Sunday, February 15, 2009

Where I'm Heading

I can't get my photo examples side by side, but I think you'll get my drift. I have a lot of reading and thinking to do with the new information I've gotten.
I understand what you guys are saying, but I have to think where it fits in to my training methods.....and my training goals.
The indirect rein of opposition cracked me up. Simply because it was a very long, detailed explanation for a fairly simple, but carefully used way of handling our reins when our horses are being ridden two-handed.
I very carefully left that one out in my opening limbering exercises for Ezra Pandora.
It is considered a powerful containment of the outside shoulder and an instant brake. Also a heavily misused aid.
We call it, "Let that rein go, you're blocking his shoulder!"
Or, "Feel his hip swing out? Then let go of that dang rein!"
I guess indirect rein of opposition also works.

What I really want to figure out is where does training end and abuse begin?
Olympic gymnasts don't look, move or react like us regular folks. They have carefully shaped bodies trained to do spectacular things beyond the realm of normal people.
There is a specific body type needed to even contemplate being a gymnast. Then the real fun begins.
Gymnasts train through pain, permanent disfigurement, psychological horrors and diets that would starve a bunny.
They are honed to focus only on the event, only on the win. Their desire to win is cultivated to the point of insanity, only rivaled to their attempt at perfection at every event, with every move.
As a gymnast progresses through the ranks, many fall by the wayside. Many start the long road to competition with huge hopes and desires and each year more fall to the wayside as those golden few finally reach the Nationals, The Olympics, the absolute top.
I had a suite-mate in college who was a junior Olympic gymnastic champion in junior high.
Claudia was the victim of her heritage. She became too tall, grew breasts, was too big-boned to continue her path to the Olympics. Keep in mind, she was 5'6 and weighed maybe 130 lbs.
She still managed a full scholarship for our no-name state school in gymnastics. We all went happily to see her first meet. She was wicked good. She won the majority of her events.
There were scouts in the stands.
I overheard them talking about her.
"What a cow. It's such a shame, she used to be perfection."
The scouts, who had come to see her left before the event was over.
Claudia was well aware they walked out. She knew exactly who they were.
She went to bed for a week.
She was crippled and scarred from the surgeries she went through as a girl to repair tendons and joints. Going into a depression and not stretching caused her to stiffen to the point she would cry when she got up to go to the bathroom.

Claudia went around and around like this for two years. Then she dropped her scholarship, quit exercising and started to eat. She was the meanest snake of a woman I've ever known.

The horses who compete at the top are the equine equivalent of our gymnasts. Except they can't quit unless we tell them too.

They are bred to perform. The desire to succeed is carefully crafted in them from day one. They are sculpted into a beautiful piece of art that has nothing to do with or buddies in the back yard.
They will try and try and try.

I don't have an answer here. Because I love the beauty of the artwork. I love the result of the careful breeding that goes into creating these pieces of art.

If we search and compare and analyze, do you think we can find a way to attain these levels of artistry without destroying our horses?

That's what I'm hoping for here....

If we find our similarities, understand our differences, share our processes, can we do this?


  1. And AMEN again.
    I believe I'm out on a quest.I don’t care what the end result will be, but in the meantime I want to learn as much as I can, and I want my horses to enjoy that journey too.
    Riding is so much about the road, and not the goal.
    I believe that when you get too obsessive of your goals, there is a larger risk that the horse turns into an instrument. People start to take shortcuts, often detrimental to the long-term health and interests of the horse.
    Everything around us, in the modern society has to go fast. Quick results. Quick fixes.
    Horses are not made that way.
    They need time to build muscles and strength to be able to keep healthy and to perform.
    They need us to take the time necessary, and enjoy the ride.

  2. The Olympic gymnast example is interesting. These are children who are being trained and created to become the high level competitors. They are too young to make informed decisions for themselves and to see the long term effects. The competition becomes their entire lives, leaving them often unfit for anything else. Rather like what is done to intense competition horses.

    My own opinion is that equine competition has become so very specialized and is so very seeking of such high standards that it has become detrimental to the good of the horse. What gives humans the right to take another living being, sculpt it to fit an image, discarding many along the way who cannot make the high standards, use training methods that sometimes harm the horse and sometimes become abusive, where the horse is seen as another piece of equipment to be used. Since the need to make money is what rules, short cuts become the norm to the detriment of the horse.

    I do not have answers. After reading your last two posts on show abuse and rollkur, I was depressed. Depressed that, in what should be beautiful endeavors of horse and human as a partnership, short cuts and abuse are seen as normal. That the participants cannot see that what they do is problematic.

    I have not watched any reining competition in a few years. I have seen one big-name trainer riding on a couple of DVDs that I have. His horses all have head sets of neck slightly lower then the withers and a head slightly behind vertical. The horses move with this locked in position. The horses are dead in their eyes. Is this what is normal in that sport now? Watching it for 5 minutes on a DVD, I became sick to my stomach. Really. I doubt that I could have watched it in person.

    I am going to go out and visit with my horses now--my happy, muddy, hairy horses with whom I am working to improve my horsemanship so that I can do better for them.

  3. I hope so.

    Me and the 'owners' had a talk yesterday. The two year old will spend her summer as a halter horse. We will not be breaking her out for showing this year.

    But I agree with Horseofcouse everything is focused on the quick results.

