TRAIN YOUR HORSE TO RESPOND, NOT REACT
Anyone who has been riding and training horses for any significant amount of time has, at least once, created an unwanted behavior. Trained in something that must later, and with much more time and effort, be trained back out.
Why? Sometimes we get in a hurry or lose our temper or just plain make a mistake that ends up sticking around to haunt us and our horses. Most of these unwanted behaviors can be replaced over time, but wouldn't it be nice to program in only the good stuff in the first place?
That means in order to train productively and humanely, we have to understand how horses react and learn. In a Horse&Rider article, animal behaviorist Temple Grandin provides insight into the way horses experience fear, which she asserts is more influential than pain. She explains how we can understand that emotional response to aid us in training more compassionately and effectively.
Fast Fear, Slow Fear
Another way horses and other animals differ from us is that they tend to experience fear “faster” than we do. There are two ways fear is experienced in the brain, depending on whether it takes what Grandin calls the “high road” or the “low road.” The high road gives you “slow fear” because its physical path through the brain is longer than the low road.
SPRING CLEANING FOR YOUR HORSE
As the longer – and hopefully warmer – days of spring start that annual hair-fest that is the shedding off of our horses, it makes sense to spend a bit of time on skin and coat health.
The first thing many of us do as soon as there’s a warm day is give our horses a bath. A good brisk scrub with a gentle soap (my standby is Ivory dish soap) helps to loosen up the shedding hair so you can curry, brush or scrape it away. I add a few drops of tea tree and lavender essential oils to deep clean dry, dandruff-prone skin while soothing at the same time. And I condition mane and tail with another old standby – TRESemmé conditioner worked in and left. (It’s not greasy at all, so it works great as a leave-in conditioner. Just let the hair dry and you can comb through without pulling out hairs.)
If your horse has very thick hair on his hind legs, pay special attention to the fronts of the cannon bones. Many horses get a waxy, greasy substance in that area that horse owners refer to as “leg crud,” “leg fungus” or “scurf.” It’s often mistaken for urine scald, scratches, a fungal infection or rain rot.
Years ago when I was first trying to figure out why my gelding had these oily, dark-colored patches on the fronts of his stockinged hind legs, the common answer was that it was either a bacterial or fungal infection that needed to be treated with medicated soap or scrubbed with betadine to disinfect and dry out the area. I tried the latter, as well as making up a scrub with quite a lot of tea tree oil. Everything I did seemed to make the condition worse, to increase the size of the affected area.
I started thinking about treatment differently after I happened across an article online naming the condition “cannon keratitis,” basically a case of overactive sebaceous glands, and suggesting it be treated more like acne.
Desert Horse Q&A
SHOULD I USE A BITLESS BRIDLE?
Q I'm middle-aged and have only been riding a couple of years. I recently bought a wonderful horse (my first ever!) and I really want to do everything right for him. I have started to worry that he doesn't like to have a bit in his mouth, so I'm thinking of trying a Dr. Cook's bitless bridle. What do you think?
A I know bitless bridles get marketed as a tool for any level of rider and, at first, it seems this might be ideal for a novice rider who hasn't yet mastered "feel" enough to have good hands. But, based on my experiences, I don't agree with that at all.
I have seen that using a bitless bridle correctly is a lot of work for the rider. It requires a ton of focus because you have to be five steps ahead of the horse at all times to be able to have the subtlety and connection to create and maintain balance and proper carriage. You must have a very secure and educated seat and impeccable timing with educated hands to avoid making a real mess of a horse - pulling, leaning on the forehand, not listening at all to rein aids.