A guest blog article by Connie Johnson Hembley
We’ve all seen it.
The perfectly executed Grand Prix course or the fastest barrel racing time. The rider thinks and the horse moves. Mind and body meld and it’s not a human on a horse, but one team. One unit.
Closing the gap between horse and rider is essential at the highest levels of the sport, but the skill is important for all riders. Not only do I ride as often as I can (which is not nearly as often as I’d like), I volunteer as a horse handler at a therapeutic riding center assisting people with disabilities learn to ride. A handler’s role is to ensure safety first and to allow the rider as much support toward independent riding as possible. Seeing horses settle and adjust to a new rider provides a window into a world without words. Everything shrinks to cues and responses, cause and effect, and the intuition that guides the horse/human connection. It’s a privilege to witness this and my respect for these horses has skyrocketed.
Consider the special needs rider from the horse’s point of view. The horse has had years of training to understand the physical cues on its mouth, sides, and balance. Then it carries a rider whose impaired body provides sporadic, confusing, or delayed cues because neither the rider’s mind nor body can process the physical commands effectively. Think of it as static on a radio obscuring a clear signal to the horse. I use the same technique for handling as I do for my own riding–I empty my thoughts of everything outside the ring and focus on what the horse is trying to process. As a horse handler, I try to be very aware of the moment the horse decides who to tune in. The rider on its back or the handler at its head?
Your horse is very aware of you. Is your rapid breathing and tight grip on the reins because you’re not pleased with it? You might know you’re keyed up because you had a rough day at work or a fight with your spouse, but your horse has no clue. All the tension you hold is static stopping your clear signal from being transmitted to the horse. The flip side of this is also true. If your horse is reacting to your tension, then its raised head or failure to bend could lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to over corrections and bigger problems. Did you misinterpret your horses signals? Did you even sense it?
It’s not easy to be completely present each time you ride. Draining your mind of everything but the rhythm of the horse becomes a form of meditation and is a skill built over time. Many refer to this as ‘mindfulness.’ Once mastered, ‘equestrian mindfulness’ can be applied in other areas of your life and there are even books written on ‘horsefulness.’
As a writer, my days are spent “inside my head” searching for the right combination of words. But, when I’m at the barn, I can just be. No words are needed–just a rhythm and a focus on my physical space as well as my mental space. If I’m too much in my own head when riding, I won’t be aware enough of the horse.
To strike this delicate balance, I allow myself a transition from my “other” life to my “horse” life. For me, immersing into the sights, sounds, smells of the barn trigger a relaxation response. I encourage my horse to join me in this transition by performing a greeting ritual. Neck rubbing, treat offering, and forehead snoodling are important steps before grooming and tacking.
These consistent actions help me relax and bring my horse into closer communication with me.
After all, we’re a single unit. We’re a team.
About the author:
Connie Johnson Hambley grew up on a small dairy farm just north of New York City and was a child when an arsonist burned her family’s barn to the ground. Memories from that experience grew the stories that have become The Charity and The Troubles.
Hambley uses every bit of personal experience to create a story that is as believable as it is suspenseful. Hambley writes about strong women from their perspective in situations that demand the most from them. No special powers, no gadgets, no super human abilities. Just a woman caught up or embroiled in something that she has to get out of, hopefully alive.
Interviews include: Boston’s Literati Scene TV Show; Hallie Ephron’s guest on Jungle Red Writers: Ireland, Horses and Senseless Fire; Hank Phillippi Ryan’s guest on Femmes Fatales; Pawling Public Radio; Blog Talk Radio; Rounded Corner of the Writing World; (Australian Author) Penny de Byl’s Five Minute Profile; and Poughkeepsie Journal In Minutes, A Generation’s Work Destroyed by Flames.
Hambley writes page-turners and The Charity is the first in a series. Its sequel, The Troubles was published May 2015. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for updates and information.
While generalizing is always a bad idea – I’ll start with a little generalizing in order to keep this blog post at a manageable size. The topic – as you well know – fills many a book!
After, what seems, several decades of lots of pushing, prodding, pulling, and bracing in main stream equestrian sports – namely dressage – the general consensus seems to be getting back to a more classical approach, i. e. Lightness! Luckily for our horses, there has been increased buzz around classical riding websites and Facebook pages (such as Silvia Loch’s Classical Riding Club or the HDV12 German Cavalry Training Manual. as demonstrated so wonderfully here by Fritz Stecken on Noble). Along with that goes more awareness around so-called ‘modern’ riding techniques that cause bracing, tension and hyperflexion with the respective public criticism (e. g. “Rollkur” type of techniques or tense “circus-like” dressage performances).