  4. My daughter started big school this year. I'm shocked at the rate that they are working. She is already building sentences with words, and adding up numbers. She hasn't been in school for a month yet. 31 years ago I started school a lot slower. I wonder if any of my classmates went for occupational therapy, specialised reading lessons, psychotherapy etc. I wonder if my child will have learnt a lot more after 12 years of schooling than I did. I don't think so.

    So why are they starting so fast? Because we have become a goal oriented society wanting instant gratification. The rate at which the child matures is immaterial, she must just keep up with the program designed by adults.

    It's the same with horses. People want a return on investment. They want to succeed and they want it know. They don't have the will and the patience and the stamina to bring a horse on slowly and teach it each little new thing only once it mastered the previous step completely. We are also a throw-away society. If something doesn't work as required we throw it out and get a new one. Because we can. And unfortunately some people who are focussed on competition seem to view their horses as possessions rather than partners. They "love them to bits" but won't hesitate to inject them with painkillers if the horse is slightly lame or sore just before a competition.

    I think the change will have to start with trainers. If a trainer is ethical enough to tell a pupil, especially a child, that we are not going to the show today because your horse is not well the child will learn an important lesson. If the trainer says never mind, we will inject her and she will be sound for your class, the child will learn an attitude that might stick for life.

  5. I have to say that I gave up competition partly because I don't think its usually possible to achieve what you're talking about. I think you can do something like can train your own horses to be well broke in whatever discipline you choose (if you are skillful enough, which you, Janet, are) and that you can do this humanely and take great joy in your horse's ability. Will you win at a high level in today's show horse world? I doubt it. We were just talking this morning about how my ropehorse is happy in his work, and good at it. But at a very relaxed level. Lots of mistakes and deviations from perfect are tolerated. They wouldn't be at a "pro level". My horse would be "tortured" (or at least pushed past the point where he could enjoy his work) to make him better at it.
    Another example. I showed cutting horses with Tom Dorrance's wife. She had a good mare who was a very nice cutter. She did everything a horse needed to do to hold a cow, and did it well and smoothly, willingly. She won at a low level. She didn't win at a high level. Those horses that win at a high level in cutting are often spurred and spurred to make them do that extra fancy stuff that we all admire as "artwork". And yes, there are exceptions--SlippinSweetLena appatently owned one.
    So, there's my opinion, for what its worth. You can make a good horse, and still be good to him. You are unlkely to win against those who are willing to torture their horses. (And again--there are exceptions, so don't jump on me, you guys. I'm making a generalization here.) In the past, Janet, you've made this point as well. In fact, you referenced this point at the beginning of your post on reining abuses. So, have we come full circle? We want the thing that we can't have. We want the perfect gymnist without torturing the child. I think it can and does happen once in awhile, but the attempt to replicate it, and make the "great athlete" out of the vast majority who are not that thing--that's where the problem lies. Maybe you just need to search and search until you find that one in a million "natural", if you want to go to the top? Or maybe we all need to realize competition ain't the be all and end all? Just some thoughts.

  6. What a perfect analogy- to compare these top horses to gymnasts! I agree that it is much the same.

    I love reining, I love riding a finished bridle horse and I love watching the top trainers ride the top horses at the derbies and futurities...I love watching a perfectly executed pattern and absolutely hate it at the same time because the standard in todays industry leaves no room for using long term and non-abuse methods- if you want to win, at least 90% of the time, you need to keep your horse finely tuned- to an unreasonable degree. From what I have seen in the warmup pen, reiners are using rollkur, a is a socially accepted practise to use- even in public, as is banging on your horses mouth and making your horse bleed with spurs.

    I have decided that I want to continue learning reining because I respect the art of creating a finished horse, that I will have to define my own line for what constitutes abuse and that staying within behind that line will likely mean that I will not be winning. Actually, I dont know that I can even show at a NRHA events because I dont believe it is morally right to stand by and watch a person beat up, cut open, and torture a horse or any animal- as I have witnessed some of the top and most respected trainers do in the warm up pens. Would you watch someone kick a dog with a spur until he bled? Or whip him with reins over and over again? Sometimes I think that we are barbarically accepting what is socially acceptable without thought or reason. I am actually no bleeding heart, I ride with spurs, I have over undered my horse many times, I take reining lessons and I believe in our right to use horses, and that sometimes their jobs are not pleasant, and I have absolutely crossed that line many times... Why? I dont know. It is a very slippery slope.

    I actually wrote this post after attending an NRHA show back in October and seeing the abuse that went on in the warm up pen there. It was DISGUSTING and I was ashamed to have had any part in it. Not everyone was abusive, and some of them actually had some talented horses that looked beautiful AND happy! but the majority of the big boys had their horses finely tuned by using rollkur- by using rollkur and then tugging with sharp quick jerks on the reins, why kicking them- HARD- over and over again with a spurs.... I wrote about it rant on beating up a punk kid that was beating on his horse....kinda....

