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Finding That Connection
The horse was one of the most dangerous I'd worked with, as she operated on sheer reactive memories. Mostly, those reactions were conceived from terror. There were no warning signs - this filly would merely swing around and come at ya to save her life, ears flat back, teeth bared or hooves flying.
This past Friday as I drove to my appointment in RI, I was asking, "OK, Lord. So what do I do today with this horse and her owner? What are we going to work on today?"
The reply I got was, "Do what is."
And that's all I got ... "Come on, Lord! What kind of answer is that? I need a plan, here. You know - a goal and steps to help this gal reach that goal!"
"Do what is."
Great! OK, well, I guess I'll punt for the afternoon.
My appointment was for a hour - this was only the 4th time I'd worked with this gal and her young filly straight off the track. The horse was one of the most dangerous I've worked with as she operated on sheer reactive memories. Mostly those reactions were conceived from terror. There were no warning signs - this filly would merely swing around and come at ya to save her life, ears flat back, teeth bared or hooves flying. The past 3 sessions were merely trying to figure out just what is going to reach inside that terror and pull out the true spirit of this horse without getting myself killed in the process.
She's a pretty little thing but man, her mind? What a mess! This poor little girl, just 4 years old, had probably experienced more terrorizing treatment from humans than 10 horses experience in a lifetime. She is so sensitive that all I had to do was LOOK at her hind end with intent and that hoof would fly in my direction. Focus on her face and her teeth would expose with intent on ripping me to shreds. I spent the first two sessions with her from the outside of her paddock just trying to soothe her and reassure her, getting some focus from her using clicker training. I could get her attention for approximately 3 or 4 seconds before she'd rip at me again.
The 3rd session I got in the paddock with her just trying to direct her feet a little bit as she raced around the perimeter, staying as far from me as possible and throwing kicks out almost rhythmically - aimed at my head. Just my mere presence in her space terrorized her.
I stood, quietly, not moving, just 'thinking' and feeling, while she whirled around me.
Her eyes were wild - I don't remember the last time I saw such white showing. The owner watched from the outside of the paddock. I held a lunge whip down by my side (not for pressure but for *my* peace of mind as protection if needed) - no pressure on this little filly other than my presence in *her* paddock which was clearly enough to keep her moving.
I began to tell her that some of her stopping places (she did stop now and then to frantically snatch bites of grass) were really my places - I simply stepped towards her (lunge whip still down on the ground dragging behind me) and she'd take flight again. This went on for quite awhile and by the end of the hour she would stop and turn to face me with a questioning look in her eye but still coupled with frenetic, frightened energy.
My Lord! What had been done to this little girl at the track!?!?!?! I couldn't even begin to imagine without my heart beginning to ache and my breath being constrained.
I left that day after I felt she had settled down and was more relaxed. I wanted her to relax just a bit with me. She did. But only a fraction. But still, better than where we began that day.
So, back to this past Friday. - "Do what is. Do what is. Do what is."
The owner admittedly has had little time to spend with her girl. She has other horses and animals plus works a full time job. So her time with the filly was rushed and fragmented. No time to just BE with her. So, Friday? She was going to BE with her filly. That's what I decided. She was simply going to be with her filly. Body AND mind AND energy.
She entered the paddock and the filly immediately came right up to her, shoved her head into her back then proceeded to try to bite her arm - all of this in one frantic movement. She 'sushed' her away and looked at me. I said, "OK, so start to direct her feet but QUIETLY! and 'softly'. I want you to exude nothing but compassion and love out to this filly while you direct her with your energy. Breath in - now breath out, s-l-o-w-l-y. When you want her to move or change direction take in a breath to the count of 2 then exhale to the count of 6 while you LOOK at her back end. You LOVE this filly. You CARE for this little girl. Let her FEEL that. And let her feel your energy as you exhale and visualize her changing direction with caring. "
And she did.
For the first five mins. or so the filly raced round and round, kicking up her hooves at her human but without the frenetic energy of the past couple of weeks. She then began to settle as I 'coached" her human from the outside of the paddock.
"Don't move, just LOOK at her and follow her with your eyes. Direct her with your energy. Make those walls of energy slide out from your eyes to block her path. To the left now. Now, to the right. Change her direction now, please." LOVE her to the right." And so forth. I mostly, tho, stayed quiet, only speaking when I saw her losing her focus.
Time melted into no time.
We were ... just, we were.
The transformation in the filly as her owner sent her love and direction with merely thoughts and 'doing what is' was amazing to watch. It was amazing to FEEL! Her body softened. Her muscles released and in a short time, her mind released.
The filly stopped running.
She turned to look at her human who shyly turned away, mirroring the actions of the horse.
The filly begin to blink as her head relaxed and started to come down and down and down. She began to chew quietly, just watching her human - wondering, what IS it that she wants? What IS it ???
And then - time stopped entirely. As if we were suspended in existence, the filly's owner reached her hand out, softly balled, and began to walk to her filly. Inviting her to reach out to her hand.
