Hold steady to the calm and peacefully persist.
I read some equestrian news yesterday that Sinead Halpin retired one of her top mounts, and she quoted her husband, Tik Maynard, as saying, “A great horse would jump through fire for you if you asked, and a great horseman would never ask.” I can think about this for hours. It might be one of […]
I’m sharing this because I love the quote-I love the wisdom in it. I think you will, too.
You do not realize what a spoiled rotten First World brat you are until you get into take a bath and-there’s not a drop of hot water coming out of that tap. I mean not even tepid.
The well is 900 feet so that water is really cold-I’ve never measured the temperature, but on my nekkid skin, it feels like 33 degrees F. What’s worse-I know for a fact that my spouse took a long luxurious soak in that same tub not an hour before. The tank must have drained and not reheated which means there’s no hope of more later.
Grit my teeth and finish the bath-I’ve done it camping, it isn’t fun, but cold water won’t kill me. In fact, on one camping trip years ago with a friend, we’d gone to a Georgia state park in the mountains. There was a state wide water restriction so the park rangers had turned the hot water off in the showers. It was really hot that day and we’d been hiking. We hit those showers. Honest to God, we both came out with blue nail beds and blue lips. We were clean though. We sat out in the sun like lizards to warm back up.
People here take turning on a water tap for granted. I’ve been to places where people had to haul buckets of water in wheelbarrows from a sluggish river up to what they called the campground showers. Then someone would climb a ladder and the buckets would be handed up to be dumped into cisterns to warm in the sun for the tourists to shower in. It’s humbling to say the least. This is the next thing to slave labor. I benefitted from it.
I’ll enjoy my hot water in my bath and for washing clothes and dishes. But I will never, ever take the blessing of water on tap for granted again. Not ever.
Humans have, over the centuries, learned to become worshippers of the warriors and predator mindset. In doing that, we’ve lost a great deal in being able to know ourselves and those who love us, live with us, and work with us. I find that incredibly sad.
But-and this is important-horses can bring this back to us. They have always held this wisdom. They use it every day in their interactions with each other, with humans, and with other species. All we have to do-incredibly enough-is open our eyes, ears, and minds to learn.
How is this possible?
Watch how a mare teaches her foal. She’ll nudge the baby towards her udder. But in a couple of weeks, after the baby has learned to nurse and found out that bumping her hard and pulling hard will make the milk come down faster, she’ll object if the baby bites and hurts her. She’ll nip it in the rear quickly-but if the baby does it again, she may deliver a fast cow kick AND a nip to the butt plus a total refusal to allow junior access to the diary bar. There’s no loud “boo-yah”, fist pump, or anything else. It’s quick, quiet, and Junior is just left standing some distance away from mom wondering what the heck just happened. The lesson? Treat me right or you don’t get what you want-and you get left socially isolated. Not fun-but it is surely effective.
Likewise, as young horses mature, they interact with each other and adult horses learning to find their own place within a herd’s hierarchy. A ear position, the gesture of the head and neck, the whipping of the tail or a tail held high or in a clamped position, rearing, striking, a single or a double hind leg kick-all of these translate to messages that horses use to convey emotions, warnings, and information. They are masters of reading body language. Not just equine body language-but that of their entire environment-which includes that of other animals, both prey and predators (including humans). In fact-they are ‘hard-wired’ for the job then trained by their dams and herd mates into black belt masters. Even the dullest is good at it. We are the dullards.
We’ve all seen the rodeo bronc rider-and we may have ridden a few bucks in our days of riding. I know I have-none as seriously into as a rodeo horse, but definitely intended to deposit my fanny somewhere other than where it was at the time. Only one consistently successful was a Shetland pony mare who, as it happened, foaled the next day. No one had a clue. But she could buck!
Most of us are pretty much of the persuasion (or at least I hope we are) that the old grab a wild one out of the corral, rope him, throw a saddle on him, and climb up with the objective of riding the bucks out of the horse ‘eventually’ is at best ineffective, hard on both man and horse, and makes for a horse that is never totally reliable. Any time you train with force and fear you can never truly trust that the training will hold when you need it the most.
