Thursday, April 30, 2009

Video as promised.

Ok, here is a very quick and dirty, (perhaps too dirty) video on how I think a horse should lead.  It incorporates a quick test to see if the horse is sufficiently halter broke, (in my opinion) to learn to load into a trailer.  Only trouble is, my horse failed the test.  Bummer.  But of course, that just means that I will eventually have to make another video showing how I fix the problem, and eventually one where she passes the test.  Enjoy, and let me know if you want videos on any particular aspect.  If it's in my power to deliver, I will.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The Golden Principle

As different trainers attempt to codify various training principles, the desire to arrive at the “Golden Principle” from which all other principles are derived, is natural.

For the Enlightened Rider, the Golden Principle is that:

A Horse and Rider should be Partners

This most basic and fundamental concept provides the foundation for just about all the other principles from “Don’t ask a trying horse to try.” to “Be clear and consistent”.

When embarking upon a business venture, the most common advice anyone will give is “Do Not Engage in Partnerships”. This advice would seem to fly in the face of what the Golden Principle of Horsemanship might prescribe. But that well meaning advice is given because of the startling statistics that reveal how many partnerships fail; an unfortunate statistic that is shared by so many riders.

In fact, partnerships are paradoxical in the sense that they are very well understood and defined by all parties involved and yet, they are so poorly practiced. Anyone will quickly tell you that a partnership involves compromise, a sharing of responsibilities, a free exchange of opinions, a clear definition of roles, and delegation of various authorities. And yet they are seldom capable of a daily demonstration.

Resolving this paradox is beyond the scope of this text. However, it is important to note that when talking about a partnership, it is vital that one practice as well as preach. The Enlightened Rider will recognize that since the horse will always be no more than a junior partner, the human must be the one who must accept all the blame for a failed relationship.

Accepting Blame Means

Being Willing to Change AND take Direction

A Partnership implies two or more separate entities working harmoniously toward a common goal. Harmony implies that there should be no conflicts between horse and rider; at least none that are not easily and readily resolved. There should also be no fear or intimidation. In place of these, there should be Affection, Trust, Communication, and Leadership. These ingredients are astonishingly easy to establish with a horse. The amount of physical effort is minimal. But the mental contribution will take humility and above all, introspection.

The reason humility is an essential element for the development of a harmonious partnership is because without humility, the rider will generally not realize that there is anything wrong with the relationship. Most riders who are having difficulty with their horses seldom see the relationship as the root of their problems. Problems such as being herd bound, barn sour, difficult to mount, or jigging on the trail are really not problems. They are symptoms. And in fact, these specific issues are symptoms of a poor relationship. As I have said before, since the human is the senior partner, the responsibility for a poor relationship rests squarely on his shoulders. The humility needed to fully come to terms with this reality is often underestimated.

In my past with horses, I have often encountered difficulties. At every such encounter, I always blamed myself. Yet, I often refused to change my methods and rarely consulted experts in order to take direction. When I finally decided to take an enlightened look at my behavior, I realized that my refusal was evidence that although I was acting humble by my verbal admissions, I was only saying what I thought society expected me to say under the circumstances. I would often say things like, “well he was acting up but it was all my fault.” But by refusing to change, it was clear that I did not believe what I was saying and that I was only pretending to accept the blame. It was an illusion that I created to not only mislead others but also to fool myself. This pretense was extremely difficult for me to recognize and even now it still crops up in spite of my mental guard against it. An enlightened view of myself revealed that I was someone who was more than willing to take responsibility for my mistakes, but not willing to accept responsibility for my incompetence.

As Enlightened Riders, we must avoid this pitfall and always look at misbehavior as a symptom of a bad relationship. Furthermore, the Enlightened Rider realizes that making mistakes is a reality of life, and an acceptable condition, but willfully repeating mistakes is a symptom of arrogance that is being used to hide incompetence.

The other essential element is the power of introspection. A rider must be able to look at himself from the perspective of others, and in particular, his horse’s perspective. In order to take the necessary steps to a better relationship, the Enlightened Rider must be able to see the effects of his own actions. It is not enough to simply accept responsibility. A path to a better way must be discovered. This path can only be found through careful and honest reflection about one’s own behavior and the consequences of one’s actions.