The filly's head came up slightly and then -- she extended her nose to sniff the lightly balled human hand that was extended to her. She sniffed then exhaled a huge, long, sigh and dropped her head down again. Her human took ahold of the halter and invited the horse to follow.
Time continued now to go on but in very slow motion as the two, the once terrified filly and her confused owner, walked around the paddock quietly, tentatively. The gal stopped; the filly stopped right behind her. The filly's eyes had become like liquid pools of trusting innocence. Her body had softened and her energy, that previous frenetic, terrified energy had released - it was gone. It was now relief and willing and soft.
"Do what is."
I did, we did and now, just a mere 1/2 hour later, I walked out of the farm gate to go home and as I turned back I saw a chestnut filly's head enveloped in the arms of a human who streamed tears down her face.
Just the two of them.
Suspended in time.
"Do what is."
What is the opposite of bucking? “Not bucking” you say? Nope, that’s not it. What is the opposite of “jigging”? Nope, wrong again. It’s not “not jigging”. What is the opposite of shoving? Hmmmm, “not shoving”? Nope … read on, my Friend.
What is the opposite of bucking? "Not bucking" you say? Nope, that's not it. What is the opposite of "jigging"? Nope, wrong again. It's not "not jigging". What is the opposite of shoving? Hmmmm, "not shoving"? Nope ... read on, my Friend.
For every action there is a reaction and for every action there is a counterpart that is the opposite. The opposite of "bucking" would be walking forward. The opposite of shoving would be backing up. The opposite of jigging would be standing still or walking forward quietly. Instead of "punishing" an unwanted behavior in a horse why not think in terms of changing the negative behavior to a positive one and being able to reward your horse for doing something "right". In essence, teaching the horse to do something else INSTEAD OF the offensive behavior? Give the horse a choice between the behaviors and making the "right choice" a rewarded experience. Sound pretty funky to you? Well, let's take this scenario;
Susie has a 10 year old QH that is highly bred and extremely versatile. Susie has good riding background but limited ground training. (Notice that I said "Susie" has limited ground training vs. the horse having limited ground training!) ... Roger, the QH, INSISTS on flying out the stall door whenever its opened, completely disregarding poor little Susie who tries desperately to stay out of his way yet at the same time, hang onto him. Susie's trainer has suggested that everytime Roger begins to bolt out of the stall that Susie whack him on the chest with the crop. Susie's TRIED to do this but Roger seems to be totally oblivious to Susie and her crop and manages every time to just keep on bargin' through, dragging little Susie behind him. By now you're thinking "I'd get a chain over that horse's nose and that horse would learn a lesson or two!" Ah ha! What KIND of lesson would he learn? To be more respectful of Susie or the human standing in his way? Or would he learn to respond to pain, confusion, frustration and determination to get out of the stall and the experience even more quickly?
Horses naturally want to get along with their herd members. Part of their social interaction is learning to get along. Learning their own place within the herd and learning to respect those above them in rank. Horses are, by nature, gentle animals with extremely strong ideas about "fairness". Doesn't seem fair to me to punish Roger for barging out of the stall when all he wants to do is be a horse and get outdoors to move!
By whacking, or "punishing" Roger everytime he heeds his natural instinct as a horse without giving him a BETTER choice that helps him to stay safe and comfortable, Susie is doing nothing more than helping Roger build up his resentment and fear of humans and to learn to respond to a situation that gives him pain. So let's think on this a bit. ...
What could Susie DO, proactively, to 1. stop Roger from barging through and over her and 2. to keep Roger's sensitive respect intact without adding fear or resentment to the equation? (You know that fear causes the horse to flight. That's one of his primary behavioral standards.)
1. Barging through and over human - represents lack of respect for one *supposedly* higher ranking. Represents the need to get out of confinement is greater than the need to be respsectful. Represents the "punishment" is not as strong of a stimulus as getting outside and responding to a natural instinctive call. -- Issue of repecting higher ranking individual: Not the horse's fault. Human needs to establish rank in a manner which the horse can understand. -- Issue of the stronger instinctual behavior: There is no other motivator involved to override the instinctual need to get out of confinement. If confinement is associated with a pleasant experience that overrides the desire to leave, the horse will stick around! Food rewards, scritch rewards, etc. for a "right" behavior can override as motivators to initiate desired response in behaviors.
What is the opposite of barging? Standing still. Sub-Opposite behavior = waiting for appropriate cue to respectfully walk as leader requests.
Food as motivating behavior modification = MARKING the horse's appropriate behavior at the INSTANT of that behavior then rewarding with a small enough tidbit as to motivate the horse to want more. (Please note that food rewards CAN be given from small bucket instead of hand if so desired. The transporter of the reward is not as important as the reward, itself.)
Bribery, you say? No. M-o-t-i-v-a-t-i-o-n. Every mammal needs motivation to execute a behavior. The level of motivation must exceed other motivators in strength in order to prompt behavior. In other words, would you rather "work" for a pat on the head or a homemade chocolate cookie? Personally, the chocolate chip cookie wins hands down for me!