But what’s the hype about?
Why Lightness is Necessary
Lightness is to touch what whispering is to voice. Just as pushing, pulling, prodding is to touch what shouting is to voice. As we become more enlightened about the nature of the horse, we learn that our silent, sensitive partners respond better to whispering than to shouting. As ‘loud’ interaction (whether via touch or voice) creates bracing in our horses, ‘soft’ interaction is the key to suppleness. Suppleness is the highest goal and basis for any schooling of the horse, no matter the school (French, Spanish or German).
So we (those of us, who put the horse’s wellbeing first) are looking for ways to become lighter. Lighter in our aids, lighter in our influences, lighter in our interactions with our sensitive equine partners.
Where Does Lightness Start?
Most riders spontaneously think of the reins. Indeed, sensitive, light rein contact is an expression of lightness. However, lightness starts at a deeper level: The mental and physical relaxation and suppleness of the rider, which can then find its expression in riding in lightness, developed through careful and systematic training (and ‘un’training!).
Getting Started With Lightness – Before Climbing in the Saddle
You don’t have to wait until you sit on the horse to work on your lightness. As a matter of fact, once you climb aboard, it’s hard to work on yourself. Mental & physical suppleness, which finds its expression in lightness, is best started in our every day activities.
5 Tips on How To Develop Lightness
- Practice Mindfulness – While this sounds like something out of a Buddhist retreat manual, it’s rather simple. 10 minutes a day of focusing on the ‘here & now’ won’t turn you into a meditation expert, but can do much for your ability to relax and be in the presence, a useful skill for riders living in the information age. Do this at home, at the office (but not while driving!) (Resources: The UCLA offers free online meditation audio OR Guided Mindfulness Meditation: A Complete Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program from Jon Kabat-Zinn)
- Use Mental Imagery – day-dreaming with a purpose! Research shows that what we mentally train, we have an easier time realizing in ‘real life’. So day-dream away, but with a plan! Imagine yourself riding, then imagine yourself riding in lightness. Isolate various areas of your body, then put the picture together. Tackle anxiety, confidence issues, and limiting beliefs, we well. Do this while waiting at the doctor’s office or on an airplane, for example. (Resources: More about mental imagery for athletes here OR The Art of Mental Training: A Guide to Performance Excellence (Collector’s Edition))
- A Little Stretching – goes a long way! Find a good time of day to incorporate some stretching exercises. 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night can make all the difference! Many stretching exercises can be done during breaks at work, too! (Resources: Free fitness videos by FitnessBlender OR The Anatomy of Stretching, Second Edition: Your Illustrated Guide to Flexibility and Injury Rehabilitation)
- Improve Mobility – suppleness starts with your mobility. Overcome aches and restrictions that we accumulate through our every day or work activities. (Resources: Speak to someone at your gym about foam rolling OR The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body)
- Last not Least – ditch unnecessary stress! Mental stressors cause tension in the body. Take a conscious look at what stresses you in your life and see what you can eliminate (e. g. the dog walker, who is always late; the hairdresser, who just can’t get it quite right; possible overcommittments, etc.)
Hope you will feel inspired to create Lightness in your life. It’s bound to make Riding with Lightness so much easier!
Enjoy your horse & be well!
It is always great to hear when someone gets good results with some of the How To’s I provide. Especially happy about this blog post about grooming with ‘elbow grease’ instead of chemicals. Enjoy!
Originally posted on Now, that's The Spot!:
As I’ve mentioned in the last couple of posts, I’ve been grooming… a lot. But, to be completely honest, I do enjoy it and it kinda of meditative for me. It’s especially relaxing after a long day at work and I can just zone out while currying and brushing.
I’ve noticed however that grooming isn’t something people like to do, or something people do at all anymore. More than often I see people brush their horse’s saddle area as if they were feather dusting a porcelain tea cup and call it done. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m running really short on time, I’ll usually just give a quick once over so I can be on my way. As a kid and learning how to ride, grooming was taken seriously and your horse had to be nicely groomed or you’d get yelled at by your British Horse Society trainer. So, good…
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“Does Dressage Need a Makeover to Attract a Mass Audience?”
