Animal abuse: When are we crossing the line? (Part 2)

When I see people dealing with horses, I wonder if some individuals buy horses and don’t know how to really train or work with horses.  It is sad when I see people who don’t know much and think that they have to beat the horse into shape or abuse it in some way to prove they are the boss.  I hate this kind of thinking.

Sliding_Stop_FlachsbergIf I see someone who doesn’t have quiet hands and they have put a harsh bit on the horse, I think that is abusive simply because they have a bit on that is too harsh and they, the rider, does not know the correct way to use that bit.  The horse then has his mouth gaping wide open, wishing they could get away from the pain.  A large curb bit with a strap under their chin causes the large curb to go into the horse’s mouth and the chin strap pinches the mouth shut, which makes it even more painful since they can’t escape the pain.  I am not saying that no one should use them, but these riders should have very soft hands.  My father has soft hands, so he could use this bit and not hurt the horse.

I also have a pet peeve when people give their horse different signals and expect the horse to guess the correct response.  Such as asking the horse to gallop while holding back on the reins.  This kind of riding is giving mixed signals.  I think this kind of riding is abusive because our horses are not mind readers but people get mad and punish the horse for something the horse can’t help.

Another thing I don’t like is when people signal a horse to do something and then they keep giving the signal even after the horse is responding to the cue.  That to me is called “nagging,” when the horse is doing exactly what you want but you keep giving the signal.  When you give the signal to turn, by direct reining a turn, if the horse starts turning, I stop the pressure.  When the horse stops I give the signal again but stop the signal once the horse starts turning.  Even with the smallest motion towards the correct move, I stop the signal and the horse gets it.  I see the response a whole lot faster.  I remember my dressage teacher, Eric Herbermann, who was a master’s degree in dressage riding, would get after me for “nagging” the horse so much.  He would say to stop giving the aid the minute the horse starts responding to the aid.

horse signalI also hate it when riders use aids that are too much aid or signal to the horse when it could have been softer, too harsh of a bit in inexperienced hands, or too large spurs being used harshly by, again, inexperienced riders, where people also use whips in excessive and abusive ways other than use as an aid or and extension of their arms.  You get where I am going here.

I also need to point this out too — I get tired of seeing people get too emotional while training.  If you get angry at the horse for things the horse cannot help then, please, don’t take it out on the horse.  If you are not emotionally stable at that moment, maybe you should put the horse away until you can think more clearly about the situation.  But this is how we need to handle all kinds of situations in life.  Get away from the problem until you can think more clearly, get some help if needed for handling the problem from a professional.  It makes it so much easier when you can solve the problem in a less evasive and more sensible way.  You and the horse will be so much happier.

When I ask my instructor how to handle a certain situation, I get an “ah-ha” moment when I find out it is easier than I thought.  Sometimes it might take more work from you and your horse.  Horse training does not just come without time invested into working with your horse.  All relationships — good relationships — take time.

However, as new students we will make mistakes while learning, but when we are trying to obtain more knowledge and experience under an instructor who knows what they are doing, then our knowledge will grow and we will make fewer mistakes as we practice more on our horses.  But that is part of growing.  I have made probably all the errors I am talking about above, but my most obvious one right now is that I would make the mistake of too much aid, or mixed signals.  Now that I am aware of those errors, I can work on fixing it under my instructor who can see it while it happens.

If you have some experiences that you would like to speak about, please feel free to talk with me.

Getting the girls acquainted with new surroundings

I went to a lesson today with Cheyenne, since I have missed taking my horse to lessons for the past month after moving to a new stable.  There are areas that I need to work on with Cheyenne and one of them is her fear of new things.

Don’t get me wrong about Cheyenne, she is a very good horse and is very brave.  She is still a prey animal and needs that instinct to keep her alive.  I am, as a human partner, trying to win her loyalty over to being more trusting of my instincts toward her safety, as well as her confidence and courage to look at things at a new level with me as her trusty alpha.  If I give her a need to stay courageous with me then we will be courageous and trusting of each other.  However, if there is a time to run, I will let her know.

Cheyenne (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Cheyenne (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Well, this is one area that I would love to get through with her.  But since my instructor tells me that I did really well getting a mini to start to trust me, then I can do the same with Cheyenne, who loves to be with me even more than the minis.  I am working really hard to get the minis to trust me as well as enjoy being with me.

So here we are with Cheyenne at the scary doorway of an indoor arena, where she can look out and see sheep, goats, and small cattle.  That’s downright scary to a horse who has not seen much of these creatures.  What my instructor and I were doing today was allowing her to look out the door and when she lowered her head, lick and chew, or any positive movement in a relaxing manner, we would then ask her to back up, then have her approach again and usually they approach a little closer.

In her approach the second time, she would move up a horse length closer than the last time.  That was a huge step for horses in gaining their trust.  She would then look at what was going on and check it out.  We would stand a rope length away, allowing her to look on her own timeline.  When she would show that she was ready to go to a new level she would do as I described above, head drop, softening in the eye, rub her leg with her head, etc.