How to teach the opposite of Barging ... that is, standing still or stepping backwards away from human at stall door (better choice of behavior to teach)
Behavior desired = stepping backwards 3 steps when stall door is opened and waiting, respectfully, for human to request forward motion. Must break down the behavior as it is comprised of several "steps". 1st step would be to step backwards instead of barging forward.
Set up a cue that you can use consistently when asking the horse to back up for you. Choose your "marker" of behavior, that is the audible sound you will use to indicate to the horse that it has executed the proper behavior. A mechanical clicker will work, a tongue click, a "kiss" sound, a "cluck" sound ... a verbal Good! ... whatever works for YOU but sound must be clear, crisp, short and easily identifiable by the horse. (I'll use "click" just as the marker word for this article)
Begin teaching the horse what a marker is:
"click!" and give 1 or 2 Cheerios as "reward". Repeat this process until your horse associates your marker sound with the reward. Now you're ready to begin simple exercise of backing up 3 steps.
Ask horse to back up - use pressure and voice command. Instant the horse even thinks to back up, "click" and reward. Repeat several times until you're receiving 100% result.
Ask horse to now actually move body backwards (vs. merely indicating he's "thinking" about it) ... give the cue to back and keep the pressure on the horse until he actually MOVES his body back one step. Click! Reward. Repeat until horse is responding 100%.
Now, do the same again but ask for 2 steps back. Then 3 and ... now you've taught the horse the OPPOSITE of barging through you - you've taught him to respectfully back up 3 steps away from you! You've given him a CHOICE of behaviors to execute when you open that stall door. (Susie, this really isn't difficult - just takes a bit of time and patience.)
Ready to teach him to stand still? (2nd part of the overall behavior that you're trying to reach)
Now that you have the horse backing up, ask him "Whoa" ... if he moves forward, ask him to back up and CLICK! and REWARD the second his stands without moving. Repeat and gradually request that he stand longer and longer until YOU say, "OK! Good job! NOW you may walk through the stall door!" ...
So now you've added more to the exercises by teaching the horse another opposite of "barging" behavior. You've taught him to stand still. Standing still is a CHOICE the horse makes which makes the behavior a decision and not an empty, thoughtless behavior.
Think of the difference between, "I'm not doing anything!" and ... "I'm doing nothing." Two completely different behaviors. "Doing nothing" is a decision based behavior. "I'm not doing anything" is a thoughtless, lacking in thought, of doing anything. So, the opposite of "I'm not doing anything" is ... "I'm doing *nothing*." In essence, I'm also saying that we're teaching the barging horse to "do nothing" while standing quietly and waiting for his human to request forward movement. So, another "opposite" of barging would be to do "nothing".
Whenever you're working around a horse it is imperative to always think of the consequences of what YOUR behavior and requests will reap from the horse. Every action has a reaction. Our requests have reactions from the horse. They can be thoughtless reactions or they can be thought-FILLED choices that the horse makes.
Every action has an opposite. Think of the opposite actions that your horse chooses to execute today for you and start teaching him the proper action/behavior that you REALLY want.
Bucking? Move forward. Rearing? Move forward. Barging? Step back and wait. Jigging? Walk quietly. Doesn't lift hoof? Lift hoof! Doesn't lead? Give to pressure.
Think of your opposites and start working on them today. You'll have a safer day and a much more pleasant relationship with your horse.
The copyright of the article Opposite Illusions is owned by Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate. Permission to republish Opposite Illusions in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.
Training Your Horse for Beach Riding
Fantasy – What Horseman hasn’t dreamed of galloping along the shoreline astride their majestic steed? You’ve become a centaur silhouetted against a breathtaking sunset. Cares of the world that once held you hostage, must submit giving way as surely as the tiny grains of sand, helpless against mighty hoofs that swept them behind the joy that lies ahead.
Unbridled freedom takes command settling deep within your soul with every breathtaking stride. Locks mane and tail, blow recklessly as ocean waves crashing where they will, seeking permission from no one!
Reality Check – You’ve approached the shoreline and Mr. Majestic instantly morphs into a prancing snorting smoke bellowing runaway express locomotive! He’s full steam ahead! Or is it behind?? It’s so hard to tell as all those spins left you a little dizzy.
The funny thing is (Come on you can laugh about it now) you never saw the switchman throw the switch! Ole Crazy Horse has really made a mess of a horseman’s ultimate fantasy, but we can trust him for one final act of desperation. He’s headed back to the station faster than the Orient Express!
You’re hanging on for dear life, because you knew the warranty on his brakes were just about to expire before you left the barn. You knew full well he needed a tune up before setting out on this great adventure.
Come on be honest, did you really expect him to offer him-self up as an equine sacrifice just so you could fulfill your little fantasy?
