Hello all my Sweethearts! (It is Valentine’s month, you know!)
January was a crazy month! –Lots of traveling including a seminar for the folks at Top Dog Training in NJ (You dog guys rock!), the USEF Youth convention in Kentucky, and a seminar at St Andrews College in N.C. I’m meeting lots of interesting new people, horses, and dogs!
Get this! My longtime, dear friend, event-diva, Jane Hamlin told me about a Christmas present her students gave her. I thought you might enjoy it. Here’s what she wrote, “My students gave me a toolbox for Christmas. Inside there was a chocolate bar between two pieces of white bread-a reminder to “sandwich” your horse with your aids and also to be black and white with your aids. Horses understand “black and white” much better than gray. There was also a rubiks cube to remind you to figure out the puzzle to correct the problem. There was foot scrub for relaxation. And a small box to remind me of the exercise where we ride a box and knock our horse’s shoulders around each corner to make the shoulders more supple. There was more in the toolbox, but the point was to use the tools in your toolbox to train your horse. Cool huh?
Live Your Dreams!
BENIGN ANTAGONISM-PART 3 GETTING YOUR HORSE TO BEND
Okay. I’m back to my series on “Benign Antagonism”. Remember, benign antagonism is just a training philosophy that allows you to custom design a program for each and every horse. It simply means that you kindly and quietly do the opposite of whatever your horse chooses to do on his own. For example, if your horse likes to carry his head too high, then you ride him “deep”. If he likes to put his head on the ground, then you ride him “up”. If your horse likes to go too fast, then you work him in a slow tempo.
So, in part 3, I’m going to talk about horses that have trouble bending in one direction. Few horses are ambidextrous-meaning they can bend as easily to the right as to the left. So, you’ll use benign antagonism to make your horse’s soft side more “stiff” and his stiff side more “soft” and bendable.
How Do I Make the Stiff Side “Softer”?
Riders tend to think that the stiff side is the “bad” side because it feels harder for them to bend their horses when that side is on the inside. But you need to think outside the box. The stiff side is not the problem. Your horse feels stiff on one side because the muscles on the other side of his body are shortened and contracted. Those shortened muscles limit how much he can stretch and bend around your other leg.
So, let’s say your horse is stiff (hard, strong) to the right. The benign antagonism solution to this problem is to stretch the shortened muscles on the left side by riding your horse with too much bend when you track to the right. In schooling, you’ll live in “right bend” until you feel the muscles on his left side elongate. (You’ll know those muscles are stretching because it’ll feel easier to bend your horse to the right.)
Here’s an exercise to gently stretch and elongate the muscles on the left side (the hollow side) of your horse’s body. Track to the right for this exercise.
· If your horse is really stiff, do the exercise in the walk.
· Go on a large circle to the right.
· Pick a point somewhere along the arc of the circle, and turn onto a 6-meter circle.
· While on the small circle, think about your bending aids. (Put your weight on your right seat bone, keep your right leg on girth, place your left leg behind girth, flex your horse to the right by turning the key in the lock with your right wrist, and support with your left hand.)
· Ride the 6-meter circle a couple of times until your horse’s body conforms to its arc.
· Once he’s bending, keep applying the 6-meter bending aids, but blend back onto the 20-meter circle,
· If it gets difficult for your horse to stay bent this much to the right, blend back onto a 6-meter circle. The idea is to ride the 20-meter circle with a 6-meter bend.
· Once you can do this on a circle, try riding straight down the long side with your horse bent as if he’s on the arc of a 6-meter circle. (The feeling is a bit like doing shoulder-in in front and haunches-in behind at the same time.)
How Do I Make the Hollow Side “Stiffer”?
