Fixing Problems with Horses
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"Sometimes people may not understand how to approach an abused horse or one that's had a lot of trouble. They're so afraid of making mistakes that sometimes the biggest mistake they make is doing nothing."
You have to understand the needs of horses that have been treated poorly and are scared or troubled. "You can't just fix things by showing them love while doing nothing with them. You have to give them some direction, a purpose, a job."
Regarding troubled horses: "If you extend the parameters too far because of sympathy, the horse won't have any boundaries, and you will end up spoiling him. An 'abused horse' that has been 'spoiled' with sympathy is one of the most difficult kinds to work with: when you try to correct him, you end up putting him back in the same frame of mind he was in when he was cared.... Finding the correct amount of firmness depends on the specific horse and the problem, but finding that balance is essential."
"We can help the [troubled] horse focus on constructive tasks that ease his fears and show him that he's not alone in a world of predators. If we don't, if we do nothing but sympathize, we're allowing him to slip into another realm of trouble."
"...to present a horse with a new problem to solve before he's had time to soak up the old one forces him to disregard what he just learned in order to concentrate on what's next."
"...it is more difficult to eliminate faults which have become established."
"When people aren't willing to consider that there's a possibility of their own role in creating a problem for the horse, or keeping one going that already exists, well, then those problems aren't likely to disappear until the horse does."
"It's not unusual for a horse to put more effort into something if he feels supported for his attempts to understand what was expected of him."
"...there's always a lot to think about and sometimes things can come up that can set you back. That's fine, you just keep going from where you are."
"A horse that hasn't been started with feel, why this horse might have bad habits and you might have to do things a lot different on that horse than you would on a green horse."
"...so many 'problems' with horses just wouldn't show up if more people only understood this one little particle about feel. It's tied to respect that can go both ways."
"If you have a disrespectful or confused horse, the first thing to teach him is to respect you through feel. To get this done, you can't say how much or how little firmness it might take, because each horse has a different history, and no two have the same sensitivity."
"The good rider is not he who, seeing resistances and serious difficulties appear in a new exercise, tries to conquer them at any price, sometimes using violence and brutality, but rather he who, on seeing the resistance rise up, knows how to return to the beginning, to the preparatory exercises, until he has obtained the flexibility and relaxation necessary to start the exercise he is trying to teach."
"...the fundamental question you have to ask yourself any time you're trying to solve a problem with aggression: is the aggression coming from fear or dominance? That's important, because punishment will make a fearful animal worse, whereas punishment may be necessary to curb assertive aggression."
"A horse paws the feed bucket before feeding. Wait until the horse stops pawing and then feed him."
"A horse pushes up against you. Instantly withhold treats or stroking until he stops pushing."
"Many horses are treated unfairly and roughly for behavior problems that are simply reactions to their pain."
"When a horse is in pain, his back muscles contract, his abdominal muscles remain soft, and his back drops and becomes hollow."
"A swayed back is often considered a normal part of the aging process, but most horses under the age of eighteen with dropped, or slightly swayed, backs are showing signs of pain."
"...many hollow-backed horses show a much shorter stride, and will not reach up under themselves."
"Behavior or performance issues related to saddle-caused back pain are often assume to be training problems. Due to this misunderstanding, the horse is usually 'disciplined,' trained more intensely, or sold. When, and if, saddle fit is addressed and the source of pain is removed, these 'training problems' are quickly resolved."
"A horse with sore back muscles is often hypersensitive to brushing."
"...a hollow back can lead to heel pain, commonly assumed to be navicular. Conditions such as front leg lameness,and frequent stumbling or tripping can be the result of shoulder movement inhibited by the weight of the saddle and rider on the shoulder blades."
"A horse that shies excessively or displays a general lack of concentration on the rider and the aids is often in pain."
"Back pain is a common cause of slow starts in many sports."
"In the vast majority of cases a horse drops his back as a form of evasion because he is in pain. Truly congenitally swayed backs are usually severe and difficult to miss because they actually look deformed."