  7. I haven't been keeping up with your blog lately, and now I'm regretting it! I forget how good your blogs are and how much I take from them. These last few posts in particular have been very interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading all of the comments! Keep doing what your doing mugwump, and I promise I'll keep reading ;)

    Secondly, may I ask a question in the comments? If you prefer e-mail, just let me know. But I have a 20+ Quarter Pony mare that I've been having some trouble with lately. She is blind in her left eye and I'm having some trouble lounging her on that side. When she goes around me and I'm between her and the arena gate, she will cut off the circle and go right by me. I've tried stomping my foot and clicking so that she knows where I am without seeing me, and success is limited. When she is on the side of the arena gate she will continue in a normal circle. Usually when she does this I'll make her trot faster for a minute or so, but she still cuts off. I tried once poking her in the shoulder with my lounge whip, but the obviously scared her (since she can't see) and I haven't done that since that time. She's always about four or five feet when she cuts off, but I don't want to make this a habit. She does fine going the other way on the side where she can see me. How can I let her know where I am so that I don't have to worry about her running me over? Or is this a respect issue?

  8. Very good analogy.There's a peom about baseball..."The Mighty Casey".

    There is no joy in Muddville,the Mighty Casey has struck out.

    I think many of us who continue on with horses are seeing this in many arenas,show pens,behind the barns and sadly on the Olympic stage.

    There is no joy in Horseville.
    Whatever happened to the joy ?

  9. "If we find our similarities, understand our differences, share our processes, can we do this?”

    Yes. Horses are amazing. No telling how far they/we can go if we pool our resources and help each other learn.

    What I don't know is how much less-than-perfect conformation plays into this.

    Laura, you rode with the Dorrances? You are so lucky. It's why I read this blog. Mugwump explains the Dorrance 'feel' philosophy so well.

    Off to ride like Ben Cartwright. Can't wait to see what everyone else posts.

  10. You know, I'm left with a single conclusion.
    If you have to abuse your horse to win, the system is wrong. Period.

  11. "What I really want to figure out is where does training end and abuse begin?"

    Very good question.

    Another one is ... why do we compete?

    I don't have an answer to either, but I'm interested in both.

    Some people ride to compete, some don't. I worry for the horses if we get overly down on competition. And for the horse industry ... trainers, show venues, tack sellers, etc. all benefit from competitive riding.

    Back to the first question, I muddle along trying to keep my horses reasonably happy. I try to balance what I ask of them; I try to ask enough to push them out of their comfort zones, without pushing them out of their minds. I think riding a horse that gives willingly is more fun than riding one that is begrudging or frightened or sore. I ride and compete for fun. If both of us aren't enjoying at least parts of it, then the whole endeavor feels pointless. It's an awfully expensive way to be miserable!

  12. I've been reading these most recent posts, and I've always been quite against the rolkuer or whatever, even though I'm not a dressage person but it's getting a bit scary since now that the connection has been made to reining, I'm seeing that I'm doing the same thing--to an extent. I don't kick them or bash them or yank the reins. I just take a soft firm hold and wait for a little give and then let go. I do this until they give a good give with a light touch, then I do it when they're moving, and as they get better I increase the speed, and eventually the durration. This is what I've always been taught to do to teach collection for a western horse, this is what I've just started doing a week ago with my coming 4 y/o. He's caught on pretty quick, although he does go behind the vertical sometimes. I've always just assumed my horses are never abused. They get to be dirty and hairy and live in big pastures on hay. The all get ridden on a loose rein, usually bareback, and they're all respectful (usually) and we all get along. I don't even show them, I'm just the kid who rubs their faces, feeds them, and ocasionaly makes them work. But if what I'm doing is abuse, then how do I get that lovely collection on a soft loose rein? I can't believe that collection is abuse, and this is the way, they only way in fact, that I've seen it taught... so what am I missing?

  13. Esquared--I don't think what you are doing is abusive, and I'll bet you dollars to donuts mugwump will say the same. All of these methods we've talked about have merit if they're used within reason to teach a horse collection. Its the extremes that are abusive. And these extremes are often seen when people try to compete at a high level. They're also seen in ignorant backyard wanna be trainers. The way you describe what you'ere doing, it sounds like you have discovered the perfect "middle road". You're teaching collection (which believe me, I teach, too) and you're not abusing your horses. Collection, and keeping one's nose out of the sky, is part of virtually every good riding horse's necessary education. And you're getting it done in a kind, workable way. Bravo to you!

  14. Over the past few years, I've gotten a little jaded. I'm a long-time dressage rider. I used to be an idealist and honestly believed that dressage horses at the upper levels were correctly ridden and happy athletes.

    When I bought my wonderfully talented, royally-bred dressage horse ten years ago, I thought, now this'll be easy on a horse bred for the sport.

    Not so.

    As I moved up from my perennial "home" at third level, I realized that most horses really don't want to do this. It's hard on them, mentally and physically. My assumption that all Grand Prix dressage horses love their jobs went out the window. I know many do, but many more are being forced to perform.

    I had an epiphany when I realized what it could take to get a horse to that level. I wondered if I had the guts for it, not just physically but emotionally, could I push my horse if she started struggling with the demands?

    At one point over a year ago, as I'm talking to my vet, watching other upper-level riders train their horses, and feeling like I'm getting no where, I did some soul-searching.

    Is this what I really want to do? At what point do I say, if this is what it takes to reach Grand Prix, count me out?

    I don't want you to get me wrong. There are MANY upper-level dressage horses that have the bodies and the minds that make dressage easy for them. And they do love it.

    My mare had the body to a point and even the mind, but her body is starting to show the streses of the sport.

    My decision to stop showing last year, came hard for me. I loved the showing, the socialization, the commitment it takes to do it. I'd invested a lot of money in all the the stuff that is required.