This headline appeared in social media this morning, linking to an article by a British horse magazine. Below it, a young rider in a purple dressage coat, lavender pants, horse decked out in matching colors. Frankly, I don’t remember what exactly the horse looked like, apart from the colorful accessories.
Now, thinking about that question again, all I remember in my mind is the rider’s flamboyant outfit. Reading through the ‘yeah’ and ‘nay’ comments and opinions of others, I simply can’t come up with an intelligent answer, in spite of sipping on a decaf soy latte.
But, wait a minute… Is this even the right question to ask?
“There are no right answers to wrong questions.” – Ursula K. Le Guin
Whenever there is the need for analysis, there is a need to ask the right questions and confirm the definition of the substance at stake (IT project managers will agree here).
In other words, if we want to determine whether a change needs to be made, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. What exactly are we talking about? DRESSAGE, you will say.
What Exactly Is Dressage?
And where do we find the correct definition?
Logically, we would turn to the ‘rules we ride by’. The ‘rules’ are the FN Principles of Riding, which in turn are based on the pure and unadulterated classic German riding theory and source of today’s “Training Scale”, the HDV12 German Cavalry Manual, last edition of 1937. Let’s see how the HDV12 defines dressage:
“In order to be able to fulfill all requirements that military duty demands of a war-ready cavalry horse, the green horse’s body needs to be systematically developed by means of gymnasticizing, and the horse needs to be carefully educated. Both elements combined are called dressage.” (HDV12 German Cavalry Manual for Training Horse & Rider, 1937)
This makes a lot of sense. So Dressage is a means to an end, not an end itself. Horsemen, mostly in the cavalry, culminated practical knowledge over centuries, learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creating an able and willing equine partner, documented this and it in the form of an Army Regulation.
“…The goal of dressage is to school the horse to the optimum performance level and to make it obedient. This goal can only be achieved if the horse—while maintaining and developing its natural [mental and physical] disposition—is brought into a form and posture in which it can fully develop its potential. In such form and posture, the horse will be able to prove equal to the demands of service for a long time.” (HDV12/1937)
Aha! So the goal is to create an willing and able equine athlete, who will stay healthy and usable for a long time! In 2015 speak: ROI (Return On Investment), folks!
In the context of preparing the horse for a partnership in military service (end), dressage was the systematic schooling (means) needed to create this able military steed. Not an end in itself.
Dressage competitions, in turn, are merely benchmarking events. Here is where riders show how far they have come in their schooling of their horse, here is where this schooling is judged not against the performance of other riders, but according to the governing parameters: the Principles of Riding (based on the HDV12).
- The original question was: “Does dressage need a makeover to attract a mass audience?”
- We asked the question: What are we talking about? What is dressage?
- We discovered the correct definition of dressage as a systematic schooling of the horse to create an able and willing all around equine athlete.
- Dressage competitions are benchmarking events, where we are judged against the ‘rules we ride by’, which are the FN Principles of Riding (based on the HDV12).
Final Thoughts on Dressage, Right Questions, Mass Audiences & Fancy Pants
The ‘makeover’ question raises a lot of other questions in my mind.
Why do we need mass audiences? Why does dressage need to appeal to mass audiences? Who benefits from making some of the proposed changes or even making these concerns priorities?
First and foremost, dressage is or should be about the horse. The real question is a different one. It is time to take the officials by the horns and ask more relevant questions:
Are you or are you not basing the rules we ride by on the classical guidelines (HDV12)?
“Today’s FN Guidelines—the Principles of Riding, the official instruction manual of the German National Equestrian Federation—were developed on the basis of the H. Dv. 12, whereby the 1937 edition provided the main orientation.” Eckart Meyners in his foreword to the English edition of the HDV12/1937
The answer is therefore officially – see FN Principles of Riding – yes! That means it’s time that
- Everybody learn the rules,
- Know the difference and
- Get Back to Classic!
Then, an unlimited number of athletes and spectators can enjoy dressage, knowing we are doing right by the horse. No matter what color your fancy pants…
Enjoy your horse!
This article couldn’t have come at a better time, as I am preparing to post a series of articles about “Path to Performance(TM) – A 3-Step Process to a Willing & Able Horse”. Resistance-free interaction on the emotional and mental level is part of Step 1 and this article gives wonderful suggestions and food for thought. Thank you and enjoy!
“It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.” ~Mark Twain.
Originally posted on Horses |AnnaBlakeBlog | Equestrian:
If you are standing next to your horse and he looks away, do you think he’s distracted or even disrespectful? When your horse yawns, is he sleepy or bored? If he moves slowly, is he lazy? These are important cues from your horse, are you hearing him correctly?
