Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Horse learning: Licking and chewing-takin’ it with a grain of salt

Is it an AHA moment in a horse’s understanding? A sign of submission or a sigh of relief?
Always one to ask questions, I think a little differently about the licking and chewing thing  than I did in earlier years training horses. We recognize this mouth behaviour in a horse after stopping to take a break in an intense training interaction.   It’s like that moment of relief you get when that police car, approaching in your rear view mirror, with sirens blaring, zips by without pulling you over. You swallow and take a deep breath!
Dr. Sue McDonnell explains. When an animal or a person is threatened or acutely stressed, the nervous system switches into alert or fight or flight mode with the sympathetic nervous system. Pain, fear, or confusion can all turn on the sympathetic system. Whether scared or confused or excited from the running around or the trailer loading, the horse is in sympathetic mode. A break in the pressure often allows the horse to return to parasympathetic, as that occurs you see the licking and chewing response…. in horses I tend to think of this as simple neurochemically mediated responses that do not necessarily reflect any thought processes. Dr. Sue McDonnell is head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine
So what do you do in moment of relief? “Thank you Lord!” is my default. Do I learn from the stress? Hopefully. But I’m not a prey animal. We know that horses can’t really learn when they’re in flight mode or stressed.
I’ve learned over the years that horse training actually goes faster when a horse’s mind and legs are thinking slower.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

De-stress horse handling procedures.

Applying science-based learning principles for any horse training scenario, Dr. Sue McDonnell suggests how to de-stress 5 common stressful vet treatment procedures. It's common for equestrians to unintentionally train avoidance responses using pressure and release in the wrong timing. “We put pressure, the horses react, we back off because we have to because they're big or we weren't prepared, and the horse almost immediately gets into an avoidance cycle,” she said. “Recognize when something is not working, and change your approach before the horse becomes conditioned to avoid.”

Monday, 8 January 2018

New Year, new horse show rules.

It’s human to look for a fresh start every January, isn’t it?

New habits and attitudes to replace or tweak the old ways.

And because it’s our human nature to find a loophole, horse show committees roll out new or tweaked rules to close them!
 Judges and stewards reset our inner scoring systems. Competitors tweak tack and even training techniques.

What’s new from EC?
No ear phones or earbuds in the show ring. And only one bud in the practice ring.
In equitation, black (or other) stirrup irons are again allowed, but silver ones are “recommended”.

What’s new from AQHA?
Knockdowns in equitation over fences will carry a 4 point penalty – in other words, it’s not necessarily  a “game over” issue, unless it’s clearly the fault of the rider.
Any “rein detangling” done in western events can be penalty free as long as the adjusting hand stays behind the rein hand – ie. no attempting to alter rein tension or cue with the free hand.

Ranch horses will earn a 10 point penalty for “unnatural ranch horse appearance”.( eg. an obvious, unnatural tail carriage).

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Riding bareback: when natural is not necessarily better.

That bareback beach riding bucket list experience - a tender moment for the rider, yet perhaps differently “tender” for the horse.
In several recent studies researchers have confirmed the benefits of pressure -distribution thanks to saddle trees, making them a better option than some treeless saddles or riding bareback…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. 
“It might seem more “natural” to ride without a saddle”, says professor and researcher, Dr. Hilary Clayton, “but unless you’re particularly light and fit (and skilled) enough to distribute your own weight evenly across your seat and thigh muscles, your horse is probably better off with a well-fitting saddle between you and him.” 
The Dec. 2016

Friday, 17 November 2017

Am I allowed to use a bitless bridle?

 I'm asked this question at a few open shows per season. Currently most rule books do not permit bitless bridle. 

At the Global Dressage Forum. Dr. Andrew McLean one of the panel experts “How you train the bitless bridle depends on the hands at the other end. I think you can have the horse light in anything.… It’s how you train it.” 

When asked if a bitless bridle is kinder and more friendly to the horse, Dr. Hilary Clayton (one of the most respected researchers in equine mechanics and behaviour) replied, “I approach it scientifically. There is pressure on the nose. (With research technology) we looked at the cross-under bitless bridle and discovered there is twice as much pressure with this noseband, on a localized area. So padding the nosebands in that area is necessary. We need to look at more different types of bridles, but they are not totally benign either. It’s a matter of evaluating the horse. Don’t just assume you take the bit away and it’s more friendly.”