    The problem was if I had to "force" my horse to do it, my heart just wasn't in it. At the same time, I published my first fiction book, and my priorities started to change.

    So now we ride for fun. I still take lessons. I still work on moving up the levels, but I don't care about shows or ribbons or pushing my horse to make a certain level for the summer show season.

  15. EventerWannabe...

    My foster mini is blind in one eye, and I taught him to lounge at the ripe age of 8. He did the same thing...ditto on freaking out with being touched by the whip (he also has abuse issues.

    What I did was get him used to the whip by starting out walking in small circles where I could gently hold the whip on his shoulder and have him realize I want him to go to the end of the lounge line instead of cutting in. Yes this took slow work...he had to realize the whip was an extension of my arm, not a punishment. Lucky he is very smart, and he figured it out quickly. I now actually lounge him in a big rectangle the length of my riding area as he has locking stiffles and hip injuries, probably from being hit by a car, and circles make him sore. He has to go straight, turn, go straight, turn...and he has gotten very good at it.

    He is teaching me a lot about dealing with a one-eyed have to go super slow with a lot of things, as he is spook-prone because of his blindness.

    Does your pony turn blind-side to you when scared? Cooper will turn his blind side to me, and calm down...almost as if he can't see what is scaring him, it isn't there.


  16. I agree with everything Laura Crum said so eloquently. I have said before and I am going to repeat myself. The problem lies with "extreme", unfortunately the definition of "extreme" can be different from horse to horse because some are more tolerant and more talented then others, but the bottom line is this: There is some value and purpose to "most" not all training methods, it is when they are used and implemented to the extreme that it becomes a problem. Unfortunately the extreme has become acceptable and since most of us are not willing to go there, we can no longer be competitive. I personally could care less after 40 years in this business. Competing can be lots of fun, but it is not the end all be all and I have already long ago accepted that. BTW, I accepted it while I was still winning lest anyone say perhaps it was sour grapes, but my horses became more important to me then any ribbon or was a lovely epiphany.

  17. To illustrate my point, last night I watched video after video...We all (including me) had a huge opinion about Anky....Well, one of the videos I watched (sorry can't give you a link), was Anky doing a freestyle pattern....The horse did not move like a horse abused or was pure poetry in motion with a beaming Anky blowing the doors off of everyone else....The horse and music were in sync completely, it was really something to see....My best guess about it? This was an extremely talented horse who tolerated her way of doing things extremely well.....It was really was RADICALLY different from most of her other rides that I had watched.....Extreme...that is the key; imho....and individual extreme as it applies to each horse.

  18. Mugwump, you have summed up why I decided to go to school and get a degree in computer science, rather than pursue attempting to become a trainer. I love training horses. I love figuring out why they do things, and how to get them to do what I want. Training them, and getting to be around them everyday all day was all that I wanted since I was small. But I know that I wouldn't be able to do some of the things necessary to get my horses to win.

    So I plan to push around little, bits of electrical current for a living, and leave my horses as a hobby. I figure I can take as long as I want with them if I'm not depending on them to eat. And no matter how hard I push my computer in pursuit of perfection, I can't be inhumane to something without a soul.

    Thank you.

  19. Hmm, just a quick point on the difference (at least as pictured) between the rollkur flexion and the reining flexion. In the rollkur flexion, the horse is hyperflexing one joint, between the Atlas and Axis vertebrae. If you look at his neck you can see this - the whole neck is bent but it is really only this one joint that is drastically flexed. However the western horse is hyperflexing the whole neck, and thus all the joints. To me, this is less problematic because there are more joints to share the stress. No individual joint is stressed to the same degree as the axial joint on the dressage horse. It makes for two very different forms of hyperflexion.

  20. I think you can train a horse to the top without abusive methods.
    I also think it takes a lot longer, which is why these other methods are in place. I also think it's a lot harder.
    What I think most people forget is the conditioning of the horse for specific motions, regardless of discipline. People can train a lot faster--it takes about three weeks of steady work for muscles to begin to react and develop. But you have to take into consideration that a person can 'push past' what hurts when they're doing a push up, and do ten more. A horse isn't going to do that. When you ask a horse to collect, and he's tired, he's going to take the easy way out. They try, but they aren't going to work tired muscles unless they have to.
    And that's why you see horse's with hollow backs and high croups, with the poll not being the highest point, and sunken chests in Olympic dressage. Because no one takes the time. A horse won't build muscle in three weeks; by that logic it has to take longer. They're incredible athletes, but sometimes I think we give them TOO much credit.
    Rollkur has it's own reasons of being used--it only brings up the front portion of the spine, locks the lower lumbar region, and forces a horse to keep his abs flexed. It doesn't allow them to breathe properly or see. Anky's justification is that they train the movements in 'deep and round', and then when they get to the competition, everything seems easier. It's also why most of the motions are incorrect. (Blame the FEI for always placing her... Kind of like WP, the best horse usually doesn't win.) Some people say it's to make the horse supple--classical trainer's have been doing without it for years, why start now?
    What I really think rollkur is used for is obedience and calming of hot horses. Take a horse's sight away from him, and it's not long until he's going to listen to every breathe you take. He can't see where his feet are going; he has to rely on the rider not to run into a tree. And how mentally abusive is that?
    I see no need for these training methods, and it saddens me greatly that people are winning with pale copies of what the class/discipline calls for. Classical masters have figured it out, but like the modern society we are, we have a fascination with taking things farther. Low is good? The lower is better. Supple is good? Then more bending is better. Happy and obedient is good? Then submissive is better.
    Truly a shame.