The flip side of this “stiff to the right” issue is that your horse will be hollow or soft to the left. You might think his soft side is his “good” side because he feels easier to bend, but the hollow side of your horse needs help as well. On the hollow side, your horse usually doesn’t have true bend-equal from poll to tail. He usually overbends his neck to the inside and places his inside hind leg to the inside of his line of travel. By doing so, he can avoid bending the joints of his inside hind (engagement). He doesn’t carry as much weight on that hind leg. As a result, that leg gets weaker, and he develops unevenly.
My benign antagonism solution for this problem is to ride without any bend at all when the hollow side is on the inside. Keep your horse as straight as he is on the long side even when you go through corners and circles. Think that his body is like a bus that can’t bend on turns.
· So, let’s say your horse’s hollow (soft, weak) side is his left side. When circling to the left, ride without any bend at all. Keep his body as straight as a bus.
· To get a perception of straightness, halt somewhere on the long side. Make your horse’s body parallel to the long side all the way from poll to tail.
· Also, ride him either with no flexion (His chin is lined up with center of his chest.) or in counter-flexion (-1). In counter-flexion, his face will be 1 inch to the right.
· Ride through corners and circles with no bend through his body and in counter-flexion at his poll. If you ride in this position, your horse’s left hind leg will step underneath his body.
· This will make that leg stronger over time. (This exercise is only for schooling– not for competition.)
If you use this philosophy of benign antagonism, you’ll find that you rarely get stuck solving training issues. Invite your horse to do the opposite of what he chooses to do on his own until it becomes easy for him. Once that happens, settle back into a happy medium.
ARE YOU READY TO TRAIN A HAPPY HORSE?
As you know, I’ve been knocking myself out to get this course ready for you. Primarily, I want to give those of you who are confused, frustrated, or live far from an instructor a simple training program to follow.
But I had another big reason why I wanted to get this program together for you. I’m passionate about a lot of things. And right up at the top of my list are trainers who treat horses badly.
Would you be shocked to know that there are professionals out there who resort to harsh tactics, shortcuts, and gadgets either because they feel pressure to produce results or because they lack the knowledge to train any other way?
What’s even more distressing to me is that unsuspecting riders work with them because there’s no one else in their area. Or impressionable young riders apprentice themselves to these “trainers” because they see them win in the show ring. People think these professionals must be doing something right because they get “results”.
And then, of course, there are lots of well-meaning riders who love their horses, but unknowingly use poor training techniques. These methods are used either because you just lack the information and tools to do things in a better way, or because you’re doing what someone has taught you to do (Don’t beat yourself up. You can only do what you’ve been taught to do!).
Do you squeeze with your legs every stride just to keep your horse going?
Do you “jiggle” or “saw” on the reins to put him on the bit?
Do you raise your hands and lift your horse’s head up to get him “off his forehand”?
Do you run your horse off his feet really fast because someone has told you that that’s the way to ride him “forward”?
Do you crank his head to the left and right to supple him and “get him to listen”?
Do you pull on the reins to ask for a downward transition?
Do you unknowingly ride with “inelastic” elbows that discourage your horse from going forward?
Do you use gadgets to get his head down?
Do you overbend your horse’s neck to one side and hold it there until he “gives” and feels “soft”?
Do you confuse connection with collection?
Do you use spurs to make your horse go forward rather than using them so you can be more delicate and refined with your driving aids?
But here’s the great news: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! You can only do what you’ve been taught to do. All you have to do is educate yourself so you don’t unintentionally go down the wrong road with your horse.
If you’re ready to learn how to train a happy horse, go to http://janesavoie.com/shop/a_happy_horse.htm
HORSES AS HEALERS CONTEST
The second place winner in the Horses as Healers contest is Gail Stainbank from South Africa. Here’s her story about Harry. (You can read the first place winner’s story about Saint Tonto in last month’s newsletter on my blog https://janesavoie.wordpress.com/)
When Harry Flashman came into my life, as a 4yr thoroughbred just off the track, things seemed idyllic – at last once again I had my own horse, and my passion for dressage could be realized. I fell in love with him as soon as I saw him. And despite the fact that he could not walk, I loaded him up and took him home!! He has been my companion and joy ever since – through the good times, the bad times, and the rebuilding times.