Interacting with our horses without a harmonious partnership is nothing more than mechanical drudgery; mechanical because an extreme dependence on mechanical devices such as bits, reins, whips, and spurs will be evident in all activities;

drudgery because the horse is no more than a restrained slave under constant supervision. Under these conditions, the horse has difficulty focusing on tasks while operating in fear of his rider. At the same time, the rider has difficulty focusing on his tasks because he must remain hyper vigilant, in constant anticipation of recalcitrance. While the horse fears punishments, the rider fears disobedience. This vicious cycle of fear not only produces less than mediocre results in performance, it is also unsafe. Yet, all this can be avoided by making sure that all training principles have partnership as their ultimate goal. The best way to do this is to constantly ask yourself the question: “What am I teaching my Horse?”

In order to develop a partner, we must always be aware that whenever we are interacting with a horse, we are teaching him something. And quite often we are teaching him multiple things. As an example, a horse that is slapped for trying to rub his face on a human learns not to use humans as scratching posts (eventually). But the corollary lesson is that human hands are not to be trusted. We must always be on the alert for the corollary lessons that a horse will learn in our daily dealings with him and always ask ourselves if what we are doing will develop a partner in our horse. The corollary lessons could be very undesirable, but if we simply modify our daily dealings with horses, we might be teaching corollary lessons that render our mount a pleasure and a joy to be around. For example, if we cross tie a horse to tack him, then he learns that when he is in the cross ties it is useless to resist tacking. Another approach would have us take the horse in a small enclosure like a round pen or small arena and tack him there without tying him at all. Since we ride the horse everyday and sometimes even twice a day, we would be requiring the horse to stand quietly while we tack him. I would not expect a horse to stand quietly the first time, but by the end of a year, you will have practiced this lesson several hundred times. And in that time, he will have learned patience, ground tying, and serenity.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Trailer Loading Mistakes and How to Avoid them

Trailer Loading can be one of the most stressful and frustrating activities with a Horse. And to top it off, for many, it can be a total mystery how some people have Horses that will simply walk in, and yet, they cannot seem to help you with yours. For the most part, Horses learn to trailer load fairly early in life when they are being started by professional trainers. Occasionally you will come across a Horse that becomes difficult and as time goes on he becomes impossible. Horses like this may have had a bad

experience in a trailer like a bad driver or an accident and over time decides that he no longer

wants to load. For the most part, teaching a Horse to load should be left to professionals but there are a couple of things you should avoid doing so as not to undo the work they have accomplished. And if you have a difficult loader, there will come a time when total refusal will happen and you may have to teach your Horse from scratch. The following are the most common mistakes people make and although they make them with the best of intentions, these errors will definitely make the job considerably harder instead of easier.

Mistake 1.

Trying to teach a Horse how to load when you need to go somewhere.

People will spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years teaching their Horses how to side pass, slide stop, leg yield, pick up leads, and all manner of other movements and skills. And according to their claims, these movements are all natural movements. Yet, when it comes to teaching a large animal,

whose primary defense mechanism is speed, to confine himself into a small movable box, we expect him learn as he goes with little or no formal training in the process. It is common for us to wait until we have someplace to go, before even bothering to try and load a horse. I have done this myself on numerous occasions with embarrassing results.

In order to avoid mistake number one, resolve to spend as much time teaching a horse to load as you would the most unnatural maneuver. After all, it is the most unnatural thing you might require from a Horse.

Mistake 2.

Thinking that once a Horse has learned to load, he will load in any trailer. This is simply not true, a Horse becomes accustomed to one trailer and he may hesitate to load in a different trailer. That hesitation may elicit an unfavorable response from the handler. This may cause a second and bigger hesitation in the Horse and the vicious cycle begins until the Horse becomes nearly impossible to load. Different trailers have different configurations that will be unfamiliar to different Horses. Some are accustomed to slant loads, some to straight loads. Some are used to ramps, while others are used to step ups. All these differences will present challenges to a Horse who has never seen them.

