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Nothing Natural

The term “Natural Horsemanship” has become very popular in horse training lately as people seek new and more humane ways of working with their horses. Within this category there is a broad spectrum of training methods ranging from classical schooling to clicker training to domination techniques. Some of these methods are quite humane but others are down right abusive. And yet they all fall under the label of “natural horsemanship”.

Labels can be deceiving and are often used to mislead people. So today we are going to pick apart the label of ” natural horsemanship”.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there is nothing natural about working with or riding a horse. To understand this we need to take a look at basic horse psychology.

Horses are prey animals. As such they have strong instincts and highly tuned senses to alert them to potential danger. Humans are predators. Humans look like predators, move like predators, and smell like predators. Everything about us tells the horse that we are a predator. Horses can learn that humans will not harm them, but this is something that they have to LEARN not something that comes naturally. Most horses learn this at birth or shortly after but some must learn this later on in life.

Horses doing what is most natural to them- eating!

Horses doing what is most natural to them- eating!

It doesn’t matter how we change our movements or how we interact with the horse or if we make eye contact or turn our backs to them a certain way. We are still predators and the horse knows that we are still a predator. And there’s nothing natural about a horse interacting with a predator.

But we don’t just want to interact with the horse. We want to sit on his back. Note that when a large predator such as a mountain lion wants to attack a horse, what does it do? It jumps on the horse’s back and wraps it’s claws around the horse’s body. Every instinct of the horse tells it not to let a predator on its back. Now, yes,  a horse can learn to allow a human on it’s back but this is something that it must LEARN to accept. Through consistent, repetitive training a horse can learn to trust a human enough to allow them on it’s back. However, the human is still a predator and there’s nothing natural about a horse allowing a predator on it’s back.

Let’s take this a step father. Once we begin riding the horse we need to teach him how to balance and carry himself with a rider on his back. Horses naturally carry about 60% of their weight on their front legs. This is just fine and dandy when they are on their own spending most of the day grazing. But put a rider on their back and having too much weight on the forehand puts a tremendous amount of strain on the horse’s back, neck, and legs. The horse must learn to carry more of his weight with his hind legs and to round his back which allows him to support the weight of the rider without the strain on his joints but it is something that he must LEARN how to do. It does not come naturally, and though some breeds have been developed to have an easier time of it, it is still something they must learn.

Now there’s also the fact that we have completely taken the horse out of his natural environment so we must adapt the way we care for him. We keep him in a stall so we must provide exercise for him, we’ve changed his diet so we must ensure his teeth are cared for, we’ve changed the terrain he lives in so we must ensure that his feet are cared for. None of these things are bad, and they are all necessary, but they are not natural.

Now, I’d like to pause here and note that I am not saying that we should never ride our horses because it is not natural. When treated with kindness and respect, most horses will develop deep bonds with their humans and will enjoy the work that they do. Just because it’s not natural doesn’t mean it’s bad. I’m also not criticizing all “natural horsemanship” methods. Many are very good but there are also many more that use fear and aggression to “persuade” the horse to behave. And many people get hoodwinked by supposed miracle methods simply because they fall for the label.

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A horse that has learned to trust his rider and allows himself to be guided through gymnastic exercises to strengthen his muscles so he is better able to support the weight of the rider.

So what does this all mean? It means that we need to understand that there is nothing natural about riding or working with horses. Horses are horses and humans are humans. Horses can learn how to trust and follow a human’s leadership but it not something that comes naturally to them. When we change our thinking it changes the way we interact with our horses. Instead of assuming that a horse is misbehaving because he’s being stubborn or lazy we can try to understand that learning to work with humans is a process that the horse must go through and it takes time for him to learn how to respond to us so we need to be patient with him.

