First, I want to say I love horses. I have for as long as I can remember. I dream, think, and talk about them all the time. My poor family has recommended I attend HA – Horse Anonymous. I am a full-fledged horse addict. Secondly, I firmly believe horses “talk” and communicate through body language, facial expressions, and their reactions to stimulus. To the trained eye it is clear when a horse is in pain or when they don’t feel good. You can tell a horse is agitated or relaxed. You can see they are excited when bringing a carrot because they are vocalize. All this is part of joy of being involved with horses. Even still, I guard myself from falling into the trap that overcomes many well-meaning horse owners and professionals. A horse’s “back story” can prevent us from doing what is best for our furry companions.
Imagine there is a horse owner…let’s call her Sue. Sue goes to purchase her dream horse. The horse is the perfect size, shape, color, temperament and passes the vet check with flying colors. It’s love at first sight. Sue can’t write the check and load the horse fast enough. On the way out, the seller tells Sue that she feels she must disclose one thing about Mr. Dreamy Horsey Pants; Mr. Dreamy was recently on a trail ride and had a bad experience with a mail truck flying down the road at an ungodly speed. Ever since, he is terrified of the mail truck but other than that is a perfect gentleman. So Sue decides, she can live with the mail truck phobia and takes him home. Now Sue loves Mr. Dreamy very much! She loves him so much she doesn’t want him to ever have to stress about the silly mail truck so she arranges for Mr. Dreamy to never see one again. Then months later, Sue is riding her bestie, Mr. Dreamy, and he shy’s from a mailbox. Sue promptly removes the mailbox for her lovey so he doesn’t have to “remember that terrible incident with the mail truck”. Sue avoids going anywhere a mailbox might be. Next, Mr. Dreamy is just having a day because it’s windy and spokes at some paper on the bulletin board. He sees it every day but today the paper is flapping in a new way. Sue assumes he is remembering the “Monster Mail Truck”. Sue bans all paper from the barn. Then all grain bags, mail people, and then anything that stresses Mr. Dreamy. Sue unintentionally feeds Mr. Dreamy fears new and old and he becomes increasingly insecure and hard to handle.
I realize this is a silly example but think about it, have you ever read too much into a behavior? Have you let your horse live with a fear instead of helping him overcome it? Has one fear turned into several? Are you tempted to rescue your horse rather than equip him?
Rescuing and avoiding affirms to the horse that he is right and it IS scary. Horses are binary, yes and no- pressure and release. Rescuing releases at the wrong time and cements the wrong answer in your horses thought process. Don’t get me wrong I know horses have some experiences they don’t just bounce from. A horse bitten by a dog is not going to feel warm and fuzzy around dogs. Severely abused horses are in a category of their own. Nonetheless, it’s our job to set them up for success to overcome fears.
What fear does your horse have that you’d like to overcome?
“a long leash and you make the horse run around you until its behaving or until its work-out is over.”
There is so much more to lunging and sometimes horse owners can miss its true purpose. I often hear, “My horse was full of it so I lunged the energy out”. Who am I kidding? My teenage-self had the same idea. Tire-out my equine companion to ensure a quiet ride. What I now know, is horses can be extremely aerobically fit from getting their ‘energy out’ and be in terrible condition for carrying a rider. Fractious behaviors riders are trying to avoid can actually become worse under saddle because the horse is in pain from improperly carrying themselves and their rider. Instead of lunging to dispose of energy, I devote much time and attention to lunging in the “zone”. My purpose is to get the horse working over their back so that they get more from the work. The goal is each horse is adequately prepared for the work I am asking including work under saddle.
What does the “zone” look like? Here is my zone checklist.
Horse respects my space and cues
Horse’s head is stretching low and out into contact with rein weight
Horse’s back hoofs are tracking up towards the front hoofs
Horse’s length of stride between front feet matches the hind
Horse’s stride is as long and equally slow and rythmic
Horse’s abdominal are flexed shown by a line horizontal on the belly
Starting from a walk, I continue to do walk work until the above are easily maintained. Once the walk is consistent I move to the trot. If the horse is unable to maintain, I return to the walk. If the horse is able, I will move on to the canter.
If you have been lungeing with unclear expectations, its not too late to apologize. Let me show you clear and kind way to work towards a better riding experience from the ground.
We are blessed to live in a day and age where we can measure the effectiveness of riding through video, digital x-rays, and thermal imaging. The buzz on both sides of the aisle, (not talking politics) English and Western disciplines is horses can achieve at their sport more fully when “working over their back”. The very obvious plus side is horses maintain their longevity even after competing in said disciplines. The unfortunate downside is there is much confusion on what working over the back is and how to best get there with your trusty equine pal. Again thanks to modern technology, there are many resources right at your finger tips! The unfortunate downside is not know where to go for reliable information. The old proof in the pudding adage did not let me down in this category. I have learned and successfully applied “Art 2 Ride” methods of classical dressage to train my eye and finally understand what it means to “work over the back”!
The photo above is a mare I started under saddle two years ago. Through consistent application of long and low work outs you can visually determine she is working over her topline. The tail-tail markers are the neck which biggest muscle resides on top rather than underneath. Also, the mares hips are in more of a sitting position. To simplify the idea, I think of it as good posture verses poor posture. The closer humans stay to neutral spin the better we are at supporting out muscles and organs. The closer the horse is to “round” the better they are able to carry their rider.
Training your eye is one thing but how do you get there? My Friend it takes time, discipline, and lots of support. I’d be happy to help you there!