Avoid mistake number two by treating a Horse presented with a new trailer as if he had never been loaded. If he walks right in, then that's great, but if he doesn't, be prepared to go through all the same processes you would if he had never been loaded into any trailer. It will go faster since he has been loaded before, but force yourself to think about it as if it wont. Be willing to take two hours to get it done, and it will probably take ten minutes. If you EXPECT it to take ten minutes, then it will end up taking ten days.

Mistake 3.

Trying to load a Horse when he does not have the proper tools to be loaded.

The tools a Horse needs to load properly are basic ground skills. The Horse must be properly halter broke. He needs to be easily caught, easily haltered, easily led, easily backed on the ground, and easily moved laterally on the ground. He also needs to be easily sent. Loading a Horse requires the handler to give the Horse instructions on the ground. Too often people firmly believe that a Horse understands all instructions and that the Horse is fully Halter Broke when in fact, the Horse is not. Again, people will spend inordinate amounts of time teaching a lead change or a side pass. They will dedicate specific amounts of time, days, weeks, and months to the perfection of these and many other movements. But when it comes to proper leading, and ground work, they expect the Horse to simply know it already, or learn it from osmosis over time. Very seldom do they set aside a certain amount of time every day or every week for the perfection of ground skills.

So to avoid mistake number three, perform the following test with your Horse:

1. Can you, with Halter and Lead Rope visibly IN HAND, simply walk up to your Horse in the pasture WITH other Horses and catch him by yourself without help from others and without treats? If you cannot, then your Horse is not ready to Load. It is OK to use treats to train the Horse to want to be with you more and to teach a Horse to be caught, but before you consider the Horse to be easily caught, you must be able to catch him without these incentives.

2. Can you ask the Horse to lower his head to put the Halter on? If not, the Horse is not ready to Load.

3. When the Horse is Haltered, take the Lead Rope and drape it over the BACK of your hand. Then walk off briskly. Does the Horse follow or does the Lead Rope simply slide off the back of your hand? When you walk off briskly, can you walk fast enough that your Horse needs to break into a trot to keep up and does so? After walking about 50 feet, stop. Does your Horse stop without your needing to grip the rope? After stopping, with the lead rope still draped over the back of your hand, take a few steps back. Does the Horse back up easily and willingly or do you need to grab the rope and pull. If you need to grab the rope on any of these exercises, the Horse is not ready to Load.

4. Can you lead your Horse up to a gate, and then send him through the gate ahead of you? And then ask him to turn around and come back through the gate to you? If not, the Horse is not fully Halter broke and is not ready to Load.

5. Ask your horse to stand quietly next to you. Then using your little finger, push on his side until he moves laterally. See if you can ask him to move his front end over and then his back end. If you cannot do it with just your little finger, then you need too much force and the Horse is not fully compliant. Thus, he is not fully Halter broke and is not ready to Load.

Now understand that most Horses will fail all these tests. My own included will not always pass and definitely needs refresher training. And even though most Horses will not pass the tests, they generally will Load. But for a Horse that is a tough Loader, these exercises are essential. They do not require a lot of time to teach, but they do require some dedicated time. Do NOT expect a Horse to learn these skills to this level without consistent practice over a period of several weeks and do NOT expect a newly bought Horse under the banner "Halter Broke" to pass the test either. For most people, Halter Broke simply means the Horse can be haltered under certain conditions. There is nothing wrong with this attitude, however, when you need to teach a Horse a difficult and unnatural action like Loading, make sure you have all the tools at your disposal and the job will go much more smoothly and quickly.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Basic Approach

This text covers my personal opinions on horsemanship as it pertains to the training, and riding of horses.  It is not a criticism of anyone’s methods or a promotion of my own personal techniques.  It is, instead, intended to promote a more enlightened approach to horsemanship.  An approach based, not on methods or equipment, and certainly not on technique, but on perspective and attitude.  The perspective I speak of is that of how we define our relationships with horses.  The attitude is that of deference and consideration.  If we define our relationship with horses in harmonious terms with mutual affection and respect, then we will enjoy tremendous successes with our horses.  But if we define our relationship as that of a master and servant, (or slave as the case may be) then the performance of our horses will always be forced and mechanical.  If our attitude is one that demands respect without providing the prerequisites for that kind of deference, then it is only reasonable to expect that our demand for respect will become a battle of wills.  If forced performances and constant battles are not the results we want, then a more enlightened approach is called for.  I believe that such an approach is within reach of anyone who wants to realize an extraordinary potential.