  21. Also, one more point to add.

    Unlike a few others here, I think behind the vertical and excessive bending of the neck (breaking at other vertebrae other then at the poll) is unnecessary. Whilst it may not be abusive in small doses, it does not harbor collection.

    Collection, at a basic form, is when power flows through the back legs, through a swinging back (absent in rollkur), and out and 'up' through the poll. If there is a break in the chain, like at the 3rd vertebrae where most dressage horses break now (like your photo posted of the dressage rider)... then the collection is not true. If the horse is behind the vertical, they are using muscles to hold it there, or they are leaning on their reins. They are tense with the first, traveling on the forehand with the latter. Both undesirable traits. Most horses broken at 3rd do not lift their thoracic cavity and therefore let it sink... therefore traveling on the forehand.

    I believe collect can be taught without contact, as in a reining/western horses. I just believe that it takes longer then the traditional '60 days' a trainer will throw on a horse and then take him to shows.

  22. I fell in love with reining the first time I saw it. Years later found a trainer and began reading Fugly, then this blog. My questions are like Mugwumps. What would a reining horse look like if started at 3? (And when do they finish growing, and how much individual variation is there?)What if the guiding principal for training was to maximize the long term wellness and soundness of the animal? I think some reining training, like dressage, could benefit most horses. But I doubt that long term wellness kind of training could ever win over the "big boys". It would take a rare horse and trainer. But here is another question, asked because my vet insisted this to be correct. He argues that breeding QHs to specialize has limited their longevity as a sound horse. His argument is the "fast twitch" muscles needed for reining and performance result in early breakdown. (How to separate this from the training methods are beyond me.) He similarly argues the extreme halter confirmation breaks horses down for different reasons. So is this true in your experience? When we as humans focus on breeding for anything other than soundness, are we compromising the resulting individual animals?

  23. i have to especially agree with laura crum and jami davenport.

    i’ve been faced with that very question with my own horses, and for me the answer has always been to drop them back to the level where they are happy, confident and successful rather than pushing them to the uppermost limits of their ability – which is also very near their breaking point. i guess that’s the difference between me and the ankys of the world – i’m not seeking the outer edge of maximum potential – as a trainer you do feel those things out, and see what the horse is capable of, but you don’t sustain that peak forever, you find a place a little below it where you can live comfortably, still challenging, but not stressing constantly.

    my jumper could jump 5’6, but did that make him a grand prix horse? no, he was most comfortable 3’6-4’, so that’s where we focused. my eq horse could jump 3’6 (at his best he could jump 4’6) but he was happiest at 3’-3’3, so that’s where we competed, and as he aged we dropped down to 2’6. our working hunter was an immensely talented jumper but hated jumping, so we switched him over to dressage. i didn’t take this as a failure on their part, or mine, that they didn’t exist in that space at the very top of their potential; i made my goals conform to each individual horse’s comfort zone and wellbeing. it’s more important to me to keep them happy, sound and confident in their work. my goals always take a back seat to their wellbeing and enjoyment of their jobs.

    and kizzles makes a good point about the two photos. for sake of clarity (and technicality, even if it seems silly to you non-dressage types) the first photo shows the ‘indirect rein of opposition behind the wither’ taken to an incorrect extreme (the aid is meant to be hand positioning only, not pulling, and not so high – and, of course the horse isn’t meant to flex so much or lower his head so far.) i can’t tell from the photo, but he’s probably also using a curb, which is incompatible with that rein as well.

    in the second photo the rider uses a ‘direct rein of opposition’ pulled back toward the hip to force the bend (with the help of the curb,) again very incorrect – as i’ve said, the direct is not a bending/turning rein, and when used as such twists the horse at the poll and causes a back-up in the neck, which is pretty obvious in the photo...

    but i disagree that one is less wrong than the other - i think both examples are equally incorrect and abusive.

  24. Wow-I've missed some good posts/comments!! My computer is kaput, so I'm having to borrow one...
    Anywho-there's always abuse at the top levels of anything-whether it's in the horse business, gymnastics, car racing, you name it and you can find corruption. There are so many different kinds of people in the world, there's no accounting for their ethics or lack thereof--so you can never tell what they'll do in any given situation. Sometimes the worst thing to happen to a person is for them to have any type of success-it changes them. They love it so much they'll do anything to taste it again, no matter what the cost. In the horse industry, most of the time those types of people are easy to point out, sometimes they've done it for so long no one questions the why or the how of their success.
    I've had dreams of being a world champion barrel racer since I was a little girl--at times that seems like a crazy idea. When I step up on my 8 yr old and it takes us 45 minutes to remember how to pick up a lead, it makes me wonder if we'll ever even make it to a jackpot. Then I go to some of the jackpots around here, and see these "colts" people around here ride, and know that I'm doing the right thing. Taking a 2yr old that's barely broke to ride and starting them on the pattern is just insane to me--but I'm in no hurry. They are. My gelding is sound, sane, and happy to do whatever. I have no doubt that when I do get the time to finish him on the barrel pattern, he will be every bit of the athlete that I know he can be. I've seen SO many barrel horses that only ONE person can run barrels on--they force them. Whether by whipping, spurring, or any other rough means. They take a nice, athletic horse and destroy them mentally. For what? A quick dollar most of the time, less feed bills on vet bills I suppose. I'm glad I've never been a part of that world.