The Real World - Set yourself up for success. Don’t become an idle passenger at high risk for de-railment. Why not take an active role to help insure that the outcome of your first beach riding adventure more closely resembles the ride you’ve actually envisioned. Prepare your horse at home. Create a formidable water hazard that rivals your horse’s worst nightmare.
Be creative it’s your baby, find a large tarp or dig a pit and add water. You could always wait for rain and allow nature to design it. Finally, add a few more scary things around it. My personal favorites are those shiny little pinwheels, but any whirly gig will suffice. How about a few cones or jump standards with plastic bags duct taped to the top? The options are endless.
Seriously, you know your horse so start small if the accoutrements you’ve scattered are too over whelming. The goal is to build trust in your leadership not totally scare the heck out of your horse.
I would put a rope halter on Ole Crazy Horse to prevent him from escaping; it offers you a little more control than a chain over the nose. If a horse is already afraid, the chain grabbing his nose and not releasing is just going to confirm his fears that crossing water is not only scary, but extremely painful as well.
Using the tail end of a 12-14 foot rope, start sending your horse toward the water, the moment he hits the brakes, leave him be, don’t add any pressure. If he changes directions on his own just send him rapidly toward the water again, so you add pressure when he is going away from the water, take it off when he’s close. Soon he will want to investigate the water. He may snort, reach his head down, paw and splash. Leave him alone this is try. When he stops thinking about going into the water, change directions again, make him trot toward the water. 10 feet before you get to the water, take the pressure off. He will quickly figure out being near water is easier then being away from it and that he can trust you to not pressure him at the water so he can use his head and think about going in.
Don’t allow him to come into your space at my time if he only puts his front foot in that’s great! Take him away and praise him. Continue until he goes all the way through or until you are satisfied he has made progress. There are several other ways to approach water crossings this is just one. Once you have been successful add additional scary objects around your water hazard. Put your horse to work away from the obstacles, allow him to rest near them. He will soon realize that anything unusual to him will provide a resting spot, a place where he can relax and get a good scratch from you.
Time to hit the beach!
It’s certainly best to go with a friend that has a seasoned horse that has no fear of the ocean. If that’s not possible approach the beach, ride as close as you can. If your horse refuses to go any closer ride parallel to it asking much of your horse. Leg yields, rein back; trotting in a circle, then approaching the beach again. Quickly ride your horse away from the water before he wants to leave on his own.
If you are not able to go into the water, don’t be discouraged just riding along the beach should make you smile!
End on a good note and your horse will want to try for you next beach ride!
Cathie Hatrick Anderson is a Professional Trainer specializing in starting colts and rehabilitating problem horses. She is a member of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.
Cathie trained Shesa Faint Echo to attain her “Certified Shooting Horse” status and the pair rode to level three. She rides all her horses bitless.
She lives in Upton MA with her Husband Robert Anderson.
For more info visit www.bobcatfarm.com, an EquineSite Member!
Kindergarten For Colts - Halter Breaking
It's never to soon to begin. A few lessons now, will pay off with great
dividends as your youngster matures. Sure he's cute now, but he could
turn ugly in a very short time. The longer you put it off, the more
dangerous or traumatic training can become.
Things You'll Need
A halter, I prefer to use a Double Diamond rope halter. They are
available in sizes from weanling to draft. You can also use a leather
halter, or nylon with a break -away strap. (Never leave your foal
unattended with the rope halter on, it will not break. Remove the halter
as soon as your finished with your session). A six to eight foot soft
cotton lead rope. A three foot dressage type whip.Patience, persistence
and plenty of praise!
Short And Sweet - Just Like Your Foal!
Keep your sessions short to begin with. Five minute intervals with two
minute breaks to allow your colt to get a comfort suckle from mom. You
don't want to stress him too much, but he needs to learn he has a
surrogate dam that he must respect and take direction from as well. The
sooner he learns this, the better for both of you. The entire session
should last from 10 - 30 minutes depending on your pupil's attention
span, and cooperation. Many youngsters will actually begin to enjoy
these sessions if you add allot of scratching to their neck or rump!
Increase the length of the sessions as you both improve.
You can expect him to try to get away. Push into you, rear, bite, kick,
stomp, strike, and call for his mom. In essence, have a full blown
temper tantrum. Colts that have had imprint training don't always
demonstrate these behaviors, but they may when asked to move off the
pressure from their halter.
What should he expect from you? He should expect you to be patient,
fair, and firm. Don't make the mistake of thinking he is too young to
discipline. It is never o.k. to bite, rear, kick, etc. I know he's young
and cute! Pretty is as pretty does. These are indeed normal foal
behaviors, but they should never be allowed when he's being handled. The
discipline is the same as it is for a mature horse, only toned down a
bit because of the size difference. You should never have to strike a
foal with a whip.
A correction would be a quick snap of the lead rope.
(Not a steady nagging pull.) Timed with the infraction, this will make
far more sense to him than raising your voice.
Let The Games Begin!