One big thing that shows that she is really over the scary object or scene is when she decides to leave on her own and look at me with ears up and two eyes squarely on me as if to say, “Okay, what now?”  So then I would praise her up and down and give her a treat and move on to new things to see.

One of the things that I have to remember is that I have to stand at a distance from her so that she doesn’t trample me or boss me around to the point where I can get hurt.  It is about safety for horse and handler as well as a well-established relationship with the horse first.

One thing we worked on is having her see a big plastic steer in a realistic size.  This item always frightens horses, I am told.  At first it really made Cheyenne nervous.  But it is interesting to see how far she gets with the approach and retreat exercise on this full-sized plastic steer.  We at first had her approach and retreat at the rear and then after that toward the face of the fake steer.  Cheyenne wanted to make it hard by doing things other than what I was asking her to do.  In this phase, it can get ugly because a horse can refuse to do what we ask but if we keep asking then they eventually get the job done.  She did go on to touch the nose three times.  There was one time she pinned her ears and tried to dominate the object.  Interesting, but not too surprising since she is an alpha.

So now my job with Cheyenne — and Gypsy could benefit too — is to get them out and seeing things and getting acquainted with new surroundings with me.  I love to have this kind of a relationship with both my horses.  I will keep you informed about what I am learning.

Animal abuse: When are we crossing the line? (Part 1)

I’d like to address something I see a lot these days between animal lovers and horse lovers such as myself.  I would like to discuss when there are cases of animal abuse or whether there are cases wrongly labeled as such.

I definitely do not know all the answers and I do not want to pretend that I do.  But maybe I could be an instrument to starting a conversation about it.

I have been around horses all my life, but I have never dove in as deeply on this subject as I am now.  However, I did get into horses as much as I could when I was younger, but not as much into the horse’s mind as now.   Trying to jump into horse psychology and natural horsemanship is a lot of work.  But naturally, while we are along this pathway of getting deeper knowledge about the horses, there can be mistakes made along the way.

lungeing_silhouette1-300x193That is why while learning natural horsemanship, the horse we use becomes your experimental horse, just like your first-born child is more of an experimental child, poor kid.  Cheyenne and I are getting a better relationship through this but, unfortunately, she is the horse I learn on.

It all started when I taught her some tricks and she loved the connection with me associated with the tricks.  But she didn’t seem to enjoy it when I rode her as much.  She would flip her tail quite a bit, throw her head and pin her ears, or even kick up her heels.  When I saw another individual working her horse in natural horsemanship, I wanted that kind of relationship with Cheyenne.

On a side note, always check out the physical aspect of their negative reaction just to make sure there is not physical pain.  I did bring out a horse chiropractor to make sure my horse’s negative reactions were not from pain.  The first visit found that both of my horses were out in various areas.  Cheyenne was out in both sides of her hip area while Gypsy was out in her neck and rib cage area.  Head tossing could come from teeth needing to be floated or too harsh a bit.

I am now working on getting that kind of a relationship and it takes time.  For everything I ask of her to accept, I need to see how she feels about different situations.  Such as, how does she accept the saddle, bridle, my mounting skills for bareback, etc.?  Then I deal with those different circumstances until she accepts and is more happy with it.  How I can tell if she is content is her head being lower, licking and chewing, no ear pinning, etc.  So if I acknowledge Cheyenne’s feelings about certain things, then we get better in our relationship.  I am told that through this kind of training horses get trained faster but more thoroughly and horses who have a connection with the trainer, it is all about relationship first.

I see this connection with Cheyenne, she loves working with me.  I still don’t have the relationship on her back as well as the ground but I am working on it.  It is becoming more and more solid.  I need to mount in a way that her head stays low, and she is relaxed after mounting.  Only after she is standing content — with head low, eyes and ears relaxed — is it then time for me to ride off.  I learned this first in dressage before natural.  They love the natural connection with their horses too.

Now, before I started training natural horsemanship I was sometimes too soft with my teaching skills with my horse, but then there were other times it seemed that I would jump to being more firm or too harsh.  I am now trying to find a happy medium to where I work with my horses through understanding how they are thinking about my approach on proper reactions to the way my horse and I work through situations.

lungingNow, what constitutes abusive training or too passive training?  There are people including me who use small whips, lunging whips, dressage riding whips, a carrot stick too.  These whips are meant to be used as tools more for an extension of your arm.  It is abusive to use them as anything other than that extension.  To explain, when I am riding and my horse does not respond to a squeeze from my legs, I use the dressage whip when the horse does not respond to my leg.  So with no response from the leg, tap with the whip behind my leg, sometimes that is all it takes.  But if I get no response after the whip, then I use it a little more firmly.  But the goal is to teach the horse to get used to the signal from the leg and not the whip.  So use the whip only as a guide that teaches. I learned this from dressage riding that I have done for years.  I am just starting to learn how natural horsemanship differs in its training.