When it comes to communicating with horses, some humans are a bit like a self-obsessed rock star who throws a temper tantrum and trashes the room, but then assumes everyone wants his autograph. By equine standards, we ignore those around us and begin by screaming bloody-murder and escalate from there. Part of respecting a horse is remembering that their senses are much keener than ours. We can whisper.
It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions. ~Mark Twain.
Horses give us calming signals, just like dogs. Norwegian dog…
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Excellent article about world leaders of the past and their steeds.
Originally posted on The Flying Shetlands:
George Washington, The First President
Since here in the US it is Presidents Day weekend, I thought that I would feature a few of our presidents on horseback as well as other world leaders riding horses as well. I took extra time to try and find all of the artists names, but unfortunately was not able to. If anyone knows of any of the artists names or another leaders in paintings/sculpture, please contact me. Thanks!
Here is a very interesting site that has a lot of info on the horses of the White House: http://www.whitehousehistory.org/presentations/white-house-horses/index.html
George Washington and Nelson “The Prayer at Valley Forge ” by Arnold Friberg
Andrew Jackson At The Battle Of New Orleans
Andrew Jackson was the major general of thTennessee Volunteers during the war of 1812.
Andrew Jackson on horseback, engraving by an unidentified artist, c. 1830.
United States’ 7th President, Andrew Jackson
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The old saying ‘no hoof no horse’ gains special significance in the winter, when elements, cold temperatures and wetness can contribute to hoof decay. Here in the Midwest, this is a big concern.
In warmer climates, dryness and exposure to sand and rough terrain can also take a toll. Here a summary of factors that determine the condition of your horse’s hooves:
With these variables, there is much we can do to support healthy hooves in our horses. But one solution does not fit all…
What is a hoof?
The horse’s hoof is the equivalent of the last two digits of the human middle finger, encapsulated by horn layers. When caring for our horse’s hoof, we are concerned with the outer layers: the wall, the sole, the frog, and also the coronary band.
The coronary band: The equivalent of our cuticles. This is where hoof growth starts.
The wall: The wall is between 5 and 10 mm thick and consists of three layers. The outer layer of dense horn acts as a barrier to the inner layers. If the outer layer is healthy and maintained properly, it prevents dehydration of the inner layers.
The sole: The sole can grow up to 10 mm thick. Its Keratin* is more easily worn down than that of the hoof wall.
The frog: Keratin in the frog and bulb is also softer than in the hoof wall. With every step, the horse’s weight expands the frog, which in turn presses the hoof wall outward. This is called the ‘hoof mechanism’, a healthy and necessary function of a natural hoof.
[Keratin: a fibrous protein forming the main structural constituent of hair, feathers, hoofs, claws, horns, etc.]
How a hoof stays healthy
With the three elements wall, sole and frog having distinct functions that interlace into one mechanism, there is a balance that we’d like to maintain:
- The wall should stay hard and strong but resilient and not brittle.
- The sole should be dry and somewhat flexible, but not crumbling or too dry and hard (think expansion).
- The frog needs to be elastic and resilient but not soggy or rock hard to maintain a healthy hoof mechanism.
Step 1 – Determine the “Current State”
When striving to create and maintain a healthy hoof in our horse, it is first of all important to determine the current state:
- Is the hoof soft and brittle?
- Is the hoof hard and brittle?
- Is the hoof dry and rock-hard?
Then we can decide what measures to take to help our horse maintain a healthy hoof. (For more important external and internal factors that determine hoof health see below.)
Soft and brittle hooves
This is what is looks like: A soft brittle hoof will visibly disintegrate. Pieces of horn break of the hoof wall. The hoof is described as “crumbly”. If shod, the farrier will have a hard time keeping a shoe on this hoof.
Causes: Too much exposure to wetness without proper ‘barrier’. Exposure to manure/urine/wet bedding/mud. Hoof horn possibly genetically somewhat soft.
Repair: Avoid wetness! Dry bedding, dry lot without puddles. Clean hooves thoroughly with water and brush, dry with a towel, then treat hooves daily with a hoof ointment or oil without petroleum-based ingredients (no vaseline).
Maintain: Keep horse’s environment dry and clean hooves daily. Treat several times per week with a natural hoof treatment.