If your mare is uneasy, have an assistant hold her. You could provide
hay to keep her busy. It's best to start in a large stall, or a very
small pen to lessen likelihood of your pupil ditching class. Once he
understands the basics you can move to a larger area. With halter in
hand try rubbing your foals neck with it, so he associates it with a
good feeling. Now slip it over his nose. If he backs up just try to stay
with him, scratch his neck till he settles and finish putting it on.
Take your time, try not to scare him. If this is not possible, you may
need to trap him in a corner by placing one hand in front of his
shoulder and one behind his rump, or grasping underneath the dock his
tail and raising it, gently but firmly. Hold him till he stops
struggling then rub him nicely and loosen your hold. You may need a
helper to accomplish this. Attach your lead rope. (Do not try to lead
him yet) You should use a butt rope as well. Stand at your foals
shoulder and apply very light steady pressure to the lead rope, and the
butt rope simultaneously. Now maintaining the pressure, take a step to
the side never letting slack come into your rope. He has to earn a
release by moving a step in your direction. If you step off to the side
you will pull him off balance and he will accidentally take a step,
releasing the pressure from the ropes and earning a nice rub on his
neck. Repeat this several times, both directions. If you keep making
small circles he will understand this in no time. Once he is following
you in circles, you can try to lead without the butt rope. Go out in
front of him to the end of your lead rope be patient with the pressure,
no tugging. Step off to the side just a bit, and wait him out. Continue
in a circle and gradually add straight lines. If you need to go back to
the butt rope that's o.k.. You can break up these training sessions over
many days or weeks. Remember talk sweet to him, tell him how wonderful
he is, give him plenty of scratching. Don't yell. Discipline with your
halter immediately during the offense. (A quick jerk to the lead rope,
followed by steady pressure till he backs up a step and stands softly in
your hand with a bit of slack in the line.)
You Can Steer a Foal To His Dam, But You Can't Make Him Leave!
Another way would be to use the dressage whip. With this method, you are
standing at your foals shoulder facing the same direction he is. Your
holding the lead about eight inches from his halter. The dressage whip
is in your left hand and your arm is extended backwards so you can tap
your foal in the behind. Ready! Say his name, tap him repetitiously till
he takes a step. Don't walk out ahead of him, don't pull on his face.
Your lead should remain loose. (If he still does not understand to go
forward you can cheat by taking the slack out of your lead rope apply
pressure to the halter while tapping his hindquarters, that should jump
start him) It sound's like this. "Buddy, walk on." Tap tap tap till he
moves. "What a good Boy!" Now for the whoa. "Buddy" You're raising your
hand that's holding the lead a few inches higher than normal, (This
gives him a cue that he'll pick up in no time, that you are going to ask
him to halt.) Now say "whoa." Say it softly and drag it out, like this;
Buddy, w-h-o-a. When you get to the "a" in whoa apply a quick jerk of
the lead. Scratch his neck, repeat.
He rears up when you apply pressure to his lead to come forward. -
Correct him the entire time he's off the ground. (Very light taps to his
face using a shanking motion from your lead rope). Try again. If he
comes close to falling over backwards, give him some slack, BEFORE he's
at the point of no return he needs his head for balance. As soon as all
four feet are back on the ground, gently pull his face toward you with
your left hand and with the pincher's on your right hand use a biting
motion at his flanks to drive his hind quarters away from you. In His
language he will understand this as a reprimand, and probably let you
know he's sorry by settling down. Tell him how wonderful he is, by
giving him a good rub.
Butt rope keeps slipping . - After looping around the hindquarters, lift
loop, twist the loop so there's a X in the rope at the withers. Try the
other method below.
Forges ahead, or picks up a trot. - Correction, then apply steady
pressure on his lead to ask him to back up. Start again.
Swings his head, bucks, strikes, or kicks out. - Correction, then ask
him to back up from a distance, wiggling rope as your stepping into him.
You can also make a kicking motion to him, as you back into him, no need
to connect. He'll understand what this means.
When leading, he shoulders into you, steps on your feet. - Aggressively
step into him, raise both hands up in his face, with a soft jabbing
motion, your left hand is just in front of his head, your left hand at
the side of his neck, (Don't make contact yet). if he doesn't respond by
moving away, then use your pincher's to pinch the top of his neck, until
he does move.
Bites. - Make sure your not holding him right under his chin. This is
just too much temptation for your youngster. You don't want him mauling
your hand, don't maul his muzzle. If he comes into your space, and you
are quick enough, make a fist, and pop him in his muzzle. (This action
is a quick motion, your fist moves no more than two inches, to meet his
bite. He runs into it, when he enters your space.) DO NOT swing at him,
or go into his space to do it. If your reaction is too slow, refrain and
be ready for the next one. It's all about timing.
Afraid of the whip - Rub him all over, start at his shoulder with the
butt end of the whip. Go toward his hind quarters, but stay up high,
scratch his neck so it feels good to him. You can lay the whip against
his hip till he stops walking away to avoid it, just stay with him, when
he comes to a stop, take the whip off. Repeat till he stands as you rub
Won't walk forward. - Are you tapping a few times then stopping? He'll
keep waiting for you to stop.
