomes pressured downwards.

In neither one example can proper collection be achieved.

Effects of contra collection

–> All in all, what happens is thus the exact opposite of collection, hence the name: contra-collection.

Horses that have been ridden in contra collection for a long time have all the opposite muscles of proper collection well developed and trained. Thus, it is a long way to restore and built up the riight muscles for proper collection (but usually possible)

Also, this form of contra collection will, in the end, lead to pain and injuries of the horse (especially the neck and the forehands, as well as the back). Examples are sore stifles, sore back, kissing spine syndrome, lameness, and all sorts of front end problems.

Click here to check out some really good pictures that help you understand the problematical parts.

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…to be continued…

References:

http://horsemanpro.com/articles/collection.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collection_(horse)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml (read this article for a bio-mechanic explanation!)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml

http://www.josepha.info/ (article contra collection)

http://www.pferdemeldungen.de/2011/10/hin-und-weg-von-der-losgelassenheit_1853.html

http://todayshorse.com/what-is-collection/

Bilder:

YouTube.com

(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47SHPAe0s0k

(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fITBkQOFuBo&feature=related

 

Originally published on Stéphanie Kniest’s blog Homo Equus: http://lilith16.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/collection-1-concept-and-contra-concept/