Then, my life did an about turn – suddenly a 25-year marriage was over and I was reeling from it. I found myself with nothing. I was told that the horses must also go. I held onto Harry and his inseparable companion Crystal Reward (my daughter’s horse). At this time I was also introduced to Natural Horsemanship. The concept was one that I had lived by, but now it was validated. I was not in a fit state to ride so I played with Harry, and I started learning to respond to him. He has such a sense of humor and a very strong play drive. He has been the constant while I have started to rebuild my life. He has been my refuge for the last 6 years.
18 months ago I woke up to a young man standing over me holding a screwdriver above his head. I tried to scream, and he threatened to kill me. I knew he meant it. He chose not to kill me but rather to rape me in the most brazen way. I was in shock and cut off from myself totally – I could not even cry. And this is where Harry came to the rescue. The divorce and now the rape somehow took away my sense of self, my belief in my abilities. It was like a regression. I could no longer do things I used to do easily.
Over the next couple of weeks, Harry became quiet and absorbed. I could not feel for him in any way. (He is the leader of the herd and likes to be in a position of dominance.) He would just stand by me ever so quietly–no pushing, no asking for attention. I responded by just feeling safe in his company.
A kinesiologist, organized before the rape, came to see our horses. She knew nothing of the rape, but her first remark to me was, “Harry is crying, but not his tears. They are for you!!!” My friends, who were with me, were all in tears. She talked to me about needing to let Harry know how I feel.
Over the early period after the rape, I just used that time with Harry to share my feelings, and somehow he showed me he understood. When I rode him, I could not make a connection at all with my body. He was amazing. He will usually find anything to spook at! He remained quiet and solid. He was my rock while I slowly started to rebuild.
How long does it take to get over a rape? I don’t know. But what I do know now is that my best therapist is Harry. When I become detached, he somehow firmly brings me back together. He plays with me as we walk from the paddock to feeding and, without fail, makes me laugh and lifts my spirit. He has been the most awesome, precious gift.
I have a horse with loads of potential but have been struggling to get a saddle to fit, as she is quite wide. The result is that although she has a naturally long trot stride (the most beautiful pace to ride when she is relaxed!!) her canter is a disaster (saddle blocking the shoulder!)!! After reading your canter tips, I rode her this morning just to do a bit of walk and trot (I haven’t ridden her in a week and am still adjusting to the new saddle!!). At the end of some good trot figure eights I did the walk exercise you suggested and noticed that I tend to let go the outside rein. I took up the trot and came around and asked for the canter. It was one of the best canter transitions she has ever given me and instead of the usual tipping over onto the forehand. She was up and beautiful. After about 5 strides I stopped her and ended it!! I think the walk exercise helped me more to feel how I should be sitting and giving the aid, and I tried to keep that feeling in the canter.
I just wanted to thank you – I’m sure you know how great the feeling is when you and your horse get that one thing right – no matter how small, you may as well have just won the Grand Prix!!
You have helped me with my rising five Belgium warmblood, who was extremely sharp, and I had lost my confidence completely! I am having her professionally schooled as I have never taken on a young horse before and didn’t want to spoil her. She is growing up now (I have had her a year but have taken training slowly) I took on your five steps to overcome fear and it worked extremely well. I am now riding her in walk, trot and canter and hacking her out. It is such a joy now as I feel we have a bond that is growing in strength. She is delightful in the stable, loves being clipped out, farrier, traveling in the horsebox, etc So many, many thanks for giving me the confidence to ride again and bring joy back into my life.
In fact, I have passed your site onto another livery that has arrived at our yard that is experiencing the same problems with her four year old.
Norma Scott, England, 64 years young and still going strong.
“Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and, once it has done so, he will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
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