It means when we are looking for a training methods or a trainer we need to do our research and look at more than just the label. We need to look at the actual method and ensure that it is based on systematically teaching the horse new skills without force or fear to gradually increase his skills both physically and mentally with the health and well being of the horse as the first priority. This is not something that can be accomplished in a few days or even a few months. It takes years of consistent work to develop a horse that is willing and able to do anything you ask of it. There are no quick fixes or miracle methods. There is only time and patience and a true love for the animal.

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

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Exercising your horse in winter

Temperatures are dropping here in Wisconsin. It seems winter comes earlier every year. People often ask me if I continue to ride my horses during the winter.  I am a firm believer that regular exercise is important to horses, even in winter and here’s why:

10559763_725008474243374_212097318966357641_nHorses in the wild travel around 20 miles a day. This constant movement helps to increase the horse’s circulation, pumping blood back up his legs to the rest of his body. Domestic horses tend not to move around that much because they do not need to search for their food. They often have limited turnout space and their food and water is all in close proximity so there is no need for them to walk around all day. This means that we need to find other ways of getting them to move. Riding is one excellent way of getting your horse the exercise he needs, but ground work is an excellent alternative when the weather is cold and the ground is frozen. Lunging, long reining, and liberty work are all highly beneficial to horses of all training levels and disciplines. Ground work is an excellent way to build a better partnership with your horse, improve communication, and increase trust and respect.

It can be tempting to give your horse the winter off, but this may not be the best thing for his health. Exercise is important to the physical and mental health of a horse, even in winter. Regular exercise helps keep muscles and tendons loose and joints from becoming stiff which can help prevent injuries and increase a horse’s longevity, meaning he will be able to continue to work later into his life. When a horse is not exercised regularly he will quickly lose muscle condition. This can quickly lead to other health concerns, such as lameness and fatigue. Lack of regular exercise can also lead to digestive issues and reduced resistance to disease. On the other hand, keeping a horse in good condition will help increase his longevity and prevent injuries and illnesses.

Regular exercise is also important for a horse’s mental health. Horses that are not worked regularly will often develop behavioral problems such as spooking, bucking, bolting, etc. Horses need consistency and without this problems arise. Maintaining a consistent work program through the winter can help prevent problems from developing. Horses that aren’t working may also develop vices due to boredom such as cribbing, weaving, pacing, and wood chewing. Most of the time these problems could be avoided by giving the horse a job to do. Horses are happier when they have a job.

Winter is a great time to go back to the basics and reinforce your foundation.

Winter is a great time to go back to the basics and reinforce your foundation.

If you are planning on showing or even just pleasure riding in the spring, it is even more important that you continue riding through the winter. Horses lose muscle condition quickly and if you give him the entire winter off, you will spend much of the spring slowly building him back up into condition. This means that he likely won’t be ready by the start of show season. In addition, he will fall behind in his training from having such a long time off. When you do start riding him again, you will have to spend time refreshing his memory rather than working towards new goals. Giving your horse the entire winter off and then putting him back into an intensive work program in the spring can cause muscle, tendon, and ligament damage, fatigue, and stress to the horse.

As you can see, there are many benefits to continuing to work your horse throughout the winter, whether it is by riding or just doing groundwork. A horse that is worked consistently will be physically healthier and mentally healthier.

To learn more about how to care for your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

Equine First Aid Kit Essentials

Having a well stocked first aid kit and knowing how to use all of the items in it is an essential part of owning a horse. Be sure to learn proper first aid before attempting to use any of these items as serious damage can be done if they are used incorrectly. If you have any questions, it is best to seek the advice of an equestrian professional.

The first and most important part of the first aid kit is the container you use to hold everything. It should be large enough to hold all of your kit while at the same time being portable enough to grab and head out to the paddock for horses unwilling to come in. This is the advantage to using a portable kit as opposed to a drawer in your tack area.  Your kit should be kept neat and well organized so you can easily find things when you need them. When you use something, replace it right away so that it will be there for you next time.

Here are a few things to keep in your first aid kit:

A few of the items you should have in your first aid kit.