Hard and brittle hooves
This is what it looks like: A hard and brittle hoof has lost its resilience and elasticity by allowing too much of the moisture of the inner layers to evaporate through the outer protective layer, mainly the hoof wall. It will show up as a hard, dry looking hoof with vertical cracks.
Causes: The outer layer of the hoof wall and sole does not act as a protective barrier and is stripped of its natural defenses. Harsh hoof treatments, harsh chemicals (shampoos, soaps), very dry environmental conditions, very cold environmental conditions. Hoof genetically predisposed to hardness/dryness meets unfavorable conditions.
Repair: A horse with a dry and brittle hoof can benefit from a bit more moisture. Standing in a puddle, hosing, soaking, spraying CLEAN bedding with a little water. Clean hoof daily with water and hoof brush, then dry thoroughly with a towel and apply a moisturizing, protective hoof conditioner (NO petroleum-based products!).
Maintain: Clean and condition daily or at least several times per week to maintain the outer layer’s ability to lock in moisture. Monitor the hoof for signs of dryness and soak or hose when needed.
Dry and hard hooves
This is what it looks like: Dry and hard hooves (hooves like a ‘rock’) are often mistaken for healthy hooves. If you examine your horse’s hoof and the sole and frog present rock-hard and inflexible, this is–while it looks so clean and healthy–not a good thing when we think about the hoof mechanism. A healthy hoof mechanism requires a resilient and elastic frog and bulb and some elasticity in the sole and wall.
Causes: Horses with dry and rock-hard hooves are mostly kept in clean stalls, are shod, and generally well cared for. Genetics also play a role. That said, this is a clean, but not a healthy picture!
Repair: Evaluate the horse’s trim. Is the horse carrying weight on the hoof wall, the bars and the frog? If not, consult with your (or another…) farrier. A shod horse can still have a healthy hoof mechanism to some extent! If possible, apply a nourishing hoof conditioner on the clean hoof several times per day. Spray clean bedding with a little water.
Maintenance: Clean hooves daily and apply a nourishing hoof oil several times per week. Soaking in water, standing in puddles, turnout in pasture and hosing can support hoof health for a hard and dry hoof.
Tips and Tricks
To provide some moisture for dry hooves, cut a thick piece of felt in the shape of your horse’s hoof, soak it in water, place it in a horse boot (Easy Boot Trail, for example, or any therapeutic boot) and let the horse stand in it while you are grooming.
The low-tech version is to cut 4 pieces of an old wool blanket to size, big enough to wrap and tie around your horse’s feet. Soak in water, wrap and tie around your horse’s feet while grooming. (Be sure this doesn’t scare your horse and tie the pieces securely.)
Applying hoof oil
Laurel oil has been a staple in old-school hoof care for centuries and is ideal for the maintenance and to support growth of a healthy hoof. Massaging the oil into the coronary band and then down will improve the effect. You can use an old tooth brush to massage the oil into the hoof.
Hoof health from the inside
There are several internal factors that determine the horse’s hoof quality:
- Nutrition – Adequate nutrition, roughage, minerals/vitamins, balanced rations are crucial for healthy hoof growth.
- Genetics – Certain breeds tend to have certain types of hooves or typical hoof problems. Individuals also have their special genetic ‘hoof make-up’. Again, there is no one-for-all solution!
- Laminitic changes and other health factors – The insulin-resistant horse, the Cushings horse, a horse that has foundered in the past or is prone to laminitis is also a horse with possible hoof problems. Consult with your vet and farrier, care and hoof treatments can support your horse but not ‘fix’ the problem.
Hoof health from the outside
External factors determine your horse’s hoof health to a great extent. These are factors that you can control:
- Manure – manure disintegrates the outer layer of the hoof and can lead to brittle, cracking hooves or to fungal/bacterial conditions. Keep the horse’s environment as clean as possible.
- Trim/shoeing – consult with your farrier to determine the best possible trimming/shoeing solution for your horse. If your farrier applies a ‘one for all’ solution, look for a different farrier.
- Weather/environmental – While you cannot change the weather, you can change the way you maintain your horse’s hooves (above).
- Exercise – The ‘equine couch potato’ will have a hard time maintaining a healthy hoof. Adequate exercise is one of the important factors when it comes to healthy hoof growth.
Maintenance – Clean hooves and apply a conditioning hoof care treatment. This is the equivalent of using hand lotion, cuticle oil, hair conditioner, etc. It is not the ‘fix all’ but a necessary component of good care.
As always, enjoy your horse!