But it was fast-or so they thought at the time. We now know that if you take enough time to start with that it will take less time in the long run. I know for a fact it sure does save a lot of wear and tear on both human and horse.
But if you don’t do it that way, do you do it this way? Do you use all the straps, bits, lines, and gimmicks? Don’t get me wrong-I’ve got a few in my barn. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. What I can tell you now-after 50 years of study, experimentation, and a lot of thought-is this-most of this stuff is pretty damn near useless and is humans trying to find a way to shortcut their way into doing things correctly. Bottom line-if you aren’t getting the result that you want, you aren’t asking the horse the correct question. It is not the horse that is wrong-it’s you. And it nearly knocked me on my fat fanny when I realized that.
Which brings me to this-why are we still requiring dressage competitors to use double bridles, spurs, and a dressage whip, when you can get the exact same frame as Xenophon’s horse without a bridle or a saddle? Dressage should be about the communication between horse and rider, shouldn’t it? In its purest form, you should not need anything. What do you see with this horse? Face is vertical, fully collected, round and beautiful sitting trot. Isn’t this what we are really after?
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First of all, a reminder-these are my opinions and they are based on 50+ years of working with all kinds of horses. However, if you disagree, feel free to keep on going. I know not everybody is going to agree with me. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life out of step with the rest of the world so it is nothing new to me. But do not attempt to change my viewpoints by charging in and ‘correcting’ me. It simply will not work. I’ll ignore you.
This photo is on top because I see a lot-no, make that TONS-of horses wearing snaffles and flash nose bands. I did it, too, for awhile with a young horse until he made it quite plain that the arrangement pissed him off to no end. (Always pay attention to what your horse is telling you, folks. My riding instructor kept telling me to do this or that, but I listened to HIM. He was shaking his head, pulling on the reins, opening his mouth, not listening, dropping his shoulder, etc. The problem lay in the bridle-it hurt.) So I set about learning about bits, nosebands, hands, and why they are used. It isn’t pretty the majority of the time.
Nose bands were originally nothing more than a way to tie your horse without using the reins in the military/driving days. They had a ring underneath and were always fairly heavy leather worn loosely enough that the horse could chew his ration in a nose bag. Some person somewhere along the line got the ‘brilliant’ idea that they could force a horse’s mouth closed by putting a few more holes in the thing. Why did they want to?
This is why-if you put something into a mouth and it can be steel, plastic, rubber, leather-you can find ways to create pain. Now I’m NOT saying that you shouldn’t use bits-but you should understand that ALL bits are capable of creating ENORMOUS pain. There is no such thing as a ‘mild’ bit. All that varies is the knowledge and skill of the hands that use it. A thick snaffle in the hands of a fool can be the instrument of extreme torture to a horse. By the same token, there are some people who can get horses to perform world class dressage bridleless. I’ve ridden a finished spade bit horse that could be handled with a feather’s touch on the reins and the nose band was for decoration only.
People want the end-without the work involved to get there.
Now I’m a perfectionist myself-and I can get as frustrated as the next person about my horses’ performance as anyone else. So don’t even start down that road with me. You do have the time to work with that horse-you just don’t want to take it. You’d rather take the shortcut of hurting your horse-causing pain-and justifying it to yourself as ‘but everybody else does it’, ‘my trainer recommended it’, ‘my horse wasn’t listening to me’, blah, blah, blah. Go ahead-add any you wish-I’ve heard them all-and they are all EXCUSES FOR POOR HORSEMANSHIP. That’s unacceptable.
The third photo is another type of nose band being marketed. Notice that it is supposedly more ‘humane’ because it avoids the jaw bones covered only with skin. Well, isn’t that nice, folks? But now we have a strap higher on the jaw to help hold the jaw closed and better bracing across the nose bridge. The horse loses even more. (Actually, you do, too.
The thing is pricey.)
I didn’t put any Western, endurance, or other disciplines in this-mostly for space reasons. They are just as much at fault as the English branch. If there is a way a human can inflict pain and suffering on a horse, by golly, they’ll find it and do it.