  It is important to be aware that Enlightened Horsemanship is not a series of problem solving exercises that starts with an untrained colt, and, through the judicious application of techniques, tools, and time, ends with a well trained and reliable mount.  Rather, it is a lifestyle consisting of a series of habits designed to establish, develop, and maintain a relationship between the horse and rider that can best be described as a harmonious partnership.  There are no individual or specific techniques that can accomplish this task.  Instead, the rider must understand that every movement, every activity, and every attitude, no matter how minor, bears a significant effect on the relationship.

  If the reader is a beginner to horses, I believe he will find much that is useful in this work.  However, I must apologize if many of the terms and analogies are unfamiliar.  The spirit of brevity has prevented me from engaging in lengthy explanations of common equestrian terms and practices, other than a few footnotes.   This was a conscious decision in order to avoid obfuscating the principles I hope to impart with confusing technical descriptions. The meanings of most of these terms can be gleaned from researching material presented by my predecessors.  I encourage true beginners to seek out these sources as the experience of these older horsemen will provide much better explanations than I can provide.  For the convenience of the reader, I have provided a list of books that I consider to be invaluable references for the equestrian.  This list is by no means exhaustive but it is a good start.

The practice of horsemanship is an art and a science.  By science, I mean that there are specific actions under specified conditions that can reliably produce predictable responses.  By art, I mean that the practice can, and must, be adjusted to suit not just the horse, or the rider, but the horse and rider in combination with their environment.  This is because although much of the technical requirements of a Grand Prix Dressage rider may be very similar, (or at least should be) to that of a roping cowboy, the artistic requirements can be very different.  Although the Cowboy will use many of the elements of Dressage, with full understanding of the principles, he will be able to adapt the principles to serve him and his horse in the myriad efforts faced by the working cow horse.  The breadth of this variable is infinite and therefore can never be captured within the limitations of a prescribed formula.  Furthermore, it carries with it a responsibility that is really undefined by any but the individual practitioner.

Therefore, rather than providing a list of training techniques, or a how-to text on the care and welfare of a horse, what I hope to present is a philosophical approach to horsemanship that will compliment whatever techniques we all currently use, and enhance the relationship that we have with our best friends.   The purpose of these reflections is to challenge preconceived notions we may have about horses and their handling, and to develop our relationships into a bond more powerful than any bridle and stronger than any chain. 

I can think of few pursuits as rewarding as that of improving and strengthening our relationship with horses.  But perhaps even more important than enhancing our relationships is opening our minds to change.  In changing our attitudes, we pave the way for a change in behavior.  By changing our behavior, we demonstrate our capacity to learn.  A horse’s behavior is more than a reflection of his treatment.  It is a reflection of our attitudes, our hopes, and our compromises.  It reflects our virtues and highlights our vices.  A horse at once compliments and criticizes.  When we understand this simple concept, we can then be prepared to face the harsh reality of its logical conclusion. Simply that whatever we want our horses to be, so should we first, by way of example, be.

Nothing Reveals our Character so much as our Horses


For those of you looking for answers to questions about Enlightened Horsemanship, or for those looking for answers regarding horse training, or behaviour, I hope this site will serve you well.  I will be posting different articles (and hopefully video) over time that will mostly reflect my approach and philosophy regarding the riding, care, and training of horses.

In these articles, I hope to be able to address as many areas about horsemanship as possible including ground work, trailer loading, classical dressage, natural horsemanship and anything else I can think of.

Due to time constraints, I will not be enabling comments.  No offense is intended. I just do not have the time to deal with all of it.