  25. jami->>I had an epiphany when I realized what it could take to get a horse to that level. I wondered if I had the guts for it, not just physically but emotionally, could I push my horse if she started struggling with the demands?<<

    That is exactly where I ended up.
    Exactly where I quit. I was finally getting good enough to understand my sport. Then I couldn't make myself keep going.I still don't know if I could get good enough. But I am still training towards competition. Just at my own pace.

    Esquared-you are not abusing your horse! Not even a little.

    Many of these methods are based in sound thinking. With good reasoning behind them.

    What I'd like to do is start disecting methods, where's and whys (without name-calling) and really look at the good and bad side. What we will do and won't and maybe find alternative answers for methods we don't want.
    So we all got some thinkin' to do...

    EventerWannabe-Read Horses and Turbos- she nailed it.

    jesse->>I figure I can take as long as I want with them if I'm not depending on them to eat.<<
    I'm having that embroidered on a pillow.

  26. I believe that it comes down to "to much of a good thing". I do "push my horse into the bridle" and "put his chin to his chest" but only for a stride or two, not for extended periods of time. Why do humans always think if something works in small doses, that more is going to be better? It is our greedy nature, about winning and money.

    We do need to regulate/educate each other. We need to be able to say (without sounding like a wacko) that their is a better way. The problem that I see with some horse people... not all of them, but a good portion, is that they are fricking crazy. Not playin' with a full deck, a fry short of a happy meal, elevator doesn't go to the top, whatever! I have seen it time after time. Instead of being nice and striking up a rational conversation and sharing idea's they go straight for the fight. What is up with that? And it goes without saying alot of the time these same people are clueless.

    So when I hear people say that they left the show ring because they couldn't stand / tolerate the abuse, it makes me think that is when you need to stay. You need to be an example of how to do it right. If you change one person, save one horse from a bad training experience it would be worth it.

    O.K. let me get down from my soapbox. :)

  27. I grew up surrounded by horses and horse people specifically fox and field hunters as well as driving horses. The training of young riders took YEARS as did the training and fine tuning of the horses in my world then.Other then the racing end horses were never started at 2 and ridden...3 was considered the very earliest to begin the training other than manners and groundwork.Once under saddle work began it was slow and consistent to build up not just the muscle but lay the foundation for all else that horse would learn
    and have a willing,confident and capable partner as the result.

    I started riding at age 3,was in my first shows at age 7-8,started following the field at age 10.I learned to drive after many hours of long lining and groundwork before I was ever allowed to harness my pony and drive him.I never progressed past driving a pair of horses...the skill required for a 4 in hand or heavy draft team is something I admire but could never quite do well enough.When I was first encouraged to learn dressage it was real clear to me why there is Training level for both horse and rider and that you only advanced when you UNDERSTOOD and could execute the increasing skills and pass the Level tests with a sufficient score and the horse you rode was at the same level and capable of going further.

    I really struggle with most of what I see today in almost every discipline.It's all about the $$ and the horses well being is not a big part of the equation for alot of the "Top" people.I would love to know what became of the horses along the way that got them there.
    I know where mine are.

  28. Thank goodness I missed that comment then :) I'm still here and still working on circling, and riding with and without stirrups, etc. I did something stupid and attempted to lope yesterday (because mare was feeling a little frisky and kept speeding up). Everything was all out of wack and was definitely not the right thing to do. Back to circles and attempting to limber my still not limber girl. I am going to practice my mental imagery from your post right now. I can't help but think I'm just not doing something right because mare does not bend. She'll bend her head to smell my foot, she'll bend her head if I'm on the ground and put just the teenies pressure on the lead line she'll whip her head right around, but she will not bend while we are riding. She keeps her whole front half almost straight and will just turn her head enough for her eye to see where to put her feet, she doesn't bend.

  29. Ezra-Two thoughts.
    Lope Her!
    She was feeling good, wanted to go, let her go!. Point her in the lead she likes and go. Just ride around, reins loose, thinking about how it feels. Only steer around enough to move around. She'll relax, you'll be loping, everybody is having fun.
    Nothing is suckier to me than drill, drill, drill. I like to play and I like to lope, so go ahead.
    Then bend.
    Next. Remember,I like my horse to follow his nose. I don't bend the head to my toe or knee.
    That is not bending. That's giving the head.So I'm liking your mare already.
    Try this. Get your mare out. Stand on the ground at her shoulder, facing her side.
    Hold her lead rope, or reins, loose enough so she can step away from you.(maybe 2-3 feet of rope)
    Poke her in the ribs with your thumb. In the same place you would bump her with your heel.
    Poke her with a steady rhythm until she arcs her ribs away and moves around you.
    Her inside hind should cross in front of the outside as she steps away.
    Do it again, and again and again.
    If she's not moving play with where you're placing your thumb and how hard you're poking.
    Until she will step away from your thumb poke both ways with just a touch.
    Then get on and lope around for awhile. Then try your circles.
    Walk around a barrel or cone. Sit up, don't let your shoulders sag or tilt, then start troting around the barrel.
    Around and around, about three feet away.
    Then lope some more.
    What shape is your arena?

