Monday, 24 October 2016


I’m asked this regularly. I may dig a little deeper, “Tell me what you mean by bonding.”
If bonding means to you:
  • my horse feels safe/relaxed in my presence
  • he understands me,
 I’d say that’s very important. However, if you’re hoping for your horse to share your human emotional needs and share your goals, probably not.
Dr. Robin Foster, researcher of equine behaviour, writes that the horse’s perspective probably does not mirror the human experience.
 “People have an emotionally based social need for companionship, and research shows relationships with animals help to satisfy this need.
In contrast, a horse’s social needs are rarely met through his relationships with humans. In a recent article published in the journal Behavioural Processes researchers reported that horses are more interested in and form stronger connections with other horses than with humans. Horses tend to be wary of humans at first…”
 Attachment to humans might be stronger when horses are hand-reared, but researchers cautioned that
“the negative welfare implications of keeping horses socially isolated from others of the same species may constitute an ethical dilemma for caregivers wanting to increase their horse’s attachment to them.” 
How to make a horse feel safe? Is this the same as “trust?”
More about this next blog, but I’d like to hear your thoughts…
My list starts with
  1. the predictability of my movements and cues
  2. the predictability of the environment and schedule I provide

Friday, 7 October 2016

Do helmets give us a false sense of security?

A CBC interview about helmet safety piqued my interest.

I learned that in nearly every study of hospital admission rates, helmeted cyclists are 80% less likely to receive serious head and brain injuries —but these stats apply only for those who get into accidents.

So here’s the flip side –research says that helmeted cyclists bike faster, take more risks, and ride in riskier environments.
We’ve also discovered safety feature in cars give drivers a fall sense of security – what psychologists call “risk compensation”.

The University of Guelph’s driving lab put drivers in a simulator and told them to watch for moose.  Drivers sped up when they knew their cars were equipped with special moose detectors. “The moose would be in the back seat before people stopped the car,” remarked the lab’s director.
Risky behavior. At every horse show I see impetuous riders – climbing aboard fresh, distracted or green horses – prey animals in a busy, unfamiliar environment…but these riders are wearing their helmets. Yikes!
Compare two riders who’ve brought their young horses to the horse show: the western reiner, on a supple, focused, carefully prepped horse who chooses not to wear a helmet, and the helmeted rider on the distracted, jigging horse – resistant to rein aids and without lateral cues installed.
I guess in the event of a fall, the helmet will minimize damage.  But wouldn’t it be better not to fall in the first place?
I guess the best overall solution would be to ride it as if you had no helmet…  and then wear one.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Judging hunters

I changed hats t this weekend-literally.  Sometimes “stuff happens” and show managers have to adjust on the fly- and so do judges!  Arriving prepared to judge the western ring , I was asked if I would judge the hunter and jumper rings instead. For those who judge multiple disciplines we must learn to change hats -scoring systems, terminology, penalties, class formats, even judging location (in the ring or in a booth), depending on the assignment.

So I didn’t have my score sheets or  whistle…  But I did have my trusty visor!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Yielding to pressure – you, not your horse!

“Just get back on! You don’t want to lose your nerve.”
“Why not enter the trail class?  You’re at the show anyway.”
“Are you coming out on a hack with us?”
Well-meaning invitations, but sadly, invitations into situations  for which neither you nor your horse are quite prepared.
Have you ever felt pressure to push the boundaries with your horse?
I am a professional bubble-burster. As clinician and coach, I act as the voice of caution. As a show judge, I can only wince.
We’d never suggest a friend commute into Toronto with unreliable brakes and steering.  Yet, it makes me sad to see at a few horses at every show,  in the pressure cooker of an unfamiliar environment without the tools needed for the task.
I’ve been there- felt the pressure from a  friend, a coach, a client.  The time I’ve spent  rebuilding confidence in myself or my horse inspires me to help other riders and horses rebuild theirs. Systematically installing the buttons to move the horse laterally, lengthen and shorten stride, connect, collect and halt.

Friday, 22 July 2016

When evidence collides with tradition: part 2

Traditions run deep in the horse world. From tack to training, to the terms we use ...WHY? - I figure it doesn't hurt to ask! Hey sometimes I've found there's a good reason - someone way smarter than me "invented the wheel" and doesn't need ME to re-invent it :) So I'll keep asking...
Like the new bride whose husband asks "Why do you cut off the ends of the roast before you cook it? — that's the best part!" She answers, "That's the way my mother always made it."
So when the guy raises the question at Christmas dinner, mother in law shrugs, "that's the only way it will fit in my pan!"
What about you?- anything you do differently with your horses
after doing some snooping into the research? Or with a few years of wisdom under your belt?

Monday, 18 July 2016

That’s just the way we’ve always done it…”

Traditions persist in the horse world. Does anyone know why flat classes traditionally start on the left rein?  I caused a little stir recently, at an open hunter show by starting on the right rein in an equitation class. Can you think of other enduring  (though puzzling)equine traditions? 

Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, until evidence leads us to look outside. I do like how AQHA is encouraging judges to mix up the gait calls and direction of flat classes. I do this regularly when I judge and appreciate it as an exhibitor. Ring sourness is a problem with show horses. Horses learn by association, anticipating what’s next. This is classical conditioning – the same principle causing my cat to appear at the sound of the can opener.