When I am working with my horses, when I ask them to do something, if the horse doesn’t respond I need to ask myself if I am giving them signals that I am not aware of or maybe I am giving the wrong cue or a combination of cues.  Example, if I am asking the horse to trot but I am pulling back on the reigns, I am giving mixed signals.  Here is another example.  I want my horse to stop but my legs are squeezing the horse tightly, mixed signals.  So we need to be careful to not make cues or signals confusing, or mixed with other cues that we just are not aware of.  These situations can make the trainer or owner confused as well in comprehending that the horse is not responding, then situations can lead to abuse.

Just remember, try to focus on how you are cuing/signaling the horse and watch for the slightest try and reward that.  But make sure your signals are clear as to not confuse the poor horse who cannot speak English.  After the horse responds, then we need to release the pressure or stop the cue as a reward, it is the release that teaches.  Otherwise, it can be confusing to the horse to figure out exactly what you want.  But when we release the horse might then say, ” Aha, I get it now.”  But we need to be consistent with that same signal for the same reaction, otherwise there’s confusion.

If I am lunging my horse and I want Cheyenne or Gypsy to trot or canter, I give them the voice command and if I get no response I pop the whip, I don’t use it on them.  If they circle too close to me, then I take the tip of my long lunging whip and point the tip at the horse’s shoulder and shake it to cause the horse to move out and away from me.   However, if a horse all of a sudden turns on you and charges the handler then, by all means, you have the right to use the whip on the horse to stop the charging, this would not be abuse but save the handler from being trampled.

There is another area where people need to protect themselves from horses.  Horses are prey animals.  They react first then maybe question what they may have kicked, bolted from, or bucked off.   However, as humans, we weigh much less than a half-ton animal and need to out-think the horse instead of trying to use brute force to get a horse to perform.

Example: I watch people try to get their horse to move by abuse of over-using a whip, really large spur use, or strong bits that are too much for the horse or in the hands of an abusive handler who does not know how to properly use that bit.  Instead, we need to join up with the horse in understanding what causes them to flee, buck or kick,  otherwise understand their thinking and working with them more on their level and not so much try to squeeze them into a human mold.  There are correct ways to use spurs too that is not abusive, but again used as a tool to help in learning.

There have been humans who have gone out and observed the horse in their natural habitat and come up with a plan to train them by using horse psychology.  I feel like this is a better way to understand their world rather than large bits, spurs, excessive whip use, etc.  in other words, they’re breaking their spirit.  We more likely partner up with the horse as a benevolent leader but have a connection with them.  This is the connection that I am wanting to talk about.  The fine line that goes with it on being too harsh or too soft to where your horse does the jitterbug on your head.  This is where we are heading, but there are other areas of abuse we could look at as well.

Please stay tuned for more and please feel free to comment.

Building a relationship with horse takes time

One day last week when I went out to work with Cheyenne, I put the halter on her as usual and led her out of the field.  I took her to the outdoor arena, and she was a little slower than average but I didn’t think anything of it.

When we got into the arena, Cheyenne started to do a lot of bowing, extremely low bows.  She did this over and over.  I thought, “Wow, if she is going to do low bowing for longer periods of time then that is good, and I will giver her lots of treats.”  So I did!

Amy and her girls, Cheyenne and Gypsy. (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Amy and her girls, Cheyenne and Gypsy. (Photo by Randy Kroll)

I finally decided to have her do another activity, but she continually wanted to keep bowing.  When I decided to have her do something else, I then noticed that she was limping on one leg and was not moving very fast.  How sad, and confusing to why my beautiful horse was limping and sore.  So obviously, I could not do much with a lame horse.  Cheyenne was so sore that she wanted to keep me happy by doing a lot of bowing for me.

I then decided to put Cheyenne back out in the big field because I didn’t want to stress her because she was hurt.  I don’t know how she became sore because I didn’t work her hard at all the day before.  But something happened so she needed to rest.  I worked more with Gypsy.

While I was working with Gypsy, Cheyenne was outside the arena watching almost like wishing she was the horse being worked and loved on.  I did have a private riding lesson student who rode Gypsy and she did a great job.  However, the sad thing with Gypsy is that she can’t trot or canter with a rider.  She has arthritis in her pastern and walking with a rider doesn’t bother her.  She needs a shot in the joint for her treatment, but at this point I can’t afford it.  I just work with her on what she can do without pain.  She loves being worked.

Alas, Cheyenne was standing outside the arena watching.  I feel bad now because I should have massaged her leg or something.  I did stretch her leg, but I feel like I should have done more because I love Cheyenne so much.  She is a great horse even though she does have a small sway in her back from birth I guess.

I am working hard to build a great relationship with Cheyenne.  It does take a lot of time to do that, but I love the work with her.  Even liberty is fun when she does walk and trot with me.

I’m just sharing the thought that in order to build a relationship with your equine friends, you need to spend long hours with your trusty steed.

Please feel free to  respond.