"...if you're having difficulty with a particular movement or exercise, the cause of the problem is almost always found as a fault in the Basics."
"Most behavior problems, even those experienced while riding, are solved by groundwork."
"...the one thing that I have come to understand about horses is that they're not like people. They don't think like we do and they don't learn like we do. It is when we try to force the animal to live by human thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we run into trouble."
"This horse's reason [for being bad] was that his owner was so heavy-handed that he had given the horse no alternative but to defend himself whenever the man was around. In other words, he wasn't giving the horse the opportunity to be good."
"It never ceases to amaze me when I see the level at which horses try to communicate when something is bothering them. For my money, understanding what they're trying to communicate is, in itself, the key to being successful at pinpointing the causes of problems that horses are having. Unfortunately, it's usually a matter of us not understanding them, them not understanding us, and us not taking the time to try."
"It's been my experience that one of the most overlooked causes of problem behavior in horses is soreness — theirs, not ours."
"...in the real world, trying to save every single horse with a major problem simply isn't feasible, financially or logistically, for most horse owners, not to mention the mental strain it often puts on them or the serious injury or property damage the horse may cause in the meantime."
"...if a horse's problems aren't mental to start with, there is a better-than-average chance of them being fixed. You simply need to know the animal's limitations, both physical and mental, and be able to work within those boundaries....[I]f you can learn how to do that, and you can catch the horse before too much damage is done, anything is possible."
"It's just easier to blame the horse than the trainer, especially if you're the one doing the training."
"I've found that it's much easier to keep a horse's attention if he's not investigating his surroundings while we're working. He will see just about everything there is to see in a round pen in about fifteen to twenty minutes and then be ready to work."
"I have found that many problems that we think are stubbornness or the horse being spoiled are actually caused by soreness that simply will not allow the horse to do what we are asking. When you eliminate the soreness, you eliminate the problem."
"It's almost as if they [horses] want to work on their problems as long as they can do it at their pace."
"For us to get through to the [individual] horse successfully, we have to try to see things from his [this individual horse's] point of view and then work with him that way."
"...if you take your time, are patient, and think through the problem instead of forcing the issue, it's only time consuming once."
"...the answers will come if you ask the right questions. The hard part is knowing the right questions to ask, and then taking the time to ask them."
"...head tossing often becomes worse when the rider, trying to stop the horse from throwing his head, mistakenly begins to increase the amount of pressure applied."
"In order to help the animal understand that there is no need for him to throw his head, he must first learn to give to...pressure."
"...by using a little time, patience, and understanding, even a problem as irritating and potentially dangerous as head tossing can almost surely be brought under control."
"...is it more sensible to learn to use a new mechanical device, or to spend that time learning something new about riding without it?"
"...mechanic devices greatly complicate things, because they can easily mask the root cause of problems without solving them."
"If a mechanical device prevents a problem from being expressed through one kind of symptom (a martingale to stop head tossing, for example, or draw reins to keep the horse's head low), the unresolved problem is certain to show up in other ways."
"Using a device to prevent a horse from doing things that fairly scream of their discomfort, like gaping mouths (special nosebands) and stiff necks (various draw reins) and wringing tails (deaden the horse's tail nerves chemically or surgically) and poor response to leg aids (whips and spurs), will not solve problems like teeth that need attention or a badly fitting bit, strain on their hocks or backs, a badly fitting saddle, clashing aids, or any of a number of possible causes of distress."
"If you are clearly sending the message you mean to send but the horse isn't cooperating, maybe it has a good reason. If the horse acts as if it thinks cooperating will hurt more than not cooperating, you might want to check out why that is."
"When a horse 'makes a mistake,' it usually is the fault of the rider on his back."
"When you have significant difficulties in training, the condition or sensitivity of the horse's back is usually the main problem!"
"With all horses in retraining, it is more or less a job of getting the back into position and getting it to work again. The long back muscles of movement must become supple, powerful and elastic again."