A few of the items you should have in your first aid kit.

1: Rectal Thermometer
2. Stethoscope
3: Latex gloves
5: Knife or mulit- tool
6: Notebook/paper and writing utensil
7: Grooming tools specifically for first aid kit
8: Hoof rasp/file
9: Tweezers
10: Standing bandages
11: Gauze pads
12: Vetwrap/ Coflex
13: Wash clothes/Towels specifically for first aid kit
14: Halter and lead rope
15: Triple antibiotic ointment (ie. Neosporin)
16: Sheet cotton
17: Magna Paste/Itchammol
18: Cleaning solution (ie. Chlorhexidine, Iodine,alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide)
19: Pain medication ( ie. bute paste, )
20: Banamine paste
21: Catheter tip 60cc dose syringe for oral medications
22: Duct tape – higher quality duct tape is ideal. The thinner and less tacky the duct tape the more will be needed for a proper foot bandage.
23: Bandage scissors
24: Medical adhesive tape
25: Flashlight preferably a head lamp
26: Epsom Salts
27: Hoof knife
28: Used shavings bags. Usually just a few with no holes in them to use for soaking feet.
 

It is very important to work with a trainer or other equine professional who can teach you proper first aid techniques. On your first aid kit or inside it you should have contact numbers for you and your veterinarian. You should keep a primary veterinarian’s number as well as your choice of equine hospital. Educate yourself on how to properly use all of the items in your kit. Mismanagement or improper treatment can turn something minor into a serious problem. If you are at all uncertain, call your vet!

To learn more about how to achieve a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

Slobbers: nothing to worry about right…

Recently, after moving a horse to a new barn, we noticed that she was chewing a lot and there was quite a bit of saliva coming out of her mouth. After doing a quick check to make sure nothing else was wrong, we remembered the barn manager mentioned that there was clover in the hay; we had our answer: “slobbers.”

While discussing this with some of our non-horse friends (don’t judge them, there are people who don’t know how awesome horses are) we decided that perhaps there are more than a few people who don’t know about the term “slobbers.” Perhaps there are horse people who have heard it, but don’t know too much about it other than its from clover. So, we are going to look at causes of slobbers and the benefits of clover.

There are many horse people out there who are very aware of the condition known as slobbers; most of the time, it is not really anything to worry about. That being said, just because you suspect slobbers, we encourage you to do the due diligence and make sure that there are not any other causes of excess saliva.

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The most common sign of slobbers is excessive saliva production. This will generally go away on its own with no further effect on the horse.

True slobbers is also known as Slaframine Toxicity or Slaframine Poisoning; a fungus mostly associated with red clover during wet or humid weather conditions. The fungus that causes Slaframine toxicity is noted by the red splotches typically found on the top of the leaf. The fungus is NON LIFE-THREATENING. This is somewhat important to remember, so we are going to say it at least once more: slobbers is not a life-threatening condition.

The first and primary symptom of slaframine or slobbers is excessive saliva production. Other symptoms may present if the condition continues or worsens including diarrhea, weight loss and colic in severe cases. Occasionally, Atropine will be administered by a veterinarian to help with these symptoms.

One of the other important things to note about slobbers is that the horse will tend to keep a healthy appetite. Many horses eat clover and never have problems with excess saliva. There are various types of clover and not all clover contains the fungus that causes slobbers.

Red clover is the variety that can culture the fungus that causes slobbers. Red clover also provides a good energy source with a fair amount of protein and fiber needed in a horse’s diet. Therefore, we do not discourage horses from eating clover. If a horse develops slobbers from the clover in the hay, you can simply change the diet to a hay with less or no clover. If the only symptom is excessive saliva, you may even consider leaving things the way they are and keep a close eye on them to make sure no other symptoms arise. What may have started out with a bit of foam could become something more severe if ignored.

If you’d like to learn more about how to develop structure in your horse’s life or about classical horse training in general, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!