  30. Ezra-use your thumb to move her, not your hand on the lead.....

  31. I think that your question regarding art and horses is a very good, and really points to the heart of the matter. The problem is that art is not static, it changes; with times, with artists, with everything.

    When dressage, hunting, reining and all the other disciplines were developed (except racing, ironically one of the oldest equestrian sports), horses were exhibiting skills that were used to accomplish a goal. Cutting a horse, jumping a hedge, sidestepping from an enemy, travelling all day at a comfortable gait, these are all concrete, attainable by most horses, goals that riders were working toward and competition was a way to show how much better their horse (and thus the rider) was at achieving those goals. There was practical application to the events, and form followed function. Horses have not change significantly from the early 1900’s when they were still a necessary aspect of human life.

    But the ART of horses has changed.

    A lot of riders don’t have a goal outside of the ring. Some do, of course. But for many, the be-all, end-all IS the ring. So judges and competitors don’t have to put a practical lens on anything, the arena is enough, if a horse wins, it must be the best horse, then ipso facto, the training is the best training.

    And art being what it is, what your grandparents’ horses did is no longer art, it’s passé, art is something new and exciting, and never before seen! It’s groundbreaking, taking old ideas and presenting them in new ways!

    This is where we get confused, in our directions and in our goals. Horses as untethered art creates quite a few conundrums. Art rejects the past, and embraces the past, it forges ahead, takes us where we didn’t know we wanted or could go, and reminds us of where we’ve been. To some it’s a necessity, for others a luxury. Just like horses. But now there’s a disconnect between the reasons why that training method gets results and why it shouldn’t be used too much.

    This is just human nature, I’m not going to excuse anyone by saying commercials pandering to short-attention spans have created this. WE have created this, and always will. Has technology changed the world? Of course it has, but its HUMAN technology, it wasn’t dropped here by aliens, or pink laser beams, we made it because that’s what we do, we’re short-cutters, as a species. Possibly as a planet. Hell, my cat likes short-cuts, and my dogs wake me up just a little bit earlier every day, hoping that kibble will flow that much sooner.

    So, where did this long ramble get us? Viewed as art, which I think is an accurate way to view equestrian activities now, we won’t be able to change things until the actual training process is placed in the arena. A deconstruction of the sport is perhaps what we need; where particular aspects of training are judged, not the results of training.

  32. DressageinJeans:
    Could you elaborate a bit on the collection on a loose rein training that you mentioned? I've found that my horses will always overflex a bit at first, but that they still get a feeling of more power from the haunches and more lift. However I typically just start them and put solid basics on them. However I've had my two current horses long enough that now we're starting collection. Most of the local trainers are WP (actually about 98%) so that is the norm. I'd be curious in any other methods that you know of though, if only to refine what I'm already doing to do it more effectively.

    awhile back you mentioned cutting saddles and I've been looking into it, I figure any saddle can be made comfy for trail if need be with a cashel cushion or similar object, but I've found that all the ones I see are full qh bars and 16+ inches. My questions are: do you know of anyplace other than ebay that I could find a decent used one with either semi or just plain qh bars, and will it affect my riding too much if it's 16" or 16.5 if my size (I think) is probably about 15 or 15.5? Ebay seems to have too big and too wide and not very many and thats my only real source of saddles...

  33. Esquared- Just my two cents:

    If your saddle is too big it will effect how your sit. If you sit in the back of the saddle, your legs won't be under you; if you sit in the middle of the saddle it won't be as comfortable. Some 15.5 saddles will sit like a 15, etc so use the size as a guideline.

    You really want to sit in a saddle before you buy it. And check the fit on the horse if possible. All I can suggest is search for tack shops in your area and call them up.

  34. I'm not a trainer or even an advanced rider. But remember halfpassgal? Her video called "Breathe," where she was riding messed-up expensive Warmbloods and Arabs? Remember the "after" dressage footage, where the horses were sane? And remember her text on the end of the video (paraphrased): These aren't problem horses, they're problem pasts...Let go of ideals, goals and egos, let the horse come first sometimes...Well, she said it very well.

  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. One more try...

    It wasn't did take me a few times of being dragged across the area to figure it out...first I had to lead him with the whip next to him, then start to send him out (once he figured out what lounging was). I think I started to work with him at the same time I found this I broke it down in pieces, then figure what he was trying to tell me. Really helps me with the big horses, too...slow down and think!


  37. Ok, good! lol I was like man, I already messed up what I was trying to do. I printed off everything you said in the three blogs you posted that was helping me and my husband read (what he could until the glare from his glasses stopped him) and he was like, you're doing everything opposite to what she (you) likes to happen. Your posts said (I believe) that you like to lope without too much interferance from your legs or hands. He said to me, that seems like ALL you do when you lope. I feel like if I don't "help" her stay to the outside, we'd be lopeing in a 10 foot circle! So, I guess when we go out tonight, I will...just lope! see where she goes, sit up straight and not lean. I think that is my big problem. The saddle hasn't been sliding off to the left as much (since I've been riding around with/without the stirrups, until I loped. So I will have to just let her go and focus on my position.