Some seem to enjoy it. Keep tapping rapidly getting progressively harder
till he takes a step.
Don't feel your hurting him, if you were he'd be trying to get away.
While leading at his shoulder, he backs up without being asked. - Stay
at his shoulder and back up with him. If you never gets away from you,
he'll quit trying that route.
Keep your lessons short and simple. Soon your youngster will be looking
forward to taking walks with you!
Cathie Hatrick-Anderson is a professional trainer residing in Upton,
Massachusetts. She specializes in starting colts and rehabilitating
problem horses. She has volunteered in the NICU department at "The
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine" in Grafton MA for four
consecutive years helping with the care of the foals.. She was also
asked by Dr. Carmel to teach classes in horse behavior to 1st year vet
students. Cathie has been working with clients foals since 1990 in
addition to the foals she and her husband Robert have raised.
For more info about Cathie or her training methods, go to www.bobcatfarm.com
Bitless Bridle Instructor
Maggie's First Ride
The following is a description of the steps I typically follow to prepare for a non-eventful first ride on a youngster. This Friesian filly was a coming 3yr old. The outcome of this ride was typical of all of my first rides.
If You Want To See Bucking, Better Attend The PBR!
I have started over 250 young horses and I have yet to have one buck!
Maggie was no different. I had worked with Maggie on one occasion two years prior to riding her for the first time on April 20th 2007
Upon my arrival I observed Judy Deboer catch her horse then tack her up. I asked Judy to lead Maggie away, turn to the right and lead her back to me. I also asked her to lunge Maggie. First at a walk, followed by a trot. Observing the pair as they interact allows me to access their relationship in a matter of minutes as well as pinpointing an exact place to start.
To Lunge Or Not To Lunge?
I only lunge a horse for five minutes in each direction if I feel it’s necessary. It may take me much longer to teach my client to lunge properly; we are simply working on walking quietly and stopping obediently. We won’t move onto a trot until we have perfected our communication at a walk. The point of teaching my clients to lunge is to refine their communication with their horse. I don’t lunge my own horses prior to riding but ask all of my clients to demonstrate their ability to lead or lunge. There were only a few areas that needed addressing. Maggie wanted to turn in toward Judy when asked to halt. She refused to remain on the lunge circle per Judy’s request. She would break into a trot when asked to walk, and continue walking when asked to halt. These were common problems yet simple to correct.
After breaking down a few tasks, I addressed and corrected each problem. I taught Maggie to halt on my circle, to remain at a walk until given a cue to trot, and to halt immediately from a walk. We repeated this in the opposite direction. A successful first ride depends on my ability to teach the horse to read, understand, and respond immediately to my body language, with and without verbal commands.
How Long Can This Keep Going On?
On average my clients rarely require more than 3 visits. As a traveling trainer I am never too familiar with the horse I will be riding or working with. I don’t have 30 - 60 days in which to do my job.
Since Judy had done a great job in raising a well-socialized respectful filly that was comfortable wearing a saddle I was pretty confident I would be able to ride Maggie that day. If a clients horse is not really ready to be ridden upon my initial visit, I’ll assign homework for the owner, it’s usually very quiet work involving giving to pressure, or getting comfortable with a human from a mounting block. When they call for the second appointment the horse is really ready for it’s first ride.
Moving Right Along!
After lunging, we moved on to walking in hand, followed by trotting to cement our go forward cue as well as our verbal whoa. Maggie was lovely. I coached Judy while she worked with Maggie on everything we had covered up to this point.
We gave Maggie a 10-minute break to take a drink, and have a few minutes to herself. During this entire process she was calm and willing.
A Small Dose Of Round Penning?
I had asked Judy to leave the ring to demonstrate my version of getting the horse to join up with me at liberty. I don’t just turn the horse loose as I don’t want her to run around in frantic circles. As with lunging I never want to physically tire my horse. I prefer to exercise the horses mind. Some horses have had a bad experience with “round penning” I don’t want the horse to think he has to take off like a rocket. I prefer a relaxed walk or trot, with a few simple changes of direction.
To get the filly to understand I want her to turn and face me when I kiss to her, I attach a 12-foot lead rope to her halter. I rub her all over then walk toward her hindquarters. I clucked to her while drawing my body backwards as I pull her head towards me. I do this several times on both sides, the third time I shouldn’t have to pull the horse toward me. She knows to look when I kiss or cluck. I unclip the lead rope from Maggie’s halter and walk toward her head as I gesture for her to turn to the right. I walk away exuding the confidence of a herd leader. She follows me as I make tight circles to the right and left. I offer out my hand toward her nose as a gesture of friendship. As she reaches toward it I walk away, next time I let her catch up to me and I give her a nice neck rub. She follows me like a puppy. I gently send her off. After she finished two laps I kissed to her. She turned to face; I walked up to her, pet her and left. I gently send her off again, and change her direction a few more times. After a lap or two, I called her back to me. I attached a short lead rope for our next task.
