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Regional, Monthly All-Breed Horse Magazine
Distributed throughout the Greater Rockies Since 1993

 

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Copyright 2010 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

From the Horse's Point of View

By Kathy Bennett

 

June 2010 Issue

 

     If a horse could look in the mirror and analyze his performance, I doubt he’d question his lead-changing technique or his talents for a good stop, anymore than we’d have to ask ourselves how to walk. The horse is more concerned about where the pressure is  and what to do about it.

     The horse reacts to his world from where he sees it, and he sees it through his own eyes, not ours. While we are busy developing our horsemanship skills, the horse is simply being himself. Seeing the horse through his own eyes adds dimension to our communication. The horse is driven by instinctive and natural responses. He filters everything through his horse brain and it is up to us to tune ourselves into his channel.

     From the horse’s point of view, certain things are important to him — comfort, simplicity, consistency, pressure, release from pressure, and where is dinner?

     Comfort is as important to the horse as it is to any living creature. He will seek the comfortable way out and, if an option is open to him that gets him away from pressure, he will take it. A comfortable horse feels safe to operate within an established set of rules — rules that conform to his natural response system and satisfies his desire to understand what we want from him.

     The push-button horse is really a horse that is comfortable. He knows that he is rewarded when he responds to the rider. He has learned to seek his reward and reacts to more and more subtle cues in expectation of that reward.

     Simplicity is how the horse’s mind must process information. He is mentally equipped to find simple and well-presented solutions to problems. Even the most complicated actions will be smooth and graceful if presented to the horse with simplicity in mind. Complicated actions, therefore, must be broken down into a succession of distinct and simple cues. For example, a rollback is a stop, a turn, and a canter.

     The language between the horse and rider is anchored in the consistency of basic horsemanship. Without consistency, his power to associate our specific cues with his specific actions is lost. Consistency, therefore, reinforces the response-reward expectations that are set up during training. The horse is trainable because he is able to use his power of association to remember how his actions give him relief from the pressure of our cues. If we suddenly change the rules, the horse will be lost in space trying to figure it out.

     Inconsistency confuses the horse. How can we expect him to figure things out if the answers keep changing? Inconsistency leads the horse to distrust his rider, lose confidence, and become unpredictable.

     The horseman’s “aids” — voice, hands, weight/seat, and legs — use consistent forms of pressure and release from pressure to speak to the horse. Following is a brief overview of these aids.

 

     The voice is distinguished from normal conversation by its tone. Tone influences meaning. Screaming and screeching, “Easy! Easy!” conveys excitement by the tone, which is opposite to the meaning of the words. The effective voice is clear, direct and spoken to the horse in a low, deep tone.

     Through training, the horse can be taught to recognize a limited number of specific words and to associate them with a specific response. For example, “Whoa” means to stop. It does not mean slow down; it means stop. If the word is always associated with the action of a stop, the horse will learn what the word means. But if the word sometimes means stop, sometimes means slow down, or whatever… the inconsistency will confuse the horse and the word will become meaningless to him.

 

     The hands communicate with the horse through the reins. The purpose of the rein cue is to inform the horse of upcoming action, act as a barrier, and guide the direction of travel. If used correctly, the communication with the horse’s mouth can be as subtle as a mere shift in the bit’s balance.

     Soft hands feel the horse’s mouth. Soft hands never grab a horse by surprise, but make contact first by taking out the slack. The time between contact and action of the reins is a mere second long, but it makes a difference to the horse. If the initial contact is not made before the application, the horse will suffer from surprise. In self defense, he becomes either nervous or hardened against you.

 

     The rider’s legs should be kept under control. If the legs flop and bump the horse, he will become insensitive to them. The legs are responsible for controlling the horse’s hindquarters, where action begins. The hindquarters are the horse’s engine, the driving force for movement.

 

     Weight and leg cues work together to tell the horse the direction and speed you want to go. The weight aid is how the rider uses his body and seat. The rider sits over the center of balance and a shift in weight asks the horse to shift his weight, too. The weight-shift cue tells the horse to relocate his base of support to keep synchronized with the rider. For example, if the rider shifts his weight to cue for a stop, the horse supports the stop by shifting his weight toward his hindquarters, and stops.

     The center of balance is like the center of a teeter-totter. When a rider sits at that center there is very little motion, no matter how high either end of the board goes. The farther away from center you sit, the more motion you feel and the more effort it takes to stay with that motion.

     The basic aids do not change as refinements in horsemanship and training take place. The basic aids become refined as the rider learns to use them.

 

     The aids are applied in this order:

 

1) Prepare the horse to listen (contact)

 

2) Tell the horse what to do (cue/pressure)

 

3) Reward the horse for proper action (release from pressure)

 

The trained horse expects and understands this sequence.

     If a person snuck up behind you, suddenly shoved you over and yelled, “Get out of my way,” you’d have a different reaction than if the person touched your shoulder and said, “Excuse me.”

     When we prepare the horse to listen (contact), we say, “Excuse me.” We claim his attention. When the horse is prepared, the responds much better because he is listening for the cue, expecting it.

     For example: lifting the reins to make contact is like someone tapping you on the shoulder. Lifting the reins says, “Hey, pay attention, the cue is coming.” When the horse is prepared, he will ask, “Now what?” It is up to us to listen for the horse’s question, and answer it.

     With practice, the rider develops a sense for the point of response from the horse and only applies just enough pressure to get to that point, then allows the horse to complete the action. The horse is rewarded for his actions when the rider releases the pressure. This tells the horse he has done the right thing and encourages him to do it again.

     The trained horse expects and understands this sequence and it allows him to make choices. This system respects the horse’s desire to seek comfort; we simply make our requests appear to be the most comfortable choice to him. If the sequence is changed, the horse becomes frustrated and confused.

     The connection between our desire and the horse’s performance is the level of communication we have with him and our ability to influence his actions. We don’t teach the horse to make lead changes; he knows how, he does them all the time. And when he wants to stop, he does, and it’s all very simple for him. The horse is not busy theorizing about these things. He is just being himself and wants his own needs met.

     If the horse’s need for comfort, simplicity, and consistency are met, there will be a rapport that satisfies both the horse and the rider, a partnership of mutual understanding and respect. It is when we meet the horse’s needs that the connection is made and we have communication and influence over him.

Copyright 2010 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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