    It seems like perhaps I have been misinterpreting what bending really is. Maybe she's doing it great and I just didn't connect that if bending is like you said from just poking her in the side until she steps with her inside in front of her outside hind. I will pay attention to that tonight and do the ground thing with poking her :)

    Oh, and the arena is square. 70X152 is what the owner had told me.

    Thank you :)

  38. drifter:
    That's what I would do if I could, but due to the major flooding in Iowa, we no longer have any tack stores, thus I'm pretty much stuck with ebay.

  39. Esquared... Valley Vet has a o.k. selection of saddles (Circle Y, Tucker, etc. ) and they will actually ship you one to try out before you buy. Kind of a cool idea.

  40. Esquared- You are on the right track with your horse. Collection without contact comes when the horse learns to accept the restraint of the rein hand before actual contact is made. Which means he knows you will make contact if he doesn't frame up.
    There has to be an invisible barrier in front of your horse, which is originally built through contact with the reins.
    So you push your horse to your hands. At first you teach them collection by pushing with the legs straight to the hands in the snaffle.Your hands are the wall of resistance. (Sorry folks, but basic riding is the same no matter what saddle you sling on their backs.
    Once your basic concepts of collection are sound you start to give a pre-cue. I raise my hands slowly after beginning to drive with my legs. If they make contact with my hands I create a consequence, usually what you see our cowboy friend doing in the top photo.
    I keep it up until the horse relaxes into the exercise and then release, begin my drive with my legs and catch them again.
    Quite soon, because of the base I've put on them, my horse begins to frame up before she makes contact with the bit.
    Then I relax, let them lope a stride or two or three in frame and pick them up again. I feel young horses feel more secure in my hands and have to learn slowly to seek no contact in the front end.
    The gradual introduction of a shanked bit adds to the pre-cue for the no-contact frame.
    I wait until my horses are five before they are introduced to a shanked bit.
    Reiners and pleasure folk go into the shank sooner.
    This sounds like a post to me.

  41. Mugs,
    It would be wonderful if you would do a post on what you just mentioned. Types of bits, collection, etc.

    I think I'm lucky to have the best trainer in the world (at least to me). She understands when horses don't like their job. She never pushes me or my horse. I'm such a damned perfectionist, she's always reminding me to slow down with my young horse. She's amazing!

    My trainer is an eventer, and to an extent you have to have a horse that really likes their job to tackle an upper level event course. There are always exeptions though. The eventing world is also having problems with training shortcuts. In their case it's become downright dangerous and even fatal in some cases. Super scary stuff. Go back to road and tracks please! That's a whole different can of worms than rollkur, and you'll find both in eventing (as much as I love it).

    I grew up around old fashioned field hunter riders and eventers. The horses I remember were never rushed. They remained sound and happy into their thirties in some cases. To echo most everyone else, don't you just wish you could tell everyone to just slow down?

  42. Esquared, where are you in Iowa? I have a tack store in Lincoln, Nebraska. Let me know if you ever come this way.
    A thought about collection without contact: that takes a long time, and with consistent riding. There needs to be a lot of give and take. You may be working all summer, all year, a few years, to get where you can lope a horse on a loose rein, with collection. Don't give up, just know that it may take months to years, depending on how often and how hard (meaning how much training you do) that you ride.

  43. Ok, we loped again last night because she seemed to be quick again. BUT, when I asked for the lope, she screeched to a halt and when I kept bumping her, she started her little buck thing. So I had her go forward again in the jog and she was speeding up so instead of bumping her, I just kissed and she did go. I didn't guide her with my legs or the reins and rode with loose reins (except to not run into the wall)and she was doing big circles like I thought she would. After about the 5th circle or so, she was actually starting to not cut the corners on the outside of the arena, only the inside, but I think that was because my husband was down there trying to stay out of the way, lol. If I'd have kept going, I think she would have kept opening up further maybe. I tried the poking or pushing exercise and she kept backing up. I loosened the lead line and tried to hold my hand more up to her head so I knew I wasn't pulling on it. But when she did step away, her inside foot went in front of her outside like you said it should. Overall I think it went well. I asked my husband how it looked and he told me I was all slouched over, like usual. And I was trying hard to sit up straight too :(

  44. Horsesandturbos -

    Thank you very much! I'm definitely going to try that! I've tried something similar to what you told me to do, but, silly me, I never slowed it down enough! I just threw the poor thing out there at a trot and when she came near I'd try to lay the whip on her shoulder and ba bing, boom! Like you said, I'll start out small, and work our way up, thank you so much!

    As for the blind side thing, I haven't really noticed it, what usually happens is if she's scared on the lunge or when I'm leading her she'll stop, freeze with her head up, and then make sure I'm on her blind side =P I think it means that she's not confident with protecting herself on that side (right?), so she puts me over there as cover for her. I've also started leading her on that side, just because she seems more comfortable with me over there rather than her good side.

  45. I don't doubt that this goes on - there is too much evidence to naively believe it doesn't; however, not all horses at the top in dressage are at the point of being deformed and crippled by the training methods. My old boss has an international Grand Prix horse who is now 32 and still teaching students to ride. My boss would argue that dressage trains the horse to use himself correctly, which enables him to go on working far beyond horses that don't learn to carry riders effectively and use their back muscles properly.

    It's an interesting point though. I'm sure some people are too focused on the end product - my boss is very much about the training of the horse rather than the quick achievement of the goal, and I think that ethos works.