The Science of how Horses Think & Learn Falling Off . My approach to rebuilding rider confidence. Part 2

Could it have been prevented?

So after a fall, or equally scary incident, what now? I have a special interest in helping riders re-

build their confidence- I’ve been there! And I be- lieve that Knowledge inspires confidence. By explaining the HOWS (technical skills)

and the WHYs (the science of horse behavior and learning) my students have the tools and under- standing to rebuild their own pace. They enjoy the process as much as the result!

Taking measured risks The process of learning any sport is one of

By Lindsay Grice. Horse show judge, riding coach and specialist in equine behavior.

After a fall, the traditional prescription is to get

back in the saddle. “Seven falls make a rider!”. Horse stops at a fence ? “Throw your heart over and your horse’ll go too!” As a young rider on a regular refuser, that adage didn’t inspire confidence in me! Despite ap- proaching a fence with my jaw set and the power of pos- itive thinking, I still couldn’t tell you WHY my horse was stopping in the first place. As a coach, I’d tell my twenty year old self to take

a step back after a fall and analyze what went wrong. What were the steps that led to the incident? Did the horse spook or trip? Were there any warning signs?

The Fire Horse

taking measured risks. Shaping is the system by which we teach a simple skill as a component in building more complex movements. Once I’ve got the knack of something, can I do it over here? Can I do it with a lighter aid? Can I do it a little faster? Can I do it in the midst of distractions? In riding, not only must I discern when I’m ready to stretch to the next level but also when my horse is ready for the challenge. The timing may not co- incide.

Targeting trouble spots Before pushing to any next level-cantering,

jumping, changing leads or taking your horse off- property, is there any area of resistance in your horse? Usually, the problem can be traced to a weakness in your tool kit or resistance in your horse’s re- sponses in these categories -pace, path, package or position. A summary from last month: • Pace- How’s your speed control? Does your horse accelerate and slow reliably? Lengthening and shortening his stride on cue, without hesita- tion? How are your brakes?

Chapter 10 The secret which every intellectual man quickly learns - that beyond the energies of his possessed and conscious intellect; he is capable of a new en- ergy(as of intellect doubled upon itself) by aban- donment to the nature of things; that beside his privacy of power as an individual man, there is a great public power upon which he can draw, by un- locking, at all risks, his human doors, and suffering the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him, then he is caught up into the life of the universe, his speech is thunder, his thought is law, and his words are universally intelligible to plants and an- imals. - Emerson In most stables I get a joyful strength

from these sensitive creatures. But, it only takes one or two who have been ill, injured or in conflict to upset me immensely. I may get a headache, a pain in my gut corresponding to the animals dis- comfort or a feeling of extreme depression appro- priate to the horse’s state of mind. One wintry morning, I approached my

first horse at a large stable and upon touching the animal, staggered back dazed and holding my heart, or where I think it is, some days it shifts. Anyhow I said to his owner that he was

By Lauren Bode

My mission statement. Having developed and practiced my talent for years, I speak for animals. I willingly provide a voice for the non-

human creatures of our world, in the hope that I may assist them to obtain greater health, better un- derstanding of their expected roles, and better re- lationships with their human partners. Through my classes and daily contacts, I en-

courage others to develop closer bonds, apprecia- tion and mutual trust with animals, and a respect for all life in this world.

Lauren Bode

very sick.The owner agreed and said the vet had already been there and was coming the following day for a follow up.The owner apologized for not warning me beforehand, as apparently it had been a test of my perception. Now, when I communicate with most

animals, primarily horses, I will give a summary of the horse’s symptoms as related to me by the horse,passing that information onto their owners for them to relay to a vet usually. In that instance, I told the owner of that particular horse that I will check back with him after speak- ing with the others.I could not remain with him as I was picking up an acute headache as well as stomach cramps. Upon my return to him later on in the

day he said he was afraid he had been over med- icated. He said he had received 3 doses of a med- ication. His owner confirmed that usually he gets 2 shots for his pain, but she had indeed given him another shot for good measure.

• Path- Are your lat- eral aids tuned up? Leg yielding, bend- ing, turns on the fore- hand and haunches? • Package- Is your horse supple, round- ing and softening to your hand and leg? Or bracing instead, against the bit? • Position- are you secure in the tack? Independently able to use your aids so that your leg, rein and seat aids don’t

clash, sending mixed messages to your horse?