Am I one of those nuts who thinks horses shouldn’t be ridden? Oh, heck, no. I do think that a great many of the gizmos (chambons, draw reins, martingales, gambons, tie downs, etc.) should be recognized for what they are and thrown in the land fills. If you think you need something like that-get a motorcycle or ATV and leave the horse alone. As one person puts it “If you keep getting the wrong answer, then you aren’t asking the right question.” See the last photo for an example of that-the rider isn’t getting the ‘frame’ that was desired so rollkur was resorted to to achieve it. The wrong question was being asked so the wrong answer was given. The horse is paying the price for the humans’ quest for perfection.
But it seems apparent to me that in some ways, humans have no evolved much since the days when we hunted horses down purely as a source of meat. Certainly the paintings on the walls of caves support this conclusion.
We still-in some places-consume their flesh, although most in the USA consider this practice to be abhorrent. Some cases of outright brutality-beatings, stabbings, shootings (guns and bows), dragging with ropes/chains, and various other tortures are described in news articles on the internet-and we now know that individuals who do this sort of thing will go on to bring that hell on humans sooner rather than later.
But what about the lesser evils we inflict? Can we address those?
- Horses are open range animals-they live in herds and depend on being able to see and able to move to get away from danger. But what do we do? We do the very opposite-we lock them up in solitary in small boxes for our own worry-free existence-not theirs. It’s no wonder they acquire ulcers and bad habits such as cribbing, weaving, wall kicking, bolting their feed, and such. They are our prisoners.
- We cut their body hair off-and then put blankets on them. I understand why you would-and have done so myself for medical reasons. But ordinarily, no, I would not. The body hair does a fine job of protecting the horse from the elements and needs little else unless the weather is really poor. I will help them in foul weather, but on the whole-they do fine au natural.
- Shoes-ah, you knew I’d get to this one. This is a hard topic. To be sure, the ‘modern’ horse has been bred mostly for what is above the coronet band-and that’s a crying shame. After my first horse-whom I treasured, I vowed to look at the hooves first. The Sports Model Jackass had LOUSY feet. They were big, dinner plate size, and they chipped. Moreover, they had flattened due to repeated foundering. He was a mess. He had to be shod-no way around it. Problem was-couldn’t keep steel on him. The wall would crumble. Fortunately that was when the plastic shoes came out-and the blacksmith grumbled but he put them on the horse-and they worked.
Since that time, I have carefully acquired a herd that is totally barefoot-and needs no shoeing at all-with the possible exception of boots on occasion. They all have thick heavy hooves and go sound over most surfaces.
My suggestion to horse owners? Use the old desert way of looking at potential horses. Start at the ground. They’d sit in a tent and roll up one side of the tend about four inches. Horses would be led up-and those that looked good would be brought back for additional passes as the tent wall rose slowly to pastern, then knee/hock, then full leg, then shoulder, belly, hip,, then topline, and finally-head and neck. That way-you don’t get caught in the ‘but he’s just so beautiful’ or ‘she has such a sweet face’ nonsense.
- Nosebands-why do you use one? Why are you pulling that thing so tight? Think about it. If you say “my horse is opening his mouth to evade the bit”, go grab a dressage whip and give yourself a beat down. I’m serious. The question is NOT How do you keep your horse from opening his mouth, but why aren’t you doing something about the pain you are causing in his mouth that causes him to open his mouth? What kind of owner are you that you are ignoring the pain you are causing?? Okay, that’s a harsh question, but since I see an awful lot of it, and 11/10 times it involves a rider hauling back on the reins, feet braced in the stirrups, horse’s mouth foamed, eyes white rimmed, and the rider’s jaw set-well, damn it, somebody needs to say something. Take the time to learn to ride properly, loosen that noseband, and, if you have to, throw those bits away. You do not need metal to control a horse.
- Learn to feed properly. Ditch the molasses. You heard me-it is not good for horses. Do you eat candy at every meal? So why are you feeding the equivalent to your horse? Likewise, corn is not horse food. GRASS is horse food. Roughage is horse food. Learn what makes good horse food.
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