Can You See the Real Me?

“Riding is not about “riding”.  It is about everything that happens before we even get to the mounting block.”

A guest blog article by Horse Behavior Specialist Anita Kush

In my practice as a coach to horse owners and trainers, who seek a more mindful connection with their horse, I come across many, who have become caught up in a vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations, shattered hopes and dreams, disillusionment, and more – albeit adjusted – expectations. The way out of this cycle is to start by asking ourselves the right – and perhaps uncomfortable – questions.

[Now, please take some quiet time, read each question, pause after the question, answer it for yourself, honestly. Then move on to the next …]

When we arrive at the barn, what do we really see?  Is it what is before us?  Or is it our vision of what we want to be or achieve?  And is our horse – our colleague in this endeavor – a partner or a slave to our ambitions and desires?

Is our goal predicated on a picture in a magazine, a moment frozen in time, a video, an idea, a concept, a wish, a book telling us that – yes – we too can look like and be THIS…if only we will follow a certain method or buy a certain product or gadget…

What is meaningful horse work?  It is work that is considerate, fair, helpful, firm (when necessary) and facilitates long term understanding in relationship  of the two parties involved.

Wscared-horse-200x132hat is the difference between “disobedience” and learning? Is it possible that what we interpret as disrespect or unwillingness to perform certain tasks, may be in reality lack of understanding? The horse showing us what he knows and that he is unable – not unwilling – to fulfill the request?   Or that perhaps our question isn’t clear. What is accomplished by demanding that certain things happen – even though it may be physically or emotionally impossible for the horse to comply?

What is the process of learning that we need to understand?  Making mistakes and struggling means: Your horse is trying to figure out a way to accomplish what you are asking. He is not avoiding the question!

“Remember, it is not about the task, it is about how we come to it. Is it with willing cooperation or grudging resentment?  The choice is ours.” (Anita Kush)

Riding is not about “riding”.  It is about everything that happens before we even get to the mounting block.  Getting on is the culmination of the totality of the relationship between you and your horse.  No gadget or video can give you the answer. There is no one size fits all method or equipment.  See beyond mechanics and arm yourself with deeper knowledge.

The horse has all the answers! Look at the horse in front of you: He’ll always tell you the truth and live up to your expectations. Learn to expect what you want to see – a non-confrontational, cooperative and mindful interaction with your horse!

anita

Anita Kush

[If you are interested in a consultation with Anita Kush, please see her bio here or call +18477910494 or email caprioles at hotmail dot com.]

The “Cinchy” Horse

Reasons & Remedies for Saddling Sensitivity

by Stefanie Reinhold

What is ‘cinchy’?

In a nut shell: ‘Cinchy’ describes a horse that shows an adverse reaction to the saddle cinch or saddle girth, either during the saddling process or well before – for example when approaching the horse with the saddle.

These adverse reactions can range from subtle (tense facial expression) to aggressive (kicking or biting). Any response apart from a relaxed acceptance must be viewed as a defensive response on part of the horse.

Why is my horse ‘cinchy’ or ‘girthy’?

When looking at any unwanted behaviors in horses, we are looking at 3 possible scenarios:

  • An unpleasant physical experience at this moment (pain, discomfort, etc.)
  • An unpleasant emotional experience at this moment (fear, panic, etc.)
  • A memory of an unpleasant physical or emotional experience, which is now anticipated (but may not occur…)

A google search shows: Most trainers address a negative reaction to the girth or cinch as a behavior issue. This is an unfortunate misrepresentation. As responsible horse owners, we need to consider physical pain and discomfort first, then rule it out or address it in order to then successfully address the behavior issue or habit that may be associated with this discomfort.cinchy_girthy_horse

Physical Discomfort as Cause for Cinchy Behavior

Asking ourselves ‘could it be pain?‘, we need to start looking at the girth area, mainly the area of the deep pectoral muscles. Here some tips:

  • Run your fingers (carefully) from the center of the rib cage (under the horse, sternum) up towards the saddle area, across the ascending pectorals (see image). Look for reactions: Anything from muscle flinching in that area to more volatile reactions like kicking and biting. NOTE: Be careful! Start with very soft touch, take it up a notch only if no reaction from the horse. Never press harder than would be comfortable for you. Practice on your own leg first.
  • Did you get a reaction? If yes, it is time to investigate girth fit, tightness, material, placement, etc. Your horse is in discomfort!!
  • More clues: Is your horse ‘short-strided’ or tight in the shoulder? This could be another indicator of discomfort in the deep pectorals.

The detective work in finding out what causes the discomfort in the girth area (meaning in the deep pectorals) does not stop at riding equipment.

You also need to look at feet, any hidden front leg or shoulder discomfort, tightness in the poll, imbalance in self carriage. The underlying problem can also be a subluxation of any of the underlying skeletal structures (vertebrae), often called a ‘rib out’. Contact an equine chiropractor to rule out this very common cause of girthyness. More often than not, it is difficult to find the reason if all factors have been sufficiently addressed and girthy behavior persists. Gentle bodywork that addresses the entire system of the horse’s body and rules out compensation patterns – such as the Masterson Method of Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork – will often be the key to resolving the hidden causes of girthy behavior.

a bridging dressage saddle
Looks nice, but doesn’t fit. This saddle bridges and slides back under the rider. A torture instrument for the horse.

Reasons for girthy or cinchy behavior can include:

  1. Saddle problems

    • a saddle with a tree that pinches in the whithers
    • a saddle with protruding screws or knotty, aged flocking
    • a saddle that does not conform well to the shape of the horses back (bridges or rocks)
  2. Girth/cinch or pad problems:

    1. a saddle pad that bunches
    2. a saddle pad that is too thick, thus making a well fitting saddle fit like a shoe, that is too small
    3. a soiled saddle pad (for example plant debris, sand, old hardened sweat etc)
    4. a synthetic saddle pad that ‘heats up’ during the ride and promises discomfort later on
    5. a pinching girth/cinch or buckle (especially Western cinches with the buckle in the wrong position)
    6. a too tight girth/cinch
  3. Physical problems (sometimes caused by above)

    1. Sore spots, abscess, insect bites or other wounds in the girth or saddle area  (infected tick bites)
    2. Back pain: the horse anticipates back pain when being ridden and thus has anxiety around the saddling process (for example: back-pain due to muscle spasms or hock problems).
    3. Sore feet: The abdodimus pectoris muscle can get tender and sore when horses have pain or soreness in their front feet because of the way the horse moves to avoid the pain.
  4. Emotional problems

    scared-horse-200x132
    An expression of fear has no place in the saddling process.
    1. The horse associates the process of being saddled with a stressful experience, such as
      • feelings of panic or claustrophobia (often caused by starting the young horse in a hurry)
      • a negative riding experience, either in present or past (former owner, trainer)
      • unsoundness or painful illness (such as any digestive issues, ulcers, hoof sensitivities) that become very stressful when ridden

Equine massage or body work can help with any muscular issues, whether they may be primary – such as muscle spasm – or secondary – such as sore ascending pectoral muscles due to sore feet.

However, the first recommended course of action is to uncover the root cause, involving professionals such as vet, farrier, equine chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc. After the root
cause for the discomfort is remedied, the secondary discomfort and tension due to compensation can often be helped within only a few sessions of equine massage or body work.

So here again in a nutshell:

  • Check Saddle Fit
  • Check girth/cinch placement and material
  • Check for wounds, bruises or muscle pain
    (see above)
  • Involve an equine chiropractor or vet (or both)

Resolve the problem, then release any tension resulting from compensation through gentle bodywork. (You can learn basic equine bodywork techniques yourself.)

Only then is it time to replace the problematic and now habitual behavior in the horse through training measures.

As always, enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold