Friday, 26 May 2017

My horse is bucking! -What to do? Part 2

Avoid it  - If I’m going to stir up a storm, I need to be able to ride through whatever horse’s response so that he doesn’t find bucking rewarding. So I might come at a training problem in another way vs attacking head on.
Examples – small wins vs epic wins. 3 % improvement. Aim to never have to step back down the training staircase because you jumped two steps and it went wrong. Evasion undermines the progress because anything learned through fear/ adrenaline is learned quickly.
Have your tools in place In training a horse with a inclination to buck, I’d make sure these “bricks” are well laid in my training foundation before cantering:
·       Straight and forward: Bulging to the outside of a circle (usually towards the barn), lack of forward motion and bucking are often related problems. It is essential that you have control of your horse’s body parts in order to keep him straight and avoid “fishtailing” hind quarters. All lateral work such as bending, leg yielding, turns on the haunches and forehand will give you some tools to contain evasions.
·       Teach your horse from the ground to defer to your pressure on every part of his body before you climb aboard. Well practiced yield-to-pressure exercises under saddle every time you feel him distracted by emotions.

Pay attention/connect every stride. Look for signs of ducking head, shifting weight to front end, choking of rhythm, swelling beneath you. Timing is key to nip the urge to buck in the bud
Keep a lid on the physical energy. Longe first. Long trot.  Is my horse ready to listen when I swing into the saddle? Or is he overwhelmed by a new experience or environment – like a grade 7 boy at Wonderland
He may be fine in the arena but prone to buck in the freedom and distraction of great outdoors.
Keep emotions low (Horse and human emotions) Don’t startle. Use aids smooth escalation: 1-10 scale. Abrupt canter trans. Getting after horse in anger.
Circle to divert the energy. Your horse will find it difficult to buck on a tight circle. As your horse relaxes (you'll feel no resistance in your hands, his ears will soften and attentive, and he'll be supple to  your leg), ride off straight on a test line

Friday, 19 May 2017

What is a buck ? Part 1

A behaviour expressed in variety shapes and sizes:
·       one buck or multiple.
·       a sharp kick out with one or both legs,
·        stationary, stalling, rocking, humping or while running.
A buck can also follow a flight incident like an exclamation mark on the tail end a spook.
Why does my horse buck?
Equitation scientists agree it’s an avoidance behaviour. A defensive behaviour to dislodge a threat or annoyance. Some horses seem to be more apt to buck than others, while others opt for other evasions (rearing, running). In all cases, what began as an isolated incident can quickly become a learned behaviour when it works!
Exuberance/Play Prey animals get wound up. The faster their legs go, the more adrenaline rises, which generates more excitement. Keep emotions low.
Pain   First, it is wise to rule out any physical discomfort that could contribute to your horse’s behaviour. Back pain, internal issues or joint pain may also motivate a horse to buck in search of relief.
Pressure points caused by an ill-fitting saddle can affect your horse the way uncomfortable shoes affect you.  I’m regularly sliding students’ saddles back off the shoulder blades. Having them slip their fingers under the front panels to discover – ouch- this part is really digging in! Reputable saddle makers and researchers offer much accessible info online - guidelines to determine proper fit.
 Look for a physical cause first in quest to solve horse puzzles. One caveat - we can get bogged down, frozen, looking for an elusive source of pain, meanwhile permitting a behavior problem. To allow bucking is to confirm the behavior so that even after the problem is resolved, the behaviour may persist. The horse has linked a canter transition or landing a jump with bucking.
Fear- Defensive tactic. Horses are hard-wired to buck. While more prone to flight than fight, once a horse has tried unsuccessfully to get away from the threat, his default is to aggression. If threatened or startled from the front, he’ll throw his head up, strike out with front feet or spin away. If threatened or bothered behind the girth, he’ll buck or kick with whatever force he needs to avoid/relieve threat/pressure.
Irritation: This problem rears it’s ugly head frequently with novice riders.  The increased pace of the canter and resulting instability of the rider magnifies problems that might not be seen in the walk or trot:  mixed cues, a “noisy” or gripping leg.
 If that pressure is relieved (rider’s leg is displaced, rider is unseated, falls off or stops the riding session) the horse discovers a pay-off.  Much the same as kicking out to dislodge a biting fly and pay-off-it goes away. Horses do what works. By finding release at the right moment….or sadly, the wrong moment, he has just trained himself.
Let’s look at some solutions in the next post!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Why the judge and your horse will appreciate your “good hands.”

I can still hear my early instructors barking at me. Like any novice, while I focused on keeping my horse going or identifying the right diagonal, my hands would elevate and bounce around. But the more I tried to force them down, the stiffer and more jarring they became. As a coach, I make it a goal to describe the importance of and specifically how to develop elastic arms
1   1. Good hands deliver a clear “code” to your horse. Are you speaking so your horse is listening?
Riding effectively can be boiled down to a signal/response/ pressure or release system. Your hands send the signal, communicating  messages such as slow, turn and  flex to your horse. Each signal is precise and distinct. When your horse responds to your request, you respond with a reward, releasing the pressure. By trial and error the horse learns that a certain response always yields consistent release.
2   2.  Good hands prevent a dull horse. Blah, Blah, Blah…
Do you ever tune out a voice on the TV or car  radio to focus on something else? A rider’s unsteady hands can be just that – background noise that drowns out other signals you’re trying to send to your horse. At best, the horse can ignore the noise, becoming desensitized to it. Equine behaviourists call this habituation. Unsteady hands interfere with the code, like static interfering with a radio station. The real message is hard to discern.
3. Good hands prevent an overly sensitive horse.
 At worst, erratic hands will not only confuse or dull your horse, but scare him. He’ll learn to preserve himself by avoiding the bit in some way. Gapping mouths, elevated heads, hollow backs and choppy gaits are common evasions. Instead of having a conversation of “no” and “yes” to your horse, abrupt hands yell - putting your horse on edge.
4. Good hands are rewarded by the judge.
 Judges look for elastic hands. Subtle communication enhances the show ring presentation. Research shows tension in a horse’s mouth and tongue trigger tension through the neck and spine – the result? Shorter, rigid strides – yuck!
Rule books use words such as relaxed and supple to describe the arm position for equitation and horsemanship. Loss of contact between rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth is a major penalty in some scoring systems. For western riders, AQHA includes excessive pumping of the free arm as well as excessive stiffness will be penalized. Hunter and equitation judges learn the rider’s wrist is to be kept straight and relaxed, with the hand held at about 30 to 45 degrees inside the vertical. On the equitation over fences scorecard, judges have symbols for straight arms, stiff wrists and reins too short or long.

5. Good hands minimize the use of artificial aids.
The solution to bit evasion is usually not in the tack box. And most training aids are not permitted in the show ring anyway. Instead of making the mistake of solving those problems with band aid solutions such as nosebands and artificial aids, as riders, let’s go first to the root of the problem – developing elastic, independent hands.
Unlocking the movement in your shoulder, elbow and wrist joints is the first step to soft, following hands. I ask my students to picture holding a cup of coffee as they drive over a speed bump. Shock absorbing elasticity will keep you from spilling the coffee.
Soft hands will lead to a soft mouth, soft ears and soft expression in your horse.

Monday, 17 April 2017

5 reasons why the judge and your horse appreciate good equitation. (Part 1)

 I learned equitation fundamentals to the repetitive tune of  “head up, heels down!” trotting around and around  the riding school ring. I aquired the “whats” of riding in those early years, but didn’t get good answers to my “whys!”  It’s a shame – if I’d grasped the logic and the science behind the skills, and how I’d use them in the future, I’d have been more motivated in those drills.
 The essentials of correct rider position cross all disciplines, and there’s a great reason behind every essential.

1.Your horse will thank you for going easy on his back.
Researchers now have cool technology to read all pressures, bumps and shifts a horse actually feels while being ridden. After studying this, I’m more intentional than ever of the signals I’m conveying as I ride. 
Dr.Hilary Clayton, researcher in equine and rider bioechanis, says the amount of force we apply to a horse’s back depends on how we ride and what gait we’re riding. For example, peak forces at the trot are twice a rider’s weight, and they increase to 2 ½ or three times the rider’s weight at the canter.
Clayton says. Any weight on an equine back can cause hollowing, but you can reduce these risks by not overloading the horse, riding with a soft, balanced seat, and sitting closer to the front of the saddle.
In addition, Clayton says novice riders are generally less in sync with the horse than advanced riders and more likely to bump against the saddle.

2. The judge will reward a strong, balanced seat.
Aside from a low equitation score, an unbalanced seat leads to “weightier”  deductions on the score card as they affecting your horse’s performance – left- behind over jumps,  left- behind in reining spins or late-behind flying changes. Needless to say, rider  floppiness detracts from “the look” in a rail or flat class.

3. A secure seat keeps a lids on the mixed messages sent to your horse.
A strong, stable foundation from which to be precise with your leg and rein aids.
But there’s a balance between strength and stiffness. Many riders try too hard –confusing posing with poise. A rigid or overarched back can’t follow the horse’s movement and absorb shock. The AQHA rulebook for instance,states that a flat, yet relaxed and supple back is to be rewarded.
Your seat controls the length and tempo of the horse’s stride. A seat which flows with the stride is used as an aid to influence the stride, similar to the motion of a playground swing. A locked lower back causes the seat to bounce in the saddle.

4. Your horse will perform better if you ride with a balanced seat
Clayton notes that  horses must adapt to the  “the unpredictability of the novice rider’s weight shifts.”
Dr. Katrina Merkies, from U. of Guelph, observed that rider asymmetry worsens as a horse’s speed or movement increases (goes from walk to trot, for instance).
A rider with his ear, shoulder, hip and heel in a line perpendicular to the ground is in balance and isn’t likely to fall forward or backward. Picture the balance needed to stand in the back of a pickup truck, driven over a bumpy field.  It’s common to see riders with their legs too far forward. Glance down - you shouldn’t be able to see your toe poking out in front of your knee. Stirrup leathers (or western fenders) should be perpendicular to the ground.

5. Seat exercises are easy to work into your riding time.
In lessons, I give my students a variety of short drills targeted to any position problems they may have, working on them in three minute segments, like commercials in between other work we are doing. This avoids muscle fatigue that could lead to sloppy practice, developing another bad habit en route to correcting an existing one. An example:
Try switching up posting rhythms. For example, riding five strides in two point, five strides of posting, then five strides of sitting trot. Or instead of conventional posting, try rising up for two beats, touching down in the saddle for only one beat. This takes a lot of concentration and upper body control. Core strength will help you to influence and regulate the rhythm of your horses stride with your hips.

Next issue: why the judge and your horse will appreciate your “good hands”!