Stepping back to the familiar. Were you pushing beyond your comfort level

before the fall? Sometimes fear is masked by the adrenaline of the moment and revisits us in flash- backs the days following the event. I find it help- ful to return the rider to the point on the staircase where they feel secure – even if it’s walking on the longe line for the next few lessons. Gradually, we’ll stretch to the next step, returning to the fa- miliar to finish the session on a confident note.

Don’t be pressured. Don’t push past your comfort level because

of peer pressure or even the pressure of your in- structor. An upcoming show deadline can compel us to advance, despite that inner caution signal. Don’t ignore how you’re feeling! The slow and steady method of becoming an

accomplished rider systematically, skill by skill may not appeal to all goal-oriented equestrians!

I reassured the horse that his owner will

relay to the vet the list of symptoms he had men- tioned.

Some horse owners ask me to ask their

horses if it’s their kidneys that hurt or maybe his liver? I am a human and cannot tell you if my kid- ney is hurting. I too can relay the exact position of the pain, but unless relying heavily on dr google I would go to my dr to get a diagnosis. Horses do not know if it’s their small intestine or large one that’s the problem, just like humans. It’s just a big pain.

I was quite upset about this incident, be-

cause I was not forewarned or prepared for such an onslaught of pain. It is not fair or funny to subject anyone to this nauseating feeling from a powerful being without forewarning.Or at least warning with a bit of time to prepare for the onslaught of energy. Of course I do encounter ailing horses and other animals and speaking with them is one of my most valued services.But, forewarned, I can approach the horse with my defences up.That is , I will de- velop a degree of detachment, turning down my sensitivity for the initial contact with the horse. Then I will open up only as far as necessary to comfortably detect and describe the symptoms.

Chapter 11 After many years of working with

horses, I have felt a strong common undertone from many of my conversations with them. It was difficult to define for the longest

time, and the feeling was not pleasant. I had started looking for greater clues about this unspoken mes- sage at each barn I visited. A few of them, espe- cially those where laughter and camaraderie were obvious, had no taint of the desperate silence, but in most establishments the scent of the secret was very obvious. My best attempt at defining the feeling

were that the horses all knew that there had been an unspoken but understandable agreement be- tween mankind and horse ( our generic term for all domestic equines) and that agreement had been changed.

Horse did not break, alter or agree to the

changes in the contract. Horse had become dimin- ished in value; not in terms of dollars, but as a cher-

Consider, like the Tortoise and the Hare, that slower is often faster in the long run!

About Lindsay Grice. A horse show judge and certified rid-

ing coach with a special interest in equine behaviour. After 25 years as a competitor and horse trainer, Lindsay enjoys teaching clinics and travelling to Ontario farms as a freelance instructor. She’s taught the science of equine behaviour and learning for horse associations, courses for University of Guelph and therapeutic riding facilities. Lindsay judges many disciplines and

breeds and serves on an EC judging com- mittee

Why do horses do what they do? “In the horse world, our traditions and evi- dence sometimes collide – I love to help rid- ers solve their horse puzzles with logic, patience and equitation science.”


ished companion and agreeable helpmate. In some barns the feeling was similar to

dealing with disgruntled sweatshop labourers. In others there was a distinct atmosphere of slavery. The concern about buying or selling,

being locked up or turned out on the barn operators schedule, with a limited number of others, whom they had not chosen as herd mates. Gelding or being bred at the owners timing and whim. Harsh treatment and whipping for acting like horses. All of these things sat in the back of the attitudes of even the most talented and responsive champions. Unfortunately it is not advisable to speak

to owners and barn operators about this undertone. It would possibly be taken as a direct criticism, and may cause greater separation between the horse and its people. This could eliminate any possible future contact with that barn, and put me in the po- sition of a potential disruptive influence. Thus, I would not be able to speak for the animal again, when my assistance would be helpful. Because of the discovery of this under-

lying discontent, I have adopted the title and pur- pose of spokesperson for the animals that I meet. Like any good advocate or talent agent, I attempt to foster better relations between the animals and their owners, and I suggest more favourable con- ditions whenever appropriate. So, as a communi- cator, I use my talents even more for the benefit of the animals.

This is not to be taken as a disparaging

criticism of the owners, most of whom are doing their absolute best for their four footed friends, but occasionally a small change in the conditions or treatment of the animal, can make life a little eas- ier, and will improve the fellowship between beast and person.

When I work at a boarding stable, I usu-

ally draw a crowd. As soon as I start talking to the horses, everyone in the stable gravitate to the event. Curiosity and skepticism are often the first drawing forces, but then soon entertainment and general interest develop. The gathering throng emits laughter and questions, and many will run to bring in their horses to take part.

Lauren Bode All content copyrighted

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