A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste.
I prefer to work with horses at liberty in an area 10 times the size of the 60- foot round pen I was using. Some horses can feel too much pressure even if the handler is low key, and standing in the center of the ring. (This was not the case with Maggie) add an aggressive personality on a sensitive horse and you have a recipe for disaster. A larger area offers the horse more choices. They are allowed to use their brain, instead of responding like a caged wild animal that only gives in because he is trapped. So many horses are made to run recklessly, hitting their legs as they crash into the round pen panels. They’re driven way to aggressively till they are left with a feeling of defeat with no other option but to submit, or make a dangerous attempt to jump out of the round pen.
This is no way to start a relationship based on trust.
In a large area I am able to establish my leaderships while earning the horses trust and respect. She’ll actually put her heart into giving me her best once she’s under saddle.
If she can’t trust me to keep her safe, how can I trust her to keep me safe!
Are We There Yet?
Now I attached a shorter lead rope to Maggie’s halter. I asked her to give to pressure by flexing her head laterally toward the stirrup. I was very impressed to find this button already installed. This not only demonstrates a willingness to give to pressure it produces flexibility and suppleness. It enables horse and rider to perform a one-rein stop if a traditional one should fail.
I went on to ground drive Maggie for her first time. In preparation to add driving lines to Maggie’s saddle. I rubbed and lifted all four legs with a long soft cotton rope. She had no objections at all. I should mention this was one of those rare occasions that I had luxury of driving in a round pen.
Ground driving is very beneficial to horse and handler prior to the first ride. I’m not referring to long lining a horse from the center of a lunge circle as you are not able to simulate the same feel in the turns, halts, and rein back that the horse will feel under saddle. After driving I feel I have established a pretty clear way to communicate my desires to my horse, and I can clearly feel how she responds to my request. Under saddle this gives both parties confidence in each other.
We ground drove for about 10 minutes and I was able to move right along with the rest of my pre-flight checks that actually serve to discourage my horse from having me “fly” later.
The Grand Finale!
Almost two hours later I am just about ready to ride. From a mounting block I make sure to bump into my horse repeatedly. I’ll rub on them a lot. Then “accidentally” bump them. I’ll rub some more using my boot to scratch their rump. I want Maggie to see my leg swinging over as a good thing, and if I should really accidentally bump her she’ll think it was part of my plan.
I’m not sneaky about all this stuff, rather sloppy and nonchalant.
I try to make the horse feel really good about a human touching them in places they’re not used to. Maggie may have been rubbed all over from the ground, but from her new perspective it can seem totally foreign and downright frightening coming from someone that is now towering above her! Standing on the mounting block, Ill grab mane and jump down several times.
Now I jump on the block three times and spring on her back and slide off. I walk away and she follows me back to the block. I do that once more then repeat everything on the off side.
I put weight in the stirrup with my hand several times in between rubbing or bumping the horse. Now from the mounting block I’ll put weight in the stirrup with my boot. I believe the weight applied to the cinch is more frightening than the actual weight of the rider on the horses back. This is a very critical moment for horse and rider.
If all feels right, and it did with Maggie, I climb aboard. I kept my right foot out of the stirrup as I only intended to stay on long enough to rub her neck and dismount. I lead her away and repeat several times, jumping down from her off side as well. I then mount up put both feet are in my stirrups. I relax like I’m sitting on a couch, at ease but not complacent.
I shorten my reins, taking all the slack out and ask Maggie to take one step back. She’s very responsive. I feel comfortable walking off. I joyfully say, “Maggie walk on,” I cluck then tickle her fanny. She complies. After three steps, I say “Maggie and whoa” I say this very softly and slowly, this gives her a heads up with plenty of time to respond. I have forward, and I have brakes.
I feel great and Maggie feels very relaxed. I rarely use any leg with a first or second ride as this can make the horses cinch area tense. This feeling can ignite the launch sequence. Once in motion these series of events are not easily curtailed. More often than not, they end with the rider aborting sooner than planned. Happily I have avoided triggering this response in all of my first rides as well as the handful of following rides I put on before the client takes over.
Are We Finished Yet?
I ride for a few minutes, dismount then ride a little more. 5 - 20 minutes is an average first ride. I like to keep it short and sweet. This leaves you both wanting more. You and your horse will have no bad feelings when it’s time for the second ride.
Play It Again!
The next and final session was a week later. We were able to breeze through all the steps from the week before. Maggie was so relaxed; I actually applied some inside leg and was amazed at how willingly she yielded to pressure.
This entire second session lasted about an hour. I rode for about 20 minutes. I dismounted and Maggie went under saddle for five more minutes with her owner Judy as her passenger for their very first time!
