Monday, 19 March 2018


Reliable brakes – not just for reiners!  Anyone ever been thankful for a horse who had a braking safety feature installed? An accident averted, an equitation class won, an opportunity to re-group before things got “out of hand”?
I’ve been thankful for horses that know “whoa” before they steps on the reins, unseat a novice, or bump into another horse in the warm up ring. A nifty tool in training when a horse’s tension’s rising, and BEFORE he hits flight mode!
On another note, who doesn’t wish we’d put the brakes on our tongues from time to time!
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we  could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. in the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes great boasts. Book of James, the Bible

Monday, 12 March 2018

The horse’s flight response. Practice makes perfect.

Flight response is a prey animal’s instinct to flee from perceived danger.
Dr Andrew Mclean says “A structure deep inside the brain called the amygdala, sorts out stimuli as to whether they are fearful or not. Fearful stimuli receive special recognition by the brain in terms of remembering - unlike other information, once learned, fearful responses are not forgotten. You can layer new responses on top, so they become less easily retrieved, but fearful responses need careful training to keep the lid on them.”
A horse doesn’t get a 2nd chance in nature to make a judgment error – when a threat is perceived he flees to a safe distance and checks things out from there. Thus, while most skills are learned by trial and error, it only takes one trial for him to learn something through fear.
The flight response shows up in various  ways. Bucking, shying, tension, running, hurrying, jigging, rushing,”.
Mild to maximum expressions, flight is self-generating -the faster a horse’s legs, go, the more worked up he becomes. That’s why, when afraid, a horse will run right into a fence!
So…it makes you think about the idea of letting a horse “get it out of his system” on a lunge line or chase him in a round pen until he focusses on the handler. If practice makes perfect, what does practicing a fearful situation do?
On a human level, what about rehearsing our fears and fretting over problems? Does running in a circle  get it out of your system or make your worry more?
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Jesus Christ

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Horses and Fences

Don’t give up what you want most for what you want right now.
I had the privilege of speaking to a student group last night- Life Lessons Learned from Horses. From the city, on outdoor education at a local retreat centre, everyone had experienced their first “horse encounter”.
Horses are hard on fences, I told them. They bend them, break them – maybe the grass is greener on the other side…. Every horse person has nursed their share of “fence injuries”!
Kind of like us - when we push the limits, find a loophole, cross the line or take a short- cut, what we think will liberate us might only get us caught up. Or short- cut our goals.

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.”