Cathie Hatrick- Anderson is a Professional Horse Trainer specializes in starting colts and re-habilitating problem horses since 1990. This mother of four grown children resides in Upton Massachusetts, with her husband Robert. Cathie regularly travels to all six New England States training and presenting clinics. Dr. Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD, appointed Cathie as the first Bitless Bridle Instructor in the United States. She is a Member of the CMSA and The Massachusetts Six Shooters. She can be reached at (508) 479-5266. Copies of her DVD "Bitless Bridle Clinic" are available at www.bobcatfarm.com
“Strangles” is a disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi. Characteristics of the disease include an abrupt onset of fever (>103 F) seen 3-14 days after exposure, swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), and lower respiratory tract signs (nasal discharge starting as clear then progressing to mucopurulent/pus), swelling and abscessation of submandibular and retropharyngeal lymph nodes. Horses will usually develop swollen lymph nodes 1 week after infection and the first sign is hot, swollen, painful lymph nodes. Other clinical signs include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx), difficulty breathing, possible cough, depression, lethargy, and going off-feed. Complications of excessive lymphadenopathy and difficulty breathing may require a tracheostomy.
Horses become infected through exposure in the nose and/or mouth. This can occur through direct and indirect contact from horse-horse contact, fomites (ie, blankets, water and feed buckets, brushes, bridals, halters, etc.), and person to horse. The bacteria, once in the oral and nasal cavity can attach to the tonsils and reach deeper tissues to set up infection within a few hours. Because of the ease of spread, hygiene and biosecurity are crucial components of controlling an outbreak of Strangles on a farm.
Diagnosis of Strangles includes cultures of nasal swabs, nasal washes, or aspirates of pus from abscesses. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) can be used, but it does not differentiate between live and dead bacteria, therefore it is an appropriate adjunctive diagnostic, but culture is the gold standard. Blood can also be submitted to measure the amount of antibody in the horse’s blood to a specific protein from the bacteria called Streptococcus equi M protein. The blood test does not differentiate between a vaccination response or a response to infection, therefore it is an appropriate test to determine antibody levels when checking for necessity for a booster, or in cases of suspect Pupura hemorrhagica (see description below).
Controlling outbreaks require strict hygiene and biosecurity. Quarantine should be established where no horses come on or off the property. Designated areas should be created on the farm as “dirty” and “clean” areas where horses showing signs and/or having a positive culture from a nasal swab or wash should be separated from those not showing signs and/or those with a negative culture. Horse’s rectal temperatures should be taken at least once daily and if they are above 101.0 F, they should be moved to the “dirty” area. Bleach is an effective disinfectant therefore footbaths should be placed at areas entering/exiting filled with a dilute bleach/water mixture. Designated clothing should be worn for only the sick and only the healthy horses.
Treatment with antibiotics is dependent on the clinical signs. In horses that have a fever and signs of depression with no swollen lymph nodes, treatment with Penicillin for 3-5 days may be beneficial. It is generally contraindicated in horses with lymphadenopathy and fever; however, in the case of a fever, anorexia, difficulty breathing, depression, and detectable swollen lymph nodes, antibiotics are warranted to decrease abscess size and prevent complete airway obstruction. In those horses with swollen lymph nodes, signs of depression, and fever, but not showing respiratory distress or severe signs of illness, treatment includes rest, placement in a dry warm stall with soft, moist feed, free choice water, and close monitoring for respiratory distress. Hot packing of abscesses may help to quicken maturity and subsequent rupture of the abscesses. Abscesses that have matured and have a thin membrane along the bottom can be lanced and flushed daily with dilute iodine solutions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Banamine and Bute) can help with pain relief and help reduce fevers.
To monitor recovery, weekly nasal swabs or pharyngeal washes should be performed and submitted for culture. In horses who have tested positive, endoscopy of the upper respiratory tract and guttural pouches should be performed to check for the presence of chondroids (inspissated pus).
Secondary complications from a Strangles infection can be Bastard Strangles (spread of infection through the blood and lymphatics to distant organs causing secondary complications such as abscessation, bronchopneumonia, septic arthritis, brain abscesses, and ulcerative keratitis), purpura hemorrhagica (immune-mediated syndrome where immune complexes are deposited in blood vessel walls causing vasculitis, swelling of the limbs and low platelet counts), myositis (infection/inflammation of muscles), muscle infarctions, and lack of milk production in pregnant mares.
Vaccination for Strangles should be discussed thoroughly with your veterinarian as to what is appropriate for the barn. It depends on your horses’s job (travel and increased exposure versus stabled at one farm with no travel, etc.). Vaccinations should not be used in an outbreak unless the horse has had no known contact with an infected horse. The vaccine is a modified live vaccine given initially at 2 doses (2-3 weeks apart) with an annual booster.
Be sure when moving your horse to a new farm to check with the farm manager with regards to their policy on vaccinations and/or any history of Strangles outbreaks at the farm. Please contact your veterinarian or the veterinarians at New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center with any questions regarding Strangles.
Kate Britton, DVM
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM